Monday, April 6, 2015

Mad Men S7E8 - Severance

More than anything, the barometer of Mad Men is gauged by where Don Draper is on the spectrum between riding high and scraping the bottom of the barrel. In the wake of SC&P's acquisition by McCann, Don and Roger are flush with cash (and in Roger's case, some newly acquired, and unfortunate facial hair) and behaving badly. The Don we meet in Severance is safely ensconced back in his familiar corner office and cycling through women in a manner unseen since Betty kicked him to the curb at the end of Season 3. [1]

Money and the past are recurring themes throughout Severance. For those who got rich in the acquisition and those counting the money of those who got rich, money does not appear to be making anyone particularly happy. Roger is dismissive of a waitress at a coffee shop but attempts to make amends by leaving her a $100 bill on an $11 check. When Don returns to the same diner, she assumes it is to get his "money's worth" and they have an a quickie in the alley. She thinks it is one thing, he is so accustomed to women throwing themselves at him, he misses the connection and by the end of the episode, just wants to sit at the counter and mope. 

Pete has what we now term "first world problems" as he scurries to hide his fortune from the government, a problem for which Ken feels little sympathy. Joan is still dismissed as a sexpot by the middle managers at McCann, who demean and belittle her as she and Peggy try to bridge a gap for the little account that could - Topaz - which is having its lunch eaten by L'eggs. [2] But Peggy's tolerance for Joan's disgust is limited. Not only did Peggy try to deftly parry the slimy commentary of their McCann peers, but she did not become a millionaire when SC&P was acquired, so she dismisses Joan's carping by observing that Joan does not even need to do the work because of the great fortune she received when SC&P was acquired. [3] 

Meanwhile, the past continues to haunt Don. More than using the company message service as his own private after-hours hook-up line, there is a subtle wink to Don's past in Severance, the main client is a fur company, a sales job from which Roger "discovered" Don nearly two decades before. [4] We also hear a name (and see a face) long forgotten - Rachel (Menken) Katz [5]. Way back in 1960, Don and Rachel carried on a furtive (and ultimately futile) affair that started with his swaggering proclamation that love was created by ad men like him and her distaste for his arrogance and ignorance that somehow melted into passion that curdled when Don's past was discovered by Pete and he wanted to run away with her to Los Angeles. [6]

Don has a dream that he sees her, only to discover that she has recently passed away. When he appears at the shiva he is snubbed by her surviving sister Barbara, whose long memory is triggered as soon as she greets him and hears his name. [7] There is much to be said for Don's tortured experiences with death [8] but the not-so-subtle twist of the knife given by Rachel's sister, asking after Don's family, telling him that Rachel had everything she wanted in the world, and questioning his presence there, chip away at Don, who visibly sags as he acknowledges his two divorces, hands over the cake he has brought to the mourning, and looks balefully on as the men begin prayer services. 

This second-half opener gives Peggy an opportunity to dip a toe in the dating waters, getting overly tipsy with Mathis's brother-in-law and, in the cold light of the morning following drunken plans for a trip to Paris, feels slightly regretful of her conduct. As for Ken, he both gets and gives the shaft - first, as he's let go for some long ago offense his first time around at McCann and then turning the tables by securing employment in house at Dow Chemical, and instead of firing the firm, he decides instead to be a thorn in their side as an overly demanding client. 

As is typical of Matthew Weiner, who wrote the seventh season's eighth episode, a lot of chum was sprinkled in the water without providing a clear direction for these final shows. Having skipped past the joy of Woodstock and the horror of Altamont and moved the narrative into the early months of 1970, [9] Weiner took a pass at certain social commentary. Ken's firing aside, there were few fireworks, but more a sense of reorienting the audience to the new normal - no Jim Cutler (no loss there), Ted and Roger's porn star quality mustaches, Joan drowning her frustrations at being an account woman in high end spending, and Don on a mostly upswing - if you ignore the quickie in the alley with the waitress, his return to the bottle, haunted expression over a love lost, and apparent interest in marking more notches on his bedpost. 

What did you think? 

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy


1. See, e.g., Christmas Comes But Once A Year, Season 4, Episode 2, Waldorf Stories, Season 4 Episode 6. 
2. As Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce teetered on the brink, Peggy and Ken brought in Topaz Pantyhose. Tomorrowland, Season 4, Episode 13.
3. In inflation adjusted dollars, Joan's $1.5 million stake is worth somewhere between $10-15 million in today's dollars.
4. Waldorf Stories, supra. See also, Field Trip, Season 7, Episode 3. 
5. We last saw Rachel with new husband Tilden Katz in The New Girl, Season 2, Episode 5. 
6. See, e.g., Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Season 1, Episode 1, Babylon, Season 1, Episode 6, Nixon v. Kennedy, Season 1, Episode 12. 
7. Babylon, supra. 
8. Don has a vision of his half-brother Adam while under anesthesia, The Shadow, Season 5, Episode 13, of Anna Draper in his office, The Suitcase, Season 4, Episode 7, and Bert Cooper doing a soft shoe, Waterloo, Season 7, Episode 7. 

9. The speech given by President Nixon shown during the episode occurred on April 30, 1970.


  1. Have we also seen the last of Lou? Would have been nice to see him get zipped. Can only assume both he and Jim Cutler left off camera. With only a handful of episodes remaing (total of maybe 250 minutes of broadcast time in total) Weiner and his writing staff (which also includes the legendary Robert Towne) will tell the story they want to tell about Draper and the MAIN characters. Me thinks weve seen last of Ken Cosgrove.

    1. I agree, I think the minor characters will be taking their bows as the hours wind down and we lock in on the core group. Some really nice write ups online and much food for thought.

  2. When we saw Rogers' hundred on the table last night, I informed my young guests that this was "over $500 today" - and so it is - but it's not $1,000. The CPI is not the only inflation index but it is handy - scaling 1970 to 2015 yields a ratio of about 6.4 (call it between 6 and 7). No doubt Joan has the same first-world problems that Pete has (and Don, Ted, Cutler - Sterling is likely to be well-advised having had those problems for decades). If the accountant who praised Joan for her "impeccable" books (Ep. 601) was correct, Joan is likely well ahead of Pete vis-a-vis tax-shelters - which has never been hiding/evasion in the USA (and it's perhaps a bit ironic that Peggy is already "a landlord").

    Going forward I suspect Weiner and team will make at most passing references to 1970 social issues/news - as there is a precious 4-1/2 hours screen time to go.

    My take on Peggy's thinking back on her date was that she's unsure about whether she liked her man because she drank too much, or vice-versa. It looked to me that her initial positive reaction caused her to drink more than usual - and that she reverted to type with her doubts (much like Pete reverted to type when he jealously abandoned Bonnie to confront Trudy). So goes her romantic insecurity. She certainly did not regret rejecting "new-fashioned" in favor of old.

    (IMO, what she really needs is some quality, old-fashioned, Stan attention)

    Seeing Rachel in that fur was a mind-blower (since I suspend disbelief so readily for Mad Men). Weiner let us off easy with the quick cut to sleeping Don - but really delivered a haymaker with the news of her demise (I said "WHAT??", a full three beats ahead of Don - not the only time last night I blurted a character's line)

    I found Ken's vengeful promise to be 'difficult' to be out of character - even if Roger and Pete were pricks about his firing and Pete's debriefing.

    I think it was no accident that former pact-members, Peggy and Ken, both carped about a colleague's newly-acquired wealth. Betty would say "stop counting other people's money".

    Ken was placed at a literary fulcrum of sorts when he not only mirrored Peggy's expressed financial envy but also Don's premonitory dream when his wife reminded him that the job he lost sucks.

    Poor widowered Tilden Katz - stuffing down his grief with public religious duties. We may expect that whatever grief our hero may have displayed will be many-fold worse for the actual "Mr. Menken."

    Some at the Basket think (unlike me) that Ted's wife and kids are still in California - marriage as intact as his 1969 moroseness will permit. I immediately assumed he was split - but probably not (yet) at this point - not that Weiner will devote much time to him as a supporting character (Weiner still has Sals, Betts, Pete, Joan, and Roger to service).

    Yes indeed, this was a fine place-setter.

    1. Great comment! Joan clearly made out well regardless, and while her corporate books may be impeccable, with a mother at home and a young son to mind (not to mention random shopping jags), I would guess she may need a little assistance hiding those riches from Uncle Sam.

      The Stan/Peggy office marriage has been an outstanding aspect of the second half of the series - when she stared him down in his skivvies in the Waldorf suite the worm turned and their friendship blossomed.

      Not sure what to make of Ted, other than his horrible mustache, but it could be that Nan and the boys are still soaking in Sunkist(ed) sun in La La Land, or perhaps we are just supposed to fill in our own blank on those fringe characters.

      Thanks for stopping by and providing such a great comment!

    2. Stan lost his skivvies which allowed Peggy to make two comments about his "involuntary" response. The last was, "why don't we dip THAT into some ink and write with it". You may recall that he had a goofy crush about Pegs for awhile, which has subsided to where he is possibly Peggy's best friend (which makes the best possible husband, BTW).

    3. @scarylawyerguy, excellent review, as usual!

      @jahngalt, I hope you are not implying that the sexual harassment Joan had to deal with in this episode is tantamount to an increase in taxable income.

      Also, I had a different take on Peggy than both of you. (I love Peggy/Joan scenes and this was one of the best.) I think she wanted to be spontaneous and the wine only suppressed inhibitions. I think in the cold, sober light of day, finding her passport in the office along with the work she knows she won't ignore, and the guy available maybe in 3 weeks if he doesn't take a job in D.C., she realizes it isn't going to happen and is a little wistful.

      Peggy's confident about herself in a lot of ways, she loved hearing she was perceived as "funny and fearless," but she knows she's not traditionally attractive (physically) and yet, she's still not taken seriously by many (most?) business men.

    4. I like your insight regarding Peggy. I think you're right that she knows nothing is ever as important as work, and perhaps had that passport been at home and not in the office, the evening would have turned out differently. I remember back in Season 4 Don caught Peggy trying on Dr. Faye's (fake) engagement ring and giving her a look like "seriously?" Pegs always seems to be at 6s and 7s about why she can't seem to get conventional love (as it was interpreted back then) and professional acclaim.

    5. Dr Faye! I was thinking about her during the episode. The waitress was reminiscent of Midge or Rachel or even Suzanne. All women with whom things might have worked out differently if DD had embraced his past while he knew them instead of trying to resist it. But the one woman who understood the significance of his "split" personality was Dr. Faye. Its interesting to me how they might relate to one another if she were to encounter him now. It was sad when we got a glimpse of what happened to Midge a few seasons back, and now Rachel is dead. I never really cared about Suzanne, but it would be fun to check in with Dr. Faye. Or Bobbi. If DD doesn't die by the end of the series (and I don't think he will either - here I'd link to your previous post "The Mad Men Death Pool" if I knew how) I wonder if he will have to end up (temporarily) alone. But my more pressing concern is that Roger ends up without that terrible mustache.