By John Andrew Fraser
Sooner or later, everything ends. Sometimes it ends while you’re sharing a plate of onion rings with your family at one of New Jersey’s best diners. Sometimes it ends with life simply moving on as people slide into new positions recently vacated by others, like the world is some kind of complex ecosystem. And sometimes it concludes with the Hollywood ending you always wanted and you die surrounded by the empire you created as cops rush the scene. Mad Men ended tonight, and many will say that the golden age of television drama ended with it. To an extent that may be true—I don’t know that we’ll necessarily see a show quite like Mad Men (or The Sopranos, or The Wire, or Breaking Bad) ever again—but there is still great television being made right now and there will still be great television in the future. But Mad Men was unique in so many ways—it meandered, it took its time, it often confounded viewers, and it was never afraid to get weird. It was one of a kind, and for that reason, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that its finale was totally unique as well.
Don never made it back to New York (at least not on camera). He found out Betty was dying and seemed to make a half-hearted plea to raise their sons, but as soon as Betty reminded him that he wasn’t a big part of their lives to begin with he almost instantly seemed to know that she was right. Instead, he finally makes his way to California and meets up with Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie (and I have to admit that I did not expect to see Stephanie in this final episode). He joins Stephanie on some kind of self-help yoga retreat in the California wilderness. She’s given away her child, just like Peggy, and the kid will grow up without his mother, just like a young Don Draper/Dick Whitman. Don seems eager to try to shed the last vestige of his past when he offers to give Stephanie Anna’s ring. “Move forward,” he tells her (the same advice he gave Peggy in the hospital after she gave birth), but Stephanie isn’t taking his words of wisdom, “I don’t think it works like that,” she tells him.
I’ll be honest, at this time, I’m not exactly sure what Don found on that retreat, or if he even found anything at all. It’s almost like when Tony Soprano looked out over the Las Vegas desert while high on peyote and screamed, “I get it!” Did he come to the conclusion that he was just like Leonard, the everyman who should be happier—the guy who said his family looks at him, but never really sees him? And if Don did reach some kind of epiphany, would he really just turn around, turn it into an advertisement, and sell it back to McCann? Did he even dream up the famous coke commercial to begin with? Or did he think “I’m just like this guy Leonard, people can’t really see me for who I am, I don’t even know if I can see myself for who I am, I’ve failed with my family over and over again, but my one real talent is creating advertisements, it’s what I do, and I have to go back with this idea.” My guess is that this is going to be Matt Weiner’s version of The Soprano’s cut-to-black finale—fans will be debating what that final scene means for years. And there’s no clear answer (or at least to me there’s no clear answer), which makes it both great and frustrating at the same time. For eight years, Mad Men has been asking us whether people can change, now it’s all over—my feeling is that it’s pretty optimistic in its belief that people, in general, can change. But what about Don? I’m still just not sure.
The rest of the episode seemed far less ambiguous and almost a little tidier than I expected. Joan’s boyfriend, Richard, leaves her because he still can’t grasp the concept that she’d rather work than travel the world with him—so she starts Holloway & Harris, a production company where she won’t have to answer to anyone. When we last see Joan she’s using her babysitter as a secretary and running the operation out of her home, which may seem small time, but it’s worth remembering that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s headquarters was originally located in a hotel suite. Something tells me that Joan is going to be just fine. Roger seems happy too. He’s going to marry Marie Calvet. The absurdity of this situation seems to suit Roger well. Even he’s amazed at how little anyone cares, and he gets one last “Roger joke” in as he refers to Marie as his mother as they sit together in a café. I don’t know that I have much faith in Roger and Marie’s relationship long-term, considering what we know about both characters. Nevertheless, I think this was a fitting way for Roger Sterling to go out.
My guess is that fans of the show felt that Peggy and Stan also went out in the best way possible. There has been undeniable chemistry between the two ever since they were naked in that hotel room together back in season four, so it’s not exactly surprising that they’d end up together in the finale. Call me unsentimental, however, but I was a little lukewarm on the pairing (I didn’t hate it, I was just lukewarm on it). I just couldn’t help but watch the scene when Peggy and Stan confess their love for one another and think that it was a little beneath Mad Men (although the fact that it didn’t come across as a typically graceful confession was pretty great). Two weeks ago, I was left thinking that all Peggy really needed in life was her octopus painting. Her ending wasn’t bad, it just was more traditional than I expected, but that’s also okay—Peggy Olson has always been the character that Mad Men has viewed with the most hope. It makes sense that she’d get the happiest ending.
It’s hard to believe that it’s all over. I’ve heard many people say that to watch Mad Men is to look back on your own life, and it’s true. When this show premiered eight years ago I was graduating from high school! Since then there have been graduations, birthdays, and funerals in my life. I’ve moved to New York, left, and moved back again. I remember first watching “The Wheel,” while I was on a transcontinental flight back to America in 2009. It’s great how the characters changed, but always seemed to grow into different versions of themselves. And this is what happens in real life too! Take a look at an old year book, or a photo album, or an old picture on facebook, and you’ll see the same thing—you’re still you, but you’ve also changed. I keep thinking about Betty’s letter to Sally last week as the perfect illustration of this. On one hand, she acknowledges that she understands Sally and that she’s no longer afraid for her. She tells her to embrace the adventure. On the other hand, a large part of that letter is devoted to telling Sally how Betty wants to look at her funeral—Betty’s definitely changed, but she’s still Betty.
I’ve watched these characters make progress and then backslide so many times throughout the years that sometimes I almost feel like I can see little parts of myself in them. That might sound weird, and I don’t think that by watching Mad Men I’m fulfilling some kind of fantasy where I get to see myself on t.v. (I’m pretty sure I’d never want to see that), but it has led me to grow more attached to Mad Men than perhaps any other show I’ve ever watched. When you strip everything else away, the big ideas that Mad Men dealt with—personal identity, happiness, and fulfillment—are so universal, it’s hard not to relate at least a little on a personal level. For eight years, fans of Mad Men tuned in to watch something that they knew was special and unique. So many times it swung for the fences and delivered great moments. You almost want to buy the world a coke just thinking about it.
- True story: I’ve basically given up drinking soda, but today my roommate was drinking a can of coke and for some reason I just felt compelled to go out and buy one too. I guess the moral of the story is to never discount real-life foreshadowing?
- I loved that when Pete told Peggy that she’d be a creative director by 1980 and that someday people would brag about having worked with her, she responded with the classic Pete line, “a thing like that.”
- For some reason the line that made me laugh the hardest this week was when Joan asked Ken how his son was doing and he responded, “He’s kind of weird actually. We think he might have problems.”
- Weiner really spread the love in this episode. Nearly every major character showed up (even Ken Cosgrove and Harry Crane). Some were speculating that this last episode might only focus on Don, but that clearly wasn’t the case.
- So that’s it. We’ve reached the end of the road. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my Mad Men season seven recaps. Even though I’ll miss writing these, I won’t miss staying up until all hours of the night on Sundays. In closing, I’d like to thank everyone who has read and commented, and I’d also like to thank Colin for allowing me to post on his blog.
By John Andrew Fraser
I’ll be interested to see what other critics say about “The Milk and Honey Route.” While I wouldn’t necessarily call it a bad episode of Mad Men (although to be fair, I don’t think I’d call any episode of Mad Men bad), it does seem like a rather strange way to spend the show’s penultimate hour. There was no Roger Sterling tonight, no Peggy Olson, and no Joan Holloway. Instead we got scenes with Don at an American Legion gathering in Kansas with a bunch of characters we’ve never met before. Yet to be fair, this hour of Mad Men did appear to wrap up a couple storylines—one brutally, and the other with what seems to be a sense of hope.
For years, Mad Men fans have speculated that Don, once the ace ad man for big tobacco, would fall victim to some terrible smoking-related illness like lung cancer or emphysema. This episode is a classic example of the show zigging when we thought it would zag, as we find out early in the hour that Betty has been diagnosed with very aggressive, late-stage lung cancer. There’s no getting better, and most of the medicine and treatment will be palliative. Some may argue that this end to Betty’s arc is too melodramatic, however, I found it to be the biggest gut-punch the show has delivered since Lane Pryce’s suicide in season five. Betty had finally found fulfillment in her life—she had returned to school and was going to pursue a career in psychology—perhaps something she had wanted to do for a long time (she told Don last week, “I’ve always wanted this” as she read Freud at her kitchen table). This makes her diagnosis that much harder to take, Betty seemed destined for something close to a happy ending, and in the span of an episode, it morphed into a nightmare. In her final note to Sally, she almost serves as a mouthpiece for the show, stating “sometimes it’s best not to prolong things. Sometimes you need to accept when things are over.”
Meanwhile, Duck Phillips makes a surprise return in this episode. He informs Pete that there’s a great job opportunity at Learjet, but that he’d have to move to Wichita to take it. At first, Pete balks at the possibility. Yet, over the course of the hour he channels his inner Don Draper and realizes that Wichita could be a place for him to start over—and he comes to realize that he needs and wants to start over. He has dinner with his brother, Bud, who mechanically recounts his own philandering ways. He treats his daughter’s bee sting with some toothpaste, and he seems to remember just why he and Trudy made such a good team. By the end of the episode, he’s ready to move to Kansas with his wife and daughter. Not everyone gets a second chance in life, but apparently Pete Campbell does.
I’m guessing there will be some discussion as to whether Pete “deserves” this ending (if this is in fact his ending, since we still have one more episode left). Many fans of the show have long seen Pete as a kind of villain—Full disclosure, I am not one of these people. For better or worse, Pete has always been one of my favorite characters on the show, and the character with whom I most closely identified. So in his defense, I would ask—has any character changed as much as Pete Campbell over the course of the show’s run? Think back to the Pete in season one—the little weasel who tried to blackmail Don, and look at him now. He had to nearly ruin his life to understand just what he had, but Pete spotted an opportunity to turn things around, and he took it. That represents progress. Mad Men, like The Sopranos before it, is fascinated with the question “can people change?” and Pete Campbell has changed. That’s why it looks like there’s hope for him in the future, and maybe, just maybe, he’s earned it.
Kansas represents a new and better life for Pete, but what does it represent for Don? Purgatory? A different location where he still can’t escape his past? As has been the case several times this season, many of the scenes involving Don in Kansas take on an almost dreamlike quality—the episode even starts with an actual dream, where Don is pulled over by a policeman who tells him that they’ve finally caught up with him. He’s pressured into attending a veterans gathering, and my first thought was that these were the kind of people Dick Whitman would’ve been hanging out with if he had never ditched his identity. But Don isn’t Dick anymore—even though he confesses to the other veterans that he killed the real Don Draper back in Korea—it’s obvious to everyone at the event that he has money and that he doesn’t belong. When they believe that he’s stolen their money later that night, they break into his hotel room and accuse him of being the imposter that he is. However, Don didn’t steal the money, a new Don Draper named Andy, the local handy-boy did. Don realizes this, and tells Andy that if he commits a crime like this he’ll have to be somebody else, and that won’t be what he thinks it is. Yet despite this advice, the episode ends with Don giving Andy the keys to his car. He ultimately offers him a way to escape—a way to start over. It’s becoming clear that Don doesn’t want to be Don Draper anymore, but he can’t really go back to being Dick Whitman either. As he sits alone at the bus stop as the episode ends, we’re left to ask yet again, “who is Don Draper?” At this point it looks like he might disappear completely.
· Looking back, the show had hinted at Betty’s death several different times. In the season five episode “Tea Leaves,” she has a benign tumor removed from her throat and she ponders what life would be like without her. Earlier this season in “A Days Work,” Sally mentions getting Betty in the ground.
· In season six, Duck Phillips informs Pete that he has a job opportunity for him in Wichita, to which Pete responds, “Anything on planet earth?” This is a classic Mad Men moment where a small, seemingly insignificant exchange comes back and figures into the plot in a big way.
· I’ll see everyone next week for the series finale “Person to Person.” I don’t know what it says about the show, but I still feel like there’s so many different ways this story could end. I remain confident that Matt Weiner will deliver a satisfying conclusion.
By John Andrew Fraser
By all accounts, Semi Chellas is Matthew Weiner’s protégé. Over the years she’s written some of the show’s finest episodes, such as season five’s trippy “Far Away Places,” and season seven’s “The Strategy.” But it was her work on another season five episode, “The Other Woman,” that should have prepared us for this week’s hour. In that episode, Peggy Olson walked away from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in search of a new beginning while Joan prostituted herself in order to earn partner status at the agency. We’ll get to Peggy shortly, but this week was the final straw for Joan. Back in “The Other Woman,” she agreed to something terrible with the assurance that it would lead to more autonomy, more respect, and more power—and for awhile it did—she had finally climbed the ladder at SC&P and earned the job she had always wanted. Yet now that the agency has been absorbed by McCann, Joan’s worst fears from last week have already come to fruition—she’s nothing but a junior-level executive at McCann. Everything she’s worked for, after everything she’s been through, has been taken away, and she’s willing to take fifty cents on the dollar just to get out so she’ll never have to deal with it again. Just as Peggy did in season five, Joan leaves the agency—although with just two episodes left, I don’t think she’s coming back.
If this is the end of Joan’s arc (and it may be the end of her work-related story, but I’m almost 100% sure that we’ll see her again in the next two episodes), it’s worth asking whether any other character has changed as much during Mad Men’s run. In seasons one and two she was worried about meeting the right guy and moving to Glen Cove. In the pilot, she even told Peggy to put a paper bag over her head and really evaluate her strengths and weaknesses. Now, she’s staring down Jim Hobart and talking about Betty Friedan after her new boyfriend has offered to get Paulie Walnuts and Silvio Dante to come over and make him listen to reason. Would season one Joan even recognize season seven Joan if you put both of them together in a room?
We also found out this week that Roger Sterling knows how to play the organ! (Side question—why was there ever an organ in the SC&P office to begin with?) I guess it’s only appropriate since this episode did serve as a kind of funeral for the agency. Every scene with Roger and Peggy this week was solid gold. I loved seeing him play the organ while Peggy roller-skated through the halls of SC&P, I loved when he gave her Bert’s old painting of an octopus pleasuring a woman (was that the most Roger Sterling thing to do or what?), and I especially loved the slow-motion scene where Peggy walks down the hall at McCann for the first time wearing sunglasses while she’s clutching Bert’s octopus painting. I really hope that this scene hints at how Peggy will act during the rest of her time at McCann—showing up more than a little buzzed at 4 p.m. while just generally lacking respect for authority. Overall, these scenes seemed to serve as comic relief in an episode that was otherwise somewhat heavy at times, while also allowing the two characters to relive the time they spent at SC&P together, yet there was also a sense of sadness hanging over them. As Roger notes, “you’re never safe, even when your name’s on the door”—with the end of Sterling Cooper & Partners, he has quite literally been erased.
This idea of erasure follows Don throughout this episode as well. He’s invited to attend a meeting with Miller about a new low-calorie beer, but he finds that about twenty other Don Drapers (along with Ted Chaough) are also in the meeting. Just as Joan’s worst fears about McCann became reality this week, so did Don’s. He’s simply a cog in a huge machine, surrounded by drones who all turn their pages at the exact same time at the conference table. Don looks out the window and sees a plane fly by the Empire State Building and off into the distance. He senses that it really doesn’t even matter whether he’s in this meeting or not. He’s proven correct as he gets up, leaves and literally no one seems to notice. He shows up at the Francis residence to take Sally back to school, but she’s already left. Nobody seems to need him in either his work or his family life, so he decides to do the one thing any sane person would do—leave everything and drive to Wisconsin.
Don has always had a little Rabbit Angstrom in him, but nothing on the show has called back to John Updike’s 1960 novel quite like Don’s impromptu cross-state road trip in this episode. He’s looking for Diana—the waitress who everyone hated from the first two episodes this half season—but when he reaches Racine he can only find the remnants of the life she left behind—her daughter, her home, her ex-husband, and his new wife. I mentioned in an earlier review that Don probably saw a lot of himself in Diana, so maybe it was important for him to see what she left behind since he was always unable or unwilling to go back and witness the people he abandoned in his past. As the curtain closes on this episode Don is still driving. He picks up a hitchhiker who’s heading toward St. Paul. Assuming Don’s still in Wisconsin, he’s heading west. Who knows, he just might make it to California after all.
- After the previous four episodes ended with older songs, this one closed with David Bowie’s Space Oddity. I could not have been happier about this.
- Usually more stuff slips through the cracks at a bigger company, but it doesn’t sound like Don will just be able to go AWOL at McCann like he sometimes did at Sterling Cooper. He’s already missed two client meetings and Jim Hobart doesn’t sound pleased. Will Don quit or get fired, or does it even matter anymore?
- Seriously, where did that organ come from? I remember that one of the kids was playing it in last week’s episode. Also, was that some left-over Vermouth from the Pima Ryan ad that Peggy and Roger were drinking?
By John Andrew Fraser
I’m guessing that for all the people out there who have been disappointed in this final half-season of Mad Men up to this point, “Time & Life” was a welcome episode. It’s one of the more heavily plot-driven Mad Men hours in recent memory and it mostly eschews minor characters and subplots, and focuses on people we’ve known and cared about for much of the show’s run. Pete Campbell even flipped the script and got to punch someone, so we’ve got that going for us, which is good.
Remember how season seven’s midseason finale was titled “Waterloo?” Well we didn’t know it at the time, but Roger’s decision to make Sterling Cooper & Partners an independent subsidiary of McCann really did mark the end of the agency. In a sense, that episode was the characters’ last stand, while this one represented their ultimate defeat. SC&P is no more, dissolved and swallowed up by McCann Erickson, like a fish by a whale. At first, Don, Roger, and the other partners try to pull off a desperation Hail Mary, much like they did in season’s three’s “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” and season six’s “For Immediate Release,” (and even in “Waterloo” itself), by planning to move to SC&P West’s office with their accounts that have conflicts with McCann’s existing clients. However, this time, there’s no Lane Pryce around to fire them, there’s no merger, there’s no bigger company to buy them out. This time, the deal has been done—they’re trapped.
I’m actually glad that Don’s dream of moving the partners and some of their accounts to California didn’t come to fruition. We’ve seen that kind of “re-up to preserve the status quo” story several times on this show, and with only three episodes left, I don’t think it would have worked well to go in that direction again. Plus, California has always kind of been a new frontier for Don—a place where he could escape from reality and run from his problems back in New York (although one could argue that this hasn’t been the case as much ever since Anna Draper died in season four). Now that door has basically closed for Don. It’ll be more interesting to see what he and the partners do now that they don’t have the option to run anymore. They have no choice but to face reality. They’ve died and gone to advertising heaven, as Jim Hobart puts it. And it’s true—Don, Roger, Pete, and Joan have been defined by what they’ve built at SC&P, and now that that’s gone, a part of them is too. But are they in heaven?—that part is debatable. McCann didn’t respect the idea of SC&P as an independent subsidiary for long, who’s to say that they’ll accept Don working on Coca-Cola, or Roger handling Buick for very long either.
The other main storyline tonight involved Peggy and her choice to give her child up for adoption. Over the course of the episode, Peggy found herself in several situations that forced her to ponder her life not lived—first, in a brief scene with Pete, then with a small girl whose mom has left her at an audition, and finally with Stan. While we’ve seen Peggy interact with children on this show before (especially while in Pete’s presence), we’ve never seen her talk to someone like she did with Stan tonight about her decision to give up her child. I liked how Peggy kind of dances around the details of the story when Stan asks her what she did, but she gives him enough information so that he knows what’s going on. I imagine that would be a pretty realistic response from someone who has been hiding a painful secret for a long time. I also like how she tells Stan that she doesn’t know how her son is doing, not because she doesn’t care, but because she can’t know because that’s the only way she’ll be able to move on. This echoes back to what Don told Peggy while visiting her in the hospital—“get out of here and move on. This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened.” Just as Don sometimes seems to be filling Roger’s old role, Peggy sometimes seems to be filling Don’s.
Meanwhile, as is often the case on Mad Men, Pete Campbell’s difficulties mirror Peggy’s in this episode. While he technically maintains some presence in his daughter’s life, she isn’t getting into Greenwich Country Day in part because she can’t properly draw a picture of a man, and even when Pete comes back to his former home in Cos Cob, he insists on leaving before Tammy gets back from the park. It’s no wonder she can’t draw a man—Pete would rather save the Seacor Laxative account than his relationship with his own daughter.
So will “Time & Life” quiet some of the negative chatter surrounding this final half-season of Mad Men? I still have no idea how the series will end (and that’s good, I prefer it that way), but this was the first episode of the final seven where I feel like Weiner and the other writers can’t be accused of wheel-spinning and focusing on the “wrong” characters. They’ve given us a major plot point and at least suggested new directions for many of the show’s main characters; while, at the same time, making it feel like things are starting to wind down. Only three episodes to go. Lets see how it all plays out.
- I liked how in the final scene the partners were completely ignored in the office meeting after they announce that they’ll be moving in with McCann. Don and Roger used to command so much authority, now nobody really bothers paying attention. Don tries to sell the move as a new beginning, but nobody’s really buying that. They all know it’s the end.
- “Greenwich, Connecticut is built on divorce!” I don’t know if that makes it into the pantheon of great Pete Campbell quotes, but it’s very close.
- I’ve mentioned this in other reviews, but how many of these characters end the show working in advertising? Peggy says she’s going to McCann. Joan is the only partner who doesn’t get an account from Jim Hobart. Don looks disillusioned. I could honestly see all of them moving on from advertising completely.
By John Andrew Fraser
Back in the old days, whenever Don Draper would blow up his life, he would have a plan—or at least he would make it look like he had a plan. Now, Don stares at his apartment building, empty except for a few pieces of patio furniture. It’s representative of the blank slate that is his life—the blank slate he has so often craved over the course of the show’s run. Yet this time, it seems clear that Don has no plan. While many have commented that Mad Men’s previous two episodes have dealt with the idea of “the life not lived,” “The Forecast” shifts the show’s focus to the future, and just like Don, many of Mad Men’s other main characters have no clue what they hope to gain as their lives progress. When Don asks Ted Chaough “what’s next?,” all Ted can come up with is that he’d like to sign a pharmaceutical company, and when he asks Peggy, she says that she wants to become SC&P’s first female creative director. Later in the episode, he asks Sally what she wants to be when she grows up. Her only response is that she wants to eat dinner. As Don tries to probe deeper, the answers only get more murky.
One thing that’s becoming increasingly clear is that the people in Don’s life are no longer afraid to call him out on things. Last week, Megan called him an aging, sloppy liar. Within the first five minutes of this episode, Melanie, the real estate broker tasked with selling his apartment, tells him that his home reeks of failure and unhappiness. Later, after Mathis completely bombs in a meeting with a client, at least partially because of advice Don gave him, he tells Don that he has no character and that he’s only succeeded because he’s handsome. And finally, Sally tells him that she just wants to get away so that she won’t turn out like him or Betty. What’s interesting is that Don seems to actually internalize all of this. Sure, he lashes back at Mathis and fires him. Sure, he grabs Sally’s arm and tells her that she’s more like him and her mother than she thinks, but you can tell that he’s legitimately hurt by both comments. The old Don was Teflon, none of this would have phased him. Yet the new Don takes these comments to heart, probably because he knows, at least on some level, that Megan, Melanie, Mathis, and Sally are all right to criticize him. At the very least, they’re not wrong.
Ever since Betty gave Glen a lock of her hair way back in season one, the two have had one of Mad Men’s strangest relationships. That relationship reached its apex tonight as Glen actually tried to make a move on Betty. This was, in-part, a reaction to Glen’s own uncertain future, as he informs Betty that he’s failed out of college and is joining the army (hey, maybe Betty wasn’t completely delusional last week when she told Don that people seek her out to share their confidences). And even though Betty ultimately rejects him, it’s obvious that she finds some kind of strange pleasure in what’s happened. I guess this was an appropriately weird way for one of the show’s oddest storylines to conclude.
The other main story tonight centered around Joan, who met a wealthy real estate developer while she was on a business trip in Los Angeles. At first, he appears to be every bit her equal. The two hit things off, and it even looks like he might figure into Joan’s own personal-life forecast. However, when she tells him that she has a four-year-old son, he reacts so selfishly that it looks like things will fall apart completely. Joan’s been hit from all angles during season seven—whether it be lack of respect at work or in her personal life (remember when Bob Benson proposed to her in “The Strategy,” by basically telling her that she wasn’t getting any younger?). That’s why it definitely seems like a victory—at least for now—when he turns up at SC&P and apologizes. Yet at the end of the day, can we really say that Joan’s forecast is any clearer than the rest of the characters?
But ultimately, these final episodes seem to be asking whether there’s any chance that Don Draper can actually change. Earlier this week, Todd Vanderwerff wrote a piece for Vox, in which he mentioned that he hopes that the show will conclude with Don approaching some level of self-realization before reverting back to his old ways one last time, much like Tony Soprano did in The Sopranos. While it’s still too early to say whether this will be the case, Don does seem to be on a path toward something—at least that’s what all his questions about the future and increased level of introspection seem to suggest. He’ll keep on chasing it, but what he finds is another question entirely.
- The previous episode ended with Don alone in his empty apartment. This episode ends with Don standing alone, outside his apartment, which has just been sold. He’s moving farther and farther away from the person he used to be.
- When Don probes Peggy on what she would like to achieve, she eventually says she would like to produce something meaningful and lasting. Don’s response—“You think you can do that through advertising?” Again, this seems to be another example of a character who used to define himself through his work realizing that maybe that work was hollow all along. What are the chances that Don quits advertising by the end of the series?
- To be fair, I’d be grossed out too if I were Sally and both my parents were hitting on my friends.
By John Andrew Fraser
We begin with Henry Francis stopping by to literally drink Don’s milkshake and we end with a wide shot of Don standing alone in his empty apartment, the one that was once so elegantly decorated by Megan—the one that was supposed to represent a new beginning. “New Business” is a wild, somewhat disjointed episode, similar to, yet very different from “The Runaways” from the first half of this season. Both episodes balance a multitude of characters and storylines, and many of these storylines deal with the characters making rash, impulsive decisions and/or encountering borderline surreal situations.
Last week, I assumed Diana, the waitress from the diner who was reading The 42nd Parallel, would be a one-off character in the same mold as Neve Campbell’s mysterious stranger on a plane from season seven’s first episode, “Time Zones.” But less than ten minutes into “New Business,” Diana is back. I had no idea what to make of Don’s interactions with Diana in “Severance,” and I still find it odd that Matthew Weiner would bring a character like this in with only a handful of episodes to go, but after learning some of Diana’s back story, I get the feeling that Don sees a lot of himself in her. They’re both from the Midwest, they both abandoned their families (Di’s dead daughter even calls back to Don’s brother Adam Whitman, who hanged himself in season one after Don rejected him), and they both seem to possess the same world-weary sadness when it comes to life. The main difference between the two is that Diana doesn’t want to forget the pain she’s caused those she’s left behind, while Don in large part refuses to remember. Maybe that’s why Diana’s around—to make him remember over the course of these final five episodes.
Diana still seems to exist in a kind of half-dream state. She’s like a reprieve from the real world for Don, and he needs it in this episode, as his divorce with Megan looks like it’s going to get messy. However, the ever-impulsive Don tries to take matters into his own hands by writing Megan a check for $1,000,000. How much cash did Don make from the McCann deal? Maybe he ends up living in some small, rundown apartment with Diana as the series concludes. He certainly seems to be quietly divesting himself of his possessions in this episode. He’s paid off Megan and lost a large sum of money in the process and he’s definitely going to need some new furniture. I liked how Don told Roger early in the episode that Megan wasn’t Jane, yet Megan gave Don almost the exact same speech that Jane must have given Roger when they divorced. She even got to tell Don that he’s getting sloppy and old (surely reminding him that he’s running out of chances and that eventually age, and death, will catch up with him).
The other prominent storyline this week involved Peggy and Stan dealing with a photographer named Pima Ryan, who was shooting an ad for SC&P. While Pima may have been talented, she was also a con-artist of sorts, coming on to both Peggy and Stan to advance her own work. Was it a coincidence that Peggy told Stan that Pima was in advertising more so than art? Wouldn’t you expect Peggy to be the one to argue that advertising is important, that it is art? Maybe Pima’s helping her see that there needs to be more in her life than just advertising. Yes, Pima’s had a lot of adventures along the way. Yes, her work may have led to fame and notoriety, but Peggy ultimately rejects Pima because she realizes that she (like advertising in general) is insincere. Perhaps I’m reading into this too much, or maybe even if Peggy is starting to come to this realization she’ll just be pulled back into the advertising machine like Ken was last week, however, I do think this is something to keep an eye on over the next five weeks.
If last week’s big thematic element was “the life not lived,” this week seemed to be about looking at the reality of one’s life and then desperately trying to turn away from it. Don would rather cut an enormous check than go through more divorce proceedings with Megan. Roger would rather sleep with Marie Calvet than face anything in his personal or work life, and Harry Crane…well lets not even get started on that one. Oddly enough, Pete Campbell, who has had very little screen time this half-season so far has become pretty philosophical. Last week he mentioned how he felt like he was really changing his life in California, but now it just feels like a dream. This week, while on his way to a golf outing with Don, he basically sums up one of the major ideas that Mad Men’s been exploring all along—“You think you’re going to begin your life over and do it right. But what if you never get past the beginning again?” The carousel keeps spinning, aren’t we just bound to get off where we got on?
- Betty only shows up for a minute here, but she’s going to get a masters in psychology from Fairfield University. Interesting how the tables seem to have turned since season one when Betty was in therapy. But would you really want Betty as your psychologist?
- We get a Sylvia and Arnold Rosen sighting in the elevator. Arnold seems to be really amused by Don and Diana. If he only knew.
- I love how Roger is kind of haunted by his past in this episode. He can’t play golf because Bert Peterson will be there, and Megan basically walks in on him and her mom, but in the end he just doesn’t care.
- Harry Crane’s indecent proposal was pretty cringe-worthy. Harry will never cease to be a sleaze-ball. Seriously, do people really think Pete is sleazier than Harry at this point?
- I honestly felt bad for Megan in this episode. She seemed like she wanted to make the divorce as civil as possible, but her family just kept dragging her down. You can always count on Marie Calvet to stir the pot.
- “What career? She’s a consumer!”—Roger Sterling
By John Andrew Fraser
When AMC first announced that it was splitting Mad Men’s final season into two halves, Matthew Weiner stated that the first seven episodes would deal with the material world, while the series’ final seven episodes would take a closer look at the things that exist beyond that world—things like family, happiness, and self-fulfillment. All of SC&P’s partners are very wealthy thanks to the McCann deal—in one specific scene Peggy even says to Joan, “you’re filthy rich, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do”—but are they happy? The answer certainly seems to be no.
Despite her newfound wealth, Joan still can’t seem to gain the respect she clearly deserves. When she’s not being mistaken for a former department store employee, she’s being verbally harassed by a group of McCann executives in a meeting. I’m eager to see what road Weiner and the writers have mapped out for Joan in these final six episodes. On one hand, she seems like someone who finds a pretty deep sense of purpose in her role at SC&P, but on the other, I think it’s fair to ask just how long she can stay in an environment where so few people recognize her talents. She could be the most knowledgeable account woman on Madison Avenue and still not command a room of clients like Roger or even Pete, just because of her gender and good looks. Still, it seems really weird to imagine an SC&P without Joan.
An SC&P without Ken Cosgrove will be weird too. Ken—who many have said is the lone good guy at the agency—was the first (and my guess is that he won’t be the last) casualty of the McCann deal. At first I was strangely happy for Ken when Roger gave him the axe. I always felt it was pretty clear, ever since he was writing robot science-fiction under the pen name Ben Hargrove in season five, that Ken’s real interests were elsewhere. I was definitely rooting for him to move to a farm and become a writer full-time. That seems like it would’ve made him happy, but will being head of advertising for Dow Chemical? Maybe screwing over his former bosses will make the position worth it, but Ken really needs to be sitting in front of a type-writer in a cabin in rural Vermont. I’m pouring one out for all the robot novels we’ll never get to read.
And then there’s Don. When he asks the fur model in the opening scene, “look at yourself. Do you like what you see?” He might as well be talking to himself. The end has never been closer for Don (we only get him for six more episodes), and I’d be willing to bet that he still feels like he did in “The Strategy” when he told Peggy that he worries that he’ll never have anybody and that he’s never done anything. Death follows Don Draper everywhere in this episode, whether it be Rachel Menken’s passing, a red wine stain on his carpet that resembles blood, or an waitress who is literally named Di. Luckily, Don has an endless supply of fur models, mistresses, and, well, waitresses named Di to take his mind off his eventual demise. I’m guessing that many will speculate that all these details suggest that we might actually get to see Don’s death on screen before the series ends. While I wouldn’t rule this out completely, knowing Weiner, it might be just as likely that he’ll end the series by having Don experience one final figurative death. He might not actually die, but he’ll continue to be trapped in a life where he has no one, and hasn’t done anything. Don, like many of the other characters on this show, seems to have reached the mountain-top upon first glance, but is that all there is?
- I didn’t mention Peggy in this review, but while super drunk she decides she’s going to Paris with Mathis’ brother-in-law. Will Peggy finally find happiness in her personal life which has so often seemed cursed on this show? Based on her sober reaction to the night, I’m skeptical, but I did love that Stan was all about her Paris plans.
- All scenes involving Don and Di, the waitress, were super weird. Maybe I didn’t pick up on something, but was she just there because she made him think about Rachel Menken, or was there something more to these scenes?
- Roger Sterling’s mustache—a thing of beauty.
By John Andrew Fraser
A little over a week ago, I visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library just outside of Boston. There, I was reminded that it was Kennedy who initially wanted to put a man on the moon. He presented this goal at the beginning of the decade, when Peggy Olsen was a secretary, when Don Draper was hanging out with his bohemian girlfriend in Greenwich Village, and when Roger Sterling was puking up oysters. Nobody could have predicted the twists and turns the decade would take at that point—Kennedy’s assassination, Vietnam, the 1968 Democratic Convention, and the beginning of the Nixon presidency. Yet there we were on July 20, 1969, fulfilling Kennedy’s dream (in many ways this event tied the tumultuous decade together). The way we got there was strange, but it happened. Like the times in which they live, Mad Men’s characters’ lives are often unpredictable, but they, like us, can always count on the past morphing into the future without advance notice. Time waits for no man and the future inevitably leaves people behind, and nothing says “the future” quite like the wide open possibilities of space.
More than anything, ‘Waterloo’ feels like an ending. Torches are being passed all over the place in this episode. I guess it’s fitting that Bert Cooper died right after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon—he always loved astronauts (remember his eulogy for Ms. Blankenship in season four?). But Bert also represents the last of an old generation that has faded away. He was someone who Don and Roger looked up to, now they take their place as the next in line to kick the bucket. When Bert told Roger that he wasn’t a leader, it seemed to shake Roger from his eternal childhood trance. This led to the McCann deal, which seems like it will lead to the sale of Bert’s company mere days after his death. Like I said, the future often ruthlessly replaces the past without warning. Time waits for no man.
In many ways, Jim Cutler represents this relentless rush toward the future more than anyone else on the show. He’s one part stone cold pragmatist and one part villain, and his attempt to oust Don from the agency leads to another great torch-passing moment in this episode. With Don’s job hanging in the balance, he decides to hand the Burger Chef pitch over to Peggy at the last second. It seems like Don’s really letting go and realizing that other people need to fill the shoes that he once filled. The agency really is just one big ecosystem where some people die out or move on while others move up the food chain and assume their positions like it’s a law of nature (In this way, the Mad Men world reminds me of the streets on The Wire). Peggy proves that she’s more than ready for the moment here. Her pitch is so good that it harkens back to Don’s famous carousel speech in ‘The Wheel.’ Was there any doubt that SC&P was going to pick up Burger Chef’s business after that? I’m pretty sure I even saw a tear beginning to form in one of its executives’ eyes as Peggy was wrapping things up. One of the best things about this half season of Mad Men has been the way Don and Peggy have mended their relationship. It has been well documented that one thing that may truly “save” Don going forward is his role as a mentor and friend to Peggy.
Finally, there’s the deal with McCann Erickson. This plot point sets up so many interesting questions for the final seven episodes of the series. It certainly creates an existential crisis for Don. He has had various opportunities to work at McCann, literally since season one, and has always been deeply unimpressed by the opportunity to work for such a huge agency where he’d be just a cog in a machine. However, I think the first couple episodes of this season showed us that Don really needs to be in the business or he loses his sense of purpose (he even tells Ted as much in this episode). The fact that his relationship with Megan seems to be beyond repair only serves to further drive this point home (side note: I don’t think Don and Megan will ever officially get divorced, at least on the show. They’ll just remain separated and very distant). At the end of the day, selling the agency to McCann will make all the partners very rich, but will it make them happy? Will they still have purpose?
In several interviews, Matthew Weiner has said that he intended for the first half of this season to be about the material world and the second half to be about things beyond the material world, such as happiness, spirituality, and personal fulfillment. With this in mind, it seems that Don’s vision of Bert Cooper’s bizarre dance routine was a strangely appropriate way to lead us into the show’s homestretch. “The best things in life are free,” Bert sings. We hear this a lot, but what will it mean for these characters, as we prepare to leave them forever next spring? I can confidently say that I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.
In closing, I want to thank everyone who has read my posts this season. I’ve had fun writing these, and I hope that I’ll be able to write recaps for the final seven episodes of this great show in the Spring of 2015. I’d also like to thank Colin for agreeing to post my recaps on his blog every Monday. Whenever he gets a free second at work on Monday mornings he’s making sure that things look good and that they’re ready to post. Without his hard work I’d just be a guy sitting at a computer.
By John Andrew Fraser
As Mad Men’s final season draws to its halfway point, it’s only fitting that many of the show’s characters are looking back on the choices they’ve made as they continue to try to move forward into a future that looks absolutely nothing like the world they once inhabited in the early 1960s. Above all else, ‘The Strategy’ is an episode where Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, Don Draper, Joan Harris, and even Bob Benson examine the choices they have made and the choices they will continue to make. Specifically, they consider how many of these choices—most involving their work lives—have effected their family lives.
There’s a reason why I listed Peggy’s name first in the above paragraph, as she is very much the center of this episode. It’s been well documented that Peggy has had a pretty horrible season thus far. She’s been underappreciated at work, and she seemingly doesn’t have many people to turn to in her personal life. Things don’t start off much better for her in ‘The Strategy’—she’s pitching a commercial for Burger Chef to a visiting Pete Campbell. The commercial is selling pure nostalgia—a woman bringing a fast-food meal into her home to feed her family—the kind of thing the old Sterling Cooper used to do so well, and Peggy nails the pitch. Pete is impressed, but he still thinks that Don should be the one to present the idea to Burger Chef. As far as we’ve come in the Mad Men universe, it’s still a man’s world. Pete even describes Peggy by saying “you know she’s as good as any woman in this business.”
Peggy looks like she might be on the verge of a Michael Ginsberg-style breakdown after this most recent setback. She’s unsatisfied with her original Burger Chef idea and ultimately decides to abandon it. She’s waking up in the middle of the night to piles of scattered research papers and calling Don on Saturdays to complain that his ideas aren’t good enough. Finally, the two meet on a weekend night in the empty SC&P office and it’s here that they, perhaps out of a feeling of mutual loss and frustration, start to remember why they made such a good team in the first place. This scene reminded me of the brilliant season four episode ‘The Suitcase,’ but in reverse—Peggy is spiraling downward and Don (even though he has plenty of issues of his own) is there for her in a time when she probably needs it the most. Don might be the only person in the world who truly gets Peggy, and Peggy might be the only person in the world who truly gets Don. When she tells him that she just turned thirty, that she’ll never be the mom in the Burger Chef ad, and that she doesn’t even know if that kind of mother or family even exists anymore, Don must agree with her on some level. After all, that family never existed for him. It’s only fitting that the two start dancing to Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way,’ after all, both Don and Peggy have done things their own way, but sometimes things can be lonely at the top.
‘The Strategy’ also marks the return of Pete Campbell and Bob Benson (Beloit College, Wharton MBA, Don Draper-esque fraud). While Pete’s in the tri-state area to visit his old family, Bob Benson’s in town to start a new one. In a business full of opportunists, Bob might be the biggest one of them all. After learning from a Chevy-executive that SC&P will be losing the XP account and that he’ll be moved in-house at Buick, he asks Joan to marry him, even though dating women isn’t exactly Bob’s thing. “GM wants their executives to maintain a certain type of image,” Bob explains to her. According to Bob, “it would be realistic,” (Bob might be an opportunist, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be a romantic). There’s an underlying feeling of sadness to all of this, especially when Bob reminds Joan that at her age she might not get a better chance to take her son and live in a Detroit mansion. But while guys like Bob Benson (and Don Draper) thrive on fraud, Joan’s looking for something more authentic, even if it means that her son might not ever have a true father figure. Bob cares about family for the sake of work, Joan cares about family for the sake of family—that’s the choice she’s made.
Speaking of kids without father figures, Tammy barely recognizes Pete when he returns home to Cos Cob, and Trudy is nowhere to be found. Work (plus some of his other choices) has pushed Pete to California, and now he’s very much a stranger in his own home. When Trudy does finally return, Pete illustrates his frustration by sticking a beer bottle into a cake that’s sitting out on the counter. It’s not quite a nail in the coffin, but I’m pretty sure Trudy’s getting that divorce she wanted. To make matters worse, his messy family life and his duties at the office don’t allow Pete to spend much time with his new girlfriend, Bonnie, and she ends up going back to California early. In the end, he’s really only left with SC&P (kind of like Peggy).
In the end, this is what makes ‘The Strategy’s’ final scene so perfect. Peggy’s new pitch involves selling the idea that Burger Chef is a place where people can go to commune. It’s a place where you can forge a bond so deep that your dining partners become your family. It’s only fitting then that Peggy, Don, and Pete—three of Mad Men’s most interesting, complex characters—end this episode by sharing a meal together at Burger Chef. Both Megan and Bonnie have left for LA (on the same flight no less), but Pete and Don are left behind with their work family. These characters share connections that run so deep—Don is Peggy’s mentor, and Pete and Peggy literally had a child together back in season one. The three of them might not have a lot right now, but they have each other. Once again Mad Men has given us something that looks a little bit like hope. Is it going to take that away from us next week?
By John Andrew Fraser
Normally, an episode of Mad Men will follow two or three (or maybe four) of the show’s characters through their respective worlds over the course of a couple of days, or a week, or some other roughly equivalent amount of time. Sometimes very little seems to happen to these characters on a surface level during this amount of time, but there will almost always be some thematic element that ties these stories together. Characters’ lives will run parallel, or contrast, or connect in some way. I’m not quite sure that ‘The Runaways’ is that kind of an episode. From the beginning, it was almost bursting with plot points, and a ton of characters were involved. This made for a sometimes chaotic, yet very entertaining hour of television. You know something weird is going on when there’s a scene involving a threesome on Mad Men and it doesn’t even come close to the episode’s craziest moment.
Lou Avery is even more lame than we could have possibly imagined. I was a big Underdog fan growing up, and I can tell you, Scout’s Honor is no Underdog. Who wants to watch a weird monkey cartoon when they could watch an awesome dog fight crime? When Lou weirdly equates himself to Bob Dylan after the rest of the creative staff finds out about his cartoon ambitions, it only makes him look more pathetic.
Remember two weeks ago when I suggested that the girl who approached Don during his business meeting with a rival ad agency might have been Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie? Turns out I was wrong, because Stephanie shows up in this episode seven months pregnant and looking like she belongs on Marigold Sterling’s commune. Apparently, you could take cross-country flights like it was nothing in 1969, because when Stephanie calls Don at the office, he tells her to go to Megan’s house in Laurel Canyon and to wait for him. On the surface, Megan does all the right things when Stephanie shows up. She cooks her steak, gives her clean clothes, and lets her take a bath, but there was definitely still the sense that Megan couldn’t wait to get Stephanie out of her house. She’s hosting a party for her acting friends, and she doesn’t want Don’s messy past to get in the way. Ultimately, Don never even gets to see Stephanie. She’s probably the most literal runaway in this episode—it appears she has tuned in and dropped out—but really this episode is full of young people thumbing their noses at the older generation, from the “flag-burning snots” that make up SC&P’s creative team to Sally Draper.
Speaking of Sally, she sure knows how to land a blow where it will hurt the most (and in this way she’s probably more like Betty than she’ll ever admit). After Betty rightfully gets upset with Henry for leaving her in the dark with regard to his political views on Vietnam and for generally treating her like a child, she receives a call from Miss Porter’s—Sally’s bruised her nose (while sword fighting with golf clubs…). When Betty starts to lay into her daughter, Sally points out that Betty would be worthless without her perfect looks. This had to cut Betty deep, after failing to be the perfect mom on Bobby’s field trip earlier this season and then leaving Henry hanging at the progressive dinner here, she must be wondering, “what exists beyond life as a trophy wife?” I’m interested to see where Betty goes from here. It’s becoming increasingly obvious to her that she’s not content with her current life and that no one really values her. Maybe she’ll go to work with Francine.
Back in LA, Megan gets to have her party. Everyone’s getting high and listening to Blood Sweat and Tears until Harry Crane shows up. Don’s tired of watching Megan dance with some other guy, so he asks Harry if he wants to go out and grab a drink. At this point, we’re about forty-five minutes into the episode, but that doesn’t mean that Matthew Weiner and co-writer David Iserson can’t drop a bomb on us—Harry tells Don that Lou and Jim Cutler are actively pursuing Phillip Morris’s Commander cigarettes and that if they land the account, Don will be out of a job at SC&P, since he famously told off American Tobacco in the New York Times after Lucky Strike dropped SCDP as a client back in season four. Don is so floored by this news that when he returns to Megan’s later that night, he can’t even seem to enjoy a threesome with Megan and her actress friend, who looks like Julianne Moore. Don’s mind is on work. Plus, he really wanted to hang out with Megan and Stephanie while in California, the extracurriculars with Megan’s red-headed actress friend aren’t going to fill that hole.
Sensing what’s on the line, Don shows up to the Phillip Morris meeting unannounced. Even though neither his “partners” at the agency nor the Phillip Morris guys really want him there, Don pitches himself as the ultimate tobacco salesman, someone who saved cigarettes from the gallows. Someone who told off American Tobacco, which just happens to be Phillip Morris’ biggest competitor. Whether this pitch works for Don or not remains to be seen, but it might be the most “Don Draper thing” he’s done since about season four.
Okay, so I saved the weirdest for last. I always thought that Michael Ginsberg seemed like kind of a strange guy, and some of his comments have been especially off-color this season. When he sticks tissue paper in his ears in an attempt to drown out the computer’s humming, he looks like the alien he always claimed to be, but nothing could have truly prepared me for Ginsberg’s fate in this episode. It was crazy enough that he felt like the computer was going to turn everyone in the office gay and that he tried to have sex with Peggy, but the “nipple gift” has to rank right up there with Mad Men’s weirdest moments—it’s alongside Peggy stabbing Abe with a makeshift bayonet and the lawnmower accident in the season three episode ‘Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.’ This has to be the strangest way that a character has ever been written off a show, and poor Peggy, as if her life hadn’t sucked enough already this season, she had to be the one to call the mental facility to come take away one of her co-workers (plus, she had to look at a severed nipple).
Lou Avery and Jim Cutler might be the closest thing Mad Men has ever had to bad guys. I kind of liked Cutler’s final words to Don, “you think this will save you?” It seemed so evil and a little over-the-top for a show that doesn’t usually do those kinds of things. But I can’t say that I’m not eagerly anticipating some kind of ultimate showdown between Don and these two. Lucky for Don, he’s known the secret of tobacco all along—it’s toasted.