'Mad Men' Recap: It's all about 'Alice in Wonderland'

Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, in Season 6, Episode 2 of AMC's "Mad Men." (Michael Yarish/AMC)


Last night, Mad Men's Oedipus Complex was large enough to cast a shadow over Mother Boy 30 and make Norman Bates look well-adjusted. More than that, though, it was all about Carl Jung, synchronicity, Lewis Carroll, and choosing your own adventure. I invite you to follow me down the rabbit hole into Mad Men's Wonderland, where Matthew Weiner is holding court.

Mad Men’s “The Crash” starts off with—you guessed it—a crash. Real American Hero Ken Cosgrove is joyriding around Detroit with a bunch of the Chevy hooligans. They’re covering his eyes, knocking back drinks, and playing with a handgun while Cosgrove pleads to be left alone. They crash and, we learn, Cosgrove has injured his foot and temporarily scathed that babyface of his.

Back at the Time-Life building, everyone is freaking out because Chevy doesn’t like any of the eleventy-billion pitches creative has offered up. Don and company are starting to crack, drink, and nap under the added pressure of all of their new deadlines.

Oh, and Frank Gleason’s dead, so everyone is dealing with that, too. Luckily, Cutler has just the solution to fix all of the mounting problems: a guy named Dr. Hex who comes in and loads everybody up with a “complex vitamin super-dose” that will heighten their focus and confidence for 24-48 hours. It’s Don Draper Mojo by injection.

Suddenly we’ve got high level executives racing around the office, people are arm wrestling, folks are sprinting up the stairs and we’re all just bracing ourselves for the moment when someone loses an appendage to a John Deere tractor.

Through the flashbacks, we learn (for certain) that the one prostitute did in fact deflower an impressionable Dick Whitman way back when. Between the jumps back in time and lapses in the present—thanks to the experimental injections—Don has a revelation. He calls Peggy and Ginsberg into his office show to them an old oatmeal ad and explain his epiphany.

“I’ve got this great message and it has to do with what holds people together," he says. “It may not even be with that person. If this strategy is successful, it’s way bigger than a car. It’s everything.”

What he’s talking about is the concept of archetypes and his moment of clarity was brought on by and/or explained by synchronicity or the “meaningful coincidence.” Coined by Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung, synchronicity is when two or more events seem related even though they’re not linked in causality.

This motif is evidenced by the presence of Gleason's hippie daughter, who's carrying around a copy of I Ching The Book of Changes and trying to sleep with all of her late father's co-workers. Though she's carrying around a different copy, there was a version of I Ching published in 1967 with a foreward by Carl Jung. The entire foreward is centered on his concept of synchronicity.

“If we leave things to nature, we see a very different picture: every process is partially or totally interfered with by chance, so much so that under natural circumstances a course of events absolutely conforming to specific laws is almost an exception.”

Synchronicity is why Joan’s night with Herb to help SCDP land Jaguar, coupled with Don’s flashbacks to his childhood experiences with a sex professional, has the agency’s creative leader convinced that car accounts turn the office into a whorehouse. It's why Sylvia, the prostitute who took Don's virginity, and the woman in the oatmeal ad all have bandanas knotted on top of their heads even though they didn't call each other to coordinate ahead of time. It's why Gleason's daughter has the broken stethoscope and is using it to examine Don's broken heart.

It's also why there's an Alice in Wonderland reference. When they're brainstorming Chevy pitches, Ginsberg and Peggy discuss the part of the story when The Cheshire Cat screws with Alice while she's trying to figure out which path to take.

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.
The Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

Much like The Cheshire Cat explains to Alice that she needs to choose her own adventure, Weiner is suggesting that, in watching and scrutinizing Mad Men, we're going to see our own meaningful coincidences. It's like when teenagers hot-box their dad’s car and then listen to The Wall while watching Alice in Wonderland. He’s inviting us down the rabbit hole and asking that we interpret Mad Men for ourselves. In looking for the synchronicity, we're choosing our own path to get... somewhere.




  • In one scene, Sally Draper is shown reading Rosemary’s Baby. Matthew Weiner has admitted that Teddy Chaough’s “Old Spanish” order in an earlier episode paid homage to the recently departed NBC sitcom 30 Rock, on which the made-up cocktail was a fixture. The fourth episode of 30 Rock’s second season is called “Rosemary’s Baby.” It originally aired on October 25, 2007, exactly one week after Don Draper’s infamous Kodak speech.
  • In Mad Men's pilot, Don talks about Freud specifically. He asks, "Freud, you say? What agency is he with?" Later, he says, “Psychology might be great at cocktail parties, but it so happens that people were buying cigarettes before Freud was born. The issue here isn’t, ‘Why should people smoke?’ It’s, ‘Why should people smoke Lucky Strike?’ Suggesting that our customers have—what did you call it—a death wish… I just don’t see that on a billboard.”
  • The episode ends with a song from The Mamas and the Papas, which plays into the whole Oedipus/Electra complexes from Freud and Jung.
  • Dr. Hecht asks Don, “What are you gonna call this place, SCDPCGC? That’s a mouthful.” Which is exactly what bloggers and viewers have been wondering for weeks now.
  • Loved the William Tell scene with Peggy and Stan. She gets to play Irene of Rome to his Saint Sebastian.
  • For all of the philandering and secretary schtupping that goes on in those offices, the sight of Don Draper with his pants around his ankles, bent over his desk and rolling his eyes was priceless.
  • The intruder that robs the Drapers identifies herself to Sally as Grandma Ida. Grandma Ida was the name of Cloris Leachman’s recurring character on Malcom in the Middle. Now I’m disgustingly obsessed with the very, very slim possibility that it’s a hint about AMC’s other popular drama, Breaking Bad. In some corners of the Internet, it is widely speculated that Breaking Bad could end with Bryan Cranston’s Walter White being placed in witness protection as Hal, the dad on Malcolm in the Middle. I’m basically an AMC conspiracy theorist.