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A computer arrives at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, bringing with it a painfully predictable plot line. (AMC)

Mad Men, Season 7, Episode 4: A Grave New World

The men of SC&P freak out over the arrival of a newfangled computer, but miss the real transformation underway.

BY Sady Doyle

Even for a show with a long track record of unsubtle symbolism and heavy-handed foreshadowing, last night’s episode of Mad Men featured some truly, gleefully over-the-top symbologizing.

When it comes to narrative subtlety, Mad Men can be a bit of a crap shoot. On some nights, the show will be one of the most quiet, beautiful, effective pieces of television you have ever seen. It will show without telling; it will carefully calibrate its parallels and metaphors; it will be intensely artful, and yet utterly believable. As ridiculous as some of the “Golden Age of Television” hype can be — the CEO of AMC recently declared, “if Dickens were alive today, he’d probably be a showrunner”— on a good night, Mad Men earns all of that and more. 
 
But that’s only some nights. On others, Mad Men will throw all that subtlety and restraint out the window, and just give you 40 straight minutes of wide-eyed 1960s denizens speculating about whether there will ever be a man on the moon, and/or whether the future of business might perhaps lie in computers. 
 
Even for a show with a long track record of unsubtle symbolism and heavy-handed foreshadowing, last night’s episode of Mad Men featured some truly, gleefully over-the-top symbologizing. Remember how Lane literally died of his professional disgrace at Sterling Cooper? Don is now in Lane’s office. Ever thought that Don’s creative genius as expressed through Season One’s tear-jerking “Carousel” pitch for Kodak – “around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved” – provides a grim contrast to his current degradation? Well, here’s a song entitled “On a Carousel,” just to drive the point home. 
 
The dread Computer Plot Line — which, last week, seemed like a throwaway, designed to give the terminally underutilized Harry Crane something to do around the office — has now entirely taken over the show. (More Symbolism: The episode is called “The Monolith,” after the mysterious device from 2001: A Space Odyssey that signaled the next evolution of humanity. Also, that movie starred a killer computer.) Does this Computer Plotline come packaged with many thoughts on this, our increasingly mechanized and computer-dependent age? Does it, perhaps, include some pontificating upon whether computers will edge out our precious and organic human creativity? Is a man who installs computers for a living literally compared to Satan? Oh, my friends: How could we expect anything less, on this, the subtlety-free version of Mad Men?
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Sady Doyle is an In These Times Staff Writer. She also contributes regularly to Rookie Magazine, and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. She's the winner of the first Women's Media Center Social Media Award. She's interested in women in pop culture, women creating pop culture, reproductive rights, and women's relationship to the Internet and the Left. You can follow her on Twitter at @sadydoyle, or e-mail her at sady inthesetimes.com.

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