Monday, May 6, 2013

Mad Men Season Six - Chevy

For a man who is constantly in peril, Don Draper operates at his best when he is cornered - as if some combination of deus ex machina and his own survival instinct allows him to avoid the Perils of Pauline like some sort of Brylcreemed Indiana Jones. In Season 2, he dropped off the face of the earth only to return just in time to kneecap Duck Phillips' power play when PPL bought Sterling Cooper [1]. The following season, as PPL was selling itself to McCann, instead of becoming a mid-level functionary in a major firm, Don hatched a plan to have Lane fire Roger, Don, Bert, Peggy, Pete and Harry to form the nascent Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce [2]. And now, while the show runner relied on a narrative gimmick already deployed [3], Don Draper hatched a late night scheme with Ted Chaough to merge their two agencies and bag General Motors

For Immediate Release was the first episode of this season that felt hopeful, not morose. Joan may have attempted to harangue Don over his impulsive decision to fire Jaguar but he's not Peggy Olson [4] and her lecture to him that essentially said "I don't need your help, I can do it myself" could not compete with the opportunity presented by Roger's shmoozing of Mikey, a car guy from GM who invited SCDP to pitch for its new vehicle. Armed with a golden opportunity and his wife's amorous attention, Don jets off to Detroit. Unable to sleep, he alights to the hotel bar, only to have his quiet disrupted by Ted - a man clearly envious of Don's prodigious talents, but not in awe of them. Ted may have the mien of a scrappy underdog in Don's movie star perfect presence, but he's not a shrinking violet, and recognized the quality and ability of his own work. Don, knowing he's lost Jaguar and suspicious that Vick's Chemical may have also flown the coop, does what he does best - solves today's problem (and not worrying about tomorrow's). 

Ted, grounded and sober in his assessment that neither firm alone is big enough to represent GM, explains that both agencies are DOA. Don's response? Let's merge. Nevermind that he and Ted will not be able to work together or that Jim Cutler is Roger with bad breath or that Pete might be insulted that a layer now exists above him or that Peggy stormed out of Don's life a year ago and he had avoided seeing her as recently as the prior month. No, to solve THIS problem, the problem of small firms constantly needing to hustle business and make impossible trade offs to secure more, required a merger of the two. 

In the aftermath, Peggy's reaction was one of confusion. All credit to Elizabeth Moss, who has done outstanding work this season reflecting the difficult balance her character tries to maintain in what we now call the "work/life balance." She practically melted at Abe's vision of their shared future with children being raised in a diverse community, but is intoxicated by Ted's joie de vivre. Ted is all the things Don was not - supportive, complimentary and nurturing - but he is no more available to her than Don was. And while the novelty of living a bohemian existence in the upper 80s sounded good in the confused aftermath of MLK's assassination, the reality of refurbishing their own home while kids squat on the stoop and blare music above them leaves Peggy wanting for nothing other than Ted's seductive embrace. 

Perhaps it is because I had just watched The Suitcase earlier that day, but I root for the Peggy/Don relationship. The connection between the two - of being outsiders, people who value work over all else and having difficult personal relationships - binds them in a way that no other two characters on the show experience. Placing Peggy between Ted and Don and how that trio goes about the new business of merging the companies is something I look forward to seeing. 

Meanwhile, re-booting Roger's savior faire is the most refreshing thing about the last 10 or so episodes of the show (let's hope they don't mercilessly snuff him out while in the arms of a flight attendant [4]). But in the zero sum of office politics, his ascension comes at Pete's expense. The grown-ups can still walk over Pete - Don can fire a client and his father-in-law Tom can fire the agency without apology. Pete can only direct impotent rage at both men - "DRAPER" he yells at Don, who gives him a "are you fucking kidding me" look before explaining the birds and bees of the business to an irate Pete. Meanwhile, Tom, caught in a compromising position at a midtown whore house [5], processes the encounter as confirmation that Pete is not good enough for his daughter (something he believed for a long time [6]) and fires the agency while trusting that Pete will not tell Trudy about Tom's whoring. Pete rightly noted that Tom "pushed the button" [7], instead of holding his fire, Pete pushes it too - telling Trudy about Tom's indiscretion, nuking his own marriage. 

In the Draper home, marriage was on Megan's mind. She speaks like a woman far deeper into the rut of co-habitation than she should, so Marie tells her to stop being the wife and be a bit of the harlot, to make her husband desire her - to make him think of nothing but getting home and being between her legs. But in the calculus of Don's life, an unscripted blowie before he goes back to the office is simply a moment before he needs more happiness [8] and by playing up her sex appeal, Megan is simply climbing back into the gilded cage that once housed Betty and her model good looks. Don gets off on denial, guilt and self-loathing - redirecting his attention by donning a short dress and a wall shaking bang is a nice diversion, but no solution to what ails him (or their marriage). 

With the movement of chess pieces last night, the show feels very much like it has come full circle. When Don and Roger left the Sterling Cooper building at the end of Season 3, Roger asked Don how long he thought it would be before the two men were in a building like this again. Don, who grew up on a farm with an outhouse quipped that he never expected to be in a building like that in the first place. [9] But now, through fits and starts, they are - a top 25 advertising firm with blue chip clients (Dow Chemical, General Motors) a recurring character returning to the nest with all of the entanglements between her former and current mentors and the possibility of incredible things to come. For a year as bleak as 1968- littered with chaos, instability and death, that was a remarkably optimistic way to launch us into the rest of the season.   

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1. Meditations in an Emergency, Season 2, Episode 13. 
2. Shut the Door. Have a Seat. Season 3, Episode 13. 
3. In the latter half of Season 4, Lucky Strike which accounted for roughly 70% of SCDP's billables, left the agency while Don, unaware that the business was lost, had Pete pull the plug on North American Aviation to protect his theft of Lt. Don Draper's identity. The firm nearly went under. 
4. In Season 4, Peggy takes up for Joan by firing copywriter Joey, who had scribbled an offensive cartoon about Joan and generally disrespected her. Joan tried to explain to Peggy that she [Joan] would have handled it more discreetly, but instead, Peggy's actions served to confirm that Joan was powerless and Peggy a "humorless bitch." The Summer Man, Season 4, Episode 8. 
5. As Bert's sister observed, it was Roger's dream to die in the arms of a 20 year old lover. The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12. 
5. And so much for Pete's racial tolerance. He leans into the fact that Tom had sex with a black woman. 
6. Pete lost the Clearasil account back in Season 2 when he let slip to Tom that he [Pete] did not love Trudy. The Mountain King, supra.
7. Thank you, Ken Cosgrove for the Mutually Assured Destruction reference. 
8. Commissions and Fees, Season 5, Episode 12. 
9. Shut the Door, Have a Seat. supra. 


  1. Great recap, I especially like how you portrayed DD as escaping many perilous situations like a superhero. The overall tone of the episode is positive and Roger's successful machinations are a breath of fresh air as his importance at times has been mainly for one-liners. However Matt Weiner has stated that, starting from reading Dante's Inferno in episode 1, this season would chronicle a descent into hell for DD, even worse than the first half of Season 4.I can imagine that DD's mistress possibly moving will unleash challenging consequences.

    1. Gah! I was kind of hoping this would curb Don's descent as his character has been particularly ugly this season (see, e.g., "were you going to brush your teeth before coming home" and essentially calling Megan a prostitute for kissing a man on screen). Unmentioned in my review, but to see Joan fill with pride at the compliment paid to her for the "clean books," only to have Don snuff out the IPO scheme was kind of cruel; however, Don was the one who told her not to bang Herb in the first place. She did give him what for, but punching a bit above her weight class, as John Cusack said in High Fidelity.

  2. I really didn't see that coming. It felt like a Season Finale for sure. Can't wait to watch what happens next. Great recap, man, as always. It's a pleasure to read you.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. The reset button of merging SCDP/CGC sure makes for some interesting possibilities! I wonder if Don will ever find out that Ted was in financial peril when he agreed to the merger. Reminds me a little of the end of Season 4 when Don tried to hard with Raymond Geiger, who observes that he (Raymond) might be able to get a date with Don's mother b/c SCDP was so desperate (wincing that Don's mom was in fact, a prostitute. Oops.)

    2. *too hard (not to hard) sorry, grammar police!

  3. Great episode! Re: your callback to "Shut the Door, Have a Seat", did you notice that Roger pretty much used that exact same line on Don this episode when delivering the great Chevy/Mikey news? Don entered his own office and Roger said something like, "shut the door, sit down."

    I can't stop thinking about this chock full of plot!

    1. Roger is balling these days. His re-emergence as a force in the office (and the bedroom) is welcome. Less on the couch Roger, more bring in his tripping buddy to chant Tecumsah, please. And great point re: Shut the Door. Like that episode, which had a very Oceans 11 feel to it, Don and Roger working their two man game (see also, Dow Chemical) is great. Plus, the juxtaposition of Roger's casual insouisance with Pete's petulence and bullying shows why the latter will never hold a candle to the former.