For PopWatch, Jeff Jensen writes: The Monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most cryptic icons in all of pop culture. Back in the heat of the cultural conversation about the film, moviegoers wanting to crack the secrets of those sleek alien obelisks concerned themselves with many questions about their motive and influence. Do they mean to harm humanity or improve us? Do those who dare engage them flourish and prosper? Or do they digress and regress? To rephrase in the lexicon of Mad Men: Are these catalysts for evolutionary change subversive manipulators like Lou, advancing Peggy with responsibility and money just to trigger Don’s implosion, or are they benevolent fixers like Freddy, rescuing Don from self-destruction and nudging him forward with helpful life coaching?
“…optimism is a tough sell these days.”
Of course, Don Draper is something of a Monolith himself. The questions people once asked of those mercurial monuments are similar to the questions that the partners and employees of Sterling Cooper & Partners (and the audience) are currently asking of their former fearless leader during the final season of Mad Men, which last week fielded an episode entitled “The Monolith” rich with allusions to Stanley Kubrick’s future-fretting sci-fi stunner. Don, that one-time font of creative genius, is now a mystery of motives and meaning to his peeps following last season’s apocalyptic meltdown during the Hershey pitch. (For Don, Hershey Bars are Monoliths, dark rectangular totems with magical character-changing properties.)
Watching them wring their hands over Don evokes the way the ape-men of 2001 frantically tizzied over The Monolith when it suddenly appeared outside their cavern homes. Can Don be trusted? Do they dare let him work? What does he really want? “Why are you here?” quizzed Bert during a shoeless interrogation in his man-cave. Gloomy Lou made like Chicken Little: “He’s gonna implode!” (His pessimism wasn’t without bias: He did take Don’s old job.)
There are knowing, deeper ironies here. Read the rest of this entry »