Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 6: The Strategy

If the strategy behind tonight's episode was to give us one of the best Mad Men episodes in the series' history, mission accomplished.  This episode gave us everything we wanted and more than we dared to dream, from the best Don-Peggy scene since The Suitcase to the most lovable Pete "I'm drinking rum" Campbell has ever been.  Add the return of Bob Benson, a proposal, an arrest, the Mile High Club, shirtless Roger, a secret, and the Cutler/Avery alliance under attack, it was a near-perfect episode (a tenth of a point off for Stan's distractingly unruly beard).

Don hasn't been fired after bursting in unannounced to the secret meeting with American Tobacco, but neither has his stock been raised with Lou "Did you need something, Don?" Avery.  Continuing to look at Don as a stain on his favorite shirt that he can't remove, Lou is noticeably alone in his extreme hatred of Don.  Peggy's working relationship with Don, while still having some growing pains, seems healthy enough and with Pete back in NY, Don is back at the adult table.  He's been working "on the team" to put together the pitch for Burger Chef and he's had a hand in coming up with what looks to be a successful pitch.  

It's saccharine sweet and doesn't seem to come from the same minds who brought you the Glo-Coat prisoner or the Rosemary's Baby pitches, but it is serviceable and on topic and seems to please everyone.  Though it's Peggy leading the charge, and Lou putting the exclamation point on the end, Pete is not used to the new way of doing things in Creative, and so he turns to Don for reassurance that this is the way to go.  Don, towing the line as a team player, no longer the maverick, gives his blessing and everyone is happy.

Still Pete, whose account this is, wants Don to make the presentation rather than Peggy.  While this is great news for Don (notice his fist pump after Peggy leaves with the news), it's hard for Peggy not to take it as a slap in the face.  She's Don's boss, this is her team, and having Don give the pitch rather than her is insulting, demeaning and ignores the new power structure at the firm.  It's bad enough she didn't get Don's job and the firm brought in a man to be her boss, now she has to subordinate herself to her subordinate?  At other agencies, there are women running the business.  But here at SC&P, she is still just used to add a feminine touch after the men do all the heavy lifting.  But Peggy is a good soldier and she will do what she's told and is prepared to do that, until Don makes an offhanded comment that he's been thinking of a different strategy than the one just pitched.

This sends Peggy into a tailspin.  Don wouldn't still be ruminating on another approach if he thought the pitch was a winner. And she wants to come up with the best idea, not a good enough idea (which would be more than satisfactory to Lou).  She drives herself crazy, but luckily not Ginsberg crazy.  She tries to get Stan's help, but he has plans and thinks she's over-thinking things.  She reaches out to Don, finally, not as a damsel in distress but as a peer, a colleague, and, yes, finally, as a friend.  She asks him to tell her "how do you do what you do" (though what was really meant was how did you do what you used to do before your world caved in around you?).  She wants to see the process in action.  And so Don gives her the secrets (abuse the help and take a nap) and most importantly, please yourself.  With that advice, and much brain-storming, Peggy ultimately hits on the perfect pitch.

As Sinatra's version of My Way comes on the radio, Don chuckles for all of us at the obviousness of the song, and yet ultimately embraces it. He reached out to his one-time protege, now superior, and asked her to dance.  It was like a father taking his daughter out on the dance floor after she's said her wedding vows.  She's a grown woman now, not his little girl anymore.  And he held her as she rested her head on his shoulder, seeking comfort not romance, and he gave her a paternal kiss on the head.  That was the emotional payoff for them and for the viewers.   He recognizes the sacrifices she's made for her career and the toll it's taken on her.  He knows that he was part of the problem and that it's not improved with him out of the way.

In the end, Peggy comes up with a new, better strategy which she shares with Pete.  One that's hers, that recognizes where she is in her life -- not living as part of the traditional married-with-children family but instead surrounded by people with whom she has a shared history, a common understanding, and, sometimes, love.  This is the new version of a family that reflects the time -- that family is who you choose to be with.

Since the episode's title is strategy, it's natural to look around at who was executing a strategy aside from the obvious pitch to Burger Chef.  Pete's girlfriend Bonnie had a strategy. Come to New York, meet Pete's co-workers and his daughter and close the deal on their relationship.  That plan backfired when Pete realized that he still had feelings for Trudy and wasn't ready to bail on the marriage.  Megan had a strategy to bring more of her old life out west, to help make California feel like home which only served to highlight that she and Don are not in the same place and don't want the same things.

Bob Benson's strategy was to make Joan his wife so he can present himself as the perfect family man to GM and to the world.  The GM executive's unfortunate run-in with the law opened Bob's eyes and told him that if he wanted to portray the kind of man GM would hire, he needed the wife and kid to create that image.  But Joan, pushing 40 with no prospects, would rather be alone and hope to find love than settle for a marriage of convenience.

Jim Hobart is still trying to execute his company's strategy to reel in Don Draper, but this time because McCann Erickson knows that Buick may be up for grabs and Don might be their best chance for locking down the car giant.  Jim Cutler is focusing his strategy on jettisoning Don so that SC&P can become American Tobacco's new agency and his power position in the company will increase.  Meanwhile, trying to thwart both of their plans is Roger Sterling -- but he is being coy about what his strategy is to both keep Don and make SC&P more successful. 

But possibly lost amidst all the strategy talk was the new Don Draper.  The one devoid of artifice, who wasn't strategizing in his talks with Peggy but was being more forthcoming than ever before.  His acknowledgement of his managerial style (that he'd abuse his underlings then take a nap), his mock surprise at hearing how his pitches come across (like he'd written them on the spot - "I do that?"), his deep-seated fears (that he has done nothing and has no one) and his supreme confidence in Peggy are all laid out for everyone to see. 


Back in Season 2, Peggy was shocked to learn that Joan was 31 (after one of the secretaries posted her ID above the copier) and now Peggy finds herself in her thirties.  In that decade of her life, Joan gained a son and a partnership, so hopefully Peggy still has much to look forward to.

The last time Peggy's birthday was mentioned on the show was when her then-boyfriend was waiting at a restaurant with her family for a surprise birthday dinner while she was stuck at the office brainstorming, and bonding, with Don. The episode?  The Suitcase.

Harry Crane being made a partner was long overdue.  One of the few visionaries at Sterling Cooper he created a media department and single-handedly brought the stodgy old firm into the new world. Joan isn't happy - Harry never kept secret his displeasure with how she earned a partnership before him - and Roger also was not behind the promotion.  But the scene was a good one for Don where his position won the day, with none other than Bert Cooper bringing the decision to a quick vote.

Peggy says, of the Burger Chef they visit, "It's a clean, well-lighted place." and ,... jokes, "Okay, Hemingway."  A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is indeed a short story written by Ernest Hemingway about a lonely, depressed old man who bides his time at a diner. One of the two waiters observing the man mentions that he had tried to commit suicide recently.   says, of his  “It was all a nothing and man was a nothing too.” Nothingness, and avoiding the nothingness by being there amongst people, was a major theme and in some way the ad they came up with created a place where people could avoid the nothingness and feel like family.

The newspaper that Don saved with the headline about the JFK assassination is fitting as that was when his marriage to Betty unraveled.

It was surprising to see that a major hit in 1969, arguably the best year in music, was a slow standard by an aging '50s crooner.  My Way, written by Paul Anka, was released by Frank Sinatra in June just before the official Summer of Love.  That this song was on the charts at the same time Woodstock was going on is a bit mind blowing.  It was actually a French song that was rewritten by Anka with Sinatra - someone about to give up the business and leave it to the younger generation - in mind.

The final scene with Don, Pete and Peggy had so many overtones.  They are the only three at the company who know of Pete and Peggy's out-of-wedlock child and they are three people who are separated from their own families.  But together, they are themselves a family - awkward at times, battling, jockeying for position, jealous, bickering, but still, ultimately, supportive. When the final shot pans out to show us the three of them we think back to Lou Avery's line which now fits so perfectly: It's nice to see family happiness again


Roger (to Jim Hobart): When we grow up, we're going to kill you and marry your wife.

Roger: The New York Athletic Club frowns on people making advances in their steam room.  I was kidding around, but I think you're making eyes at me. I'm gonna go get a massage, relieve some of this tension.

Pete: I'm drinking rum.

Pete:  Don will give authority, you will give emotion.
Peggy: I have authority. And Don has emotion.

Marsha (after being introduced to Megan): I didn't know he was married.

Cutler: Ah, good, you're still here.
Roger: That's your opinion.

Peggy:  But we both know there's a better idea.
Stan:  There's always a better idea.

Peggy: Why are you undermining me?
Don: From now on I won't express myself.
Peggy: Well, now it's tainted. It's poisoned, because you expressed yourself.

Pete (to Trudy):  I know your debutante maneuvers.

Peggy:  Did you park your white horse outside? Spare me the suspense and tell me what your "save the day" plan is.

Don: That's just the job.
Peggy: What's the job?
Don: Living in the "not knowing."

Peggy:  You really want to help me? Show me how you think. Do it out loud.

Don: Well whenever I'm really unsure about an idea, first I abuse the people whose help I need. And then I take a nap.

Bob:  My face doesn't please you?

Joan:  I want love.  And I'd rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement.

Peggy:  Does this family exist anymore? Are there people who eat dinner and smile at each other instead of watching TV?

Peggy:  I just turned 30, Don.
Don:  Shit. 

Don: I worry about a lot of things, but I don't worry about you.
Peggy: What do you have to worry about?
Don: That I never did anything, and that I don't have anyone.

Peggy: It's a clean, well-lighted place.
Pete: Okay, Hemingway.

1 comment:

  1. She's seeking comfort not romance.
    Thanks for your review.