What If You Never Get Past the Beginning Again?—Mad Men Season 7, Episode 9—New Business

Don and the Swedish Chef

Don and the Swedish Chef

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?

Other Thoughts:

  • 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
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