MAD MEN 7×12 Debriefing: On the road

Courtesy AMC

I’d like to apologize for not posting last week’s recap. I swear I’ve been working on it, but real life has been standing in my way all week. It’s almost done, and will get posted eventually, but in the meantime, let’s jump right into tonight’s episode, shall we?

It’s the end of an era, as Sterling Cooper & Partners is officially no more. If you thought the gang would be living the dream at McCann Erickson, then you definitely haven’t been watching this show for seven years.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Just as in the past few outings, we open the episode as Don enters the elevator in his new digs at McCann. (What does it all mean, Matt Weiner?!) He claims he’s not lost, just late, because Don would never admit he wasn’t exactly where he was supposed to be. Jim Hobart welcomes him with open arms, and tells him he’s got a meeting the next day with Miller beer — McCann bought out an entire advertising agency in Milwaukee just to sign the brewing company. It’s all Don’s account now, and Hobart’s enthusiasm for the Mad Man is a little unsettling: he proclaims that Don is his white whale and he’s been dreaming of this moment for a decade, and it’s hard not to think that this is all some sort of cosmic joke. (Or that some tragic fate awaits Don.) He implores Don to “say it”, and he does: “I’m Don Draper, from McCann Erickson.” It rings false, and Hobart looks like he’s going to cry. (Or do something else.) It’s definitely got to be an ego boost to Don, but there’s something supremely odd about the whole thing.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Don walks into the meet ’n’ greet with Miller the next day, and we are definitely not in Kansas anymore. Gone is the one-on-one face time with a CEO; he’s in a board room with dozens of executives and analysts and consultants, and the chatter is deafening. Don is perplexed, while Ted seems like he’s where he’s always meant to have been. As the utterly professional team leader begins his spiel, with a hint of a Don-esque insight into the “character” they’re pursuing without an ounce of his charisma, Don zones out. As his colleagues all turn the page in their market research files in perfect harmony, Don stares out the window, clearly wondering what the point of this all is and focused on a passing plane. (Don’t been staring out of lots of windows lately; I’m sure it means something, but we’re not there yet.) So, he does what he always does when he doesn’t like something: he walks out. There’s no fuss, or grand proclamation — nor does Don invent “Miller Time.” He steps out wordlessly, without anyone looking up from their reports, except for Ted, who just chuckles and shakes his head. Ted is in his happy place, with stats and protocols and predictability. He might admire Don’s initiative, but he sure as hell doesn’t want to be him.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Don is supposed to pick Sally up at Betty’s to take her back to boarding school for the fall semester anyway, so he heads over to the Francis home, where Betty is coping with her own return to school. Sally, it turns out, got a ride back with one of her friends, and failed to inform her father. (Betty called his office, but apparently “[his] girl is a moron.” Oh, Meredith.) Betty’s surprisingly zen about Sally’s teenage chaos, chalking it up to her growing up, and even reminding Don that they can’t fault her for being independent. (It seems more like brattiness to me, but I like this Betty, so I’ll roll with it.) Don and Betty are in such a good place now; the years seem to have erased the bitterness, and instead, there’s genuine affection between them. She confesses her own fears about returning to school at her age, and Don jokes about her finding a freshman to carry her books, while massaging her apparently-strained shoulders from all that heavy lifting. He asks when the boys are coming home, she apprises him of what they’re up to today, and it’s all very domestic. (Has Don suddenly become a better dad in the last few months? It feels like we’ve seen him more at the Francis house than we ever saw the kids in Manhattan.) It’s like this is what could have been, in another lifetime, or an alternate universe in which their marriage wasn’t toxic as hell. You can almost forget that there are years of resentment and anger behind them. He even bids her adieu with a suave “Knock ‘em dead, Birdie,” the pet name recalling their past. Maybe they really can figure out this friend thing, but at the same time, it still feels to me like Don’s on the outside looking in, watching the pieces of his former life like a voyeur.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Don then does what Don usually does when he’s feeling out-of-sorts: he runs. Or, I should say, he drives all night, with a little company from the ghost of Bert Cooper pointing out how ridiculous this all is. Nonetheless, he heads to the Midwest; I was convinced he was off to pull some sort of con in the guise of the “everyman” the Miller folks were waxing poetic about, but instead, he’s actually there to con Diana’s family into telling him where she is. The new Mrs. Bauer buys his salesman cover, but when Mr. Bauer comes home, he reads Don like an open book. He tersely shows Don the door, and when out of his new wife’s earshot, reveals to Don that he isn’t the first man to come looking for Diana. She’s a lost soul and leaves a trail of broken men in her wake, but her ex has no sympathy for her anymore, because she left him and their daughter at the worst point of all their lives. (“I lost my daughter to God and my wife to the devil” — talk about a way with words.) His pleas to Don to find his own eternal salvation reminded me a lot of the flashbacks we’ve seen of his stepmother over the years, and I’m sure this spurs his next move. Don leaves Wisconsin, and heads on the open road, Jack Kerouac-style. We don’t know where he’s going, and neither does he. He picks up a hitchhiker heading to St. Paul (since that works so well for him on this show), and Don tells him he could go there, too — because, really, he could be anywhere.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Someone else who is going through an existential crisis is Joan. While Don has been welcomed with open arms to McCann, Joan’s definitely in limbo. The other “girls” in the office invite her out for drinks and a “bitch session,” but she’s decidedly uncomfortable with the idea. She’s not a secretary, and she’s not a copywriter — she does, in theory, outrank them all as a partner, but nobody really seems to be aware of that fact. Moreover, they seem to think that Peggy’s status as chief copywriter at SC&P won’t hold water there, either, and it’s all feeling like a big mess for the women. Joan tries her best to maintain her composure, but when her new colleague Dennis (he of the “you should work on brasiere campaigns because you have breasts get it?” fame) royally messes up a conference call with Joan’s Avon rep by referencing his golf game when she knows he’s in a wheelchair, she loses it. She goes to Ferg Donnelly for help, and he tells her he’ll handle it, and things might finally be looking up for Joan — until that backfires spectacularly, when it becomes clear that Ferg wants a piece of her, too, and is now looking for any excuse to be alone with her. (Once Dan Scott, always Dan Scott.)

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

She attempts to handle it on her own, even after both Pete and Don offer to help out, but when she confronts Jim Hobart herself, all bets are off. She’s already been mulling cashing out and leaving for good, which boyfriend Richard heavily encourages, but her job is still her life. She threatens to get lawyers involved with Hobart, claiming that she’d be supported by numerous women at McCann who’ve faced this blatant sexism, but he calls her out, spitting back that women love working there. (Yeah, I’m sure.) He reveals his true colors: the best he can give her is fifty cents to the dollar on her buyout, otherwise he’ll take her for every penny, and make her life there miserable. (“You’re gonna have to get used to the way we do things.” Like hell she will!) She walks out, seemingly for good, but the next day shows up like nothing happened, her pride clearly hurt. This is when Roger steps in; he’s been called into action by Hobart, and he convinces Joan that his (half-priced) offer is still the best she’s going to get, so she should stop fighting it and get out while she still can, and before McCann destroys her. So she grabs her picture of Kevin and her Rolodex, and off she goes — from McCann or from the series, we don’t really know yet.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Peggy, too, is feeling the sting, though on the other side of the coin. SC&P is a shell of its former self, as everything is moved to their new office. Everything, it seems, except for her office. Her furniture is in storage, and there’s no space available for her yet at her new abode. Rather than sit out in the steno pool like they’ve suggested, she plants her feet firmly in the ground in her old digs, as empty as it may be. Save for Ed using his last week of employment at SC&P to make as many long-distance phone calls as he can on the company dime before it’s lights out, and Roger, who just doesn’t want to go, Peggy is alone, and fielding calls from her own secretary, who has moved over to McCann. It starts off productive enough, but like anyone who is left all alone when they should be getting work done, she starts to wander the halls of SC&P, because there’s no one there to stop her. After a hilarious horror-movie-esque buildup, Peggy finally discovers Roger reminiscing on his own (with an organ, because who doesn’t keep one of those around in their office?), and they get to talking for probably the first time in this series’ run. He’s trying to impart his wisdom on her, she rightly calls him out on his poor decision-making that sold them all out to McCann in the first place. Roger claims that this business doesn’t have feelings and she should suck it up, but all of his recent behavior would betray that fact. This business is full of feelings, and it’s why they’re so heartbroken at the end of their little adventure.  As he muses, it was one hell of a boat, indeed.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Peggy puts on a brave face, and claims that she’s embracing the impending change — despite the fact that she has no office and no support. In a classic bit of self-convincing, she points out all that was wrong with SC&P, but Roger knows better. When he asks her if that’s really all she’s taken out of this experience, she wistfully smiles no. She’s got feelings, too, and this is the place that made her. She might go on to run McCann (or not), but it will never be the same as her years with Sterling Cooper in all its incarnations. So together they continue to drink their vermouth and relive the good old days in what’s left of their professional and spiritual home — because who hasn’t wanted to roller skate down the hallway in the middle of the night?

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

More importantly, though, Roger’s words stick. Throughout the whole episode, he’s pontificating about the futility of all of this — whether it’s insulting Harry Crane one last time (because Lord knows he deserves it), or refusing to show up at his new office despite being in demand — because he knows he’s never going to have it as good ever again. SC&P was the last of his legacy, and it’s finally, completely over. Yet, it’s also like he’s trying to teach what little he knows to her, especially when she refuses Bert Cooper’s old painting from his office (of the woman being, er, pleasured by an octopus) because it is vulgar and “you know I have to make men feel at ease.” It’s as though he hones in on this, and realizes that is what will prevent Peggy from being who she can be. Roger’s no civil rights leader, but he likes a good fight, and he definitely wants to stick it to McCann. After spending the night drinking and bonding and probably playing hide-and-go-seek for all we know, Peggy finally enters the hallways at McCann Erickson — a day late, hungover, and not giving a single crap about any of it. She’s not here to make anyone comfortable anymore. Peggy Olson has arrived, and you better hold onto your hats, folks.

It’s so incredible to me that in its final push towards its last episode (sniff), Mad Men is still able to stir up so many feelings, and make me question what any of it means. There are so many balls up in the air right now that I cannot possibly speak about all the themes present, especially given how long this review is already. Change is definitely in the air, and there’s a distinct hint of the old guard being pushed aside for the new in “Lost Horizon.”

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

For instance, take Peggy and Joan. They’re fighting the same fight, from different angles. They’re both in positions of power in their respective fields, and trailblazers in many ways. Yet, their approaches vary wildly, and that affects the outcomes, too. Peggy’s assumption that she has to make men comfortable to keep her job makes sense given all she’s learned under the Joan’s tutelage, yet Peggy’s been inching her way towards that glass ceiling for the last decade, despite what any man thinks of her. Hell, even secretary Shirley sees the writing on the wall and leaves the agency for a better work environment, because she knows McCann will set her back. On the other hand, Joan is the one who made a career over catering to the needs of men far less intelligent than she is, yet now is the one kicking and screaming her way through the door, propriety or not. It’s such a fascinating contrast; old-school Joan is the one threatening to call Betty Friedan and the ACLU, but visionary Peggy is the one taking the silent approach and arguably causes the biggest stir.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

Joan’s entire story continues to break my heart week after week in this second half of season seven. As she told Richard, she’s finally got the job she’s always wanted, yet she really doesn’t have anyone in her corner. Sure, Pete is happy to see her and wants to “speak to someone” to rectify her situation with Dennis, and Don treats her like a long-lost friend in that elevator scene, promising to do lunch with her and see what he can do to fix this mess, but ultimately this is her battle alone, because they can’t comprehend what this feels like. When Hobart tells her that her partnership means squat at McCann, it’s the nail in the coffin: everything Joan has worked for is essentially for naught. All the promises of prestige and power and money come crashing down, and unlike Peggy, who commands attention in her McCann debut, Joan goes quietly into the night, so to speak. I so hope this isn’t the last we see of her, because I want there to be more. I want her to speak up and find a job that will kick all of McCann Erickson’s rear ends, and I want her to champion women everywhere and fight against the treatment she’s faced (and let’s be honest, occasionally condoned) in her work life. I want her to own the authority she so richly deserves, and reap the benefits of it, financial and otherwise. And I want her to find a man who appreciates who she is and not who she represents, and doesn’t try to fit her into any boxes. (Please don’t marry Richard, Joan. I know you want to be taken care of, but this isn’t the answer.) Yet, knowing Matt Weiner, I understand that it could very well be that there is no happy ending, here. Joan could be like millions of other women who face sexism and never get their due. Life is a bunch of loose ends, after all, and we don’t all get a “slow-clap” moment.

It did almost feel like some of her scenes were final goodbyes, though. Whether it was her last conversation with Roger about what to do about Hobart’s offer (“It’s not about the money.” “It’s always about the money.”), or her meeting with Don like two old comrades reliving their glory days (“How are you, stranger?” “Homesick.”), Joan’s time in this world is definitely wrapping up, in whatever shape it may be. She’s a casualty of the system, but she shouldn’t have to be. Yet, just like Don (and Roger), life is quickly slipping through her fingers, and it remains to be seen if she embraces the opportunity to join the feminist cause, or if she fades into the sunset just as Roger seems to be doing.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Don, too, because he is the protagonist of this story, after all. I have to say, I haven’t found the Diana story all that compelling, and spending so much of the third-to-last episode on her rang a little hollow to me, too. I get that there’s some sort of overarching theme she represents, but I’m not smart enough to fully delve into it yet. She’s the woman with whom Don keeps repeating his mistakes — but this time, he’s told flat-out that some people can’t be fixed. With one episode left, I’ve got way more questions about what’s in store for Don than what “Lost Horizon” answered, and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds. There’s a restlessness about him that he seems to have now wholeheartedly accepted as he heads on the road with hitchhikers and ghosts, and there’s no telling where this path will take him, or us.

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

How are you feeling about the push to the final episode? It’s so hard to believe our time with Sterling Cooper is almost up, but it’s definitely leaving me hungry for more.

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 7×12 Debriefing: On the road

  1. Cassidy says:

    Silly question but… aren’t there two more Mad Men eps left? For some reason, I thought there would be 14 total. Everyone on my dash/tl has mentioned the finale is in two weeks. Is it a double ep next week?

    (As you know, I don’t watch, so I’m probably wrong.)

    • Nels Nels says:

      You’re totally right! I got confused by the AMC promos. Huzzah, another week with the show then!

      Thanks, Cassidy. I’m going to edit that right now.

      • Cassidy says:

        Oh, is it? I think AMC’s “x episodes until the finale” confused a lot of people. That’s a weird way to promo the show, haha. But I’m glad you get another week with the show!! 🙂

  2. […] — along with socking him with a phonebook a couple of times for good measure. (I told you last week that road trips never end well for him.) Don didn’t take it, but is certain the motel cleaning […]

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