Mad Men 7×04 ‘The Monolith’: The possibility of evolution

Mad Men 7x04 Cover

What does it take for a person to evolve?  To change is to move in any direction, whether it be forwards or backwards, but evolution is far different.  Evolving from one stage to the next means ascending to some entirely new level, becoming something capable of far more than was capable before.  But evolving is kind of a crap shoot.  Change isn’t something that you seek out; it’s something that happens to you.  And if we can’t control how or when we will change, then how are we supposed to control the direction of that change?

Mad Men 7x04-2

Source: AMC

There’s a reason that “The Monolith” distinctly evokes the image of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  In Kubrick’s film, the black, rectangular monolith was an symbol of transcendence, an alien creation that appeared as the catalyst for major technological developments.  It’s no coincidence that the black door leading to SC&P evokes the image of the monolith.  The space beyond that door holds the key to Don’s evolution, a way for him to transform into something greater than what he is.  It’s just a matter of finding it, or, rather, stumbling upon it.

Don’s return to SC&P is not as warm as he would have liked.  He’s placed in Lane’s old office, a clear symbol of what his co-workers intend his fate to be.  Don isn’t meant to stay at SC&P.  He’s meant to either cave under the pressure and get fired, therefore forfeiting all of his shares, or he’s meant to quit out of frustration.  His office is small, cramped, and there’s a massive computer being loudly installed right outside his door.  He sees the potential for new business right outside of his door, when he sees the IBM agent Lloyd itching for the opportunity to properly advertise his beloved product.  But he can’t even pitch to him because of the stipulations placed on his reinstatement.  His ego is crushed under the weight of all of his restraints, and it’s ready to snap.

Mad Men 7x04-1

Source: AMC

Don has always needed his ego stroked.  He’s a deeply insecure man; just look at his relationship with Sylvia last season.  She left him after he forced her to stay at a hotel room to wait for him to come back to have sex with her.  He found it playful; she found it demeaning.  But he needs that dominance in order to feel big.  He needed to be better than Ted as well.  But here, at SC&P now, Don is nobody.  He’s placed under Peggy, who simply wants him to come up with 25 tags for BurgerChef, a job that was below him 10 years ago.  And therein is the key to his evolution.  Can he overcome the necessity for dominance and evolve past his insecurities?

Mad Men 7x04-3

Source: AMC

Well, obviously the answer to that question isn’t a resounding “yes”.  Nobody can move past their insecurities with ease.  Nobody can move past their insecurities altogether.  You can gain ground on them, but they’ll always be there, waiting to push back.  And Don wastes no time caving to his insecurities pushing back at him.  He resorts to childish behavior like he exhibited in Season 6, refusing to write up the tags for Peggy.  He throws his typewriter across the room.  He begins to drink again.  Just like Ginsberg is frustrated by the new invading technology, Don feels that same invasion all around him.  Lou has invaded his office.  Peggy has invaded his position as the “boss”.  That computer is a symbol of change, and no matter how Don feels, change is here.  So he nearly breaks under the pressure, drinking heavily until Freddie Rumsen helps him out of the office and shakes some sense into him.  It takes being reminded that you’re being awful in order to turn yourself around.

Roger’s story echoes these same sentiments, where he finds that his daughter Margaret (Marigold) left her husband and son behind to become a part of a sex/drugs-infused hippie commune.  Mona berates her when she won’t budge, but Roger sees a semblance of peace there.  He’s always taken solace in drugs, in running away from your problems, and he enjoys the idea of being in a place that thrives off of those things.  Because it’s happiness that is a sign of delusion.  Change is uncomfortable.  Moving forward is uncomfortable.  Stagnancy is comfortable; it makes us happy to fall into routines, to do the same old things over and over again.  It’s also comfortable to dull the senses with substance, forcing us to quit dwelling on our problems in order to ride the numbing sensation.

Mad Men 7x04-4

Source: AMC

But it’s when Roger finds out that Margaret is sleeping around that he finds fault with it.  He knows that Margaret isn’t there because the commune is legitimately a utopia.  The “leader” is obviously taking advantage of people.  Margaret has crafted this utopian vision of what the commune is, all in order to trick herself into believing that it’s the place that she wants to be.  And Roger, when he tries to drag her out, realizes that there’s nothing that he can do for her.  He sees himself in her struggles, in trying to delude yourself with falsities and substance in order to feel at peace.  It’s the same thing that Don does when he drinks himself into a stupor at the office.  But the only person that can truly shake you out of that delusion is yourself.  It’s just a matter of finding the right circumstances for that evolution.

The monolith exists in every space.  Every new environment has the capacity to change us, the capability to transform us into something greater than we are now.  But finding that pathway to evolution is the more difficult part, if not an impossible task altogether.  Most of the time, it just involves hanging on for dear life, hoping to be dropped into situations where evolution is allowed to take place.  But, at the very least, maybe we can avoid the pitfalls that’ll push us back into the blissful delusion that keeps us catatonic and stationary.  Because, if those can be avoided, maybe you can actually move forward.

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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