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

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by AMC

SPOILERS BELOW!

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, A Day’s Work (SPOILERS)

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

(SPOILERS BELOW)

Before the episode even starts, the previouslies promise me that I’ll get at least some development on the Don and Sally story line. Let’s do this!

Watching the partners’ conference call was hilarious and illuminating as the power hierarchy becomes ever more evident. I am somewhat amazed to find Cutler at the top of the power structure all alone unless I’m confused. It was fun watching everyone adjusting to their new normal of meeting via conference call. It’s clear that Pete is beginning to feel some of Ted’s despair despite being in sunny CA. The constraints of being tethered to the NY office where the power players are located have dulled the fun, shiny Pete we saw last episode. And Pete’s feeling more underappreciated than ever before. “There’s two offices. Yours is only slightly better than mine. What am I supposed to do? Work my way up to your office?” It’s too bad because I really enjoyed that Pete and was looking forward to watching him for a while. What Pete doesn’t understand is that it might not be any better if he was in NY. Roger might as well be in California for as much power as he is able to wield. With Don’s exit, the power shifted immediately, and, now, the only sure-footed partner is Cutler. Although Bert Cooper seems to approve of how everything is playing out.

Don

I was glad to see that Don’s bedside table contained smokes only. No liquor bottle or glass. Glad to see he’s continuing to track his drinking. It’s critical to his resurrection and his ability to understand the reality of his situation. It’s obvious to everyone else that he’s not being welcomed back to SC&P anytime soon, if at all. It’s good to see him finally begin to explore his options. I enjoyed watching Don get some adulation, even from the cheeser from McCann Erickson, since it was really sad to watch him pass the hours aimlessly (although the Little Rascals were the best!!) before dressing up for Dawn’s visit. The eagerness and hunger on his face as she gave him the meager scraps of client information that she had was enough to make me almost forget how awful it was when he was top dog and living a double life. I definitely appreciated all the signs in the episode pointing to a Don looking to leave the duality (well, except for the name) and deception behind. I think this is why he looked at Sally with such surprise when she said, “Why don’t you just tell Megan you don’t want to move to California.” He can’t imagine things can be that straightforward and simple. And yes, I recognize the irony in suggesting that Don wants to leave the deception behind, as Don is still lying to Megan.  And his honesty to Sally was forced upon him. So, small steps. I just felt that he wasn’t fighting the reveal like we’ve seen him do so many other times. It’s becoming much easier – (Dare I say natural? No, that’s going too far.) – for him to open up.

Sally

I’m surprised now by how much I didn’t think Sally would fit in at boarding school. I thought she would have a terrible time navigating the social land mines. But she’s been “raised” by the perfect two people to help her become exactly what she needs to be to deal with that chaos. And that line, “I’m so many people,” that she delivered when she and Don were in the restaurant was a perfect summation of that.

Watching Sally and Don repair their severely fractured relationship was the highlight of the episode for me. Both Hamm and Shipka are incredible in their scenes together. They always have been. You can watch Sally soften toward him as he tells her why he’s not working and why he lied about it. You can watch Don enjoy the opportunity to spend time with his daughter alone and appreciate how much she’s grown up and what a great job she’s doing of it all by herself. That final “I love you,” was believable and well-earned after the afternoon they had spent together. It was the perfect ending to the episode for me.

Dawn

I’m looking forward to seeing more of Dawn. I’ve enjoyed the glimpses we’ve been getting into her character. Watching her take up for herself when Lou blamed his inability to be human with a child on Dawn’s absence was cathartic. I hope I’ll get a chance to see Lou be annoyed or even angry by her promotion as long as it doesn’t affect her.

Joan

I was so gratified to see Joan move to accounts instead of having to shoulder that workload in addition to her former duties, just to have the opportunity to be an account “man”. It’s terrific to finally see some payoff where Joan is concerned.

Lou

Last and least is Lou. As I expected from last week, Lou is not a good guy. He’s mediocre at his job, and he’s a total pill on top of that. His whiny entitlement leads him to demand that Joan move Dawn somewhere else. Anywhere else. He wants his own “girl” because when he agreed to do this good deed of sharing Dawn with Don Draper (which he says with enough venom that it leads me to wonder if there is something more to explore there), he thought it would be correspondence and phone calls only. So, Lou is going to be fun to hate and will either be the catalyst that leads to Don’s return or to Peggy’s ascendance.

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

(SPOILERS BELOW)

FREDDY! Wait, Freddy? As I was listening to him deliver that  campaign, all I could think was, “Freddy has come a long way since the pissing-the-pants days. I had no idea he was capable of anything of that caliber, and I did have a little nagging piece of a thought kernel in the back of my mind that I should have realized was worthy of inspection. I’m sure I was the only person who thought to myself, “Oh, of course, you fool,” when Freddy showed up at Don’s. But I digress. I wasn’t surprised to see it was Peggy he was pitching it to. I wasn’t even surprised to see she wasn’t the new Don instead of that dolt, Lou, but I was certainly disappointed. A word about the new Don: Dullsville. As someone who has worked in the advertising world before, albeit in the media buying piece of it, I can say that the creative arm of advertising is where the excitement is. If Lou had been sucking the life out of the creative area of the ad firm where I worked, I certainly wouldn’t have been desperately praying nightly to the gods of career advancement for any opportunity to jump to that area.

Don: Ever since Don and Sally shared that look at the end of season six while standing in front of the whorehouse where Don grew up, I have been waiting for this season to start with unbearable anticipation. Would this be, FINALLY, the season where Don would start to show some character growth? I felt that look they shared, as well as the fact that he took them to his childhood home in the first place, was a giant first step. So, I watched this episode with a hyper focus on Don, and Jon Hamm’s facial expressions as he plays Don with a tightly-controlled intensity that leaves me mystified as to the dearth of Emmy wins.

I am a little surprised to see that Megan and Don are still together. I thought the bicoastal preview was telling. They are clearly living separate lives and that is currently working for them. “You’re not here long enough for a fight.” In their first scene, I was struck how Megan just sets the scene by getting out of the car and walking over to Don. She just looks like California to me. And he looks like New York, or more simply, not California. She’s in the driver’s seat literally and figuratively out there. I am interested in seeing if there’s more from her perspective to explain Don’s lines, “She knows I’m a terrible husband.” “She doesn’t know that much, but she knows.” But this line, “I keep wondering, have I broken the vessel,” is the key to why they are still together, I think.

All of those references. Sorry, but I have to get back to work. The second time, surprisingly, is Don’s reason why he declines his attractive sleep partner’s invitation to party. “Why would I expect anything else?” “Well, blame Madison Avenue for that.” Those couple of references earlier in the episode to getting back to work are why it wasn’t a big reveal when Freddy walks into Don’s apartment. It was terrific, don’t get me wrong, but they had done their work in the episode to set up the reveal which I always appreciate. And I thought, “OK, it’s better at least. Don’s lied so many times. But when he said he’s got to get back to work he was actually getting back to work.” And in his mind, he probably thinks he’s close to legit since he’s still getting paid from SC&P for whom he’s doing the work through Freddy. Well, he’s doing work for other agencies, too, but I suspect that might be at Freddy’s urging. Of course, Freddy’s got bigger plans. He’s got the muse at his disposal, and he’s making a name for himself.

I am curious to see where the season leads, but I saw some signs of progress, with a clear signal that you should never bet on him. Watching him try to close those sliding doors had my feet sweating. I focus on the man falling in the opening credits as I’m supposed to, and I cast Don as that man again, though I’ve cast a few others over the seasons. That last scene was very effective. I wonder if Don will remain that man as the season progresses, or if they will try to have us substitute one or two others again. (A quick aside: does the clue to who will be the man falling in the opening credits lie in who remains in a suit during the entirety of the series? I’m sure that’s a stupid question as the opening credits have probably been meant to lead us astray all along. And here I am. Astray.)

Joan: My primary focus was on Don this episode, but after Joan pulled that fantastic Avon maneuver last season, she was my secondary focus. I’m thrilled to see her come into her own here. She’s always been the backbone of the agency, but it’s so good to see her do something for herself. She’s always done what she’s had to do to keep the agency going. Now, she’s obviously got the agency’s best interests in mind, but she’s making moves to further her own agenda. It’s great to see because I have no doubt she’ll succeed. “Actually I can answer that. You’re going to need another pad.” I loved watching her checkmate the shoe guy who wanted to bring the advertising in house. He was in over his head, and it was fun to watch her take him down.

Roger: I didn’t expect Roger to be embracing that lifestyle quite so fully, but it makes some sense with his ally Don gone, the agency leaning more Cutler, Chaough, rather than Cooper, Sterling, and the environment at work more productive and, therefore, even less Roger-friendly. He’s feeling lost, aimless, and alone. Clearly, the lifestyle doesn’t fit him well, though. I expect something tragic’s coming Roger’s way.

Ken: Head of accounts sure doesn’t agree with poor Ken, and I am so sad to see that the eyepatch is a permanent fixture. Makes for good physical comedy, I guess. Poor Ken. I love the guy and to see that he has effectively swapped places with Pete makes me die a little inside.

Peggy: It breaks my heart to see Peggy so sad at the end. All she has is work, and she works for a douche without a soul. But worse than that for her, she works for a douche without a soul who lacks talent. He has no vision or creativity. That creative meeting was polite and lifeless: lacking any creative fire and invention. There was plenty of ass-kissing which I’m interested in seeing explored further as Lou seems to me like all bark and no bite. Clearly that’s not correct since they all seem much more intimidated by him than they ever were by Don. Thank goodness she still has Stan. “None of this seems related to coffee. Buck up, chief.” I thought there was a romantic spark there between those two, and I am still hoping for that. I think they are good for each other. 

Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 6, The Finale

There was so much to process about this episode. It makes me already anxious for next season to see what will become of so many of these characters that are facing some very big changes:

  • Peggy is sitting in Don’s chair and looks like she’s ready to take NY by storm.
  • Pete is unencumbered and looks cheerful (rare for him) and ready for a new challenge.
  • Ted and family are relocating to L.A. to start fresh as far away from temptation as possible.
  • Dick/Don, by all appearances, looks like he’s ready to stop living the lie and face the consequences. I hope that’s what actually happens because that’s what I’m ready to see.
  • And Sally is in her teens which means she’s in for all kinds of changes. So much depends on her dad and what he chooses to do. But she’s going to be fascinating to watch next season in her own right. That much is certain.

It’s so odd that the purpose of the mandatory partners’ meeting at 9:00 a.m. was a shock to me. It was beyond time for them to sideline Don after all that he’s put his partners and team through over the years. And now that his mojo has abandoned him, it’s hard to justify putting up with all of that. And with Don/Dick essentially forcing their hand in the Hershey pitch, he asked for it.

Bob Benson is Don Draper as we learned in the last episode. A complete fake. And as Bob Benson’s star has been rising this season, it makes sense that Don’s must fall. What I’m happy to see is that Dick Whitman is starting to take the wheel — albeit awkwardly timing it during the Hershey pitch. The ending where Dick/Don takes the kids to the whorehouse is uplifting because he can finally remove the mask. It marks what I hope will be a new beginning next season for Dick Whitman as Don Draper is put to rest at last. Dick/Don can start fresh with his kids and in doing so hopefully repair his relationship with Sally. That was a nice look they exchanged at the end with that gorgeously subtle eyebrow raise by Kiernan. I think Sally understands that he is hoping to reverse course. I seriously hope that Dick/Don has the strength of character to follow through and that Sally will be able to handle the reveal without suffering further damage.

Speaking of Bob Benson, I predict that he will gain even more focus next season which makes me unhappy since I’m not a big fan. But he’s smooth. That’s for sure. He’s definitely following in Don’s footsteps, and his ascent is meteoric. His handling of Pete was masterful (and Pete’s no slouch), and he booted him and grabbed Chevy for himself in record time.

On a closing note, my least favorite moment of the episode was Duck bringing in Don’s replacement and giving him the opportunity to get his “Going down?” dig in. Hit a man when he’s down. Classy.

Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 6, Episode Eleven

Well, that episode was kind of a big deal.

And the walls come crashing down!! I wish it hadn’t fallen to Sally to bring Don’s recently-constructed glass house to the ground. She’s been let down so many times by the adults in her life, and I had hoped that her glimpse into Roger and her step-grandmother’s sexual side might be her last inappropriate brush with the secret lives of grown-ups. I can’t imagine her healing from this enormous betrayal by her father who was already way behind on the scorecard. The one thing he had to offer was that he “supports her dreams” but that won’t be enough to soothe the pain of this horrifying discovery. And Don’s pathetic explanation that he was “comforting Sylvia” is never going to fly with Sally. Sally sees the distinction between husband “comforting” his wife and neighbor from upstairs “comforting” other man’s wife.

Watching Don and Sylvia’s conversation, it’s again clear that this relationship was one of Don’s most meaningful. He’s always been more invested in his flings and his friendships than his socially-recognized romantic relationships. Of course Don’s ability to care for anyone only goes so deep. While he has deep feelings for Sylvia, he doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of her gratitude and talks her into bed again.

That Don had to endure the gratitude from Arnold and Mitchell followed by Megan’s adoration and kiss in front of Sally was perfect and I hope he’s developing a really nice ulcer. He’s got enough of a moral compass left that he felt a healthy kick to the gut when he had to suffer through that charade with the added punch of “Sylvia sends her gratitude. She’s overwhelmed.” He deserves far, far worse than that of course for what he’s put all the women in his life through.

Poor Peggy had to endure a few bombs from Pete’s mom, although that first one was a surprising direct hit. I’m always surprised when there’s a mention of Peggy and Pete’s child, but now the child has been alluded to twice in the past few episodes which makes me wonder what’s coming in the final episodes of the season. I enjoyed the easy banter between Peggy, Pete and Ted, and it’s clear that Ted is still trying to battle his feelings for Peggy. I hope I can still root for Ted when all is resolved one way or the other. Peggy and Pete have a nice familiarity with each other that I hope desperately doesn’t end up with Peggy settling for Pete. It would be terrific for Pete to be hitched with Peggy. She’s such a shining star in so many ways, but he’d be terrible for her. That Pete was so repulsed by Bob’s advance was disappointing since I thought Pete was more open-minded and progressive. Hey Pete, a no thanks would have been all that was needed here. With his racist response to the prostitute that his father-in-law was with and his response to Bob’s advance, it’s clear that Pete’s progressive stance has been more about appearances than about seeking to change the status quo. Which is good in one way. It means that my intense dislike of Pete has been justified all along. I would find myself on the Pete Campbell love train from time to time when it seemed that he had more progressive leanings. Now I know it was all about trying to be correctly positioned to take advantage of changes in the business climate and didn’t reflect his own personal views.

I wish Peggy didn’t have to be on rat patrol because Abe talked her into buying a fixer-upper, but I thought her late night phone call to Stan was a nice payoff. I still think those two have such great chemistry: the actors and the characters. I’m rooting for that relationship to gain more focus over the next episodes because I really enjoy watching them.

Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 6, Episode Five

NOTE: Spoilers Below

Abe is a nice foil to the rest of the male characters that we spend time with in ‘Mad Men’ world, and I really love the glimpses into his character. It’s too bad there’s no real passion in his and Peggy’s relationship because there’s a nice easiness there. There seems to be something more than the professional between Peggy and Ted. In that scene between Peggy, Ted, and Ted’s wife, I got the distinct impression that Ted might be mentioning Peggy a little too much at home. I still believe Stan and Peggy have a connection as well. Of course the ‘Mad Men’ fanfic folks have that angle covered.

I’m sure the fact that the announcement that Martin Luther King was killed was met with immediate acceptance instead of that initial moment of disbelief was deliberate and very representative of the uncertainty of the times. It was fascinating to see how everyone reacted. That Harry reacted the way he did wasn’t surprising at all, but the fact that Pete was the counterpoint reaction was. But this reaction of Pete’s (and Don’s scene with Megan at the end of the episode) underscores again what I love about ‘Mad Men.’ Every time I’m tempted to paint a character with broad strokes and dismiss him/her outright based on some vile behavior, we get further insight that makes us rethink things. There are always nuances to explore in each of the characters and none of them, thankfully, fit into an easy stereotype.

Megan’s award sitting on the sofa forgotten is an interesting reminder to Don of how everything comes so easy to Megan in Don’s eyes. She effortlessly cares for the kids that he has no idea how to raise. She wins an award for an ad campaign that she dabbled in for about a minute. Her acting career is going well — she’s certainly on an upward trend. She is at the beginning of what looks to be a successful career and he is struggling to maintain credibility and relevance. I doubt Megan would agree with the assessment that everything comes easy to her, but, certainly from Don’s perspective, she leads a charmed life.

This episode was significant, and it’s time to bring in the pros. Take it away Orange Couch.