Mad Men Musings: The Strategy

If you’re a Mad Men fan, join us regularly for Mad Men Musings – a space to discuss selected highlights, low points, or just plain water-cooler worthy moments of each episode.

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Perhaps Tolstoy said it best: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. In the penultimate Mad Men episode leading to the split season finale, we see the way families shift, self-destruct, and knit together in surprising ways.

Like a callback to Season 4’s “The Suitcase,” Don and Peggy reunite as their own kind of family, the tightness of their bond highlighting the empty spaces in their respective lives. Bob Benson (YES!!!) returns and tries to piece a ready-made Erector set fam together, and Pete…well, Pete continues to stomp all over the already broken remains of his relationship to his wife and daughter. One of the primary tropes of Mad Men – this notion of unexpected and created families – is explored with a bittersweet poignancy here, one that lingers in all the right ways.

Burger Chef plays a pivotal role, the eventual ad pitch mirroring real-life; if Don’s taught Peggy one thing, it’s how to eventually stumble upon the right tagline, the one that hits you in the heart. It takes her a while to find, it though. In a cringe-worthy pitch meeting with Pete (who has flown in from LA with Bonnie), Lou and Don, Peggy’s original idea is lauded, but undermined at the same time – seeded with the same old paternal sexism that Peggy always has to deal with.

Later, Pete asserts that Don should be the one to deliver the presentation, not Peggy: “Don will give authority, and you’ll give the emotion.” Peggy’s been reduced to playing the role of the Burger Chef mother (um, awkward much, MOTHER OF PETE’S ILLICIT CHILD??) and this is cosigned by Ted, via long distance. Peggy sucks it up and remains professional, but this new direction is clearly killing her.

Initially, she takes this out on Don—she obsesses how the original idea isn’t good enough and worries that Don will waltz in and perform his usual magic, pulling the perfect tagline out of the ether and destroying her inferior campaign.

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Don doesn’t take the bait, though – instead, we see him return to a bygone Don of yore, one that wants to see Peggy succeed on her own terms. Watching him and Peggy put their heads together like this is such a pleasure…a pas de deux of intellect, tenderness and a long and complicated history. Over drinks, the two parse through what family actually means.

Peggy confesses that she turned thirty recently and has been lying about her age; she looks at families in station wagons and wonders where she went wrong. In turn, Don reciprocates with his worry that he “never did anything…that I don’t have anyone.”

Amidst these confidences, Peggy has her light bulb moment – family is what you make of it. More specifically, when you break bread at Burger Chef, every table is the family table. But who cares, because Sinatra’s “My Way” is playing and Don asks Peggy to dance. In that moment, when the two of them are swaying together, I could almost forgive Don for every horrible thing he’s ever done.

As for Don’s relationship with Megan? It continues to limp along. Megan flies out to visit him, and the two are cordial, even affectionate. Megan misses her things and packs up some stuff to take with her to LA, underscoring the continued distance between them. She does tell Don she wants to visit with him in a place without so much baggage, and perhaps a trip like that will finally force their hand.

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Pete’s brought Bonnie out to NYC with him (ugh, he joined the Mile High Club en route) and makes a special trip to see his daughter, Tammy. The problem is, Tammy doesn’t even seem to know who he is – Barbie or no Barbie, she wants nothing to do with him. An increasingly bitter Pete waits for Trudy, who classily tries to avoid seeing him by being out.

When she finally gets back, Pete starts in with bitter recriminations, accusing her out being out on a date and hissing, “I don’t like you carrying on like that. You have a child…it’s immoral!” I hate you, Pete, I really do, a feeling further solidified by your little-slamming-your-beer-bottle-into-Trudy’s-sheet-cake tantrum. Trudy does get in a good parting shot, though: “You’re not part of this family anymore.” Pete, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. Bonnie can never dance the Charlestown the way Trudy can.

And now, the man that I’ve been dying to see all season: Bob Benson! We get to see more of his interior here, the closeted gay man leading a double life. He’s in town with the Chevy executives and must come to the rescue when one of them gets busted for trying sexy-times with an undercover cop. The exec has been worked over, his face bleeding; he wonders how Bob lived in NYC with “so much temptation.” He also drops a bombshell on Bob: SC&P is losing the Chevy account, and Bob is going to get a stellar offer from Buick.

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Bob, being the master schemer that we know him to be, plans accordingly. After a day of flowers and presents for Joan’s mom and Kevin, Bob reveals the largest “gift” of all – an engagement ring for Joan. Essentially, he wants Joan as a beard, to help cement his normative status as a soon-to-be Buick man.

As I watched the two of them on the couch, I was terrified that Joan would capitulate, but I shouldn’t have underestimated her. Bob asks Joan if she wants to continue living in a two bedroom apartment with her mother and points out that she’s pushing 40, with no husband and no father for Kevin. But Joan spurns him outright, for she hasn’t given up on finding a real family for herself: “I want love, and I’d rather die hoping it happens than make some arrangement.” How much do I love Joan? As much as I hate Pete – so, a lot. Whatever’s going to happen, it’s going to be on her terms, no matter how hard it may be.

Lastly, the SC&P “family” seems to have a bunch of things percolating on the downlow. Roger was approached by McCann, asking about Don and Phillip Morris. And when Joan revealed the loss of the Chevy account, Jim Cutler immediately proposes that they start advertising their new computer AND make Harry Crane a partner. Joan and Roger are not amenable to this, but are outvoted. What will this all mean for Don? After all, Lou and Jim still want him out.

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Despite all this turmoil, we end on a tender moment: Peggy and Don pitch their new campaign idea to Pete, at Burger Chef. It’s just a crappy fast food joint, and Pete’s like the toxic uncle nobody really likes; still, as the camera slowly pans away from the three of them, past all the other diners, it looks like a real family moment.

Readers: Sharon Tate/Manson truthers, any Megan predictions? How perfect was Peggy and Don’s dance? And what do you think will happen next week? Because this was such a sweet episode, I’m thinking some major drama is going down for the finale…

all photos: via AMC

Amity writes and teaches in Central PA. Her obsessions include: Rodarte (she can’t afford any Rodarte, mind you, but a girl can dream), espresso, books, vintage/thrift fashion and fountain pens. She thinks you should dress like a weirdo once in a while, just to shake things up.

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9 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Kellie
    Kellie

    I have always envisioned Peggy and Don together at the end of everything. So I was thrilled with this episode. I really loved the dance at the end. I actually believe that this will happen and I liked the foreshadowing in this episode.

    1. Profile photo of amity
      amity

      Now I’m so curious to see how many people want a Don/Peggy romantic match up…BRB, googling furiously….

  2. Profile photo of Tyna Werner
    Tyna Werner

    Now THIS is the Mad Men I love. I’ve been enjoying this season, but this episode had me on the edge of my seat, laughing and awwing at the screen.

    So, so happy to see Don and Peggy get their friendship back on track! Love that neither one had to say “i’m sorry” they just kind of understood it was said/meant and moved on to getting drunk, figuring out the pitch and dancing!

    And while I have always been an anti-shipper of Don and Peggy, I have to admit I was all “kiss her! kiss her!” during that scene. But in hind site, I’m glad they didn’t go there (although I think I may now be open to them going there in the future).

    Favorite moments – Stan eating a banana while shirtless, Ken’s “Gotta keep an eye on him” and Don miming to Pete that he had a little something on his face as they panned out at the end of the episode.

    SO excited for next week – not even an inkling of a hint in the “Coming Next” scenes (they were all from already aired episodes) WHAT is going to happen next week!?
    Tyna Werner recently posted..Having a Dinner Party? Tips You Need to Know…

    1. Profile photo of amity
      amity

      I have no idea what’s going to happen! But I’m totally on the anti-shipping Don/Peggy boat, I must say. The possibility just seems so weird to me, like a brother and sister dating. Of course, my antithetical feeling towards that probably means that they’ll end up married by the end of the season!

      I loved seeing Stan, to–I don’t think it’s going to happen, and I don’t think he and Peggy are really “right” for each other either, but I always kind of hoped he’d be with Pegs eventually.

    2. Profile photo of turboterp
      turboterp

      The peace between Peggy and Don was so satisfying, but I hate the idea of romance between them. It just feels wrong. Don’s kiss on the top of Peggy’s head, and her sweet smile… it seemed like a father/daughter vibe to me. I was thinking, “DON’T kiss her!”

  3. Profile photo of Stef Andrews
    Stef Andrews

    This episode! I could watch it on a loop for the next week. Kenny makes an eye joke, Joan stands up for love, Roger seems ahead of the curve for Buick, Pete acts like his good ol’ dicky self and the dance, oh, THE DANCE!

    Although I don’t think there has been far enough Joan this season, I couldn’t be prouder of her for turning Bob down. Bob! What were you thinking? This scene even made me feel like Joan doesn’t even really need Roger. If they haven’t found true love by now, then when? I want a tall handsome stranger to ride in on a horse and scoop her away.

    And, while I’m no Bob fan, I felt bad for him this episode. I felt his pain of wanting to be true to himself, but being in a world that just wasn’t ready for that yet (and really, large parts of the world still aren’t ready.) I felt bad for him and his “pleasing face.”

    (Side note: Doesn’t that image above of Bob and Joan look like a still from an old soap opera? Even the lighting! It’s obvious they lit this for a still, not film. I guess they knew we’d all be talking about it and would need an image!)

    Pete proved that no matter a tan or fancy plaid pants, he’s still a turd. Bonnie ain’t got time for that!

    And I’m not really sure what’s Roger’s getting at, but it’s obvious that after what he heard in the steam room he has a plan to get Buick. I want Roger back on top. Almost as much as I wanted Don back on top.

    And I want Lou and Cutler’s ties to be fed into the computer like it’s a shredder and for them to die. But that’s besides the point…

    Now, on to the best part: Don and Peggy. ALL I have wanted this season is for them to united again. Peggy being mean has killed me (though really, who would blame her? Every time I think of Don throwing money at her face I cringe.) But for them to come together, get drunk, brainstorm, PEGGY to have the killer idea then dance to Frank? I died. DIED, I tell you! That smile Peggy gave as she leaned her head in and Don kissed the top of her head. Perfection.

    And it’s totally weird, in “the Suitcase” I totally was leaning for a Don/Peggy romance. But now I don’t want it (or see it.) I want them to be friends and equal colleagues. Ok, maybe they can make out a Christmas party once!

    Jeez, I didn’t even talk about Megan! They need to break up. I don’t want her to be killed by the Manson family either. And again, I don’t see it. I think Matthew Weiner’s bating us all on, but I don’t think he’d do it.

    Whew, I feel like I need a cigarette!
    Stef Andrews recently posted..Skinny Cow Takes Besties On Amazing Glamping Trip!

  4. Profile photo of sherrishera
    sherrishera

    I think Don and Peggy reunited was awesome and appropos. They are both finally headed in the right direction. Yes, I was weirded at the thought of a romance, but I think that it would come at the right time in their lives. Who is more perfect for each other than these two? Who have shared more? Who understands each other better?
    I think they will not be getting together before the end of the series, but if there were to be a final episode taking place today (a la Attonement) I believe they would be the happy old couple living peacefully in the Hamptons.

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