MAD MEN 7×08 Debriefing: Somebody that I used to know

Courtesy AMC

The wait is over, and Mad Men is back for its final (for real this time) episodes. Tonight kicked off a seven-week extravaganza as the last hurrah for Sterling Cooper & Partners, but if one thing’s for certain, it’s that Matthew Weiner can still leave us guessing, even this close to the finish line.

We finally pick up with our favorite Mad Men doing what else — wining and dining women. Except, instead of entertaining the generically beautiful pieces of arm candy at a fancy restaurant, they’re in a local diner, where Don regales them with tales from the days of Aunt Abigail and Uncle Mac, while Roger metaphorically twirls his very real mustache. It’s probably the most at ease Don has ever been recalling his past, as though his childhood wasn’t a nightmare, but that isn’t even close to the oddest thing about this “midseason premiere.” (Can we really call it “midseason” if it’s been a whole year since the first part of the season aired?) More importantly, though, Don is intrigued by the waitress that Roger is harassing, convinced he knows her from somewhere.

Once he gets home, Don calls his answering service only to procure himself yet another date for the rest of the evening. His stewardess lady friend comes over for some hanky panky, which is interrupted only by her accidentally spilling a glass of red wine all over the stark white carpet in the bedroom; I’m guessing the imagery of spilled blood isn’t a coincidence, yet that is but one of many questions raised tonight. Don doesn’t care, and merely throws a blanket over the stain to continue their tryst (because Don’s favorite pastime is sweeping things under the rug — or comforter), when his companion discovers one of Megan’s earrings under the bed. She’s history, but strangely enough, there is way more where that came from.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

During a casting call for Topaz hosiery, Don is (pleasantly) surprised by Rachel Menken (now Katz) auditioning in nothing but a fur coat, and disappearing just as mysteriously. It becomes clear that it was just a dream, but it inspires him to set up a meeting with Rachel to discuss a potential branding idea for the pantyhose — so he can kill two birds with one stone. When it comes to other stones, Don returns to the diner to talk to the enigmatic waitress (also-conveniently named Dawn), but as usual, it leads to them having sex in the back alley without saying a word. Obviously, nothing much has changed, because Don only has one answer to any problem.

He’s shocked to find out, after Meredith sets it up, that Rachel is no longer running Menken’s Department Store. In fact, Rachel died a few days ago, which shakes him to his core. This isn’t the first time Don’s had a vision of the dearly departed as they, well, depart, which undoubtedly means something we’re not exactly privy to yet. He goes to her apartment, where her family is sitting Shiva, to pay his respects. There, he’s confronted by Rachel’s sister, who knows exactly who he is. She’s not exactly pleased to see him, but she is tactful enough to answer his questions about Rachel’s life, even though she’s the one who’s grieving the loss of a loved one. Rachel died of leukemia, and left behind a husband and two young children; a life that was cut much too short, but as her sister puts it, at least it was exactly the life she wanted to live (or so she says). One look says she knows just what Don promised nearly a decade earlier, and why it was never going to happen. A leopard never changes its spots, and Don Draper never really keeps his promises to anyone.

He returns to the diner to “talk” to Dawn the waitress, who is as freaked out by his stalking, as you should be when a guy keeps insisting he knows you and shows up to your workplace. She also bears a resemblance to Rachel, which I’m sure is also deliberate, because nothing is ever an accident on this show. When Don reveals that he found out a friend of his died shortly after he had a dream about her, she warns him that people dying tends to mess you up, and you have to be careful with your decisions in the aftermath. Again: anvil, much? In any case, she sympathizes, but asks him to leave her alone, not unlike Rachel all those years ago. So there Don sits, pondering what it all means, as do I, because I’m as confused as ever about what’s in store for Dick Whitman in the next few weeks.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Elsewhere, things are moving and shaking at Sterling Cooper & Partners. Peggy and Joan are in charge of Topaz, who are concerned about Hanes taking away their market share in the drugstore hosiery business. They want to meet the competition by imitation, whereas the women think that’ll just make them look inferior. This is where Don comes in: he casually suggests that if they won’t match Hanes in the discount hose business, then why not beat them where they can’t compete, in the high-end market? Meaning, partner with a department store like Macy’s (or Menken’s) to reimagine Topaz as the house brand. Peggy scoffs at his off-the-cuff idea, but then is forced to admit it’s a great one. (This is, after all, why they keep Don around.)

So Peggy and Joan get a meeting with McCann to get their foot in the door with Marshall Fields, to discuss the potential re-branding, but there they face the expected eye-rolling sexism that is pervasive in every aspect of their lives. Especially whilst selling women’s undergarments to a bunch of developmentally-immature men. Joan is a particular target, and she’s rattled. (She’s mad as hell, and she’s close to not taking it anymore, me thinks.) Peggy is the one to defuse the situation, and tell Joan that she’s taking it to seriously, because they “can’t have it all.” Besides, she says, she has to expect comments with the way she dresses. Joan is enraged, because she doesn’t believe the way she dresses has anything to do with her work or the respect she deserves. It’s a thoroughly modern attitude in the absolute wrong era. In a throwback to earlier seasons, Joan puts Peggy in her place by claiming that at least she’d never look like her, because there’s nothing like frustration to bring out the cattiness in her.

It’s strange how the tables have turned; Peggy, once the embodiment of women’s rights in the workplace, is the one counselling a “go with the flow” approach, while Joan, the one-time model of old-school 50s gender roles, is the one to damn the torpedoes and stand up for herself. When McCann calls back to set up another meeting, Joan makes sure to have her secretary let them know she’s too busy, and uses her time to do a little wardrobe revamping of her own. After all, as Peggy spat, she’s rich now, so she’s going to dress the part, in her own way. It’s a return to the sassy Joan of old; no longer is she covering herself up as she climbs the corporate ladder. She’s a partner, now, and a wealthy one at that — it’s time she expresses herself as she sees fit, too. Watch out, world, Joan is back and better than ever. Here again, the shop girl recognizes her from when she used to work there, but she claims the girl is mistaken. That’s not who she is now, either. (Themes!)

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Peggy — oh, Peggy. She’s as charmingly awkward as ever, minor misogyny with Joan aside. Mathis invites her out on a double-date with his wife and brother-in-law, since obviously none of her accomplishments count if she can’t find a date. At first she rebuffs the setup, noting how disastrous it would be no matter the outcome, but later, she changes her mind, you know, in the spirit of making things easier on Mathis. (Did that remind anyone else of the time she accidentally accepted secretary Shirley’s flowers?) The original date’s been canceled, but he sets the two of them up on their own, and more awkwardness ensues when Stevie receives the wrong order at the restaurant. Peggy insists he send it back, because he didn’t get what he wanted and that’s weird o her, but he’s too proper for that. If he sends it back, he’s a jerk, but if he keeps it, he looks weak to Peggy. So Peggy compromises, and offers him her cannelloni, while she takes his veal; she’s flattered by his praise (or rather, his repeating Mathis’ praise), but really, isn’t Peggy just giving up what she really wants to get a little bit of something else? (Just like she said, you can’t have it all, but apparently a smile and compliment will get you far.)

When she realizes she’s never been on a vacation, and is still smarting over the botched trip to Paris from years ago, she impulsively decides the two of them should go to the City of Lights that night. (Hey, remember when Don wanted to whisk his lover away to Paris, too? What a coincidence! Not.) They head back to her apartment so she can pick up her passport, but when she can’t find it, the buzz from the wine and the adrenaline begin to wear off. She reschedules the trip for a few weeks from now when they’re both free, but it’s pretty obvious it’s never going to happen — nor will the rest of their evening. The next morning at work, her hangover makes her grumpier than usual, and she chastises herself for leaving on vacation with a stranger, while Stan points out that that’s exactly what makes it so fun, and gives them the perfect opportunity to get to know one another. Peggy needs more fun, but she might not know just what that is, yet. (Here’s hoping Stan can push her along in the right direction.)

Meanwhile, Ken is back, too, and as frustrated as ever. His father-in-law is retiring from Dow, and wife Cynthia thinks this is the perfect opportunity for him to leave SC&P, too. He hates his job, and no longer has the family ties to the company to justify staying, so why not leave, so they can go move to that farm in Vermont they’d always dreamed of and he can be a writer? He considers it for a split second, before lashing out at Cynthia for telling him what to do. Conveniently, though, the next day at work, Roger fires Ken: it seems there’s some bad blood between him and McCann et al. from his stint there, and one of the caveats of their merger is that Ken is terminated once his father-in-law is gone, because they hold a fierce grudge. Ken is angry at Roger, but is oddly complacent about the move when Don finds out. He can finally be who he wants to be, now — another word of warning to Don. He just has to figure out how to drive through those doors, again just like the creative director. However, the auteur dream is short-lived: the next day, Ken announces to Roger that he won’t be needing a severance package, because he’s found a new job. At Dow, as head of advertising. He won’t be firing Sterling Cooper & Partners — he’s going to become their worst nightmare as a client. Buckle up, folks, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride, especially when you’ve only got one eye to see with.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Talk about a multi-pronged approach to a premiere! To be perfectly honest, it’s way too late for me to even begin to process everything that happened tonight, especially as I haven’t seen the first half of season seven since it aired last year. There are definitely themes that jumped off the screen: namely, deciding the person you want to become, and running from your past. Don has spent a lifetime escaping his childhood, and was thrust into the role of Don Draper in some respects. Yet here, he’s casual about that same childhood, and is keen on revisiting his former exploits (e.g. Rachel, and even his cavalier attitude about his impending divorce with Megan), while insisting on figuring out who Dawn the waitress was in his past life. Don is every inch the self-made man, but I wonder if he’s going to have to decide who he really is, Don or Dick? It’s no coincidence that his past haunted him tonight, and I’m curious about where it’s all leading. History seems to keep repeating itself, if his bedding and boozing are any indication, so will it be his blood spilled on the carpet next?

Then there is how the other characters follow their bliss — or not. For Peggy, it’s dating and trying to find Mr. Right, because she still feels like something is missing despite her enormous professional success. For Joan, it’s reclaiming her body and her position in her workplace, maintaining that no man can determine her self-worth. For Ken, it’s proving that he’s not just a pawn in the agency roulette. He’s been their punching bag for too long — and now he’s about the be the fighter. They’re rising from the ashes, but the real question is, at what cost? Every time Peggy and Joan seem to commiserate over being the minorities in their field, they undo that bonding by defensively clawing at each other’s wounds (and egos). Anytime Ken mulls a return to the idyllic life in which he grew up, and where he’s the most content, he’s swayed by the desire to prove his manhood by a bigger and better job. Though Pete had minimal screen time tonight, he’s even waxing nostalgic on his California sojourn, somehow grasping that there was something special about what he was doing there, but not being self-aware enough to understand what that is, and ultimately called by the comforts of New York and the grind of his regular life.

I could talk for ages about this all, but instead, I’m going to stop here to save those words for the next few episodes, which are sure to leave us wondering even more as we draw nearer to the end.

How did you like this final season’s final premiere? What do you think is in store for the gang at Sterling Cooper & Partners?

Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

4 Responses to MAD MEN 7×08 Debriefing: Somebody that I used to know

  1. Nitpicky4Life says:

    The secretary Peggy stole the flowers from was Shirley, not Dawn.
    Otherwise a great synopsis, but Dawn and Shirley actually made a joke in the flower episode about how everyone in the office called them by the wrong names.

    • Nels Nels says:

      Oh my gosh, thank you so much for reminding me. It was 1am when I posted it, and I thought I might be confusing the sequence of events (I haven’t seen the episode since it originally aired), but I was so tired that I forgot to double-check before going to bed.

      (If it’s any consolation, I also confused Rachel with Midge re: who Don was supposed to run off to Paris with back in season 1… It was a long night!)

      Thank you for reading and commenting! It’s much appreciated, and also a huge help! (I must go hang my head in shame now…)

  2. […] for himself: sleeps with other women. In this case, he basically stalks Diana, the waitress from last week, at her new gig in another restaurant. (I apologize for calling her “Dawn” last time; I swear, […]

  3. […] them like any experienced dad would. Just like how he revisited his past with his date in the premiere, he recounts his greatest hits with Lucky Strike as a cautionary tale to […]

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