By: Daniel Reynolds
Heading into the first half of the final season, the Same Page welcomes you each week to the Mad Men Monday Recap. A show as deep as this one needs some diverse commentary so jump in and enjoy our irreverent breakdown of each episode.
What’s Happening on Madison Avenue?
It is worth taking a minute to discuss what happened in each episode. If you’re looking for some straight talk on what we just saw on Mad Men, read this section (and then read the other sections because, why not).
Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something. That’s Freddy Rumsen, unlikely stand-in for showrunner Matthew Weiner, reminding us of our mission here. With 14 episodes left, Mad Men is heading into the final stretch; it’s time to get serious. So, Rumsen’s doughy moon-like face is the first thing we see at the start of Season 7 of Mad Men. He’s pitching an idea to Peggy, but really, he’s pitching it to us. Let’s wake up and pay attention.
Peggy and Joan are holding things together and appear to be the only truly competent people at SC&P. Stan still has his beard, Ginsberg still isn’t given much to do, and somewhere, off-screen, the unctuous Harry Crane lurks. A pan across the apartment of Roger suggests a new, even more advanced, debauched lifestyle; his daughter gives him a forgiveness he doesn’t want. The office buzzes but these two women are on their own now. In that way, perhaps things are the same. Granted, Lou Avery is the creative director now. And Ken is Head of Accounts. Suddenly Peggy is no longer waging philosophical war with Don, or engaging in a furtive and dreamy romance with Teddy. She just gets Lou’s affable indifference. It’s accurate because it’s accurate.
Joan, meanwhile, is back to toiling in the face of incredulity. Ken wants help from anyone and everyone, the Butler shoes man wants to establish an in-house marketing department, and Joan is, as usual, left to solve all these problems on her own. In the process she talks her way into some business advice, she duels with Ken, and she puts the Butler man in his place. If Peggy feels adrift and unchallenged, Joan continues to be remarkably steeled despite continuously not being taken seriously. When will she get any credit?
Teddy is back in NYC, and despite not having a tan, he did spend the past two months hobnobbing in LA. It definitely feels like it didn’t take. You know who does like LA though? Pete Campbell. He likes the clothes, he likes the blondes and he likes those sandwiches with the coleslaw nestled right in there next to the pastrami. (The bagels however? They’re terrible.) Yes, Pete is living large now, embracing the sunshine and promise of an America different from the one he left behind in chilly Manhattan. Even Don looks impressed.
And so, as always, we end on Don. If Peggy is frustrated, and Pete is joyous, then Don is aimless once again. Amazingly, it seems like everywhere he goes, as if by accident, he ends up with a woman nearby and enthralled. This time, Neve Campbell (whoa), of all people, drops in. In typical Draper fashion, he can open up to even the most remote strangers but can’t, or won’t, admit anything to his wife, Megan. Yes, surprise, they are still married. But, Don thinks he may have broken the vessel. He knows that Megan sees him as a bad husband, that the damage he has done will eventually, irrevocably break up this most recent marriage. He can still sell the work, though. Maybe it’s a good sign that Don is no longer ranting incoherently about the perfect idea. In a delightful twist, it is revealed that Don’s been pitching work through Freddy. They have their own little broken vessel club. Rumsen gets paid, Don gets to keep working.
The TV screen asks: “Haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight? Of course you have.” Don is marginally awake when he sees this, the word “Utopia” flits across his mind. Megan is jostled awake, but Don feels like he is still sleepwalking.
The Symbolism Rankings
Enjoy, with minimal comment, the weekly rankings for whatever symbolism Matthew Weiner has heavily stacked into each Mad Men episode. A show set in the world of advertising is only as good as its symbolism, right?
1) Broken Sliding Door
2) Accutron Watch
4) TV message of “Utopia”
Back in the Day
Remember the 1960s? Mad Men really values its sense of place. To that end, here’s where we make mention of whatever anachronistic or historical element popped up this week.
A cold wind is blowing, it is early 1969, and Richard Nixon is on TV talking about “don’t worry”. As a signifier for the end of an era, you really can’t go wrong by starting with Tricky Dick. While the Kennedies’ youthful exuberance gave way to JBL’s practical but unglamourous politicking, it was Nixon who really got the ball spinning into a new day of political underhandedness, craven moralizing, and endlessly insecure over-surveillance. Nixon was, in many ways, one of a kind but of course we know that politicians tend to have a little from all three of those aforementioned devious columns. JFK’s hands were never really clean, JBL bombed the hell out of southeast Asia, and I don’t need to remind anyone of the current NSA fiasco.
Politics are trouble. Seeing the 37th U.S. president on the TV screen last night was a reminder of a time when people didn’t yet know what to make, at least not completely, of Richard M. Nixon. They didn’t fix every scandal with the ‘-gate’ moniker, they couldn’t use his name as some sort of negative governmental shorthand, Oliver Stone wasn’t involved in their lives yet. In short, they didn’t have Nixon to kick around yet, and perhaps they were better for it.
This Week in Ken! (Cosgrove. Accounts.)
As the most likeable guy in the entire series, Ken Cosgrove deserves his chance to shine. Here’s where we discuss what everyone’s favourite earnest moonlighting sci-fi writer was doing or not doing on the last episode.
Ken, you’ve changed. I don’t know if it’s the better title (Head of Accounts), the workplace loneliness (only Harry is around from the old guard, and he didn’t even appear in the episode), or the eye patch… wait, yeah, it’s the eye patch. Folks, lets be honest, Ken Cosgrove has lost that youthful innocence that made him the most likeable Mad Men character. Now he’s throwing fits, yelling at people behind closed doors and angrily answering long distance phone calls. I’m distressed.
There is hope however. In Ken’s last scene with Joan this week, he lets loose a small note of that old Cosgrove graciousness. In calmly reprimanding Joan for snooping in his office, he reminds her and us that he can still be something of a gentleman. His off-centre toss of the earring back to Joan, a wide throw due to his new lack of depth perception, is a sad reminder though that these days Ken is just… off.
Know Your Role
Since so much of Mad Men is predicated on minute character interactions, here’s where we discuss the top conflicts that happen in each week’s episode and decide on a winner.
Since Don basically avoided confrontation this week (his scenes with Megan were still filmed entirely on eggshells), our lead combatant has to be Peggy. Her opponent? THE WORLD.
In the office, Peggy appears locked into combat with new boss Lou, she clearly wants to avoid Teddy (who only wants to dance away from her with his toast, the coward), and even her tenants (represented here by Julio, the yelling youth) are giving her a damn hard time. She takes her frustrations out on smiling Stan, the only real pal she has, but it is not enough.
The real bummer for Peggy? After spending most of the decade striving to work harder, to be better, to rise above, she suddenly finds herself alone in limbo. Her mentor, Don, isn’t around to passive-aggressively push her anymore; her erstwhile lover, Teddy, isn’t around to creatively boost her anymore; and her new boss Lou appears to value a weekend spent chopping wood over doing the best work possible. For Peggy, this is a fate worse than death, it is creative suicide, forever stuck in a purgatory of terse conversations and circular, mild-mannered refusals. She’s worked too hard to be told she should stop working so hard.
The end result? Peggy ends up crumpled on the floor, tears flowing freely. It ain’t pretty.
Winner: THE WORLD.
Between the drinking, the social commentary and the drinking, sometimes the people of SCDP and Madison Avenue actually do some work on advertisements. Here is where we sit in the seat of the client, trying to figure out what the hell these ad guys are talking about.
Am I alone in being completely and utterly sold on
Freddy Rumsen’s Don Draper’s Accutron pitch? Boy, I really wanted to see that watch. That Draper magic is still out there, people. I haven’t worn a watch in years and yet I was ready to run out and buy into this wonderful future of accurate time keeping and wristwatches as conversation starters (how quaint). Even a schlubby guy like Rumsen can be made to sound like a silver tongued genius with vintage Draper coming out of his mouth.
In case you were curious, it turns out that the Accutron brand actually has a rich history involving a young Czech immigrant jeweller named Joseph Bulova who lived in Manhattan in the 1870s. Reading through the history of Bulova feels like scanning a blue print for the future of America. A man from old world Europe comes to the U.S. with a dream, he rises in his field and builds a company that goes on after he’s gone. It eventually grows to include celebrity endorsements (Lindbergh! Omar Bradley!), and whoa, what’s this, essentially invents the TV commercial in 1941. Jumping ahead to 2000, then-NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani declares October 4th as Bulova Day. If you want to force in some metaphor here about Don Draper, I’m all ears.
Next Episode Predictions
This is where we watch the totally opaque preview for next week’s episode and make wild guesses as to what will happen next.
Oh, “On the Next Episode of Mad Men”, I wish I knew how to quit you. It’s been a long year but I’m just so happy to be back in the comfortably numb embrace you offer each week. I am tantalized and teased anew with your promises of questions and maybe, just maybe, answers. Ginsberg hints at something that Peggy is going to find out (but what?), Pete suggests they start their own agency (again? Campbell, you gots to chill), Dawn recommends to someone that they keep pretending (but who? and how?), and Lou bellows that none of this has anything to do with him.
Oh Lou, don’t you know? This has everything to do with all of us. See you next week.