Mad Men Ep. 4: The Monolith

By Jules Suzdaltsev

Spoilers! This week, SC&P got a computer, and Mad Men got a loaded mess of poetic meta-metaphors jammed into a series of allegories. The endless symbolism was so overt it almost broke the fourth wall – making "The Monolith" the best episode this season.

The Monolith

The title is one of many reference to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the film, the monolith is a catalyst for the technological advancement of the human race (and is actually a race of conscious thinking computers created by the first wave of intelligent life.) On Mad Men it's a metaphor for the ominous drum beat of ones and zeroes threatening to wipe out the creative team and Don Draper with the introduction of the agency's new IBM computer. Jim Cutler, who hates Ginsberg, dislikes Don, and doesn’t give much of a shit about creative, put the massive ENIAC-sized computer in the creative lounge. “It’s not symbolic,” says Harry of the electronic beast's threatening presence. “No, it’s quite literal,” Don snaps back.

Lloyd the Philosophical Computer Guy

As the lounge is being repurposed, a bible-salesman looking company head from LeaseTech, Lloyd Hawley, engages Don in a series of hyper-allegorical chats on the nature of the machine they’re installing, which Lloyd says “can be a metaphor for whatever is on people’s minds.” In Don’s mind it isn’t technology so much as the oppressive “machine” of SC&P that is trying to babysit, muzzle, and sober him into being a well-oiled, albeit unnecessary cog. Lloyd says, “This machine is frightening to people, but it’s made by people.” Hammer it home? “Human existence is finite … but isn’t it God-like that we’ve mastered the infinite?” The machine is technology, the machine is the computer, the machine is SC&P.

She followed up her very strange “forgiveness talk” from the season premiere with an explanation: she joined a commune and she’s not coming home (potential Manson reference here – Megan is so dead). 

In case you missed the allegorical bullhorn in the background, “the machine” is also Don, and the machine is becoming obsolete. “They all become obsolete, eventually,” says a smiling Lloyd of IBM. “I saw they had a great product, but they don’t trust it. I’ve worked with these machines, I know how resilient they are; I don’t want to find it in a junkyard in two years.” IBM? They don’t care if their machines are junk or not –they are, by their nature, disposable. But so are people who don’t care … like Lou Avery.

Don v. Peggy & Roger v. Marigold

Peggy’s role as a punching bag this season is still going strong, as she is thrust into a power play by Lou, who assigns her a huge account, a big raise, and Don Draper as a subordinate. Peggy gives Don some bullshit assignment, and in return she gets a steely-eyed glare and the sound of Don's typewriter being thrown into the wall. Meanwhile, guess who else is subordinate to their former female protégée? Roger and his daughter Margaret, or Marigold now. She followed up her very strange “forgiveness talk” from the season premiere with an explanation: she joined a commune and she’s not coming home (potential Manson reference here – Megan is so dead). After Roger physically picks her up and tries to guilt her about being an absentee mother, she spits back in his face reminders of his own role as an absentee father.

The Devil is Everywhere

When an impromptu pitch meeting with Bert Cooper goes sour and Don is informed of his undignified status in the company, he retreats to his office and gets shitty drunk on stolen vodka he sneakily poured into a Coke can. He is eventually rescued by his guardian angel, Freddy Rumsen, but not before running into Lloyd again. In a moment of alcoholic clarity, Don calls Lloyd out: “You go by many names … I know who you are." 

Now it comes together. Lloyd is the Devil. The Devil is the proprietor of the machine. (And Lloyd foreshadows this earlier, saying of the computer, “but isn’t it God-like?”) The machine is IBM, the machine is SC&P, the machine is Don Draper.

The Devil made Don Draper.