Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 7, Time & Life (SPOILERS)

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by AMC

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I wanted to get this done yesterday. Really, I did. But that episode needed two views because it was a beautiful thing. I saw one reviewer who noted that he felt handled throughout the episode, and I felt similarly. And like that reviewer –I can’t remember who it was or I’d link– I found it perfectly fine, too. The episode was vintage Mad Men, and just because I could see behind the curtain a little bit didn’t diminish my enjoyment in the slightest. Everyone was killing it, and there probably has to be some viewer-steering here in the last few hours if we are to make it through to the end with so many pieces left in the puzzle to place. Even Weiner can’t trust us quite that much, and he’s been pretty trusting up until now. It’s one of my favorite things about him. He’s placed a lot of critical character development in the “hands” of Jon Hamm’s facial expressions sparing the dialog that could diminish the effect (or affect, for that matter). Hamm’s face has delivered, and here we are with a really good understanding of a very flawed, very nuanced character who isn’t easily categorized as either good or bad — just human, and real, and deeply damaged. Also, toxic to any woman with whom he becomes romantically involved.


 

So, there’s no mistaking the obvious. This is the alternate ending version of “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” As it should be, since it’s impossible to believe they could deliver yet another magical maneuver to free themselves from the clutches of the devil. I saw it coming, although I never stopped rooting for the happy ending. Right up until Don’s fur salesman desperation showed up instead of his usual ad-man swagger, and Jim told him to sit down before he even managed to make the full play. That shot of their faces as Jim Hobart listed the big names, and told them they are dying and going to advertising heaven was like a kick in the gut.

Only Ted smiles during the portion of the meeting when it becomes clear that Sterling Cooper West is not to be. It was ominous that Hobart used the word dying, and certainly devastating and telling that he didn’t even bother to list Avon for Joan despite the fact that it’s her client, which leaves her completely empty-handed. They sold their soul to the devil, and after trying to outrun him, he finally caught up to collect. (This whole meeting made me very suspicious that Cutler’s stealing that fifth spot from Joan which will not be ok.)


 

I’ve loved the idea of Stan and Peggy for a long time. They genuinely like and respect each other. There’s a chemistry there, and they balance each other out really well. I loved that Peggy talked about her son with Stan. That scene was such a well-acted scene in an episode loaded with them. I thought Stan’s dawning realization of what Peggy was revealing was particularly well-done. It was just such a quiet and effective exchange.

They may not give the relationship a try before the series ends, but make no mistake. Stan and Peggy will become a couple. I’m perfectly satisfied with it even if we don’t get a peek into what that might look like in these final episodes because I think this scene did the remaining bit of pre-work so well that I can fill in the blanks.


 

Roger’s going to be ok. At least for a while. Because he hasn’t really figured out how not ok he is yet. And I love that character so much, that I’m rooting for continued unenlightenment for him. But Don’s figured it out. He’s always known really. He’s just always thought there was something or someone that or who would ease his pain if only he keeps searching. That he would find the answer someday. But I think Don’s figured out that he’ll never be ok. So for me, the key moment in this entire episode was when Roger’s kissed Don on the cheek and said reassuringly, “You are ok.” Because there are so many ways to read that moment. On the second watch, Don’s face as he watches Roger leave makes me think that he realizes that having a man like Roger, equally against the prospect of working for McCann and in a romantic relationship with its obvious negatives, reassure you that you’re ok is not a good turn of events. It means that you are on “suicide watch” so to speak. So, of course, I’m keeping Don on suicide watch because I’ve already had him on the watch since the past couple of episodes have had a troubling comment or facial expression to make me concerned.

I really did enjoy that hint of the old Roger and Don magic at the bar, despite the underlying current of impending disaster, because I’ve always loved watching those two banter and play off each other. I know there were a lot of ways that people read the comment from Don, “What’s in a name?” but I think Don means that in an all-encompassing way, not in a way to exclude any other meaning. For him, it’s just a fundamental point. Names mean exactly nothing. He may not know about Kevin, but he probably suspects. I’d actually be surprised if he doesn’t. But the comment isn’t just about Kevin not getting the legitimacy of the Sterling name. It’s not just that they lost the agency name to McCann. It’s not just about Don not being Don Draper, although it’s certainly that at the foundation. But it’s about so much more than that. Because to Don, it’s not about the name. It’s about the meaning. The substance. It’s why he’s breaking down. His entire life has been built on a lie. But even as he wants to erase the lies, he’s still working in advertising. And he’s still Don Draper. He’s existentially bereft. And he’s no longer in denial about it, which makes me worry very much about his surviving the series finale, although I can’t deny it would make perfect sense for the character’s arc.


 

I absolutely hate that Lou left feeling that he had the upper hand over Don. It’s a disgustingly unearned “victory” for Lou and entirely unsatisfactory for me. I realize that the viewers and Don are in on the joke that his comic is unlikely to be successful, but it still feels pretty great to Lou especially since he got an advance. It’s clearly not an unwarranted smugness that he’s feeling as he snots to Don about his “miserable life,” and it’s certainly not the exit I had planned for Lou. I wanted to see Don dance on his funeral pyre. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

It’s almost over. And I’m still in denial.

Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 7, Waterloo (SPOILERS)

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/AMC

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Don’s no angel. He’s about as flawed as a human can get. And yet, Weiner and co. have done such a fine job crafting this complex, complete, and sympathetic character that I find myself rooting for Don over one of my all-time favorites: Joan. I’m glad they finally explained Joan’s animosity towards Don. It makes perfect sense that money trumps friendship for her. It has to. She’s a single parent. I really can’t fathom how difficult it would be to raise a child in those times with the double standards she faced and that suffocating glass ceiling that even she can’t surmount. This was why last week’s revelation that even Joan will hold out for love instead of accepting Bob’s pragmatic “offer” for the sake of her child was heartbreaking and touching. To find out that ball-buster Joan is a romantic at heart really makes her storyline all the more tragic. And that we are getting this insight into Joan now, allowing us to look back on all that she has endured throughout the course of the series, makes the impact more forceful. What’s worse for me is that, while Don’s childhood was certainly not self-inflicted, the fact that he continues to redefine what it means to hit his own rock bottom certainly has been. That I should be rooting for Don now and angry at Joan for trying to eject him from the firm is outrageous. He has brought all of this on himself. And yet, I’m fully on team Don. Is it Jon Hamm? Is it Weiner? I’m guessing it is a combination of superior work on both of their parts. To clarify, I don’t mean to say that Christina Hendricks isn’t knocking it out of the ballpark. She’s wonderful in that role. I have always adored that character, and I feel that the character’s arc has been satisfying and realistic.

Goodbye Bert Cooper

We knew someone would probably be leaving us this year. Did you see his face as Apollo 11 launched? That was a face of satisfaction and completion. (You can see in his later reaction to the moon landing that he never doubted that the mission would be a success.) Anyone who was watching this episode with the knowledge that one of the characters was going to die would know it was Bert. Robert Morse performed a Jon Hamm facial delivery of lines in that scene. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Bert over the course of the series. It’s been love up until the past few episodes when I thought his hatred of Don was a bit outsized for the passage of time. But Bert’s loss will definitely be felt because he grounded them. It was interesting to see how quickly Roger was able to manage his grief and become galvanized. I fully expected Roger to wallow, so that was one of the better reactions to Bert’s death that we saw. Certainly Cutler’s reaction was the worst. Wholly expected but no less despicable.

The fantastic Morse musical number at the end of the episode was a real treat. I’ll admit to wearing the exact same expression that Don wore for the first few seconds because it came out of left field, and I struggled to ascertain what it meant for Don’s state of mind. Then, I just relaxed and enjoyed it. I told myself that Don’s unpickling brain is saying goodbye in the only way it can. I refuse to assume that Don will head for the bottle as a reaction to Bert’s ghostly reappearance.

Cutler Makes His Power Play

“You think you’re going to throw me out of my own company?” – Don.

Here’s the thing. Cutler should have known he didn’t have the pieces in place quite yet to make this move. He had to know that Don would make another move that would have given him two justifications to fire Don for cause. I imagine he thought he had Bert firmly in his corner. I actually thought he did, too. But Harry hadn’t signed the agreement yet. So why do this now? But I’m certainly glad Cutler made the play because I love a fired-up Don, and the scene of gathered partners was a delight to witness. Don’s face when he saw Joan vote against him was sad, but his recovery was swift. It’s great to see that he’s in game play mode.

“You’re just a bully and a drunk. A football player in a suit.” – Cutler.

Cutler, a word of advice, don’t insult the wound-up man in front of you before all the other partners have weighed in. It’s not a wise plan. But you do have a way with words. Perhaps you might try your hand with tags? If a power shift comes, you might want to have a back-up plan.

Peggy Had a Baby

I love the callback to Peggy’s baby who would be near Julio’s age. Moss kills it in these scenes. You know she is remembering that baby without any wasted dialogue to cheapen it. Someone last night tweeted that they thought Peggy would be a great mom, and I agree. She’d be dedicated to her work, of course. But I have no doubt she’d be a terrific mother.

The Moon Landing

If you didn’t tear up watching the various gatherings and reactions to the moon landing, you’re made of sterner stuff than I. And you most certainly are anyway. But it was interesting to see how different people processed the momentous success. “Bravo.” – Bert who thankfully got to see them land before he died. I’m so glad to see that the Burger Chef team had zero interest in any impact that the landing might have on their presentation. They were all fully caught up in the spirit of the event. Not that I would expect otherwise. How could you at that time be anything other than overwhelmed by the magical wonder of humans reaching a realm never before breached. Well, except for Sally’s crush who wants to posture and show off. And then Don, who can still be swept away by magic, calls Sally. I love that conversation between a typical teenager whose hormones are on overdrive and her parent. Sally can muster only minimal enthusiasm for a phone call with her dad, but you see in her actions that the conversation made an impact on her despite all appearances.

I say, and I’m not sure that others will agree, that Sally went after star child because of Don’s reaction to the moon landing. And I’m really gratified to see the relationship between Don and Sally on such solid footing. It’s my second favorite relationship of the series: second only to Don and Peggy’s. I also say, and everyone else says the same thing I’m sure, that Sally standing outside smoking is a mirror image of Betty. I don’t think that bodes well for Sally’s character arc.

The Burger Chef Presentation

“We have no liquor.” – Peggy

I love the Peggy and Don scene. Don insists that Peggy give the presentation, not only because he knows she needs it to retain the business for herself in the event he’s fired, but because he knows she can win the business. It’s nice forward movement on their relationship that was healed so nicely in the last episode, and it’s more evidence of Don’s respect for her that Peggy has earned and needs to hear. It’s a great effect to have us experience the beginning of the BC presentation from Peggy’s perspective. It’s a real men’s club, and I felt just as nervous as I was supposed to feel. When she coughed, my throat responded by feeling less tight. Don’s opener was short and simple, yet set her up having to hit a home run. And I’ll admit I watched Don’s face in the background as she began, and I thought his face showed a lot of tension. I thought that was troublesome as you wouldn’t want to appear anything other than confident and supportive when someone on your team is presenting. But I realized that Don hasn’t played this role before and doesn’t know how to let go of the reins. He has no idea how to truly trust someone else in this situation. I believe he fully trusted Peggy to deliver, but he couldn’t control his expressions because he’s had no practice. But Don’s inability to fully control his reactions didn’t matter because Peggy nailed it! And the look that Peggy and Don share as she begins to deliver the details of the ad is intimate and earned and made the hostility that she showed to Don upon his return to the agency more bearable in the end.

Roger Makes His Power Play

I didn’t know Roger had a power play of this magnitude left in him until Bert died. The seeds were sowed in “The Strategy,” of course. I know Roger could have put this together with Don’s help, but I enjoyed watching Roger make the magic happen on his own. I just wish it was a different play. I realized watching it all play out, that I was, and still am, hoping for a Don, Pete, and Peggy agency. I’m happy with this as a stopgap, however.

Notes

  • The way Don’s secretary gives him the news about his firing was particularly funny. And then, particularly weird when you think back to all the times when Don took “liberties” when he shouldn’t have. And then, funny again.

  • Pete was funnier than ever this episode.

During the “private” call between Cutler and Chaough, Pete makes clear he’s been listening in the entire time because he can’t contain himself any longer.

“That is a very sensitive piece of horseflesh. He shouldn’t be rattled!”

“Marriage is a racket!”

“I’ve got 10 percent!” Pete says with glee upon hearing about the McCann deal.

  • I’m going to need a bigger Lou funeral pyre, metaphorically speaking. I certainly hope that we witness a spectacular Lou/Don showdown when the series returns to wrap everything up next year. I need more of Lou’s wonky underbite coupled with powerless indignation!
  • The Burger Chef presentation prep was fun to watch if only to see the genesis for Harry’s failure to sign off on his partnership in time; to see how much faith Don has in Peggy as he tells Pete not to worry about the specifics about what Peggy will say; and to see Don’s face as he registers that Pete’s so utterly certain that Don will be perfect that he doesn’t even need to see him present even the generalities, let alone the specifics. It’s the moon landing that holds them all hostage.
  • Did you see the smile on Ken’s face when Joan says to Harry, “You’re not a partner, yet.” He can deliver a smug grin with a patch just fine. Huzzah, Aaron Staton!
  • I thought Megan could have timed her revealing to Don that they had finally officially broken up a little better. Maybe give it another day or two for him to digest what just happened. After all, he wasn’t going to relocate to California in the next day. He’s reeling from this move by Cutler. But they both knew it was over when she moved her things over her last visit, even though Don refused to acknowledge it. If I let the timing go, I can acknowledge that that final call was quietly dignified and appropriate for the relationship that they shared. As far as Don’s horribly dysfunctional relationships go, his with Megan was heartwarming at times.
  • I loved seeing that Roger and Mona watched the moon landing together.
  • When Roger’s voice breaks as he tells Don that he’s going to lose him too, I almost teared up. FINE! I did tear up!
  • I watched Don’s and Pete’s faces when Peggy mentioned the 10yo boy in her apartment, but I only detected the slightest of reactions on Pete’s face and virtually none on Don’s. I’m not entirely surprised by Don’s non-reaction, but I was actually expecting a little more reaction from Pete. However, this is Pete. He’s probably not thought about that child in years, so the reaction was probably spot on.

See You Next Year

And now I can go read the other reviews to see how much I got wrong about this season finale. It was wonderful and impressive, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it a year until the remaining 7 episodes air.

Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 7, The Strategy (SPOILERS)

Photo by AMC

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by AMC

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Pete joined the Mile High Club. Yawn. It’s Pete. Who cares. But Bob Benson’s back! (Sorry, I could not resist the alliteration siren call.) I guess the fact that he’s been absent for a number of episodes dictated that he return with a couple of showstopper scenes? Other things happened that were quite interesting, but I have to get the Bob Benson bit out of the way first.

Bob and Joan

Sal was one of my favorite characters, and it crushed me when he was fired. I don’t have the same kind of attachment to Bob Benson, though I love the fact that he was the catalyst for Pete’s “Not great, Bob.” But I do have enormous sympathy for Bob’s situation and how awful it has to be to hide such an important, defining facet of yourself because people are giant, judgmental jerks. Despite my sympathy for Bob, I felt worse for Joan during the proposal scene. Her life has been anything but easy. She’s fought for every small success that she’s enjoyed, and that partnership came at a steeper price than any person should ever have to pay. For her to be offered the position of beard for Bob, a man she genuinely cares about which means that she will have to swallow any indignation that she feels at the proposal so she won’t hurt him, is just another in a long line of concessions that she is expected to make to navigate the life she’s been handed. And I’m really happy to see that she held out for love. She certainly deserves it.

Roger and Cutler

I’m nothing if not overly dramatic, but does it seem like Roger is being set up to architect his own destruction? Cutler is clearly working on Roger to have him assist with the ouster of Don. And Roger is going to become powerless without someone else in that firm to join with him. He’s leaking power daily. If Don does leave, either on his own steam or otherwise, Roger is toast.

Pete and Peggy and Don

First, I noticed how Don put his dining table back to its former state, including the centerpiece, when he scooped up all of his work stuff and typewriter. Don’s always been a careless type. Always. I’m not saying we’ve not seen successful runs from him, but he’s always been carelessly successful. This, while it may be short-lived, is definitely a change for him. I sincerely hope it’s not. But that was a telling little change, and it’s clear that he’s committed to making a real, sustained turnaround.

I stupidly was delighted when Pete invited Don to the Burger Chef campaign presentation. I knew it would create friction with Lou. I didn’t think about what Pete’s motivation might be. Even after the episode, I’m not sure what Pete’s motivation is in continuing to champion Don. I think the clues are all there, but I’ve been unable to read them. It’s either Peggy or Lou that he’s surely setting up, I’d imagine. Don and Pete have had such a tortured relationship that I need assistance with this one. Help me out, people. What’s Pete up to? Regardless of the motivation, Pete’s maneuver allows me to check out a delightful Lou underbite reaction, and I’m super giddy. I love a pissed-off Lou. I’m less thrilled with an unhappy Peggy – I want her to succeed – but I’m happy to see that she hides her reaction far better than Lou.  

I hate this whole mess. They’re making Peggy construct her own glass ceiling. It’s disgusting. And Peggy lost her last bit of naiveté after Lou gave her Burger Chef and put Don on her team. She instantly knows how gross the maneuver is as it’s happening. The fact that they are trying to make her complicit in it by stating that it’s up to her is one of the nastiest moments on this show. She knows it’s not up to her. And Lou’s disgusting face when Pete says his ridiculous comment about how Peggy is as good as any woman in this business makes me want to find every stupid cardigan sweater within a 100-mile radius, cut it into tiny pieces and let my dog pee on it. Peggy handled it with incredible poise and equanimity.

When Don mentions to Peggy that she change the campaign’s POV from the mother’s perspective to a kid’s, she, perfectionist that she is, begins to doubt herself. Whether she wasn’t completely sold on the campaign or not, she has always had to battle intense self-doubt when it comes to Don, and he’s been notoriously stingy when it comes to handing out recognition of her talent. And it’s not just Don who’s instilled doubt, but his esteem is the one she seeks the most now that Ted’s is tainted.

I love seeing Peggy and Don making their way back to becoming a team again. Together they can accomplish so much, and I’m hoping we can see that storyline as the series ends. I’ve always been most fascinated by what’s going on at the office, and Don and Peggy’s relationship has been the lightning rod for me.

“You love this.” – Peggy

“Not really.” -Don

I loved that short exchange because, that quickly, Don diffused what could have easily and typically escalated, and I think that was the tipping point for the scene. Instead of devolving into a session of finger-pointing and the further destruction of their relationship, they began the work of mending their relationship. It happened that quickly, and yet completely realistically, because of the way Don chose to respond to Peggy. And Don continued to remain, atypically, calm and measured in his responses giving Peggy the chance to actually listen and understand that he does trust her skills, and while he might go a different route, he doesn’t believe that his route is necessarily better. It’s just different.

This is a callback to that scene when Peggy, Pete and Ted are in the restaurant celebrating Ocean Spray in Season 6 and Peggy and Ted are crushing on each other. The Peggy and Ted relationship was not built on a solid foundation, and their love was tainted, but I wonder if the callback is intentional to tell us that something is coming for Peggy and Don? There’s no doubt that Peggy and Don have deep feelings for each other. Forgive me for this, but they really do complete each other. I think they understand each other much better than any other person has understood either of them. That’s sloppily worded, but I think you know what I’m trying to say. I don’t know what a relationship between the two of them would look like, but I was initially horrified by that dance scene. And now I think it’s because Hamm and Moss play so well off of each other that the true emotions of those two characters was just a lot to process. Watching Don’s face register that “coming home” emotion was a big moment there. This is what I tweeted.

And now I feel almost entirely opposite about the whole thing. I trust you, Weiner. Do with it what you will.