‘Mad Men’ gets freaky with ‘Mystery Date’

Except for the fact it aired in April, tonight’s “Mad Men” on AMC seemed like a very special Halloween episode. Characters were fascinated — or haunted — with news of Richard Speck’s gruesome killings of several nursing students in Chicago.

And Don Draper, who’s shown more than a little bad judgment during the course of the series, risks ruin with new wife Megan by allowing an old fling to come into his apartment and bed … only to choke the woman to death and stuff her body under his marital bed.

Or did he?

It was that kind of episode. “Mystery Date” showed why the series is one of the most subtle but intriguing shows on TV.

The undercurrent of the episode was the Speck slayings. The staff at Sterling Cooper Draper Price were fascinated by crime scene photos shared by Joyce, Peggy’s magazine photographer friend.

Meanwhile, while Henry and Betty are out of town, Henry’s mother stays over with Sally, who’s curious about the Chicago mass slayings. At first the two don’t get along. But by the end of the episode, they’re bonding over their mutual terror. Henry’s mom has a trusty butcher knife and Sally is sleeping under the sofa. Awww.

There’s a lot of discontent going on. Joan’s military doctor hubby returns from Vietnam with plans to go right back. Don is sick with the flu and irritated by Ginsberg, the new young ad writer. Peggy takes Dawn, the new secretary, home with her but succumbs to the prevailing thinking of the day.

And Megan, understandably irritated when Don’s old girlfriend comes onto him in an elevator, stakes her claim on Don.

But will Don’s philandering ways end both his marriage and the old fling? It sure looks like when Don — in a scene mirroring the “angry housework in lingerie” seduction from a couple of episodes ago — gets a little rough, killing the fling and stuffing her body under the bed.

Does Don Draper have to choke a bitch? (With apologies to Dave Chappelle.)

While I thought “Mad Men” had choked the shark there for a moment, it was all apparently a fever dream. But holy crap, it seemed real.

Other memorable moments:

Roger is a walking ATM machine (well before ATMs existed) this season. A while back he paid out of pocket to settle Pete’s complaints about his office space. Tonight Peggy shook him down for extra work she was doing for him. How long before Roger’s world blows up?

Peggy has always been a great character but her moments tonight were among her best ever.

Joan’s mom is like a character plucked out of a 1960s sitcom and set down in this very bleak situation. And it works.

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