Monday, April 27, 2015

Mad Men S7E11 - Time And Life

It has been said that you can never be too rich or too thin and that those who would tell you otherwise have never been poor or fat. Money can solve many problems, but as what appear to be charter members of the "most unhappy millionaires club," Roger, Don, Joan, Pete, and Ted discover that money does not hold all the answers either. 

After beginning the show's final "half" season mining the seemingly bottomless pit of Don's despair, of closing the loop on the (second) Draper marriage, Glen Bishop's whereabouts, and the demise of Rachel Menken, Time & Life was an episode about a story now thrice told. The set-up was familiar to any long-time viewer of the show. Just as SC&P was about to be absorbed into McCann (so much for independent subsidiaries), our intrepid group (which now includes Ted, but not Jim Cutler, who, Roger confirms, took the money and ran) tried to pull another stunt where they snatch their freedom away from the impending "tragedy" of working in a corporate monolith with such blue clip clients as Buick, Nabisco, and Coca-Cola

If this all seems like so much deja vu it is not. The same Scooby squad that alit from Sterling Cooper in 1963 to avoid McCann's clutches [1] ran into their arms six years later to avoid having the firm broken apart [2]. In the balance, a merger between SCDP and CGC occurred to secure Chevrolet. [3] The only difference is that the shotgun marriage Roger brokered in 1969 left the team with millions in profit, but with the misguided belief that they would be left to do their work, shielded by the conflicts that would have McCann giving up millions if they ever folded SC&P under the corporate banner. 

But as they say, history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. While SCDP successfully launched, the merger it swung to land a major car account ended with two partners deceased and the firm itself torn apart by its partners. This caper falls flat, not just because the newly ensconced head of advertising (some guy named Ken Cosgrove) at Dow Chemical tells Roger and Pete to fuck off, or that Pete thinks he's saved the day by securing trusty old Seacor Laxatives, but because McCann bigwig Jim Hobart tells the group the their attempt to cherry pick conflicted clients to maintain a small outpost in California was a waste of time. It turns out the initial post-acquisition freedom he offered them was simply a tryout to make sure he was getting what he paid for. Once done, the SC&P team would be brought in house and offered the largest accounts in the world - acknowledgement of the group's excellence and skill.  

But even as their professional walls are crumbling, Roger, Joan, and Ted are all able to find succor in the arms of loved ones. Ted, decades before Facebook exists, manages to reconnect with an old flame after his own marriage dissolved in the California heat (another plot line closed). Joan has the gallant Richard swooping in on the red eye from California to comfort her. Roger has Marie Calvet, recently separated from her Canadian husband. Indeed, the writers offered a subtle wink to long-time viewers. As the wake for SC&P broke up, it was left to Roger and Don to close down the bar. Here, as they did years ago after bidding Freddy Rumsen "fare thee well" [4] there is much discussion about love and loss, but instead of Don telling Roger about moving forward in life, Roger needs no lesson. He has (for now) found happiness, leaving Don scrambling back to the dumpy apartment building where he left Diana, only to find she has disappeared without a trace. 

Even Pete has the opportunity for a small grace note. When he and Trudy's daughter Tammy is denied entry into an elite school, he pops the schoolmaster in the mouth after the man speaks ill of the Campbell family name. Later, at their former marital home in Cos Cob, he tries to lift Trudy's spirits about her own plight, which, for now, has to do with fending off married men in the suburbs but later, she fears, will involve being alone and unappealing. While it is hard to believe these are the seeds for marital reconciliation, at least Pete was able to feel like he had a connection with someone and for a reason he thought important. Not so for Don. His after hours messaging service may still offer temporary comfort, he is a man without a home and no long-term plan. 

Meanwhile, a click below on the corporate food chain, Peggy and Stan struggle to cast a child to act in one of their advertisements. Here, we see a continuation of a conversation these two "work spouses" have been having for some time now - about the workplace and a woman's role in it and careers and love and all of the things that we fill the intimate space in our lives with those we care about and cherish. Once upon a time, as Peggy made her way at CGC, she and Stan would talk late at night as each toiled in their respective offices, [5] but now, their conversations are more pointed and direct. Stan's observation that Peggy does not like kids hits a little too close to home and in the middle of an extended back and forth about what sacrifices a woman needs to make in the workplace of the 1960s/70s, that having children would have precluded Peggy from attaining the position she has secured, she reveals to Stan the fact that she gave away a child, but even in that confidence, she slightly pulls her punch - not revealing that Pete is the father [6]. 

Every point Peggy made hit home and in that scene, you felt the weight of her choices, of the frustrations she inevitably feels that sometimes leave her crumpled on the floor in tears [7] and at other times, lashing out at underlings [8]. That Peggy Olson has succeeded without an Ivy League degree is acknowledged by the headhunter she hires to help her find other jobs as the reality of the pending McCann move sinks in, but that does not give her a free pass to pay her corporate dues, as he counsels her to suck it up for a few years at McCann before moving on to other opportunities lest she take a less prominent position for less pay elsewhere. 

But Peggy has long been on the outside looking in at what others have. Whether it was observing long ago how much material wealth Don had accumulated [9] or spitting venom at Ted about the luxury he had of making choices [10] when he broke off their affair (and broke her heart), Peggy is constantly chasing both career and personal happiness but rarely finding either one. Working with children simply underscores the weight of the decision she made to give up her child long ago and dismissing Joan's complaints about the workplace is just a reminder that for all of Peggy's talent, she is still just an employee without the "fuck you" money that would allow her to tell off people who bother her. 

In the end, her kindred spirit is that enigmatic man in the corner office. While Roger, Joan, Ted, and possibly Pete are at least able to have some happiness in their personal lives, neither Peggy or Don seem to have such luck. If the show's climatic ending was teed up by last night's episode - that the clock is ticking on Don in two ways - with SC&P's pending absorption into McCann and his need to move out of the Park Avenue penthouse he has called home, both things conveniently occurring at the "end of the month" (based on Don's tan suit, one can assume it is a summer month) the references to California were perhaps not coincidental. Ted is right, Don has always had a special fondness for California. Whether it is because he associates it with his life after the war, when he was making due selling used cars and the foundation of his relationship with Anna Draper was built [11], or the visits he made to escape the mess he inevitably left behind in New York [12], and the beginning of his relationship with Megan, [13] the idealized version of California holds great appeal to Don; however, the reality of it was polluted by his failed attempt at a bicoastal marriage to Megan, who walked off with one million of his dollars. 

Of course, this is of a piece with the rest of Don's life. He likes "the beginnings of things" [14] but rarely has the patience (or interest) in sticking around to see things to the end. For a man who has made a lifetime out of reinvention, Don's final Houdini act should be interesting.

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1. Shut The Door, Have A Seat, Season 3, Episode 13. 
2. Waterloo, Season 7, Episode 7.
3. For Immediate Release, Season 6, Episode 6. 
4. Six Month Leave, Season 2, Episode 9. 
5. The Collaborators, Season 6, Episode 3. 
6. Meditations In An Emergency, Season 2, Episode 13. It is also worth noting that Peggy infers she gave her son up for adoption; however, the last we heard or saw of him, he was being raised by Peggy's sister. Three Sundays, Season 2, Episode 4. 
7. Time Zones, Season 7, Episode 1. 
8. A Day's Work, Season 7, Episode 2. 
9. The Fog, Season 3, Episode 5. 
10. In Care Of, Season 6, Episode 13. 
11. The Gold Violin, Season 2, Episode 7.
12. The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12, The Good News, Season 4, Episode 3. 
13. Tomorrowland, Season 4, Episode 13. 

14. ibid.


  1. Stranger On The Shore (1962) - Acker Bilk.
    I could never understand why he was always referred to as Mr. Acker Bilk.

  2. Thanks for your blog. I really enjoy your insights. One note- Weiner cleared up that Peggy's sister isn't raising her child. That's the sister's baby in the crib. I can't remember if I read this somewhere or if Weiner discussed it in the DVD. Kimberly

    Ps- how are the ladies treating you? I hope you've found a bright and funny lady like you deserve.

    1. Thanks for the clarification on Peggy's child and your nice words. As for the ladies, still looking for one who will dig down into the footnotes :)

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    3. The footnotes are the best part. That's where the magic happens!! (Edited for the grammatical error. Gotta love the auto fill on your iPhone. I'm from the south - we have a hard enough time with the stereotypes without me adding fuel to the fire. Ha!)

  3. I'm sure that Don's final act on the series will be very interesting, if not satisfying (as Weiner has hinted of late).

    Houdini is a good metaphor for Don's curtain call. The whole half-season suggests he'll escape McCann, but like the famous escape artist, we don't (yet) know how he'll do it. Other escapes are likely in the offing.

    Trudy's lament about being the new girl in the neighborhood portends a possible reconciliation with Pete.

    Peggy provisional fate is more uncertain. In the (pre-) exit interviews Lizzie Moss let slip that she would not be sucessful in love. Her new man, who got the old-fashioned treatment, may well be a frustrated fling after all.

    As a matter of housekeeping, Don's Houdini Check was dated May 27 - with two subsequent series of weekdays that puts Ep 711 ending at earliest about June 10th.

    And a nitpick to Note 6 - Peggy's wistful glance at the child in his bedroom doesn't definitively settle that he was her natural child. He might be the same as all those children at "playgrounds" (ref: Weiner's Magnum Episode 407). I'll concede that William of Occam might go along with your deduction.

    I'll close to note that both 'Nam-bound guest-characters (Harris and Bishop) are going (or went) to escape the consequence of failure. Bishop's choosing to become potential cannon-fodder seems dumb when the Navy was a possibility.

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