When this season of Mad Men was to be split in two, I really hated the idea. It felt like (and to a degree still does) AMC was trying to recreate the buzz that Breaking Bad had by splitting its final season in two. The thinking goes (I’m speculating, of course) that if Breaking Bad gathered hype, Mad Men can gather hype. While it’s still too soon to tell in totality, that does not appear to be the case. I hope that it does end up that way, because the show deserves the adoration, but still.
But now, as we wind down this half season, I’m starting to appreciate the split more and more. Firstly, we get more episodes of Mad Men then we would have otherwise, and secondly, (and most importantly), this season is building quite a lot of momentum. If next weeks episode is as good as this one (or even a tiny bit worse), being cut off from the rest of the story is going to be a withdrawal nightmare for its viewers. Always leave them coming back, they say.
Let’s get to it.
The episode opens on Peggy and Mathis surveying a mother at a Burger Chef (did you hear about the dumbass who spelled it Bergerscheff? What a buffoon). They’re doing market research by bribing mothers with cold hard cash to get their opinions. This research boils down to this: mother’s use Burger Chef because they have other stuff to do and it makes their lives easier. Which is literally the most obvious thing in the world if you give it more than half a thought. Human beings are creatures of convenience; we build our lives around it. We buy houses close to work, close to schools, close to… other things? I don’t know. Point is, they didn’t need market research to tell them what they already knew. But I can’t blame them; the Burger Chef account presentation is soon, and they have to dot their i’s or whatever.
Unfortunately, this means Pete Campbell is back. With the Burger Chef account getting ready to fire up, Pete is flying back to New York with Bonny to supervise and give Bonny a little vacation. Pete starts off the episode the same as we’ve seen him in California; tanned, rapidly balding, and maybe, hopefully, returning as a better human being. He wants to take Bonny out to dinner and shopping and do the frick frack, and he says it in the most misogynistic, condescending way possible. Good ole’ Pete; even when he’s good, he’s still 90% pond scum. Then of course because Pete Campbell attracts ridiculous intelligent and good-looking women he gets laid in the airplane bathroom. So, at this point, the Jury is still out on Pete.
Don is taking to the lower-level employee life like a duck to a pond. He’s toting too much stuff and trying to improve the feng shui of the room he’s in. It’s adorable, truly, and to me it really shows that he’s committing to the idea of “Doing The Work.” There’s been many a time in his past when he’s confronted with the Path He Wants and the Path He Needs and Don has literally never taken the Path He Needs in this whole entire show so it’s really nice to see him not act like an idiot.
But Don isn’t totally out of the upper-level shenanigans. Pete knows that Don is back in action, and he assumes what Megan assumes: that he’s in control like he always is. He brings Don into the Burger Chef meeting to give his opinions. It really screws up the power dynamics of the room; both Peggy and Lou have to be thinking that Don is behind his being invited into the room, but after the pitch when Pete asks Don’s opinion he is totally supportive of the “strategy” they have at hand. It’s a really nice moment and one that is really lacking at the office. Sterling Cooper & Partners has a really bad work environment so any bit of harmony is just music to my ears.
This leads to Peggy and Pete in Lou’s office. Pete wants Don to lead the presentation, because he has a authority (also known as dangly bits) and he wants Peggy to act as an expert witness (also known as no dangly bits and a closed mouth). Peggy is furious, (though silently) and pleads her case. Lou is on her side, but his hands are tied; Pete is a partner, after all. Pete presents it as Peggy’s choice but it isn’t, and when she agrees to let Don do the presentation, Pete exclaims “See! I told you she was as good as any woman in this business!” Nice going Pete.
While this is going on, Roger is at a sauna, getting all sweaty around a bunch of toweled men. Jim Hobart, head of rival advertising firm McCann Erickson, joins him. He drops some weird hints about helping them out with the Commander Cigarettes account, but Roger rebuffs him and leaves. It’s a short scene, but Roger drops about thirty quips before he leaves. My favorite: Hobart gives Roger some crap about SC&P growing up to be like Erickson, to which Roger replies:
“When we grow up we’re going to kill you and marry your wife.”
Granted, a little dark, but it’s got zing. Whatever. Find your own damn quote to love.
BAHB BENSON ALERT! He hath returned! Everybody’s favorite man with a secret identity (especially this season) has returned to New York. He has some executives in tow, and he brings them to the office for a meeting. Interesting little tidbit: Ken Cosgrove (who says its hard to keep any “eye” on his growing baby boy LOL) basically ignores Bob during the introductions. It’s a really quick thing but Ken doesn’t shake his hand or really even look at him. Joan and Bob are still close, though, hugging and sharing a kiss on the cheek. But Bob isn’t here one day before one of the executives he came with (whose name I believe is William) being arrested for trying to “fellate” an undercover cop. As you can imagine, in this period of history, this is frowned upon, and the executive is badly beaten and arrested. After some homophobic shots from the guy who let William out of jail, Bob and William catch a cab. Bob is pretty angry about the whole thing. But it gets worse: SC&P is losing the Chevy account, and Buick is going to offer Bob a job. Bob is surprisingly upbeat about it. One of the more poignant moments of the scene comes when William comments that his way knows about him, “Thank God”. It’s really sad for both William and his wife because neither of them get anything out of the relationship and only function because the world won’t let them otherwise.
Back at the office, Peggy tells Don about being given the Burger Chef presentation. She is still steaming, but holding it together. Don recognizes that this isn’t her idea, but when she stresses that it is, he isn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. He is psyched about being able to pitch again, but he offers a suggestion: telling the ad from the kids perspective. Just a throw-away idea, you can tell he doesn’t give it a second thought, but for some reason it eats at Peggy for the rest of the episode. After Peggy leaves Don’s office, she see’s Megan by the front desk. They greet warmly, but it’s clear that Megan has no idea what’s going on at the office; she still thinks that Don’s in charge, and that Peggy would want his office. Stan see’s her, and they hug warmly as well. Peggy tell’s Stan that Megan is here for a visit, to which Stan replies
“Thank you for the subtitles.”
And goes about his merry way talking to Megan. Don is about to leave for the weekend, and see’s Megan; he expected her, just not at the office. They leave, Stan is still beaming from seeing Megan, but Peggy is all in a tiff. Don’s suggestion about changing the presentation is still eating at her. That whole night, she doesn’t sleep, and finally gets up and takes another look at the Burger Chef presentation.
Part of the reason that Pete is coming back to the New York is to see his daughter, Tammy. He hasn’t seen her for a while, apparently, and Tammy is afraid of him when he arrives at the house. Trudy isn’t there; she’s at the hairdressers, and that irks Pete for some reason. Tammy wont come with Pete, and the housekeeper Verona has to walk her to the car.
After they return later that day, Trudy still isn’t home, and this drives Pete into a frenzy. He stays at the house all night, dumping Bonny to do stuff by herself (and lying to her saying he has to stay and watch Tammy), and then drinks Trudy’s beer and generally just lounges around the house waiting for her to return. And when she does, Pete is drunk as a skunk. He sneers at her, saying it’s immoral for her to be gallivanting out with other men when she has a child. Trudy, unsurprisingly, is not phased by this, and tells Pete that he isn’t a part of this family anymore. Pete drops a beer bottle into a dessert Trudy had made, and stalks out of the house.
Bob is having similar relationship troubles. He goes to Joan’s apartment and generally charms everyone there; Kevin is happy to see him, Joan’s mother is happy to see him, and the four of them go on a date together. It’s a really good time, and when they return, Bob and Joan stay up for a drink. Bob then proposes to her, but Joan knows who Bob really is. Bob then reveals that SC&P is losing Chevy and that Bob is taking a position at Buick. Joan is stunned. Bob makes her this offer: get married, she can stay in New York (or come with him), and do whatever she wants. He just needs to present a certain face to the world, and being married makes that all happen. He sells the idea by telling Joan that it would mean for Kevin and for her as a near “40 year old woman in a two bedroom apartment”. He tells her that he’s offering more than anyone can ever offer, but she turns him down. She wants “love”, and she would “rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement.” She thinks Bob should too, but Bob say’s he’s just being realistic. It’s a really sad and eye-opening moment; for all Bob is, he still has his flaws. He offers Joan all of these things because he thinks a woman near her age can’t do any better. He’s so internalized the homophobia he’s faced that it’s slowly turning him into a unlikable pragmatist. Not a great transformation, Bob!
Though it is nice to see Megan back in New York with Don, it’s not exactly perfect. They have some good moments, but there is always a tiny bit of distance between them. And when Megan starts going through closets looking for fondue pots, there is really something wrong. Megan misses her stuff, which is understandable, but she also is reluctant to bring Don back to LA. She doesn’t want them to meet in LA or NYC next time; she wants them to go someplace where it’s just the two of them. Don isn’t buying it, though, but he goes along with it.
Pete and Bonny are having a hard time. She has done basically all of the vacaying on her own, and is a little angry about it. Pete hasn’t participated in the relationship at all, Bonny doesn’t like him when he’s in New York. I can’t blame her; whatever progress Pete made as a human being was wiped out the moment the planet landed on the tarmac. He tries to take off her dress, but Bonny tells him he can’t “f*ck [his] way out of this.”
Talk about shots fired. Bonny is then back on a plane, Megan is back on a plane, and they are headed back to California. Meanwhile, Peggy and Don are at the office. Peggy hates the strategy they had, and is struggling with finding a new one. She is angry with Don for questioning the strategy; she would’ve never questioned it when she was working under Don. I think that’s utter crap, but if so, that’s only because she wasn’t confident enough. Don thinks the presentation is good enough; the pros are that Lou likes it, it’s basically finished, and the client is onboard. Peggy counters, saying that those things are actually strikes against the idea, to which Don chuckles. She’s not wrong; if the only satisfaction you get is because it’s good enough to pass by, then you didn’t try hard enough.
Don passes on his personal business philosophy: get drunk, have a nap, and wake up with a better idea. Peggy has already tried that, and has nothing. So, they start from the beginning and they work. And they work. But they can’t seem to find an idea they are happy with. They start discussing what Burger Chef really is; a place for convenience. Peggy suggests that the mom have a job and be coming home late, but Don disagrees. The ad can’t be depressing, and desperation is never a good look. Peggy and Don discuss what a family is nowadays; even in 1969 Peggy doesn’t think that the nuclear family exists anymore. They don’t sit around a dinner table and talk. They watch tv instead. Peggy asks Don if ever just sat around the table and talked to his family, but he can’t remember. Peggy is overly stressed, but Don tells her that he never worries about her. They share a nice moment as they both vent personal fears of not actually doing anything and not having anyone, and it gives Peggy an idea: Burger Chef is about families. People can eat there, there’s no tv, and every table is a dinner table. It allows people to come closer together in the convenience of a cheap restaurant. It’s the best of both worlds. Don and Peggy both like it, and as Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” plays in the background, they slow dance in Lou’s office, listening to the music.
Afterwards, they pitch to Pete Campbell in a Burger Chef restaurant, and when Pete pushes back against her idea, Don backs her. Pete shrugs, says okay, and they all start eating. The camera pulls away to see them enjoying a meal together, as they always should have. That office is so toxic, so overly rude and oppressive and mean that it stunts the emotional growth of the people in it. These people should’ve been friends from the very beginning, should’ve been sharing meals together from the very beginning. It’s sad that it took them this long to work together, but they have, finally. And it’s not just about Don, Pete, and Peggy; any of the employees. They’re all missing a closeness they should have. We can only hope that this is a step in the right direction.
See you at the finale, ladies and gentlemen.
[Photo via AMC]