Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 9: "New Business" - Recap

That was a frustrating episode.  Maybe someday I'll have perspective on it and see the good.  But right now I'm feeling unfulfilled.  Don is just sleepwalking through life, dulling his pain with sexual distractions and ignoring his responsibilities.  He looks back and sees one failure after another. One lost opportunity after another. 

He hooks up with a stranger - that's nothing new.  He's hopped from one sexual encounter to another since we first met him. But this stranger is not young and pretty, she's a tired Plain Jane waitress.  What's the attraction?  She reminds him of someone. He's obsessed with her and since he's rich and handsome she's not at all put off by this attention.  They have sex and he becomes more and more interested in her. The feeling seems mutual.  She has a twinge in her chest.  A pain, he asks.   And were transported back to the Season One finale when Don spoke of nostalgia as a pain, a twinge. But that's not it. It's just a nod to the audience, like the fact that some Greek was the one to tell Don where to find Diana.  A Greek like the one he mentioned in the carousel speech.  See, the writers tell us, this is all connected.  Don is on his own carousel of destruction and loneliness going round and round from one decade to the next. 

Don tells her - and us, the viewing audience - that this must bother us but not to fear.  It's almost over. He's talking about his marriage, it sounds to me like he's talking about the series. 

Later he find out more about the object of his affection.  She lost a daughter two years ago and after twelve years of marriage and despite having another child she abandoned her life and moved away to escape.  Don is helping in her escape as time with him helps her not think or feel about what she's left behind.  Don realizes that this is wrong and that this is what he's been doing all his life.  Escaping from pain, running away, trying anything and everything to keep distance between him and what he doesn't want to feel.  

The endless womanizing, the nonstop drinking.  Maybe that will keep him from thinking about how some other man is raising his children. How he had a beautiful, smart and yes loving wife and lied to her and cheated on her and lost her.  How no matter what he has it's never been enough. 

We're hit over the head repeatedly by the parallels between Diana and Don.  Diana is trying to escape her painful and shameful past (losing one child, abandoning another), she punishes herself and doesn't believe she deserves love or happiness, she's content to wallow in her misery.  She feels hopeless and adrift, occasionally clings to things to dull the pain, then decides she doesn't even deserve the respite these distractions provide.  She ran away from something, but not toward anything.

In the midst of this we see a rare moment of amusing self-awareness as Don explains that he's dressed to the nines in the middle of the night because he's vain. Looking good is part of the image, the package that he presents to the world to hide what's going on underneath it all.  But he's running out of time.  As Pete says to him, what if there no more no more time. That's what's worrying the aging, sloppy,  worn out Don Draper. Is he running out of time?

Elsewhere, Harry Crane has been everyone's punching bag for years and I've never understood the size and fervor of the anti-Harry bandwagon but after watching him try and trade his connections for sexual favors from Megan and him telling her she should put out if she wants to succeed in Hollywood, I'm not only on the bandwagon, I'm leading it.  "She quit her soap and left New York, what a dumb idea."  Yeah, way to blame the victim.  That was all Don's idea, not Megan's. But easier to label her crazy - especially before she levels harassment charges against you. 

Stan was looking for validation of his artistic abilities and settled for validation of his manhood. Peggy is still pointing out that she's in charge. The storyline with guest appearance of the former Mrs. Tom Cruise seems like a Make a Wish for aging actresses and not a real progression of our story.  Stan cheated on his girlfriend (and who wears their complete uniform to bed anyway) and did not even get the validation from that act.  He found out that Pima the avant garde photographer didn't find him special at all and was more than willing to have a dalliance with Peggy as well.  And she insulted the girlfriend he cheated on while not praising his artistic vision. It was a bad couple of days for Stan and, in my opinion, a needless piece of stunt casting.

The members of the parade of past guest stars were slightly more successful.  Megan's temptress mother Marie came back to rob Don of his furniture and  to steal Roger's ...well, not his heart but some part of his anatomy.  She's been unhappily married from before we met her and her leaving her husband was one of the few things that made sense in this episode. She's staying in New York, perhaps to be with Roger. Sylvia and her doctor husband share a quick, icy elevator ride with Don and Di. So that answers the question none of us were asking about whether they're still in the building and still married.  

Pete had little to do this episode other than remind us that he will always be the second fiddle to Don's Itzhak Perlman.  Pete is prepared for the golf outing with the clients donned in his silliest links outfit, Don had completely forgotten as he was tied up having a late night romp with the dour waitress.  But Dapper Don suggests he can rent the clubs and throw his tie over his shoulder and the clients will love it.  And Pete laments that it's true, Don can get away with that mesmerize the clients.  No doubt, Pete acted as caddy once they got there.  Pete did however have the one insightful comment of the episode, wondering whether life is one endless cycle of failed fresh starts.  Years from now he'll see "Groundhog Day" and think someone stole his idea. 

Roger tried to caution Don about the divorce from Megan that it would be bitter and costly.  He projected from his own divorce from Jane just how Don's conversation with Megan would go. "So she never said you squandered her youth and beauty? Used up her childbearing years? Thwarted her career?"  Don dismissed Roger's warnings, saying Megan wasn't Jane.  But isn't she?  Wasn't the gist of her complaint to Don that he ruined her life?  And didn't it cost Don big time?

We all hate Megan, that's one thing that unites this country, right?  We thought, we actually rejoiced thinking, that the book was closed on her at the end of the last half season when they agreed to divorce.  But no, she had to come back once more to really really really end their marriage.  And she brought her seductress mother, Marie, and wet-blanket sister along for the trip.  While Megan is in town meeting with Harry, her family oversees the movers who were supposed to take some boxes, "Granny's cabinet, that chair, and the mirror."  Marie is furious with Don for ruining her daughter's life (more to the point, she's furious with her own husband for ruining her life and is using Don as a stand in) and decides to clean him out. 

Marie tells the movers to take it all.  She'd probably have them pull up the carpet if it weren't stained.  The movers complain that they weren't paid for such a large load, so she has to get more money.  She tries Don first, which is funny to imagine asking him to pay for the robbers to take his things away.  But he's away so she eventually calls up Roger who brightens at hearing Marie's name.  And considering the last interaction we saw them have, why wouldn't he.  Roger comes over, money in hand, and quickly they rekindle their mutual passion.

Megan comes back to find Roger getting dressed, her mother getting put back together, and the apartment completely gutted against her wishes.  She's had a bad day, this isn't helping.  It gets worse as her mother announces she's leaving her father and staying in New York.  Roger will be happy now he has the two secretaries, he'll have more to juggle now.

Megan and Don meet (there was supposed to be a lawyer there but he mysteriously disappeared) and bicker for a bit before Don decides to give up, stop the fighting, sign whatever she wants and end the marriage.  He scribbles out a check for one million dollars and gives it to Megan so she can have the life she deserves. This is supposed to be growth on his part but it seems like more of the same - him throwing money at problems, thinking that will solve everything.  But maybe it's a sign that he's going to try and move forward.  

At the beginning of the episode, we glimpsed the second ex-Mrs. Don Draper (if we count Anna as #1) dressed up after a night on the town.  Don had the boys that night and had come back to the Francis home to fix them dessert.  He was in the kitchen, making milkshakes, when Betty walks in and for a split second, it was the life Don had.  He and Betty and the kids in the kitchen, like we'd seen them so many times before.  

But then Henry Francis walks in and takes his position as the patriarch of the home while Don steps back.  He doesn't belong there after all.   It was a very sad tableau that Don looked back on as he left - seeing some other man in his shoes (ironic, isn't it Dick?) living the life he had, with Betty and the children.  Don takes in the happy nuclear family gathered in their kitchen as he leaves to go back to his sad apartment.  By the end of the episode we're again given a very heavy-handed parallel as the emptiness Don feels inside is physically manifest in the barren apartment he returns home to after the Calvets clean him out.  Don has nothing in his life.


Don refers to 15-year-old Sally as his "little girl" which seems an odd choice for him as he treats her more like a young adult, but the phrase triggered the confession by Diana about her own little girl.

Music during the episode: The song over the end credits was "C'est Si Bon" performed by actor and singer Yves Montand.  That song, sung in French, means "It's so good" and this version is all about love.  We hear about a loving couple walking arm in arm, and includes the line: They're so good, these little thrills, that are worth more than a million. (Or, in Megan's case, exactly one million.)  American actress and singer Eartha Kitt has a hit record with a slightly different version of this song, which added lyrics that are a bit more pointed: "I'm looking for a millionaire, with big Cadillac cars, mink coats, jewels as big as your fist."  So there you have it, you can have love worth more than money or you can have the loot.

The other two songs are pretty obscure tracks taken from a 2013 compilation album of 1960's cult classics (I grew up in the sixties, addicted to music, and never heard either of these artists or songs).  The first was "Golddigger" by Jay Ramsay which played at the beginning of the scene where Pima comes to talk to Stan (and not, where it would have fit better, at the end of the preceding scene where Roger is talking to Don about their respective ex-wives).  The second, "The Train" by Ann Reed and the Souls, was heard when Pete and Don are driving to play golf. This song has the line: only time will tell if I will be happier than he.  

Megan's mother speaks for all of us when she tells her daughter that after being married to Don Draper "It's a wonder you don't have syphilis."  

Betty's going back to school for her Masters!  In psychology no less.  I'm sure if she ever does get her license, she'll be good about protecting patient privacy!

Megan complains that Don ruined her life.  Puh-leez.  She's still in her twenties, has her health and a million dollar check.  She'll survive.  She just needs to stop wallowing and move forward.  Meanwhile her 50-something mother realizes there's still time for her to eliminate what isn't working from her life and to pursue happiness.  Speaking of Marie, it seemed as if she and Roger must have had some interactions since the Codfish Ball episode as she says to him, "every time you get what you want, you run away." Also, the way Roger figures out who "Marie" is on the phone and immediately slips into his sexy voice upon hearing her name.  

I thought we were getting Stan's farewell story, but instead we have him still grappling with conflicting feelings of overconfidence and inferiority.  He is the art director at a major agency, yet he needs confirmation that his work is good and that he is more artist than ad man.  I was disappointed in Stan for cheating on his girlfriend, but I recognize that it came out of a sense of insecurity and need for validation.  But then, doesn't most cheating?

The scene where Roger is now so busy he needs two secretaries was poorly executed.  There has been nothing to convince me that Caroline can't do the job of ten secretaries, even if they were trying to convey that for once Roger is actually doing something.  But I did like the NAC - no afternoon calls.  

Nice callback to Bert Petersen, the bane of Roger's existence and the recipient of not one but two firings at the hands of the silver fox.  Yes, Bert is there at McCann and there's nothing Roger can do about it this time.  Also, a reference to Torkelson, who we recently learned is the baby daddy of  (Pete's former secretary) Clara's new child.  His rules are pretty clear cut and very pre-women's lib: You got your models, you got your bottles.  If you make it to lunch without bothering anybody, we'll let you have whichever you want.

Another callback is in the profession of Diana.  Back in the pilot, when Joan was taking Peggy around, she told her that most of the men think they want a secretary, but that what "they're really looking for is something between a mother and a waitress."

The episode is called "New Business" and of course that's supposed to be ironic and mostly the characters were dealing with the same things they have since the show started.  Don and his attraction to mysterious dark haired women, people running away from their past, Peggy trying be taken seriously as a woman in a man's world, Stan's insecurity, Pete's frustration that things always work out for Don and concern that they won't for him.  

We learned how Don Draper ended up in New York.  He tells Diana that he had always been enamored of the city, from when he was young and had read about it in books and magazines.  It explains why Don was reluctant to leave despite his inclination to run away. 

With just five episodes left, will we see Don finally break out of his old routine?  He's ten months post-Bert hallucination and does not seem to be making any steps to focus on "the best things in life."  Carousing with models, picking up strange women, can't be the answer.  But until Don decides that love is real (not something created to sell nylons) and that he deserves it, I don't see him improving.  I thought when Sally told him last year "I love you" that he would have that epiphany, but he didn't. What will it take?


Diana:   I took a cab to some stranger's apartment with $6 in my pocket. I was hoping it was like this.

Diana: I don't know how I feel about getting to know you better.
Don:  It's 3:00 in the morning.  You know why you're here

Diana: I lied to you.
Don: Already?

Stan: I try to treat it like art even though it's just selling something.
Pima: All art is selling something.

Roger (using Megan as a stand in for Jane): So she never said you squandered her youth and beauty? Used up her childbearing years? Thwarted her career? What career? She's a consumer.

Don: I think, if I were you, this would bother me, and it shouldn’t, because it’s almost over. 

Pete:  You're going to rent pants? 
Don:  I'll throw my tie over my shoulder and roll up my sleeves.  They'll love it.
Pete: Probably will.

Megan (to her sister:) I'm not like you.  I don't spend my whole life feeling ashamed.

Pete: You think you’re gonna begin your life over and do it right, but what if you never get past the beginning again?

Marie: Every time you get what you want, you run away.

Marie-France: Mother we’re here to support Megan, not make her feel ashamed of this failure.

Harry: I can’t believe Don threw you away.

Peggy: Well, mine's the only opinion that matters here.  It's my account.
Pima: Of course, you're in charge.

Megan: I wasn't going to give you the satisfaction of knowing that you ruined my life.

Megan: Why did I believe you? Why did I believe the things you said to me? Why am I being punished for being young? I gave up everything for you because I believed you.  And you're nothing but a liar. An aging, sloppy, selfish liar.  
Don: You're right.

Megan: You know it's a sin to be a ghoul and feed on everyone's pain.  She's been very unhappy for a very long time. At least she did something about it. 

Whore count:  Haven't done one of these in a while, but we had many exchanges of money for sex, or at least hinting at it, in addition to one actual "whore" shout out care of Megan's tactful sister.

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