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).
Yes, I realize it is Tuesday. I was out of town on the weekend and driving back from Montreal really limits one’s ability to formulate and record thoughts on Mad Men. So let’s call this a compromise: the column is completed, but you’re reading it on Tuesday instead of Monday.
Now then, bringing Don Draper back to the office was always going to include some concessions. He’s on the Burger Chef account, but as part of the team, not its leader. He’s being a good soldier. Megan pops up in the office, as if to check in on what she’s left behind. The two of them appear to be in a perpetual state of limbo, both sacrificing for the other but not sure why. Later, Megan flies home to California alone. We’re left feeling uneasy about the whole deal.
Speaking of being alone, let’s check in on Pete Campbell. For all his confidence and bluster, he’s still that same child we met way back when. Pete starts the episode with the quintessential west coast gal, Bonnie, the arm candy he’s always wanted. So, Pete shows her off, and talks boldly (“shopping all day, screwing all night”), but he conveniently forgets that Bonnie may have sharp ideas of her own. When Pete goes to see Trudy, and his daughter (hey, remember her?), he is perturbed. You mean Trudy is allowed to be out and about too? Pete can’t rationalize it in his mind and his childish mood swings cost him a stable relationship with his daughter (who looks terrified of him, mostly) and his new love (who won’t put up with his carelessness). You want to be the big man, Pete, you gotta deal with the big girls.
We know this is one of the reasons why Peggy and Pete never would have worked together romantically. Peggy is a big girl, a woman. She turned 30 recently, but kept it secret. People may be able to see she’s alone, but they won’t know how old she is. With Peggy, it has long been career first. She wants respect, to have final say, and doesn’t want to have to bow to anyone anymore. When Pete says she’s the best woman in the industry, you can see it rankles her. Peggy wants to be the best, period. She sits in on a conference call (unbeknownst to her until meek Ted pipes up), and has to listen to Pete tell everyone that Don provides authority and she provides emotion. We the audience roll our eyes. Maybe Pete’s been getting too much sun.
In the pre-pitch meeting for Burger Chef, Don’s mere presence tilts the creative decisions away from Peggy. Lou subtly won’t cede any control, but Pete still thinks Don knows best. Suddenly all of the work is no good. It is not enough for Peggy to be adequate, like Lou, she won’t stand on that middle ground. To Don’s credit, he understands that need, that hunger to strive for the better idea, the best version of oneself. When Don hears Sinatra come on, of course the song is “My Way”. Don and Peggy eventually glide into their old roles of mentor and mentee and, you know what, it is a beautiful thing. Both can listen to that song and hear something of a personal mantra.
Ah, but don’t talk to Bob Benson about compromise, he appears ready to define his entire life by it. In his return from Detroit, Bob is ready to glad-hand and, apparently, immerse himself back in a world of temptation. He bails a bloodied (and gay) Chevy exec out of jail and is reminded that he can never truly be himself. But Bob’s drive for the top, however flawed, will not be deterred. His proposal to Joan feels logical, but inappropriate. Joan knows the truth about him, and she won’t reduce herself again. She already will have to live with staring at Harry Crane in every partner’s meeting, a constant reminder. Bob’s pleading play for Joan’s hand in marriage is heartbreaking. It’ll help her, it’ll help him. Everybody wins, right?
Compromise like that has a cost. It’s one thing when you are deciding what to order at a fast food joint, but quite another when you want love. Like Joan says, it is better to die in hope than to make some mild arrangement.
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) Beer bottle in a frosted cake
2) Engagement ring
3) Erector set
4) Barbie doll
5) Old newspaper with JFK
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.
One of the narrative backbones of Mad Men has been the gradual changing of roles for women in society. This week’s episode provided us with four different glances into this ongoing shift in social mores (five if you count Megan, but I’m not sure what she’s up to yet).
For Peggy, it has always been about advancement and independence. While she remains uncertain about her marital future, she has a career worth fighting for and frustrations that, at the very least, would not even have been allowed to her as recently as ten years ago. Likewise, Joan has laboured to be seen as more than just a bodacious body. She has succeeded, and reached a point where she does not need a man to complete her life. She can live on hope.
Trudy and Bonnie, meanwhile, circle the orbit of Pete Campbell and both decide they’d rather test the now limitless vacuum of space. It is gobsmacking to Pete that the mother of his child has the nerve to be out on a date. His deception – of a kind that he used to get away with – falls flat and costs him Bonnie, a smart, hard-working babe. She won’t put up with that sort of inattention, and Trudy doesn’t need Pete to survive, thank you very much.
To be clear, gender equality hasn’t been “solved” today, but even within the decade of the show’s run time, it is enriching to see female characters that struggle, strive and move beyond the simple pre-cast narratives that had been prescribed for them in the past.
And if all of that is too heavy, we could just talk about those stethoscope-like airline headphones. Come on, people used to wear those things??
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.
You know what, maybe it is better if we don’t see Ken Cosgrove any more.
There, I said it. He has not been seen in the last two episodes and while I worried, as per usual, I figured he was just playing with his son, Eddie, and having a grand time. It’s for the best, I reasoned. Ken can enjoy working hard at SC&P, being the head of accounts and a leader of men. He can avoid all of the soap opera drama swirling around Don Draper, he doesn’t have to pretend to like Pete Campbell that much. And, while I’m sure Harry Crane gets up in his grill from time to time, I like to imagine that Ken remains patient. The best part? At the end of the day Ken goes home to his non-broken family (the only successful marriage on the show!) and spend time in the loving embrace of his wife and son.
Still, I was happy to see Ken in the episode this week. But I should have known. Those Chevy guys were lurking around, pretending not to notice how they’d maimed him. Hey assholes, own up to it! Ken Cosgrove does not deserve to be the target of your pity. He is a complete person, even with only one eye.
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.
I can’t be the only one who enjoyed Peggy’s increasingly confrontational dealings with Don this week. First she has to bite her tongue while Pete, uber-dunderhead, defers to Don’s “authority.” Then she has to stand in Don’s doorway while he chatters on about some potential new ideas he is playing with. She had the Burger Chef thing licked! But now, oooooh, it is tainted. Time for Peggy to hole up in the office and have it out with herself. If she can lure someone in, all the better. Stan doesn’t bite, and while Peggy’s done her best to stay out of Don’s way, the table is set for confrontation.
Throughout the episode Don is quick to defer and accept his place – much to Peggy’s chagrin. He no longer gets unquestioned authority (even if the power of his voice remains). It drives Peggy crazy that he won’t play along though. She wants what Don has. She’s still getting condescended to by Pete and “helped” by Ted. So, since she can’t go after the two of them, she turns on Don. Every time he insists he has no secret plan, no ulterior motive, she lashes out. Eventually, in the late night, filled with drink and Frank Sinatra, the two make peace. The fight between them is more like a resettling of accounts. Peggy gets to re-assert herself, and Don gets to feel like he truly is back at work.
When the camera zooms out for that Norman Rockwell final shot, we see Don and Peggy (plus, OK, Pete) enjoying a meal. They worked out a new angle for Burger Chef, a real winner. Yes, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring a smile to my face.
Winner: Peggy and Don, together again.
Between the drinking, the social commentary and the drinking, sometimes the people of 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.
We’re doubling up on Peggy, Don and their advertising work this week because, dammit, we hardly get these scenes anymore. This week’s episode had the whole process laid out. Let’s go through it now, complete with a 1 to 10 scale based on Peggy’s mood (1 being at peace, 10 being irate).
Our intrepid ad-people start out in the field interviewing escapees from Burger Chef to determine what they like about it. Peggy can best be described here as uncomfortable. Mathis is, as usual, his clueless cheery self.
Peggy’s Mood: 2. For God sakes, Mathis, try to appear a little glum.
The art is brought in by everyone’s favourite stoner artist, Stan. He’s not there to tell you if it works or not, he just gets the job done (and gets to enjoy his weekend).
Peggy’s Mood: 3. I think Peggy wishes Stan would care a bit more.
Then, we get to watch Peggy outline her tactics for the pitch. Lou sits at the ready with Pete and Don on hand. Don remains stoic, Lou seems appreciative (a bad sign) and Pete is ready to toss Peggy overboard.
Peggy’s Mood: 6. Having to deal with Pete in this setting is an automatic 4 and you know that suddenly having Lou’s support has to raise some hackles.
Time to regroup, and drink, and make phone calls, and stew. This process is highlighting by Peggy reminding Don that his idea – changing the perspective to that of the children in the ad – is a “loser.” There are not a lot of friendships in this industry.
Peggy’s Mood: 8. Never forget Don, your idea is a loser!
Finally, there’s a meltdown, a make up and a touching vote of support. Look, I know it is advertising, not art (though some would argue that advertising is art; we’ll save that for another day). I know I should be cynical about it. Marketing should not move me. But, man, Burger Chef sounds amazing.
Peggy’s Mood: 1. Everybody chill. We’ll see you next week.
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.
Maybe I missed something but was that really the only Next Week promo? The one I saw involved shrill escalating thriller movie music, a montage of vocal clips that, out of context, sound super duper dramatic, and the foreboding threat of death hanging strongly over the entire 30 seconds.
Has anyone at AMC ever even seen Mad Men before?