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).
There they are, the astronauts. They’re on their way to the moon for the first time in human history. Will it be their ‘Waterloo’? A last stand? An attempt at glory that fails? The tension hangs over the episode. It seems fitting that it would take a handful of people going as far away as possible from the rest of humanity, to unite said humanity in its actions – even if it is just to watch TV.
There is one man that doesn’t care if the astronauts live or die. That’s Ted Chaough. He’s ready to careen his plane into the California landscape. It’s not hard to see why, what with the constant office turmoil simmering back in Manhattan. Don gets a letter (and a confused come-on from secretary Meredith) that acts as the most direct and impersonal salvo in Jim Cutler’s open war to remove Don from the SC&P offices. He openly admonishs Don as a drunk, a bully and “a football player in a suit.” Jim’s been dancing around this for awhile now, but it couldn’t come at a worse time.
Like it or not, Peggy, Pete and Don are in the midst of honing their Burger Chef pitch. They, along with Harry (who is now dithering over a partnership decision and a divorce, the weasel), hope that the astronauts live so their pitch is not ruined by the pall of death. Don’s already looked down that particular elevator shaft. He’s seen what being unemployed and alone will do to him. He calls Megan with the news that he may be on the way out. Her silent un-vitation rings loud and clear. The Draper shuttle is not equipped with a re-entry pod.
Bert and Roger meet and we are reminded that these two men go way back; that Roger was once a young man, a junior, in the Sterling-Cooper partnership. Bert was hard on Roger then because he knew the younger man was full of talent but too reckless or unreliable to be a leader. Bert leans back on his couch comfortable in his knowledge of self. He has lived long enough to see man transcend this planet. In many ways, Bert is an astronaut, too, looking out for his team.
It is easy to see the parallels in Peggy’s Burger Chef pitch to her own life. She fought against the image of the classic 50s family, the woman as homemaker look. She gets to make the emotional – and authoritative – appeal to the executives across the table for a new kind of family. She knows they’re starved for human connection and love. She comes home to find herself moved to tears by Julio and his demand for popsicles. Whatever that other table is, the one that Peggy mentions in her pitch, she deserves a place at it.
So does Sally. While Betty stares on coolly and believes she is easily reading her daughter’s intentions, Sally proves again that she’ll do her own thing. Yes, she caves into the older boy’s teen-aged and misguided cynicism, but to look at her smoke her cigarette after kissing Neil, the boy with the telescope (not the man on the moon), is to see a future titan. Her parents just barely know how to grapple with her. How do you think Bert would do?
As he openly admits, Bert Cooper is a leader. Hmm, past tense now. He was the spiritual heart of the show, even though, he was also its most out of touch character. Moon landings are one thing, but it usually takes death to bring people close together. We knew Bert Cooper couldn’t just die off-screen, or be remembered with a rote reading of “O Captain, My Captain”. He needed something special. His partner (and semi-protege) Roger makes a deal with McCann to elevate SC&P into the upper echelon. Bert doesn’t live to see that final triumph, but it’s a fitting tribute to a master.
Or maybe Bert’s call for our attention one final time is the fitting tribute. He gets to sing and dance his way into that great office building in the sky. Bravo. Capital.
Don’t forget to take off your shoes.
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?
2) The Moon
3) Kitchen Table
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.
Well, Neil Armstrong, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? Probably screw every woman in Florida, I guess. I’m paraphrasing. Roger’s reaction to Armstrong’s enviable feat reminds me of an old Brian Regan bit. I mean, really, how can anyone top Neil’s story? He walked on the moon! He’ll always win.
As expected, Mad Men’s first half season finale built to the first moon landing in the summer of 1969. It’s hard to guess at what may be more remarkable: the fact that we actually managed to build rocket ships that could propel human beings to the moon, OR the fact that we could do this in 1969 when computer technology was still working off of magnetic tape and transistors, OR the notion that everyone in North America, if not the world, was watching Armstrong’s fateful steps. We live in an age when a trip to the moon almost feels unnecessary, like it would be a waste of money. And computer technology can do anything. And we’ll never have any televised event that unites as many people as a moon landing (not even the Seinfeld finale could do that).
So yeah, Neil, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?
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.
In the flurry of activity that went down in the hallways of the SC&P offices, it was easy to miss Ken this week. But he was there when the yelling got going. He’s always there. Let’s do the emotional math here. Mad Men has added many new characters to its show over the past few seasons. A handful have stuck with us through thick and thin, while other indelible creations have been jettisoned (watching Seasons 1 and 2 with Paul and Sal feels like a distinctly different show).
Through it all Ken has been there; the eye of the hurricane, the rock of Gibraltar. He’s lost his cool a time or two (and an eye), but always quickly regained it (unlike the eye). While Harry has slimed his way into being a partner, Ken has glad-handed with people because that’s his nature. He’s Head of Accounts now, but no one is pissed off with him (unlike the other strivers in the office). I guess my point here is, when the shouting started, and Don was irate, there were rubberneckers at the ready. Ken is not a bystander, though. I want to believe he came running out there to help. We’ve got seven episodes left and I hope Ken has his final day in the sun.
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.
And so it’s come down to this, the final showdown between Jim Cutler and the rest of the partners of SC&P. You’ve really gotta hand it to Jim. He’s a leader, he has a vision. In the short period of time he’s had his hand on the till, he’s overseen expansion into the west coast, the installation of a computer, and the eventual induction of Harry Crane as partner (not sure which one feels the most unlikely). But, well, he’ll always be just a smidge oily. Maybe it was from the time he watched Stan having sex with the hippie girl in that bacchanalian episode from last season. I don’t know.
In any case, Jim’s been gunning hard for Don these last few months. And he’s been thwarted by doses of sentimentality and loyalty in equal measure. Roger refuses to throw Don out of the boat, Pete still sees Don as a saviour, Ted’s lost his voice (and will to live), while Bert sticks with his people. Joan, wisely, seeks what’s best for her. She really doesn’t owe these men any favours. So the fights get unruly.
With a striking bit of leadership, Roger begins building his case and his new deal. The Burger Chef team (Peggy, Pete, Harry and Don) continue to work. And McCann, that ominous all-seeing agency spectre, glides in. They provide some perspective. We’ve grown so attached to the romantic notion of SC&P (or SC, or SCDP, or SCDP/CGC) as the only game in town, the coolest agency to work for. But as is hinted at time and again, SC&P has had to muscle its way uphill to this position. Roger throws out a number, a potential 65 million, and we realize that they’ve come along way from that dour looking office floor of the early seasons. Kudos to hanging tough, people. The payoff appears to be worth it.
Winner: The Partners (even Jim; it is quite a lot of money after all)
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.
There’s stress, and then there’s moon landing stress. Yes, the success of the Burger Chef pitch, the product we’ve been talking about for the past month, is tied into the results of the incoming moon landing. When’s the last time any sort of meeting hinged on those conditions? Let’s take this one more time from the top.
To begin with, the pitch rehearsal is a delight. Pete runs it like an angry Broadway director. He chides Harry by reminding him not to burn all the goodwill he’s amassed. Then he makes sure to announce that Peggy will hand it over to Don. And finally, just as Don gets warmed up to pull the heartstrings, Pete says cut. He’s seen enough. Ah, but the pitch is not going to go according to plan. Don’s mind is elsewhere, he’s fighting for his position within the company, the one he helped build. He knows he may not be on hand to shape the Burger Chef future, with his own future in flux. So he hands it off to Peggy, and gives her the vote of confidence she needs. At last the Burger Chef pitch arrives, and my goodness, the gravitas.
Remember ‘My Way’? On the one hand, I suppose it is a bit patronizing to have Don be the only one on hand who can unlock Peggy’s potential, but on the other: whatever the context, it is hugely rewarding to see the teacher (as big of a mess as he could be at times) pass the torch to the student. Peggy stands before those Burger Chef execs and gives a pitch that has one of them wiping his eye. It’s still a call back to the Carousel, and it still works. Peggy’s got the tenor and timing. She even has the wobbly moment where it looks like she’s about to fly off the rails (when she invoked Julio, I feared the worst). Ultimately, she nails it. Burger Chef is now her client, she ran the team, and even got Don Draper to fall in line. It’s been quite a decade.
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.
In lieu of a next episode to predict, let’s just hit a checklist here of the good and bad of the past seven episodes:
– Freddy Rumsen, saviour
– Bob Benson’s return
– Don’s decision to do the work
– Sally, still
– Roger shutting Harry out of the partners meeting
– 2001: A Space Odyssey references
– Ted’s death wish
– Don drunkenly saying “Ball game!”
– Bert responding with “Capital.”
– Lou Avery’s work ethic
– Betty, still
– the continued rise of Harry Crane
– Ginsberg going crazy
– Lou Avery’s cartoon dreams
– Don’s office bender
– Bert dying
– Bert’s latent racism (not to speak ill of the dead)
– Lou Avery’s everything
Did I miss anything? I probably missed some things. Anyway, only seven episodes to go. See you next year.