By John Andrew Fraser
I’m guessing that for all the people out there who have been disappointed in this final half-season of Mad Men up to this point, “Time & Life” was a welcome episode. It’s one of the more heavily plot-driven Mad Men hours in recent memory and it mostly eschews minor characters and subplots, and focuses on people we’ve known and cared about for much of the show’s run. Pete Campbell even flipped the script and got to punch someone, so we’ve got that going for us, which is good.
Remember how season seven’s midseason finale was titled “Waterloo?” Well we didn’t know it at the time, but Roger’s decision to make Sterling Cooper & Partners an independent subsidiary of McCann really did mark the end of the agency. In a sense, that episode was the characters’ last stand, while this one represented their ultimate defeat. SC&P is no more, dissolved and swallowed up by McCann Erickson, like a fish by a whale. At first, Don, Roger, and the other partners try to pull off a desperation Hail Mary, much like they did in season’s three’s “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” and season six’s “For Immediate Release,” (and even in “Waterloo” itself), by planning to move to SC&P West’s office with their accounts that have conflicts with McCann’s existing clients. However, this time, there’s no Lane Pryce around to fire them, there’s no merger, there’s no bigger company to buy them out. This time, the deal has been done—they’re trapped.
I’m actually glad that Don’s dream of moving the partners and some of their accounts to California didn’t come to fruition. We’ve seen that kind of “re-up to preserve the status quo” story several times on this show, and with only three episodes left, I don’t think it would have worked well to go in that direction again. Plus, California has always kind of been a new frontier for Don—a place where he could escape from reality and run from his problems back in New York (although one could argue that this hasn’t been the case as much ever since Anna Draper died in season four). Now that door has basically closed for Don. It’ll be more interesting to see what he and the partners do now that they don’t have the option to run anymore. They have no choice but to face reality. They’ve died and gone to advertising heaven, as Jim Hobart puts it. And it’s true—Don, Roger, Pete, and Joan have been defined by what they’ve built at SC&P, and now that that’s gone, a part of them is too. But are they in heaven?—that part is debatable. McCann didn’t respect the idea of SC&P as an independent subsidiary for long, who’s to say that they’ll accept Don working on Coca-Cola, or Roger handling Buick for very long either.
The other main storyline tonight involved Peggy and her choice to give her child up for adoption. Over the course of the episode, Peggy found herself in several situations that forced her to ponder her life not lived—first, in a brief scene with Pete, then with a small girl whose mom has left her at an audition, and finally with Stan. While we’ve seen Peggy interact with children on this show before (especially while in Pete’s presence), we’ve never seen her talk to someone like she did with Stan tonight about her decision to give up her child. I liked how Peggy kind of dances around the details of the story when Stan asks her what she did, but she gives him enough information so that he knows what’s going on. I imagine that would be a pretty realistic response from someone who has been hiding a painful secret for a long time. I also like how she tells Stan that she doesn’t know how her son is doing, not because she doesn’t care, but because she can’t know because that’s the only way she’ll be able to move on. This echoes back to what Don told Peggy while visiting her in the hospital—“get out of here and move on. This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened.” Just as Don sometimes seems to be filling Roger’s old role, Peggy sometimes seems to be filling Don’s.
Meanwhile, as is often the case on Mad Men, Pete Campbell’s difficulties mirror Peggy’s in this episode. While he technically maintains some presence in his daughter’s life, she isn’t getting into Greenwich Country Day in part because she can’t properly draw a picture of a man, and even when Pete comes back to his former home in Cos Cob, he insists on leaving before Tammy gets back from the park. It’s no wonder she can’t draw a man—Pete would rather save the Seacor Laxative account than his relationship with his own daughter.
So will “Time & Life” quiet some of the negative chatter surrounding this final half-season of Mad Men? I still have no idea how the series will end (and that’s good, I prefer it that way), but this was the first episode of the final seven where I feel like Weiner and the other writers can’t be accused of wheel-spinning and focusing on the “wrong” characters. They’ve given us a major plot point and at least suggested new directions for many of the show’s main characters; while, at the same time, making it feel like things are starting to wind down. Only three episodes to go. Lets see how it all plays out.
- I liked how in the final scene the partners were completely ignored in the office meeting after they announce that they’ll be moving in with McCann. Don and Roger used to command so much authority, now nobody really bothers paying attention. Don tries to sell the move as a new beginning, but nobody’s really buying that. They all know it’s the end.
- “Greenwich, Connecticut is built on divorce!” I don’t know if that makes it into the pantheon of great Pete Campbell quotes, but it’s very close.
- I’ve mentioned this in other reviews, but how many of these characters end the show working in advertising? Peggy says she’s going to McCann. Joan is the only partner who doesn’t get an account from Jim Hobart. Don looks disillusioned. I could honestly see all of them moving on from advertising completely.
By John Andrew Fraser
Back in the old days, whenever Don Draper would blow up his life, he would have a plan—or at least he would make it look like he had a plan. Now, Don stares at his apartment building, empty except for a few pieces of patio furniture. It’s representative of the blank slate that is his life—the blank slate he has so often craved over the course of the show’s run. Yet this time, it seems clear that Don has no plan. While many have commented that Mad Men’s previous two episodes have dealt with the idea of “the life not lived,” “The Forecast” shifts the show’s focus to the future, and just like Don, many of Mad Men’s other main characters have no clue what they hope to gain as their lives progress. When Don asks Ted Chaough “what’s next?,” all Ted can come up with is that he’d like to sign a pharmaceutical company, and when he asks Peggy, she says that she wants to become SC&P’s first female creative director. Later in the episode, he asks Sally what she wants to be when she grows up. Her only response is that she wants to eat dinner. As Don tries to probe deeper, the answers only get more murky.
One thing that’s becoming increasingly clear is that the people in Don’s life are no longer afraid to call him out on things. Last week, Megan called him an aging, sloppy liar. Within the first five minutes of this episode, Melanie, the real estate broker tasked with selling his apartment, tells him that his home reeks of failure and unhappiness. Later, after Mathis completely bombs in a meeting with a client, at least partially because of advice Don gave him, he tells Don that he has no character and that he’s only succeeded because he’s handsome. And finally, Sally tells him that she just wants to get away so that she won’t turn out like him or Betty. What’s interesting is that Don seems to actually internalize all of this. Sure, he lashes back at Mathis and fires him. Sure, he grabs Sally’s arm and tells her that she’s more like him and her mother than she thinks, but you can tell that he’s legitimately hurt by both comments. The old Don was Teflon, none of this would have phased him. Yet the new Don takes these comments to heart, probably because he knows, at least on some level, that Megan, Melanie, Mathis, and Sally are all right to criticize him. At the very least, they’re not wrong.
Ever since Betty gave Glen a lock of her hair way back in season one, the two have had one of Mad Men’s strangest relationships. That relationship reached its apex tonight as Glen actually tried to make a move on Betty. This was, in-part, a reaction to Glen’s own uncertain future, as he informs Betty that he’s failed out of college and is joining the army (hey, maybe Betty wasn’t completely delusional last week when she told Don that people seek her out to share their confidences). And even though Betty ultimately rejects him, it’s obvious that she finds some kind of strange pleasure in what’s happened. I guess this was an appropriately weird way for one of the show’s oddest storylines to conclude.
The other main story tonight centered around Joan, who met a wealthy real estate developer while she was on a business trip in Los Angeles. At first, he appears to be every bit her equal. The two hit things off, and it even looks like he might figure into Joan’s own personal-life forecast. However, when she tells him that she has a four-year-old son, he reacts so selfishly that it looks like things will fall apart completely. Joan’s been hit from all angles during season seven—whether it be lack of respect at work or in her personal life (remember when Bob Benson proposed to her in “The Strategy,” by basically telling her that she wasn’t getting any younger?). That’s why it definitely seems like a victory—at least for now—when he turns up at SC&P and apologizes. Yet at the end of the day, can we really say that Joan’s forecast is any clearer than the rest of the characters?
But ultimately, these final episodes seem to be asking whether there’s any chance that Don Draper can actually change. Earlier this week, Todd Vanderwerff wrote a piece for Vox, in which he mentioned that he hopes that the show will conclude with Don approaching some level of self-realization before reverting back to his old ways one last time, much like Tony Soprano did in The Sopranos. While it’s still too early to say whether this will be the case, Don does seem to be on a path toward something—at least that’s what all his questions about the future and increased level of introspection seem to suggest. He’ll keep on chasing it, but what he finds is another question entirely.
- The previous episode ended with Don alone in his empty apartment. This episode ends with Don standing alone, outside his apartment, which has just been sold. He’s moving farther and farther away from the person he used to be.
- When Don probes Peggy on what she would like to achieve, she eventually says she would like to produce something meaningful and lasting. Don’s response—“You think you can do that through advertising?” Again, this seems to be another example of a character who used to define himself through his work realizing that maybe that work was hollow all along. What are the chances that Don quits advertising by the end of the series?
- To be fair, I’d be grossed out too if I were Sally and both my parents were hitting on my friends.
By John Andrew Fraser
We begin with Henry Francis stopping by to literally drink Don’s milkshake and we end with a wide shot of Don standing alone in his empty apartment, the one that was once so elegantly decorated by Megan—the one that was supposed to represent a new beginning. “New Business” is a wild, somewhat disjointed episode, similar to, yet very different from “The Runaways” from the first half of this season. Both episodes balance a multitude of characters and storylines, and many of these storylines deal with the characters making rash, impulsive decisions and/or encountering borderline surreal situations.
Last week, I assumed Diana, the waitress from the diner who was reading The 42nd Parallel, would be a one-off character in the same mold as Neve Campbell’s mysterious stranger on a plane from season seven’s first episode, “Time Zones.” But less than ten minutes into “New Business,” Diana is back. I had no idea what to make of Don’s interactions with Diana in “Severance,” and I still find it odd that Matthew Weiner would bring a character like this in with only a handful of episodes to go, but after learning some of Diana’s back story, I get the feeling that Don sees a lot of himself in her. They’re both from the Midwest, they both abandoned their families (Di’s dead daughter even calls back to Don’s brother Adam Whitman, who hanged himself in season one after Don rejected him), and they both seem to possess the same world-weary sadness when it comes to life. The main difference between the two is that Diana doesn’t want to forget the pain she’s caused those she’s left behind, while Don in large part refuses to remember. Maybe that’s why Diana’s around—to make him remember over the course of these final five episodes.
Diana still seems to exist in a kind of half-dream state. She’s like a reprieve from the real world for Don, and he needs it in this episode, as his divorce with Megan looks like it’s going to get messy. However, the ever-impulsive Don tries to take matters into his own hands by writing Megan a check for $1,000,000. How much cash did Don make from the McCann deal? Maybe he ends up living in some small, rundown apartment with Diana as the series concludes. He certainly seems to be quietly divesting himself of his possessions in this episode. He’s paid off Megan and lost a large sum of money in the process and he’s definitely going to need some new furniture. I liked how Don told Roger early in the episode that Megan wasn’t Jane, yet Megan gave Don almost the exact same speech that Jane must have given Roger when they divorced. She even got to tell Don that he’s getting sloppy and old (surely reminding him that he’s running out of chances and that eventually age, and death, will catch up with him).
The other prominent storyline this week involved Peggy and Stan dealing with a photographer named Pima Ryan, who was shooting an ad for SC&P. While Pima may have been talented, she was also a con-artist of sorts, coming on to both Peggy and Stan to advance her own work. Was it a coincidence that Peggy told Stan that Pima was in advertising more so than art? Wouldn’t you expect Peggy to be the one to argue that advertising is important, that it is art? Maybe Pima’s helping her see that there needs to be more in her life than just advertising. Yes, Pima’s had a lot of adventures along the way. Yes, her work may have led to fame and notoriety, but Peggy ultimately rejects Pima because she realizes that she (like advertising in general) is insincere. Perhaps I’m reading into this too much, or maybe even if Peggy is starting to come to this realization she’ll just be pulled back into the advertising machine like Ken was last week, however, I do think this is something to keep an eye on over the next five weeks.
If last week’s big thematic element was “the life not lived,” this week seemed to be about looking at the reality of one’s life and then desperately trying to turn away from it. Don would rather cut an enormous check than go through more divorce proceedings with Megan. Roger would rather sleep with Marie Calvet than face anything in his personal or work life, and Harry Crane…well lets not even get started on that one. Oddly enough, Pete Campbell, who has had very little screen time this half-season so far has become pretty philosophical. Last week he mentioned how he felt like he was really changing his life in California, but now it just feels like a dream. This week, while on his way to a golf outing with Don, he basically sums up one of the major ideas that Mad Men’s been exploring all along—“You think you’re going to begin your life over and do it right. But what if you never get past the beginning again?” The carousel keeps spinning, aren’t we just bound to get off where we got on?
- Betty only shows up for a minute here, but she’s going to get a masters in psychology from Fairfield University. Interesting how the tables seem to have turned since season one when Betty was in therapy. But would you really want Betty as your psychologist?
- We get a Sylvia and Arnold Rosen sighting in the elevator. Arnold seems to be really amused by Don and Diana. If he only knew.
- I love how Roger is kind of haunted by his past in this episode. He can’t play golf because Bert Peterson will be there, and Megan basically walks in on him and her mom, but in the end he just doesn’t care.
- Harry Crane’s indecent proposal was pretty cringe-worthy. Harry will never cease to be a sleaze-ball. Seriously, do people really think Pete is sleazier than Harry at this point?
- I honestly felt bad for Megan in this episode. She seemed like she wanted to make the divorce as civil as possible, but her family just kept dragging her down. You can always count on Marie Calvet to stir the pot.
- “What career? She’s a consumer!”—Roger Sterling
By John Andrew Fraser
When AMC first announced that it was splitting Mad Men’s final season into two halves, Matthew Weiner stated that the first seven episodes would deal with the material world, while the series’ final seven episodes would take a closer look at the things that exist beyond that world—things like family, happiness, and self-fulfillment. All of SC&P’s partners are very wealthy thanks to the McCann deal—in one specific scene Peggy even says to Joan, “you’re filthy rich, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do”—but are they happy? The answer certainly seems to be no.
Despite her newfound wealth, Joan still can’t seem to gain the respect she clearly deserves. When she’s not being mistaken for a former department store employee, she’s being verbally harassed by a group of McCann executives in a meeting. I’m eager to see what road Weiner and the writers have mapped out for Joan in these final six episodes. On one hand, she seems like someone who finds a pretty deep sense of purpose in her role at SC&P, but on the other, I think it’s fair to ask just how long she can stay in an environment where so few people recognize her talents. She could be the most knowledgeable account woman on Madison Avenue and still not command a room of clients like Roger or even Pete, just because of her gender and good looks. Still, it seems really weird to imagine an SC&P without Joan.
An SC&P without Ken Cosgrove will be weird too. Ken—who many have said is the lone good guy at the agency—was the first (and my guess is that he won’t be the last) casualty of the McCann deal. At first I was strangely happy for Ken when Roger gave him the axe. I always felt it was pretty clear, ever since he was writing robot science-fiction under the pen name Ben Hargrove in season five, that Ken’s real interests were elsewhere. I was definitely rooting for him to move to a farm and become a writer full-time. That seems like it would’ve made him happy, but will being head of advertising for Dow Chemical? Maybe screwing over his former bosses will make the position worth it, but Ken really needs to be sitting in front of a type-writer in a cabin in rural Vermont. I’m pouring one out for all the robot novels we’ll never get to read.
And then there’s Don. When he asks the fur model in the opening scene, “look at yourself. Do you like what you see?” He might as well be talking to himself. The end has never been closer for Don (we only get him for six more episodes), and I’d be willing to bet that he still feels like he did in “The Strategy” when he told Peggy that he worries that he’ll never have anybody and that he’s never done anything. Death follows Don Draper everywhere in this episode, whether it be Rachel Menken’s passing, a red wine stain on his carpet that resembles blood, or an waitress who is literally named Di. Luckily, Don has an endless supply of fur models, mistresses, and, well, waitresses named Di to take his mind off his eventual demise. I’m guessing that many will speculate that all these details suggest that we might actually get to see Don’s death on screen before the series ends. While I wouldn’t rule this out completely, knowing Weiner, it might be just as likely that he’ll end the series by having Don experience one final figurative death. He might not actually die, but he’ll continue to be trapped in a life where he has no one, and hasn’t done anything. Don, like many of the other characters on this show, seems to have reached the mountain-top upon first glance, but is that all there is?
- I didn’t mention Peggy in this review, but while super drunk she decides she’s going to Paris with Mathis’ brother-in-law. Will Peggy finally find happiness in her personal life which has so often seemed cursed on this show? Based on her sober reaction to the night, I’m skeptical, but I did love that Stan was all about her Paris plans.
- All scenes involving Don and Di, the waitress, were super weird. Maybe I didn’t pick up on something, but was she just there because she made him think about Rachel Menken, or was there something more to these scenes?
- Roger Sterling’s mustache—a thing of beauty.