In “The Crash”, while the creatives are spending the weekend thinking about a Chevy campaign, Cutler brings in a doctor to inject the creative team with methamphetamines to boost their imaginations and energy. The episode becomes a psychedelic mosaic of eerie moments where the past folds into the present and nothing feels real – like Ken doing manic tap dancing, or Stan rushing on couches.
The drugs incite crucial flashbacks that reveal Dick Whitman’s Oedipus-themed sexual awakening. We learn that as a young boy, Dick unwittingly lost his virginity to a prostitute who cared for him, much like a mother would by giving him soup and chilling his brow. This first sexual experience imprinted on Don a sexual preference for maternal women. Throughout the episode, Don frantically searches for an old soup commercial. It’s a Norman Rockwell-esque painting of a woman leaning lovingly over her baby boy who reads, “Because you know what he needs” — an innocent, sexual line that hints at how Don often confuses the two. To make the connections even more obvious, the woman in the photo has the same birthmark as the woman who deflowered him and his lover Sylvia.
“The Crash” is a surreal and breathtaking episode unlike any other in the “Mad Men” canon. Its dreamlike imagery and chaotic temporality are confusing and disturbing, but they provide the perfect backdrop for Don’s disturbing sexual history and its impact on his current psychological angst. Its batshit narrative and visual aesthetic make “The Crash” one of the most remarkable and innovative episodes.