Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 11: Time & Life

"Take the rest of the day off.  Pop some champagne."

At the end of Season 3, in one of the most memorable episodes in the series' history, Don Draper leads a small team to revolt against the impending absorption by the big bad - the evil mega-agency McCann Erickson - and to go boldly into an uncertain future as a rag tag bunch of upstarts. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was the small, scrappy agency that thumbed its nose at the giant monolith and kept its independence and identity.  Some seven years later, it looked like history was about to repeat itself.  

Once again, Sterling Cooper faced a threat from McCann.  Once again, the core group huddled together and planned how to extricate themselves and keep their name and autonomy.  Grabbing clients, closed-door meetings, secrecy and intrigue and the heightened excitement of the big fight.  They'd done it before, they can do it again. 

Only this time, history did not repeat itself.  Don put together the big plan and had his pitch ready.  And Don knows how to make a pitch.  He had his visual aids, his detailed analysis, and, mostly, his enthusiasm and hopefulness.  This was a great idea and Jim Hobart could not possibly resist Don's charms.  It'll be like the Lucky Strike "toasted" pitch, maybe even another Kodak Carousel moment.  But Jim barely lets him talk, cutting Don off mid-pitch. There was nothing that Don could say, what was done was done.  No miracles here, time to pull the plug.  There would be no next chapter for Sterling Cooper.  It was time to close the book on them. 

While Jim painted this as a win for the Sterling Cooper partners, the news only spreads panic throughout the office.  Merger, takeover, shutting down. None of this sounds good to the average office worker.  We've seen the scene before.  The troops are rallied, speeches are given, everything goes on as before.  The latest was the news of Bert Cooper's passing followed by the purchase by McCann.   The partners again assemble the staff and try to spin the news as good for all.  Don is prepared, he's got his speech ready, it's going to be stirring and all will be well.  And once again Don Draper is not able to make the pitch he's trying to make.  No one is listening, all they heard was "we're moving" and that was enough to get everyone scurrying. As the camera pans back, he's alone, unheeded, speaking to no one.  Our hero can't even command the attention of his coworkers any more. 

Contrast this to the idea of Don Draper riding in on his white horse to save the day, as Midge mentioned way back in the pilot. The vision of Don our (anti-) hero swooping in and fixing everything is still so strong in our minds we forget about the times he failed, the times he didn't have all the answers. This episode was set up as another, Don Saves the Day. But in the end, it was too big a hurdle even for Don Draper to overcome.  And so he, and the rest of the soon-to-be former Sterling Cooper employees and partners, have less than a month before they say goodbye to their name and their home.  And we have less than a month before we say goodbye to them as well.  

Don is also about to be homeless, with the sale of his condo on the horizon.  He will no longer be a partner at Sterling Cooper.  But what of his name?  He still owns "Don Draper" and doesn't look to be unloading it any time soon.  But, he asks, what's in a name?

For Pete Campbell, his name carries the baggage of a centuries-old dispute thousands of miles away which is still be paid for today. Trudy lets him know that their daughter Tammy has been wait-listed at a prestigious private school.  Pete goes there to throw his name and social status around and instead finds out that a 17th Century grudge by the McDonalds against the Campbells (discussed in this Wikipedia entry: is standing in the way of Tammy's educational future.  

The scene with Pete and the headmaster is exquisite, and Pete' s "The King ordered it" is up there with "Not good, Bob" as future meme gold.  Pete defended his name, his wife and his child and was briefly the hero of his own story.  And how fitting that Jared Harris, who played Lane Pryce and was involved in his own fisticuffs with Pete Campbell back in Season 5, directed this episode?  But it was not just Pete's bravado that we celebrate this episode.  He was also kind towards and protective of both Peggy and Joan this episode.  And his gentle support of Trudy, telling the now thirty-something woman not to fear the loss of her youth, was a high point.  "You're ageless," he says, in as loving a way as he's ever spoken to her.

Pete has not always been the most tactful, and he's not necessarily the most empathetic person, but he rose to the occasion that the McCann Erickson takeover initiated.  He made sure to protect Peggy, giving her early warning of the move so she could make plans.  And he commiserated with, and flattered, Joan when she feared for her own future after the Sterling Cooper offices close. 'They don't know who they're dealing with," he tells Joan.  This may well have been Pete's finest hour.  He handled losing Dow Chemicals with grace, accepted news of the inevitable shuttering of the offices with equanimity and is moving forward as hopefully as we've seen Pete Campbell.  Has our frat boy finally grown up?  At the end of the episode, he tells Joan he's going to call Trudy.  Could a reconciliation be in the air?

As Mad Men winds down, it is on everyone's mind how the show will end.  Will anyone get what they want, what is it that the characters want. And so it goes that with this episode at least three characters did in fact get their greatest wishes fulfilled. Lou Avery's "Scout's Honor" is being made into a cartoon. Ken Cosgrove finally got his revenge on Roger (and to a lesser extent, Pete) for leaving him behind when SCDP started up.  And Jim Hobart finally won his battle against Sterling Cooper, pulling Don Draper into his company and shutting down the rival agency. 

But what of our core group of characters? On the romantic front, Joan is moving forward with Richard Burghoff, Roger is moving forward with Marie Calvet and Ted Chaough has rekindled an old high school relationship.  Don, Peggy, Pete and Stan are presently unattached.  On the work front, most seem somewhere between happy (Ted) and resigned (Peggy) to working for McCann, while Joan is concerned the sexist frat boys will not give her the respect she deserves.  It did not go unnoticed that when Jim Hobart listed the names of the big time clients that would now be theirs to work on, Joan was left out.  But she does have Avon, and that is a client for which there is no conflict, so it will continue to be a McCann client, so there is some reason for hope.  

The shake-up at the office, along with the presence of kids in the office, has Peggy feeling vulnerable and open in a way we haven't seen her in a long time.  She's awkward and uncomfortable around the children auditioning for a toy commercial and she gets in a verbal spat with the mom of one of the girls who she was forced to watch (with Stan).  It's vaguely reminiscent of how Don's old girlfriend Dr. Faye Miller was around young Sally - uptight and cold.  Stan just assumes Peggy hates kids and isn't the mothering type.  What he sees is a thirty-two year old business woman who chose career over family, and let her child-bearing years pass by so she could climb the corporate ladder.  We know that's not the entire story.

Peggy finally tells Stan about the child she gave away and the choices she made to be where she is today.  She speaks for the new feminist who asks why her choices should be suspect and why she can't do what a man could do.  It's a beautiful scene, between two characters who've had many great tête-à-têtes at the office.  She's honest and raw and Stan is understanding and caring.  He does what's sometimes the most important - and hardest - thing.  He listens.  And he learns that there was a lot more to Peggy than he ever knew and that she's sacrificed more than he realized to get where she is.

Their later scene, on the phone, when Peggy doesn't want to hang up and feels comforted just knowing he's on the connection, shows more about the depth of their relationship and their importance to one another.  Stan once told Peggy, when she called asking him to come kill a rat in her apartment, that he's not her boyfriend.  But he may well be her closest friend.  And the scene was also a beautiful reminder of how they used to talk late into the night when she was over at CGC.

Don and Roger have no more mountains to scale, no more capers to carry out.  They're done.  While in a boozy haze their resignation to their fate - which, in fairness, consists of wealth, power and prestige - is melancholy.  Don, who has a name not his own to pass down, Roger who will be losing his.  They share some truths.  Roger says he was envious of Don's up-from-nothing story, Don was jealous that Roger had it all handed to him.  "In a previous life, I'd have been your chauffeur," Don tells Roger and that is the mid-20th Century Gatsby-esque story at the heart of Mad Men.  Don, by shedding Dick Whitman, blazed a new trail for himself and rose much higher than his humble birth would have predicted.  Roger had to do nothing to attain what he has and that carries its own burden.  But both are now mere cogs in the giant McCann Erickson machine.

But life goes on.  Don doesn't yet know what that life will look like.  Where will he live?  Who will he share it with?  He know that there are people with whom he's been through a lot and they're going on this next journey together.  But aside from his Sterling Cooper family, what does he have?  He looks towards Diana, the sad waitress, for some answers, but that leads him to a dead end.  Why did he think she held any answers, what was he looking for there?  And finding nothing, where will he go next?  He has money, prestige and power.  He still doesn't have an answer to the question, "is that all there is?"


The show is more self-aware than ever, and more in touch with the fans' feelings as the show draws to a close.  "We have 30 days," Joan says upon learning of the takeover.  "Don't you understand?  We don't exist," Roger tells her. Us.  It's almost over.  You may not like it, you may rail against it, but it's inevitable.  You can talk about spin-offs and movies, but none of that is going to happen.  You're only real option is to get a little buzzed and drink a toast to a great show.  The end is nigh, whether you like it or not.  

"You are okay." Roger's fatherly kiss and these words are what Don needs.  Don said back in the pilot that happiness is the feeling that whatever you're doing is okay. "You are okay."  When Roger was tripping out in Ep. 5.05 Far Away Places, Don came to him as a vision and told him that same thing. "Everything's okay.  You are okay."  

"California.  There's a gold rush going on there."  Don's love of California goes way back.  It's where he set Anna Draper up, where he visited (and shared the holidays pre-Betty), where he could shake off Don Draper and be Dick Whitman.  We haven't heard him talk about California for a while, but we know that his "niece" Stephanie - his last connection to Anna - lives there with her new baby. We also know that his recent fling, Diana,
said San Francisco was the other city she considered running away to.  There's nothing for Don in New York besides his kids and he barely sees them and only as an interruption in their daily lives.  Maybe California is still on his radar. 

It's every terminated employee's fantasy. Those that fired you now come crawling, hands outstretched, begging for scraps.  Or in Ken Cosgrove's case, you get to torment your former coworker Pete Campbell to your heart's desire. And when the need you the most, you can shove it back in their face.  Roger may be excited about pulling together client files to break off like he did back in '63, but Ken remembers how the last time Sterling Cooper struck out on its own it left him behind.  Now it's time for revenge, almost eight years in the making.  

The theme of vengeance (the private school administrator and Ken) continues when Lou Avery revels in what he thinks is his own bit of revenge - having his creative dream come true when he has the chance to move to Japan to pursue his animation fantasy.  But while Roger thinks Jim is also seeking revenge after his repeated-failed attempts at getting Don Draper, the fact is that Jim is not the bad guy here.  After years of painting him as Satan's cousin, Jim is just a smart adman who wants his company to be the best.  What he offers Don and the rest of Sterling Cooper is what so many of them claimed was their own dream for the future.  Bigger clients, more prestige, more money - they'll have it all now.  He's offering them one of the most coveted positions in advertising. Travel, adventure, an international presence. As he does a roll call of the big clients that they'll now be able to work for - every partner's fantasy client including for Don "Coca Cola" - it's clear he's offering an opportunity not a punishment. 

The Coke reference (which also came up last episode when Roger suggested he could have Don killed for drinking a rival soda) reminds us of Jim Hobart's first big attempt to lure Don to McCann Erickson back in Season One.  Then, he offered Betty a chance at a Coke ad (Betty was considering going back to modeling) and she had some stills taken, but when Don refused to make the move, Betty's dream was shot down. You can read more about that episode here:

Ted recognized how important California was to Don, even if he doesn't know the whole story.  Don's eyes did light up at the idea of starting fresh there.  Yet it's hard not to remember that when he had the chance to move out there with Megan, he didn't.  Maybe California only has meaning to Don when he can be himself there.  That is, not be Donald Draper.  It's hard to imagine how that would have worked if they'd been successful in launching Sterling Cooper West.  Instead, California may be important in what it represents in the abstract to him - freedom.

Roger laments that his own surname will die with him, yet we know that Joan's son Kevin is actually Roger's. But with Joan raising Kevin as her own (albeit with ex-Greg's surname) and Roger moving forward with the crazy Madame Calvet, it's unlikely the Sterling name will be passed down.

Jim Hobart told the partners that they died and went to advertising heaven.  This is a callback to Ep. 5.1 "Blue Hawaii" when Don said. "Well, heaven's a little morbid.  How do you get to heaven? Something terrible has to happen."  And something terrible did happen - Sterling Cooper was absorbed, dissolved, eradicated.  That place where Don, Pete,Peggy  and so many others got there start, where Roger's father's legacy resided, where Bert Cooper lives on, where Roger reclaimed his family name, that place is gone.  And no matter how you slice it, that is a terrible thing. 

Don famously said, in the pilot, "advertising is based on one thing.  Happiness.  And you know what happiness is?  Happiness ... is a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that what you are doing is okay. You  are okay."  After conceding defeat, surrendering to Jim Hobart, Don is understandably in the dumps. But Roger takes Don's face in his hands and tries his best to reassure him, telling him "You are okay."

Another callback to the pilot comes from Stan's conversation with Peggy about her decision not to have children.  In the pilot, Don asked Rachel Menken why she wasn't married. "Don't you think that getting married and having a family would make you happier than all the headaches that go along with fighting people like me?" Rachel astutely pointed out at the time "If I weren't a woman, I would be allowed to ask you the same question."  Stan assumes Peggy made a conscious choice not to marry and have children and that she could not have her career otherwise. But Peggy asks why that assumption is made about her a woman and yet it wouldn't be made about a man. 

A callback to the Season 7 premiere comes with Don's quote - spoken then by Freddy Rumsen quoting the words fed to him by Don - that is is the beginning of something.  Don keeps trying to sell that pitch, probably because he's feeling so much loss and so much as if everything is ending. 

The shot of the five partners sitting at the table after Jim Hobart walks out (looking inward) contrasted nicely with the photo of the five partners after their take over of the Time/Life space (looking outward to the future).

There is a recent HitFix poll asking who is Don's best secretary.  There should be no question - the answer is Meredith.  Not since she promised to be Don's strength - when Jim Cutler tried to organize his dismissal - has she been so important to Don.  She lays it on the line for him.  "Don't 'Sweetheart' me," she tells him.  She wants to know what's going on and if she's going to continue to be his secretary.  Because, honestly, who has done a better job for him?  She even knows when Alka-Seltzer will not fix the problem.  She's priceless.  Efficient, caring, devoted.  What more could you ask for?

Since you were wondering, the afore-mentioned Jim Cutler is alive and well and living off of his share of the sale of 51% of Sterling Cooper and Partners to MC last year.  He took the money and ran.  We also saw Dawn Chambers for the first time this season - getting blamed for, fired for, then un-fired for not paying the lease on the office space at the Time-Life Building.  She and Shirley were later seen representing the rest of the staff at SC wondering what this means for their future.  

Sterling Cooper and Partners has been housed in the Time-Life building since its creation in the wake of the break off from PPL in 1963. Time and Life are also the names of the two iconic weekly magazines that highlight what's newsworthy.  Ahead of the season 6 debut, Time wrote this piece about the building in the 1960s.

The song at the end was "Money Burns a Hole in my Pocket," sung by Dean Martin.  In it, the singer wishes he had all the money in the world to buy his love fancy things.  


Lou: Enjoy the rest of your miserable life. 

Trudy: Peter, you can't punch everyone.

Pete: You're ageless.  

Trudy: You never take no for an answer.

Stage Mother: You do what you want with your children, I'll do what I want with mine.

Hobart: it's done, you passed the test.  You're dying and going to advertising heaven. ... Stop struggling.  You won. 

Ted:  I'm relieved.  I'm ready to let someone else drive for a while.

Joan: We went down swinging. 

Pete: For the first time I feel like whatever happens is supposed to happen. 

Peggy:  I don't know, but it's not because I don't care.  I don't know because you're not supposed to know.  Or you can't go on with your life.

Don: What's in a name?

Don: In another lifetime, I'd have been your chauffeur. 
Roger:  Then you would've been screwing my grandmother.

Don: For the second time today, I surrender.

Roger:  You are okay.

Meredith:  There are rumors flying around like bats around here.  ...Don't "sweetheart" me.
In a month, you're not going to have an office and you're not going to have an apartment.  Do you want to lose me, too? ... It is not a normal day.  Everyone's living in a fright.

Don:  Hold on.  This is the beginning of something.  Not the end. 

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