Thoughts on Mad Men s7e8 + 9, “Severance” + “New Business”

thanks_marieimage courtesy of imgur.com

“A man is whatever room he is in.”

Sorry for the delay. I haven’t had much time to write as I’m a regular working stiff these days, but to be honest, I’ve had trouble stringing my thoughts together for these first two episodes. There’s so much David Lynch seeping into these episodes it’s difficult to formulate coherent sentences. Everything is so goddamn surreal! They’ve left me cold. These episodes have eerie, dreamlike qualities.. like nothing we’re seeing is quite right. I’ve read a lot of criticism that Weiner has lost the plot, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. My bet is there’s something afoot just under the surface that won’t all fit together until the finale, when we can take a step back and gaze at the season and the series as a whole.

Besides the constant looming of death around every corner, the recurring theme of this show is ‘can people really change’? And to tell you the truth, I have no fucking earthly idea. We ended the first half of s7 with Don clawing his way back up at SC&P, getting his shit together, trying to mend the damaged relationships in his life. Bert reminds him that The Best Things in Life are Free, a hard truth Don is learning. The whole nation was filled with hope for the space shot and the moon landing, all this hard work and thought and sweat and tears poured into this one mission, this singular defining event. And once you achieve this, once you make history, once you get to the top, once you get your corner office back.. then what? What comes next after such a huge achievement?

Enter April 1970, where “Severance” picks up.. ominously and appropriately bookended to the tune of “Is That All There Is?”. The real Don Draper died and handed Dick Whitman a new life. What has he done with that life? Has it made him happier? Where does Don go from here?

The time jump straight into nearly-mid 1970 is pretty great, and for a bit it looks like not much has changed in the decade since the show began. We go from a crazy decade that closed out with high hopes right into the me-me-me 70s and The Manson Family. The midseason premiere opens with Don being a vague creeper to a boilerplate Wholesome Hot(TM) 70s model, and we see that he’s once again hawking fur coats. Later, we see Don and Roger with hot models on their arms, the pair of swinging dicks/drinking buddies up to no good. Peggy and Joan’s verbal swordfight in the elevator, again. Kenny passing on his true calling as a writer for a corporate job, again. Joan being overtly sexually harassed. Don needing an answering service for his ~1100 women. Pete finding a way to bitch about being successful.. again. Peggy pulling a Don and trying to swing a spontaneous trip to Paris to run away with someone she just met. Don forming a weird obsession with a waitress who resembles some combination of Midge and Rachel Menken (but is in reality a Human Eeyore). Are we sure it’s 1970? I guess the hilar mustaches say as much, but there’s a lot of familiar 1960 shit going on here.. despite Roger looking like an oil baron. What in the fresh hell is going on??

Speak of the devil.. we’re back to creeper casting sessions at SC&P. Ted opens the door and I was happy to see Rachel Menken (Katz) on my screen. It’s about 10 years ago that her and Don met at that point. Then I was immediately filled with dread as I realised what was happening. Don sees a whole lotta dead people, lest we forget..

“I’m supposed to tell you — you missed your flight”.

“Rachel. You’re not just smooth.. you’re Wilkinson smooth.”

This Twin Peaks realness right here. Rachel, speaking in code, says something to Don that strikes all of us. Not that this is out of the norm as ghosts tend to say pretty devastating things to him (“Dying doesn’t make you whole.. you should see what you look like.” “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten.” etc) aside from Bert. Then Don, true to form as someone who has no fucking idea how to say anything meaningful outside of work, spits back ad copy. Pete lets her out of the room, since the men in Don’s work life are pretty interchangeable. Taking this dream as a sign for business re:L’eggs, he tells Meredith to schedule a meeting with Rachel.. and Meredith shares the somber news. And I can’t help but think of Kenny’s “Wanna hear something spooky?” to Don in that episode about getting fired the day he was going to quit. The life not lived.

Don goes to the Shiva for Rachel, and talks to her sister Barbara. Their entire interaction is laced with shots being fired, and Don likely doesn’t know that Rachel told her about their affair. Barbara tells him that she died of Leukemia, and he is visibly distraught; the same cancer that killed Anna. Yikes.

Don has a sad fling with the waitress Diana over these first two episodes, and she reveals to him that she’s abandoned her own family back in Wisconsin; a husband, a daughter who died, and an older daughter which she does not reveal until a touch later. Unlike Don, she does not want to forget about her daughter.. which is what happens when they’re having a bang. So she tells him to get out. It’s a brief arc, but it says a lot about his lonely-ass state of mind.

The women in Don’s life genuinely seem better off without him so far. When Betty tells him that she’s heading to Fairfield University (hey, my alma mater!) for a Masters in Psychology, I was pumped! She’s shown a lot of growth among the struggle, and seems to have found a good rhythm in life. Grad school seems like a great choice for her, as a woman who has consistently struggled with the rules that were thrown at her since she was born. Of course we don’t know any more about what’s really going on in the Francis household outside of that one scene, but goddamn Betty is doing well.

On his way out, Don looks back longingly for a beat, seeing the life he could’ve had. Rachel, though dead, got everything she desired and lived the life she wanted to live. Even Diana will be better off, because she chose to face her issues instead of pulling a Don and just running off; she’s just taking some time. The brief glimpse of Sylvia.. she’s still with Arnold, and doesn’t give Don the time of day. Drunk Arnold takes a bunch of jabs at Don, making me wonder if he knows about Don and Sylvia’s weirdo mess. Megan is going to get on with it in Los Angeles no matter what, though it’s not likely that check will clear.

Speaking of which, I have to address the Megan hatred head on. I’m one of those people who digs her, loves her as a character, the whole nine. After “New Business” aired, the internet was blasting hate for her across all channels and all I could think was “really??”. This time, it’s not just the neckbeards.

I love Megan. I thought she was good for Don, but he wanted to use that marriage as a crutch to right the (many) wrongs in his life, to run. He wanted to escape through Megan, to escape facing shit in his life like Dr. Faye wanted him to do (even though I don’t think Faye is right for him either). He’s even using humour as a form of escape now– that scene with Roger and Don in the trash diner with the models, he’s regaling a tale of his impoverished childhood framed with humour. And the fact that his escape hatch marriage didn’t work out seems to be really getting to him, on top of Rachel’s death to the same illness that claimed Anna.. the only person who knew everything about him and still loved him.

Megan maybe could have helped him so much more if he would’ve stopped pushing her away with both hands. That iconic sherbet scene at the HoJo’s from s5e5 “Far Away Places” is her standing up for herself, not wanting any part of the obvious “role” he wants her to play; she’s a real person, not some invented shit only for him. I feel like that was the very start of his resentment which only intensified once he got her that audition with Butler Footwear at the close of s5, cue iconic “You Only Live Twice” ending.. and then we see him throwing a bone to Sylvia in s6 once Megan’s acting career got that jump start.

I love that she called him on his garbage (“an aging, sloppy, selfish liar”), and he took it like a bullet. People on the internet are worked up into a froth over that sad phone conversation they had roughly 10 months ago timeline-wise, where she said he didn’t owe her anything; 10 months is plenty of time to find out about Don’s various indiscretions, the lies, and to let that anger build up after the initial sadness and reality that your marriage is ending. She was angry with herself for marrying him, for giving him the benefit of the doubt, for trusting him. So I understand why she was so pissed off. I would be too! And think about the day she’s had. Her mother, though ultimately on Megan’s side, openly trashes Don and brings those raw feelings to the surface. Her comments about what he’s done to their family are poignant and double-edged — she’s obvi talking about Emile as well. And hey, we finally meet Megan’s judgmental sister Marie-France living atop a fucking perfect mountain of morality!

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Marie with the truth bombs. image courtesy of The Daily Mail

I’ve seen a lot of complaints that the time spent with the Calvets was “useless”.. what? The scenes with Megan and her family really tell you a lot about who she is, and her motivations in life. She’s consistently struggling to be taken seriously by her own family, as well as agents, other actors, casting people and directors. Don didn’t take her seriously when she started auditioning, nor when she said she didn’t like foul orange garbage sherbet at the HoJo’s.

UGHHH speaking of foul, fucking HARRY CRANE is the proto Nice Guy(TM). She sets a secret lunch meeting with Harry to see if he could help her find a better agent in LA, knowing full well that he’s atrocious but maybe he has some connections she could gain traction with.. and he turns the creep up to 11. I used to think Harry Crane was a mere boob, but he’s a real piece of shit here.. and that scene was hard to watch. With the grace of a goddamn Hadrosaur, Harry laments how Megan deserves a great agent — the right person to get her into the right meetings with the right people, and then starts in with “I can’t believe Don threw you away.”

Fucking barely 2 minutes into their lunch meeting, this asshole propositions her for a midday fuck, and when she balks at this gross idea of following him up to his hotel room and shuts it down, he turns it around on her tells her this is why she’s had no success. FFFFFFFF- cue sounds of my head exploding. He’s despicable in this scene, then paints it to Don the next day as “SHE CRAY LOL” to cover his own ass.

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I SEE YOU, HARRY. image courtesy of ONTD

Yup. So, let’s think about the day Megan has had, leading up to the tense meeting with Don finalising their divorce. Her sister, in a weird way to show faux-support, claims her marriage failing is on her shoulders. Her soon to be ex-husband is already banging around in the apartment they bought together, which she decorated and where they made a home.  She’s between acting jobs and doesn’t want to (nor should she need to) resort to being some form of prostitute on the casting couch to get a job. Her mother has been criticising her marriage for awhile now, and then Megan finds Roger Sterling in her former home, having just banged Marie. What in the whole world. I’d be in a mood too, if I were her. Roger is the closest thing Don has to an actual friend, and it’s hugely disrespectful and devastating for Megan to find this all out and like.. completely fucking bizarre. Aaaaand apparently Marie is leaving Emile for Roger! Who knows what will pan out, but YIKES on bikes.

This is Megan attempting to regain control of her life and hitting every roadblock imaginable, and Marie is trying to do the same thing by fleeing to New York City for however long it ends up being. Her outburst that Don has ruined her life isn’t entirely true of course, but it sure feels like it after that disaster of a day. He certainly derailed her steady acting gig on that soap opera by floating the LA move, then reneging on it later.

The hits just kept on coming and she’d had enough by the time she meets up with Don. And the strange thing is, when he gives her that check, it’s the only bit of “support” she’s had that day. In reality the check likely IS a joke, since no bank is going to cash a personal check for a rock. Strangely (and admittedly shallowly), this is the only gesture directed at Megan that didn’t indicate she was worthless. Since Don doesn’t know how to be emotionally supportive, he tries what he knows best; throwing money at the problem.

Where is this season going? I think there’s more to the latter half of s7 than we think. Just gotta dig a little deeper.

Marie jacking all of the furniture is pretty hilarious though, especially empty Don in his empty apartment set to French pop music. C’est si Bon.

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image courtesy of The Daily Mail

“When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere. Just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going — then, he woke up. If you listen, he’ll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel and dreamt of being perfect. And then he’ll smile, with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn’t perfect.

We’re flawed because we want so much more.

We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.”

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Thoughts on Mad Men s7e7, “Waterloo”

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 Cooper dropping postmortem truth bombs. image courtesy of Tumblr

Hey kiddos. Sorry for the insane delay in posting my thoughts on the Mad Men midseason finale. I was in Ireland for a fortnight, traveled for approximately 24 hours total to get back to Los Angeles, and then getting back in the rhythm of real life knocked me out. Seriously, it was an epic poem for me to get home and to get back at it already.

In the interest of pragmatism, I shoddily streamed this episode on my cave internet connection by way of China to my 13″ MacBook Pro while I was out of the country. MAGIC. Honest to god, this was so I could look at social media without being assaulted by whatever potential spoilers were undoubtedly lurking — and I finally had a chance to watch it on my normal-ass TV last night. So, here I am. Frankly I’ve been thinking about this episode daily for the past few weeks, and I have no idea where to begin. My notes are a total disaster. Like I’ve said before, there’s SO MUCH in this episode.. goddamn.

Hey, Ted’s back! And he’s a complete fucking maniac! We haven’t seen much of him this season, but what we have seen is a mopey teenager who’s totally lovesick and miserable in the Golden State. In a super dark sequence, he’s flying the Sunkist guys around in his little plane and alludes to death being the end of all troubles in life. He then shuts down the engines and makes the Sunkist guys shit their collective pants for a little bit to drive his point home. NOT GREAT, TED. This isn’t a good look. Ted is fed up with advertising and hates the LA office, and all that comes with it. He wants to quit and expresses this to Cutler and an hysterical Pete, which does not go over well. Sigh. More on Ted later.

As an aside – I gotta say, props to Cutler for being extremely dismissive of gormless Lou in the wake of Commander Cigarettes bailing. We all know his motivations are shallow at best, but calling Lou a “hired hand” was a pretty awesome slap in the face. Cutler was only nice to Lou in order to get Don out of the picture, and when that didn’t work, Lou is of no value to Cutler anymore. Damn, that’s cold.

The Moon belongs to everyone! I’m fucking thrilled that Weiner didn’t troll us all and gloss over the Moon Landing like a total dick. Fun fact: in middle school, I was completely obsessed with 1960s/1970s NASA (naturally, this made me super popular at parties). I sought out every damn book about the Apollo program that I could find at the Ramsey Public Library, taped every PBS documentary that was on, and completely immersed myself in the Space Race and that awesome historical period of innovation, exploration, and emerging technology. An era of hope.

However, all that reading didn’t quite expose me to what we see on display in “Waterloo” – the simultaneous wonder and fantastic dread that comes along with exploring an unchartered alien world. Everyone at SC&P is buzzing, “what if they don’t make it??” Peggy, Don, Pete and Harry are in Indianapolis to pitch to Burger Chef on July 21st. If the astronauts don’t make it or something goes catastrophically wrong on the 20th, that pitch is put on indefinite leave – not unlike Don’s predicament. Somehow, I never connected that so much business could be riding on the success or failure of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins making it to the surface of the Moon and safely returning home. Everyone at SC&P is on edge.

As an offshoot of the Moon Landing, that idea of unchartered territory has been running deep this season as well. The Space Race, Don starting from the bottom to work his way back up, Peggy delivering a massively important pitch on the fly, Roger becoming acting President of SC&P, and obvi, the Moon itself. These territories are all carefully explored as we follow these people on their journey throughout this season.

During the Moon Landing sequence, we see a few families taking it all in together. Roger and Mona along with Brooks and space-helmeted Ellery all watch together, takeout strewn about the coffee table. The Francis residence is brimming with guests watching the lunar landing together. Pete, Harry, Don and Peggy are their own family watching a motel television broadcast together, with only two beers to cut the tense anticipation of what may or may not go wrong.

These characters are all in flux and have each lost something this season. Roger lost his sense of worth, being snubbed by Cutler and shut out of most actual business proceedings. He couldn’t save his own daughter from that filthy hippie farm upstate, either. Pete has all but completely lost his family, and his life in LA is losing its lustre. Harry alludes to Jennifer demanding a divorce, but she hesitates once he drops the potential partnership bomb (get that money, Jennifer). Peggy just lost Julio, the upstairs neighbour kid who has turned into her surrogate son of sorts; she takes the news of his family moving out with a heavy heart which is fitting, since he seems to be around the age of her lovechild with Pete.

“I don’t want to go to Newark!”

“Nobody does.”

THIS TRUTH.

Don thinks he’s losing his place at SC&P in the form of Cutler trying his damnedest to give him the boot, via a boilerplate attorney letter sent to him as a last resort right before the Burger Chef trip. Following an awkward kiss from Meredith (fucking LOL FOREVER) and some distractingly dramatic music, Don makes a beeline for Cutler’s office and busts in on (another) meeting. He tries to get a rise out of Don by cutting him down to size as just “a bully and a drunk” rather than this alleged genius shrouded in mystery, but Don stoically absorbs it and leaves. I mean, I thought for sure Don was gonna headbutt Cutler, but cooler heads prevailed and he immediately shut the whole thing down like a boss. Good work, Don. He shows the letter to Roger, Cooper and the rest of the partners – whose names were all at the bottom, mind you – and they’re all shocked at Cutler’s actions. They take a vote on the spot and it’s essentially nullified. Bam.

Don has finally lost Megan, in their surprisingly sad phone conversation right before he left for Indianapolis. He tells her about that letter and being on the chopping block, and when he mentions that he can finally move to LA in an attempt to repair things with her, she isn’t having it. Their conversation about ending things is a stark contrast to his confrontation with Betty and their ensuing nasty divorce and aftermath; Don quietly reassures Megan that he’ll always take care of her, and she says that he doesn’t owe her anything. Is it really the end? Who knows. It feels like it this time.

In the wake of all of their personal shit, these people bond just a little bit while taking in this awesome moment together, sharing an unspoken connection in that drab motel room. As Armstrong takes his first tentative steps, everyone is awash in the glowing warmth of the television. You can hear other guests in the motel losing their shit and cheering as Armstrong exits that LEM for the first time. That connection they’ve unknowingly been yearning for, been starving for, is encapsulated in that moment.

As an aside, how much Betty realness is Sally exuding in this episode?? MY GOD. Her hair! Her clothes! Her makeup! Her mannerisms! The Francises have some friends staying with them, with their two sons in tow; a hot idiot (Sean) and a geek (Neil). Sally is instantly drawn to Sean, just like her mother would be. When he loudly declares that the Moon Landing is a waste of money and Sally parrots that fuckery to her father on the phone, Don delivers the smackdown; “You want your little brothers to talk that way?” Don is no cynic, and he ain’t got time for that sort of basic flop bullshit. She understands, and then joins Neil and his telescope outside. They share a moment after she sees Polaris, and she goes right in and kisses him. I love this moment because she totally ignores Betty’s oldschool wisdom of “you don’t kiss boys, boys kiss you” from s3e8, “Souvenir”. Once Neil runs inside at his mother’s call, Sally lights up a cigarette and echoes Betty’s mannerisms down to a T. However, she defies the Betty in her by going for the thoughtful Neil instead of the cynical hot idiot Sean. So great.

Watching the Moon Landing with his housekeeper, Bert Cooper’s last words may have been an emphatic “Bravo”, watching Neil Armstrong as he takes his first steps. Absolutely fitting for a man so great. Cooper’s death has been widely speculated for the past couple of seasons, but actually having it happen and seeing the impact it has on the agency is another thing entirely.

Roger’s Moon Landing experience is interrupted with an “oh shit” phone call, which I immediately thought was someone calling to say that hippie Margaret/Marigold is dead. Turns out it’s actually worse — Bert Cooper, Roger’s lifelong friend and mentor, died in his home that evening. This means that Roger has to finally step up to the plate at SC&P; he has some enormous argyle socks to fill, after all. The last exchange we see between Cooper and Roger is when Cooper tells him that Cutler has “a vision” for the company, while they argue over Don’s fate and what to do. Cooper tells Roger that he’s not a leader, which Roger takes to heart. I mean, Cooper’s corpse is still warm when Cutler firmly tells Roger that Don is done at SC&P since the partners no longer have the votes, hammering the non-leader point home even further. That motherfucker is cold as ice.

Roger Sterling has been a longtime favourite character of mine, and he really gets his shit together in this episode. We saw him have a bizarre sauna conversation with Draper-thirsty Jim Hobart in “The Strategy”, and once Cutler attempts to take control a lightbulb pops on for Roger. Why not use Hobart’s unrelenting borderline creepy thirst as a vehicle to return control of SC&P back to Roger? Bingo. Roger slaps together a merger of sorts with McCann, where SC&P would still be owned by him AND independently operated, but in the process shedding the CGC weight that’s still dragging the company down (read:Cutler), axing Harry’s non-partnership in the process. AND NONE FOR HARRY CRANE, BYE.

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Sterling the Redeemer. image courtesy of Tumblr

Don is immediately not on board with this plan, but still votes in favour of it happening for the benefit of the agency. He also knows that Roger is on his side, and will fight to keep his place at SC&P if and when it all goes through. All is not lost after all, Don! Roger breaks the news to the partners (and tells Harry to fuck off in the most hilar way possible), and while hesitant, they’re all on board by the end.. even Cutler. Ted takes some goading, as he still adamantly wants out; Don ends up being the one to convince him to come on board, since McCann won’t take SC&P without the “original Chevy guys”. Their short exchange is a really nice moment of growth, with Don showing him something real and honest, and seeing the positive impact it has on Ted. He encourages him to stay on board as creative, to get back to the brass tacks of what he loves to do and relish in the simpler things. Don speaks to him as a friend, and Ted is on board.

But oh man, that ending. Initially when I was watching it all unfold, I was thinking “What in the actual fuck? Has Weiner completely lost the plot??” This isn’t the first time Don has seen dead people, but this is certainly one of the least depressing ones he’s seen, on the surface at least. Cooper – socks and all – receives a grand sendoff with a song and dance number of “The Best Things in Life are Free”, an appropriate and loving nod to Morse’s Broadway past. A musical number featuring a recently deceased character is a risky choice for sure, but it makes a ton of sense in the overarching themes of this mini-season.

“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

-Don, s5e2, “Commissions and Fees”

A huge theme in this show from the very start is the pursuit of happiness and what that means to each person we see — and if it can actually be done. Does real happiness exist? Is it a thing? These characters are all trying to forge their own paths in life and trying to seek out happiness however they see fit. Turns out Don has been doing it wrong all along, he’s been placing his definition and pursuit of happiness on the wrong things in the wrong places at the wrong times. As a result, we’ve seen his journey as something of a downward spiral and a hot mess. His outwardly idyllic marriage to model Betty and the classic 3 kids with a sprawling house in the suburbs, complete with a Cadillac? His marriage to the young, hot, fun Megan and his enormous apartment in the city? Turns out precisely none of these things brought him true happiness. As the characters on the show learn to focus more on the immaterial versus the material, a weight is gradually lifted.

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2001: A Space Peggy. image courtesy of Tumblr.

Back to Peggy’s Burger Chef pitch for a moment. As Don receives news of Cooper’s death, he pops the pitch to her side of the ring. He doesn’t want to land that business and then be immediately fired when him and Peggy worked so closely on it – if that happened, she’d receive nada. He gently encourages her when she doesn’t believe herself capable, and the resulting pitch she delivers at the meeting is magnificent. I was instantly reminded of the s1 finale “The Carousel”, and Don’s iconic Kodak pitch of the same name. She talks about the constant mess at home, and how television has impaired personal connections; dinner is supposed to be a time where you catch up as a family, and enjoy one another’s company. This ritual of a nightly family meal echoes our ever-present yearning to feel connected, to be a part of something. That baseline human want of a sense of community, of belonging, of family – this can be found at a Burger Chef table. That immaterial sense of belonging which we all seek is what’s really important in life, and Peggy puts it all out there for those executives in her pitch. Goddamn.

Those themes also fit right in with the evolution of “family”, and how divided some of these characters are becoming as their motivations are revealed. This episode confirms that Cutler’s only real motivation in life is money, the material – not that this is shocking, but watching him flipflop so rapidly with his opposition to the McCann merger as the cash value is revealed was an “….OH. well!” moment for sure.

So. Cutler, Joan, and Harry are in camp Cash Money Blang while Don, Peggy, Ted, Pete and Roger are seeking something different, something deeper. A sense of purpose perhaps, a love for their work, that lost sense of camaraderie and belonging at SC&P. I mean, money is still a big part of it for them (especially giddy Pete and his 10%), but it’s not the prime influence for them. This midseason finale draws that line of success between monetary gain and that of unbreakable, important bonds between people; after all, the most important things in life don’t cost a dime. Stick with the immaterial, guys.

The start of Don’s story this season was shaky for sure, but as he gains perspective on the shit that actually matters in life, he’s able to make a great deal of positive personal progress. Don is in fact able to overcome his past actions and slowly repair relationships with his colleagues/friends; he finds solace and success with personal fulfillment rather than a number or a title. He finds peace in going back to the start, writing tags and coupons, reconciling with his demons. As Cooper sings, “the best things in life are free”, this is actually sinking in for Don. It’s a fucking Christmas Miracle, you guys. Seeing the look on Don’s face as the gravity of this lighthearted sentiment hits home is nothing short of poetic; he’s been doing it wrong all along, but Cooper gently reminds him it’s never too late to get your ass on the right track. Stay focused, stay on the straight and narrow, appreciate the immaterial.

Ugh, I can’t believe we have to wait another goddamned year for the final 7 episodes of Mad Men. Stay tuned to the Den, kiddos; I’ll for sure have posts coming your way soon! But for now, that was an awesome mini-season. I’m sad to see Mad Men disappear from my TV until 2015.

Thoughts on Mad Men s7e5, “The Runaways”

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“stop humming, you’re not happy!” images courtesy of Idyllopus and imgur

Oh my god, what a fucking straight-up bizarre episode this was. More 2001 parallels, especially in this scene where Ginsberg is attempting to lipread Cutler and Lou  á la HAL-9000 lipreading Dave and Frank talking about shutting HAL down. Ginsberg takes on the role of HAL, and we learn that Cutler and Lou are talking about how to shut down Don, via Commander Cigarettes.

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It’s ironic that Ginzo takes on the “computer” role since he loathes and fears technology so much. More on that in a bit.

images courtesy of tumblr.

This episode is about people trying to find their role of importance – seeking that all-important feeling of being needed, and how to get it. On a small scale, Lou tries to make himself important with his flop idea “Scout’s Honour”, and loses his damn mind when Stan finds it, lashing out at the creative team like an uptight teacher punishing children for no real reason. In my experience, guys who have a personality comprising of 98% dick tend to not be packing much “elsewhere”. Lou is an example of that dude, and it’s becoming clearer with each episode that airs.

Betty and Henry sure are bickering a lot, yeah? That was awkward. Henry (unintentionally) undermines Betty and her opinion of the Vietnam war at a block party event, and Betty has no idea how to cope. Her previous experience being some Important Man’s Wife(TM) meant that Don coached her on what were the right and wrong answers ahead of time. Even in her final scene with Henry in the episode, she feels the need to assert her worth as a real person, that she’s indeed intelligent and capable of independent thought. She’s surrounded by people telling her what to do or what to say, her older kids fear and loathe her, and she’s fed up. Betty embodies the very principles of The Feminine Mystique. I feel very sad for Betty, she’s really lost in this changing decade. This is a woman so damaged by her upbringing (and atrocious marriage to a controlling Don) trying to figure out where she fits. Her real opinions and thoughts apparently are not needed by Henry, not while he’s in politics. Her thoughts and feelings are not needed by her kids who don’t want to listen.

One nice thing from this episode is that we get to see Sally and Bobby have a sibling moment. This is something that’s been pretty much absent from the series thus far, save for Sally taking on a parental role taking care of the boys from time to time. They’re both terrorised by their mother, and Bobby seeks out Sally for comfort. Bobby needs positive attention and non-creepy love from a family figure, and I’m sure Sally is seeking that same thing from Bobby. As a girl who is growing wise to Betty’s outward focus on looks as life currency in finding a husband, Sally spits straight venom back at her mother. While at boarding school, she gets in a swordfight with one of her friends and ends up getting bashed in the face. Naturally, Betty thinks Sally’s life is over because something so absurdly minor as a broken nose will prevent her from getting places in life, since she inherited Betty’s “perfect” nose. Yikes.

“The Runaways” has, for sure, one of the most shocking and flat-out dark things I’ve seen on Mad Men thus far. Let’s do a fun recap of previous horrifying dark moments on this show! In no particular order:

  1. Lane’s suicide in the office.
  2. Sally catching Don in the bone zone with Sylvia.
  3. Joan being raped by her dickbag fiancé in Don’s office.
  4. Flu-ridden Don hallucinating strangling/murdering some broad post-bang and shoving her under the bed.
  5. Joan landing Jaguar for SCDP by bonking hambeast Herb.
  6. Old lady burglar in Don and Megan’s apartment, threatening and intimidating Sally and Bobby.
  7. Betty’s senile elderly father grabbing her boob in front of the family, mistaking her for her dead mother.

And now, we have Ginzo and his Nipple Gift to Peggy. I was, in actuality, screaming. Ever since the great Michael Ginsberg neurotically graced our screens in s5, there was obviously something up with this guy. He was born in a Concentration Camp? He’s a self-proclaimed martian? Dude is also obsessively and hilariously fixated with who’s a homo and who’s not, no doubt some sort of headspace fuckery thanks to his dad’s constant probing of his own sexuality. We don’t know much about Ginsberg’s past, but this particular passage from s5 is very telling in light of what we’ve seen in “The Runaways”.

“Actually, I’m from Mars. It’s fine if you don’t believe me but that’s where I’m from. I’m a full-blooded Martian. Don’t worry, there’s no plot to take over Earth.. just displaced. I can tell you don’t believe me. That’s okay. We’re a big secret. They even tried to hide it from me. That man, my father, told me a story I was born in a concentration camp, but you know that’s impossible. And I never met my mother because she supposedly died there. That’s convenient. Next thing I know, Morris there finds me in a Swedish orphanage. I was five, I remember it.”

Peggy: “That’s incredible.”

“Yeah, and then I got this one communication. Simple order. Stay where you are.”

Peggy: “Are there others like you?” 

“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find any.”

-Ginsberg and Peggy, s5e6 “Far Away Places”

After the hum of the monolith drives him out of the office, a weary Ginsberg shows up at Peggy’s apartment on a Saturday. He’s rattling on about how the computer is damaging everyone and building pressure inside of his body, and he has no way of releasing it. It’s invaded his head and apparently it’s turning everyone into homos, which is admittedly ridiculous/hilar, but not too far out of his realm of past absurdity. Peggy shrugs it off as him being a weirdo as usual, until she wakes up with him staring at her a few inches from her face. He kisses her, it’s hilarious and awkward, and Ginzo insists they have to reproduce though he’d prefer to do it without having sex if he could. L O L. Yikes. Exasperated Peggy brings him back to earth for a second when she yells at him that “IT’S JUST A COMPUTER”, and he agrees.

I was uneasy at their interaction that weekend, because.. yeah. So when Monday rolled around, and he goes into Peggy’s office with a jewellery box, I worried that he might be proposing to her on the spot. He tells her not to worry and reassures her that he’s back to being himself, and even among his yapping about data and outlets, I wanted to believe him. But then, he presents Peggy with his goddamned bloody right nipple, hacked off of his own person, in a fucking gift box, with some hair still intact. I CANNOT. Apparently, hacking it off has “relieved” the “pressure” from the “computer”; he tried to get it done by a doctor (???), but said that they’d only “sew it up” and not .. take it off like he needed. What in the world?! He’s gone full Van Gogh. He’s lost the fucking plot.

In more astute terms, he has no grasp of the consequences of his actions and that what he’s done is completely not ok; he’s now a danger to himself. Does he have a brain tumour? Is he a full fledged paranoid schizophrenic?? Signs of schizophrenia tend to manifest in people in their late 20s, so it’s not entirely implausible that his once endearing neuroses would take a turn for the worse around his age.

This is a remarkably sad turn of events, considering how people with mental illness are treated in the 1960s and 1970s. A prime example is Beth, Pete’s married love interest from s5. Her husband sent her off to a mental hospital to receive electroshock treatments when she was “feeling blue” but most likely seeking male companionship elsewhere, to keep her in line. Fucked out for sure. Heartbroken Peggy makes the tough call to get an ambulance, and we see Ginzo being wheeled out, strapped to a stretcher. He’s been cracked by the hum of the monolith, yelling “GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!”, and it’s genuinely upsetting for everyone at SC&P. A visibly upset Stan accompanies him to the hospital. Super jarring, especially compared to his singular “order” as a martian.

I’m scared for Ginsberg’s future, and I hope we get to see him again on the show. Forming a prayer circle for Michael Ginsberg right now.

As Ginzo loses touch with reality, Stephanie reappears. Anna’s niece from a few seasons back pops back onto our screens as a knocked up filthy hippie seeking help. She calls Don from LA, who tells her to head to Megan’s apartment in Laurel Canyon and that he’ll be there soon. Stephanie represents a few things in this episode. She is what Don wishes Megan could be – pregnant and dependant on him, and what Megan wishes she could be – more confident, gutsy, and spellbinding. Don moves mountains to be out in LA ASAP, which is upsetting to Megan since he hasn’t done that for her unless it was to “check in” like when her agent called.

And the obvious ace in the hole is that Stephanie knows that Don Draper is Dick Whitman, and has known all her life. Between Don and Megan, this secret was something that provided a sense of intimacy, something that was “just the two of them”, so coming into contact with someone who knows more about Don’s past leaves her shaken. Also, something interesting I noticed: Megan has no trouble wielding Don’s checkbook to cut Stephanie a “please leave” check for $1000, yet she balks at Don buying her a colour television saying it reflects badly on her image? Guuuuurrrrl.

Let’s talk about Megan’s effervescent, unrelenting thirst. Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d say: in what was probably the most excruciating threesome ever, Megan uses her vacant friend Amy to attempt to lure Don’s indiscretions back into their marriage, to draw him back in. Naturally, it backfires because she misread him entirely; Megan trying so goddamned hard to be what Don chases is really sad. She even tries to keep his attention and make him jealous by flirtatiously dancing with some basic Charles Manson doppelgänger at her party, which Don rightfully ignores.

Don leaves the party to go have a drink with surprise guest Harry Crane, which is a square punch in the solar plexus for Megan since she knows how much he generally dislikes Harry. This turns out to be a lucrative outing for Don – Harry has always liked Don from day one, and Don doesn’t have a hell of a lot of allies at SC&P right now. Harry lets him know that Cutler and Lou are pursuing Commander Cigarettes in secret (which is what Ginsberg spied in the computer room), knowing full well that if they go with SC&P then Don will have to bounce because of his damning Lucky Strike “he didn’t dump me I dumped him” letter in the NYTimes back in s4. Shady shit.

This is another devious attempt from Cutler and Lou to get Don the hell out of SC&P, and Don delightfully intervenes thanks to Harry’s intel. The main reason Don is “allowed” to stay at the firm is that the partners don’t have the cash necessary to buy him out; however, if they land a big tobacco account, they would for sure be able to do just that. Don crashes their secret meeting with Philip Morris, and acknowledges the letter and that he’d quit if need be. By acknowledging this, Don takes that trump card and spins it right the hell around. Instead of Cutler and Lou having a threat to hang over his head, Don has the advantage. He surprised them all by stating that fact, which gave him some time to plead his case and explain. He’s an impressive ad man with a keen business sense and invaluable tobacco experience, and everyone in that room damn well knows it. He can offer the opposing strategy as well, since he took a meeting with the American Cancer Society post-Lucky Strike letter. Suck on that one, Cutler and Lou.

Above all else, he places the good of the agency above his own personal vendetta, effectively shutting down Cutler and Lou for the time being. He did it in a classy albeit sneaky way, but he didn’t lose his cool. He knows he’s needed when it comes to American tobacco. Well done, Don.

Thoughts on Mad Men s7e4, “The Monolith”

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(theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey plays somewhere in the distance) images courtesy of Slate

My God, this episode had SO MUCH jammed into it. So many Kubrick references. So many self-referential moments. So many goddamned hippies. Where the hell do I even begin?

In short, The Monolith” is about evolution and advancement, fear of technology and change, and how if these characters don’t begin to evolve, they’re going to be obsolete. Or, you know, clubbed to death by the apes that have learned to use tools. That massive computer taking over the creative lounge is both a literal and figurative symbol of the way things are headed – everyone has to get on board with it or be left behind.

On a deeper level, these characters have to move past the failed versions of themselves in order to get on with it, to continue to exist in any meaningful capacity. They have to learn, move past what does not work, and just get on with it already. Don being popped in a dead man’s office is no mistake – and in order to become relevant again and remain that way at SC&P he needs to Do The Work, both in the sense of Peggy’s requested tags, and the sense of actually working on his damn self in his own life. Keep moving forward, another recurring theme on Mad Men.

Don walks into the SC&P office to what appears to be telltale signs of The Rapture; abandoned desks, a phone hanging off the hook. Sadly, no Jesus is kind enough to rapture Lou – it’s just LeaseTech Lloyd yapping about the new gigantic computer they’re going to be installing. Cutler enthusiastically shares the news of the agency entering the future, appropriately at a time when man is so close to the moon. 1969 brings in some hope after the turbulence of 1968, and that computer brings in a giant leap forward for SC&P; One Giant Leap for Mankind, as it were. As much of a boob Harry Crane tends to be on a regular basis, he’s on the nose about needing a computer to move forward and keep ahead of their competition.

Lloyd Hawley is eerily reminiscent of HAL-9000, and that’s absolutely no mistake. His calm, near-monotone inflection, his generic happy face and demeanour, all point HAL to me. Their interactions are laced with an undercurrent of bizarre antagonism, The Future versus The Ape, and if Don doesn’t get with it he’ll soon become the fate of the now-defunct creative lounge.

(And don’t think the irony of Don playing Solitaire at his desk while the engineers are installing the new computer was entirely lost on me.)

True to ridiculous form, Lou is attempting to grasp at whatever sense of glory he has as Creative Director. He immediately denies the need for Ted to come back east to work on Burger Chef, entirely so he can pit Peggy against Don and keep Don at bay as much as possible. As an aside, I’m glad that Pete isn’t totally lost in the LA haze. Running into a former Vick Chemical colleague, he manages to snag the Burger Chef account while bonding with him over his former father-in-law having a heart attack. Apparently, the guy’s a nightmare to work for so I suppose this is good news? He ain’t dead, but incapacitated for the time being, so I guess it’s okay that they both joke about it. But hey, Pete’s still got it!

Shocking news at 11pm: Lou doesn’t perceive Peggy as competition for his job or even as anything close to resembling an equal. He has an agenda to keep Don from actually accomplishing anything and taking away “his” glory, and uses Peggy to do his bidding. He throws some money at her (much more tactfully than Don did in s5’s “The Other Woman”) in just the right way with some guidelines, and his plan is set into motion. I mean, it’s always been obvious that Lou is a complete dick from the first episode, but this just cemented it for me. He’s manipulating Peggy because he’s too damn lazy and entitled to deal with Don himself, and frames this grunt work as a promotion to her. Rude.

We’ve seen Peggy evolve from mousy secretary to junior copywriter to copy chief, and watching Peggy become Don’s boss is pretty satisfying. As this reality slowly sinks in to Don, he ain’t too happy about it. In fact, it looks like he’s trying to telekinetically burn a hole in her fucking head as she’s diplomatically asking him to be on her team and turn in tags for Burger Chef.

daaaaaaaamn, Don. image courtesy of Previously.tv

Turns out he accepted SC&P’s offer because he thought he was calling their bluff, and it appears they were playing it straight after all. Don, still ever-resistant to being taken down a few pegs, sees an opportunity with Lloyd’s needs to advertise LeaseTech and floats the idea to Cooper. And of course, Cooper knocks Don right back down to size. He firmly reminds Don that he needs to show he can crawl before he can run, and Don takes this .. not so well. He backslides with a bottle of Roger’s vodka, which is understandable given his shitty circumstances of returning to work, but nonetheless still hard to watch. Don is forced to embrace being a dead man for the second time in his life, and it’s not going well.

As an aside, Don being in Lane’s old office is a trip for sure. He finds Lane’s discarded NY Mets pennant under the radiator, and hangs it on the wall as something of a reminder. The only other things on the walls in there are his advertising awards, so to have something so personal hanging up is a little different for Don. After all, him and Lane started that agency together. And hey, 1969 is the year of the Miracle Mets! Initially dismissed as a team that year, they rose from a season of mediocrity to defeat the Orioles in a massive World Series upset, since that particular Orioles team was one of the most flawfree in the history of Major League Baseball. I guess we’ll see how this parallels with Don’s own hopeful rise among the ranks at SC&P.

Switching gears for a hot second, let’s talk about Roger Sterling. Roger has a pretty meaty storyline in this episode with his absurd adult-ass daughter suddenly running off from her life and marital responsibilities (and her kid who strongly resembles Danny from Kubrick’s The Shining) to join a bunch of filthy hippies at some gross commune upstate. Roger and Mona team up to retrieve her when Brooks gets arrested for punching some yokel at a bar, and seeing their version of Park Avenue faux-royalty at a terrible commune is pretty great. Roger sticks it out and stays overnight, as he’s more in tune with the counterculture than Mona. His bottom line is that he wants to bring Margaret (Marigold?) back home so she can be a mother to her kid and wife to Brooks, to stop running away from her responsibilities. Remember the last time we saw her, she smugly told Roger she forgave him for being an absent father; I guess “hippie cult” was the answer to her self-satisfied faux-lightenment. As someone who’s supposedly happy and at peace, she sure has a lot of vitriol to sling at Roger when he tries to forcibly get her to come home already.

“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

-Don, s5e12 “Commissions and Fees”

A recurring theme on Mad Men is the pursuit of happiness, whether it’s within reach, and what that specifically means to each of the characters. Margaret seeks instant gratification, and Roger has been doing the same for decades in different forms. Margaret is more similar to Roger than she’s willing to admit, and Roger is faced with this fact when he tries to step in in a legitimate parental role for probably the first time ever. At first he thinks she’s being idealistic in shirking her nice life for a simpler existence, but instead he’s faced with his own glaring irresponsibility. It serves as a wake-up call.

Lying in the open-roof barn and staring up at the stars, Roger and Margaret talk about everything except what’s actually happening in their lives right now. Roger has pretty much had it when some unwashed creature comes into the barn in the middle of the night to bang Margaret and they sneak off together. Something in that moment clicks for him, and the next morning he’s set to bounce. Seeing all of this in the daylight, he snaps back into reality, recognising that they’re all running from real life – just like he has been in his haze of booze, drugs, and weirdo orgies of free love. He doesn’t end up getting her to come home, but I feel that it’s the start of some heavy self-realisation for him. It all remains to be seen, of course.

Speaking of Roger, watching how Don uses booze as a crutch really makes me wonder if Don just shouldn’t drink at all. I know that’s a taboo thing to say about a character who exists in 1969, but the guy has gone too far down. The fact that when hit with an obstacle he immediately makes up an excuse to raid Roger’s bountiful stash is troubling. He’s not the type to become a Friend of Bill W. anytime soon, but the fact that he calls Freddy in his drunken stupor is telling. How many allies does Don have left at this point?

Don’s drunk ass thinks they’re going to a Mets game, but Freddy instead brings Don home to sleep it off. Right back there the next morning, Freddy drops truth bombs and black coffee, since he’s been in something very similar to Don’s shoes before. He simply states, “Do The Work“. He reminds Don that he’s been given a second chance and to not fuck it up. Freddy is the closest thing he has to an actual friend at this point in time, and Don realistically doesn’t have any options anymore but to listen.

Relinquishing that kind of control is difficult for anyone, for Don especially, as this series has shown us time and time again. Sure it’s degrading, but he’s been given another chance at work, and at life: this is not something everyone gets. Start at the bottom, play by their rules, work your way back up and prove yourself; wise words from Freddy Rumsen, a man who’s been there/done that. Freddy is living proof of the “after” side of that equation. He’s freelancing all over the place while living a sober life, and trying to help Don get back to where he’s supposed to be. If Don behaves as he’s been clearly instructed, things will fall into place in due time. Arriving at the office that morning, Don gets right to work on tags for Peggy.

As much hope as the end of last week’s episode gave me with how he handled himself, I wasn’t expecting Don not to stumble; nobody is that good, not even Don Draper. Don’t run, Don: Do The Work. Evolve.

Thoughts on Mad Men s7e3, “Field Trip”

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Gumdrops are flop candy, Bobby. image courtesy of imgur

Last night’s episode was INTENSE. “Field Trip” is all about disappointment, the long road to redemption, and that ever-present theme of change. From the start, Mad Men has always been playing with the idea of “can people really change?” Can Don really change, or is this all a smokescreen? Will his ever-present manpain give him a jolt to finally move forward?

One of the strongest points this show has made over time is that Don has precisely zero control over his life, no matter how much effort he puts forth into that carefully crafted illusion. He tries way too hard to keep that control – he’s so desperate that it slips away rapidly the tighter he grips, like that sand metaphor you see emblazoned on shit at TJ Maxx. The only time he has any ounce of control in his life are those fleeting moments where he makes peace with being Dick Whitman. In this episode, we see Don finally admit defeat and accept a truly shit offer from SC&P. He’s starting to make his peace with himself and is ready to try and climb back up to his former glory. He’s ready to prove himself.

We find Don in a familiar place at the start of the episode – a movie theatre, where he’s seeing the French indie flick Model Shop. This pops us sometime in mid-April 1969, so it’s been a couple of months since we last saw everyone. Don is still in suspended animation, still longing for the agency, still lost. That particular film is a compelling choice, since it’s about a depressed, adrift guy running away from commitment to his live-in girlfriend along with other life obligations, and taking up with a French divorcée in Los Angeles. Seriously. Naturally, something about this movie undoubtedly sticks with Don, an adrift melancholy guy himself. He can’t admit to himself that he’s fallen out of love with both LA and perhaps even his LA-based wife alike, but I think he might be starting to get it now.

Flustered Dawn is buckling under the pressure of her new job. With all of that new responsibility on top of keeping Don’s shit in line, she’s becoming more unreachable, which Don absolutely hates since he’s still clinging to her leg like a fucking 2 year-old. She tells him that a call came in from Alan Silver, and Don begrudgingly returns the call himself. Silver, seeing Don as the manager-type, begs him to do something about Megan’s absurd/embarrassing thirst she’s parading around Hollywood.

This is not unlike Betty’s shrink calling Don to fill him in on her “progress”. Instead of being irritated like he was with Betty’s lack of direction, he decides to treat Megan differently and actually try to help and fix things; so, Don takes a field trip to surprise her in LA. He thinks he’s going to help set her career right, but he ends up almost destroying their damn marriage when he lets on the real reason for his visit. He manages to admit that he’s no longer at SC&P for the time being. Megan is horrified that he lied to her about his forced leave for actual MONTHS, when in fact he was trying to do the thing he’s never legitimately done before; stay the hell put and try to set things right in New York instead of just running off to LA and perpetuating the cycle. Their argument is sad and sincere, and it’s a lot to take in. Megan slaps him in the face with realness and tells him straight up to leave and get on a plane back to JFK. Daaaaaaaamn, Don. That backfired.

It’s interesting because instead of that horrid argument inspiring Don to booze and bang around, it instead motivates him to get his work ducks in a row for real, instead of faux-working. In the last episode, he embarks down that road a little bit with Sally, starting to repair familial relationships and coming clean in the process. After he gets back from LA, he takes a dinner meeting that ends up with a great fake-out where we think he’s going up to a hooker’s hotel room, but it’s actually Roger’s place. He has a frank and short discussion with Roger saying he’s had enough and wants to come back to the agency, showing Roger another offer he received at dinner. Roger complies, and tells him to come in on Monday, but uh, neglects to tell anyone else.

Betty is back, sharp as usual. She lunches with Francine, and their conversation is a goddamn sword fight. She’s straight up fascinated that Francine has taken a job a few days a week (ain’t that the dream) to get more fulfilment out of life now that her children are older. Betty is a little insulted and upset when she realises she’s old fashioned, only seeking reward in life from her children. Of course, the irony here is that her children who are old enough to know better hate and resent her. True to form, Francine throws shade, saying “Betty Draper, that is indeed how I would describe you”, hinting at her divorce being quite nouveau. She volunteers to be a chaperone for Bobby’s field trip to his braless teacher’s farm, and drinks gross fresh milk out of a bucket. How genuinely bizarre.

Betty comes face to face with the longterm consequences of her actions while having lunch with Bobby. For years, she has rarely enjoyed a meal with her children. They eat their hotdogs and fish sticks while Betty nurses wine and cigarettes. They’ve made quips in past seasons about how “mommy never eats” so when Bobby trades Betty’s sandwich for some gumdrops, he naturally doesn’t give it another thought because of how she’s always been. When Betty is pissed off that she has no lunch, Bobby feels ashamed and Betty is immediately confused when faced with that reality. That bizarre milk bucket tasting was indicative of Betty trying new things and sort of putting herself out there, and even going on the field trip at all was a small effort to bond with Bobby. She’s starting to realise it’s going to take a lot more work to repair that relationship than just that.

Henry comes home to a morose dinner in that tacky kitchen, with Bobby wishing he could turn the clock back to when he was so excited and optimistic about Betty coming along with him to the farm. That simple line “I wish it was yesterday” is totally gutting, and is a feeling that all of these characters are internalising as it is. It instantly strikes a chord with Betty, and thoughtlessly, she blames the horrible turn of the day on Bobby’s “behaviour” . She doesn’t quite know what to do with this information just yet, and true to form, she says something scathing and acts out in the most outlandish way possible. Later on, we see her in bed holding a sleeping Gene, visibly shaken and upset. I really felt badly for her when she sullenly asks Henry “why don’t they love me?” Betty is just now piecing together her past actions which have made her older children push her away. She’s played the part of this traditional wife-and-mother-archetype for so long, but has simply been going through the motions, not dissimilar to Don. Will Betty be able to course-correct? I hope so. I think she really wants to, she loves her children and wants to have a real relationship with them; she just has to figure out how to do that, like Don needs to figure out how to have a real relationship with Megan and basically everyone else he’s ever encountered in his life.

All I want to say about Peggy is DAMN, girl. Grow up and move past flop Ted. Don’s not the one who chicken-shitted out of your wildly inappropriate relationship, Ted did that all on his own; stop misdirecting your anger at your coworkers (past and present) and get on with it already. My eyes are going to fall out of my damn head from side-eyeing her so much. This shit is a bad look, Pegs. Peggy has myriad reasons to be pissed at Don, but this is actually the weakest one of them all.

In a fucked out way, I think that Don actually did Peggy a favour by outing her relationship with Ted. Of course he shouldn’t have done it in front of a client like a damn maniac, but it definitely needed to be done in a devastating manner to have some modicum of lasting effect. Everyone knew something was going on between them; the other employees were side-eyeing them and it was only getting worse and more obvious, so Don took the wheel and put a full stop to it by embarrassing the hell out of Ted and relinquishing all credit from Peggy for that ratchet mess of a St Joseph’s ad. That sting is rendered anew once the Clios roll around in this episode.

Don’s field trip to SC&P is super awkward to say the least. It runs parallel with Bobby and Betty’s jaunt to the farm, though Don actually manages to get a damn sandwich. He’s greeted with both abject coldness and warmth alike from the different employees, and this is the first time we actually see anyone inhabiting the creative lounge up to this point in the season. Not knowing what to do with himself and wondering if the inexplicably absent Roger just wanted to embarrass him, he sits around for hours like a child being punished. Don being back in the office knocks the partners off their respective axes, Cutler and Joan especially, and it was almost a total disaster until Roger finally shows up after a boozy “early lunch”.

Similar to Peggy, Joan has droves of reasons to be pissed at Don, but she actually chooses wisely like a normal-ass adult. In season 5 with the Jaguar creepiness, Don tried to rescue a woman he knew point blank did not want to be rescued. He tried to talk her out of banging hamplanet Herb in exchange for Jaguar’s business, but his timing was off; she truly appreciated that effort on his behalf, but she did gain a partnership out of that awful ordeal at the very least.

Remember that IPO Joan put a lot of hard work into making happen? When Don deftly destroyed it in one fell swoop with the merger, she’d had it with his self-serving behaviour and not thinking of the agency. His temper tantrum where he felt he was Doing the Right Thing(TM) rendered all of her hard work completely worthless and irrelevant. This includes bonking Herb, which is a slap in the face for him to insinuate that it essentially didn’t happen. Joan doesn’t have time for Don’s recklessness, hence her icy salutation when she sees him in the office. She wants to drag him, and rightfully so.

Bert and Roger are the only ones defending Don, both for practical and personal reasons. Bert aptly says “I don’t like the way this agency is spoken of”, meaning that the work has taken a major hit in Don’s absence, and they all know it. Cutler tries to change the subject to buying a computer, which would take the focus off flagging creative and place it on media, but thankfully Bert and Roger aren’t buying that bullshit. Joan is on the fence but ultimately sides with Cutler, as he pretty much secured in the last episode. Cutler doesn’t seem to get that Don’s value to that company is immeasurable and it’s only a matter of time until they start losing clients in rapid succession because of the shit creative headed by Lou. Roger is a lot smarter than everyone gives him credit for as well; he doesn’t just want his friend back to have some rapport in the office, he knows that the company has a definite end date in short sight with the way things are going now.

So, the partners air their grievances and come up with a solution; a massive demotion that I can only assume they thought Don would reject. Roger’s bottom line says what we’re all thinking; if SC&P lets him go, they’d have to compete with him and his unavoidably great ideas with some other agency. Who wants to do that? This is the first time Roger has had some spark in him this season, which is really great to see. After all, he’s the one who “discovered” Don at that fur shop.

Also, it was revealed that Lou has a 2-year contract. Really? Him?? That’s some shady business right there. Turns out that “leave” was really just a soft firing after all. But Don accepting that insulting offer from SC&P and calling their bluff was nothing short of amazing. He was one of the founding fathers of that agency, and they all know damn well it’s too much of a financial burden to buy him out.

One of the things I love about this show is their consistent way of having characters say so much by uttering so little in the way of actual words; Don saying “okay” to their garbage offer and accepting that dismal demotion is his version of CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. The old Don would’ve smugly thrown it out with a disgusted look on his face, but this guy is selfless, cold and composed. Boss.

The road to redemption for Don is undoubtedly going to be a long and embarrassing one – reporting to dickbag Lou? No booze on the clock? Stick to the pre-approved script? He can’t even be alone with clients?! Jesus Christmas. I can’t wait to see what happens. You’d better slay, Don.