If you haven’t seen the episode, I won’t necessarily go ahead and ruin a ton of plot points for you, but essentially, some very symbolic things do happen. The Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office gets an IBM 360 — ostensibly to make Harry Crane feel important — and it needs to be installed in the creatives’ lunch room (machine replacing man). The lead project manager on the install dresses like a preacher and wonders if “advertising really works.” Don Draper is back at work, and now inhabiting Lane’s office (where Lane committed suicide). Several shots of the office from Don’s POV are done up and back, as if he’s looking out from a coffin. Meanwhile, self-absorbed Roger — who seems to be casually sleeping with a hippie in his current world — visits a hippie commune to “save” his daughter from them and encounters a series of truths about himself (narrative of children pulling apart from their affluent post-War parents). And finally, Peggy finally gets the chance to be Don’s boss, but predictably, it doesn’t go as planned.
Now here’s the thing to keep in mind with all this: in 2014, we’re conditioned that most major TV shows need lots of twists and turns. Mad Men has given us this, in the sense of Roger and Joan’s secret baby, Lane’s suicide, the Bob Benson arc, Pete and Peggy near the beginning, etc. This half-season has mostly been about the evolution (and de-evolution) of Don as a man — and the evolution (and de-evolution) of society in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Those things are interesting, and for the most part they’ve been beautifully acted, but … they’re not exciting in a Breaking Bad-type race to the finish, where suddenly Hank is dead and Jesse is a prisoner of neo-Nazis. Now, perhaps Mad Men Season 7B (next spring/summer) will be like that — I do think someone probably needs to die in 7B — but it’s also entirely possible it won’t be. The end of the show may just be a well-written, well-acted reflection on men and women adjusting to societal changes over time. All that said, it has been moderately frustrating that Bob Benson hasn’t appeared at all (except by name) through four episodes. It did feel like some resolution had to occur there at the end of Season 6.
In general, it does seem that the major media outlets who cover Mad Men and pop culture in general find this season to be a bit slow, perhaps a bit over-the-top with the aforementioned symbolism:
But I also found “The Monolith” too choppy and arhythmic, and too mirrored in self-awareness of its own pop lore, signified by the Hollies’ “On the Carousel” as the episode’s jukebox exit tune, bringing us, yes, full circle to Don’s revelatory Kodak pitch in the first season, oh so many alcoholic falls and adulterous tumbles ago. Mad Men has earned the right to nod knowingly at its own mythology but I hope this doesn’t become a tic.
As of now, there are 10 total episodes of Mad Men remaining — three this season, and seven in Part B. That’s only about 430 minutes of television, or roughly eight hours. A lot can happen in that space (the final parts are being filmed now) and a lot probably will — but some of how you view the action vs. symbolism equation is going to be a personal, contextual thing around how you enjoy television and pacing.