There is always—and should always be—room for personal interpretation in art. Sure, there’s usually, although not always, a “correct” answer as to what a scene or a shot or a wardrobe choice”means,” but what we make of the combination of all of those individual choices is uniquely our own.
I get nervous any time an episode of Mad Men (or any cultural object, for that matter) is universally praised or panned. A variety of reactions—some panning, some praise, some right in the middle—is what usually signifies that something went right because it means we were given the tools and left to build on our own. Be wary of anything two dimensional that you can wrap a bow around.
I say all this because, “The Monolith,” this week’s episode of Mad Men, seems to have touched everyone differently. Some didn’t care for the at-times overt symbolism. (It’s a monolith! It’s literally taking over the space the creatives used to occupy!) Some didn’t believe the character choices. (A partner! Taking orders! C’mon!) Personally, the biggest weakness for me was Elizabeth Rice’s acting during the admittedly heavy scene when she finally lets her hypocrite father have it with all of Mother Earth’s soldiers looking on. While I don’t necessarily disagree with her reaction from a character choice perspective, those in-need-of-an-exorcism Daddy’s were way, way overdone, especially in an episode that featured Jon Hamm boring two holes in the back of Elizabeth Moss’ head without a sound, using nothing but cheekbones and eyeballs.
As usual, people more practiced in the ways of critiquing have better things to say than me. I’ve included more than usual this week; remember: that’s a good thing. There’s Alan Sepinwall, of course; and Tom & Lorenzo’s “Mad Style,” as well as their day-after recap; and Ashley Fetters and Chris Heller from The Atlantic (they tend to be pretty Peggy-heavy on a week-to-week basis; this week it was actually warranted); and Molly Lambert, who weaves this week’s story lines together better than the actual show did; and in the power position for the first time (it isn’t a coincidence that this was the first time I remembered how to spell his name), Matt Zoller Seitz, whose analysis knocked it clear out of the park. Of course, I’m biased; he went heavy into the Kubrick parallels.