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Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a show! It’s about a handsome 1960’s ad man who has a wry, silver-haired, vaguely alcoholic boss; he marries a beautiful blonde who’s kind of a witch and they move to the suburbs where she is beset by nosy judgmental neighbors.  I bet it would run for eight seasons.

Well, before there was “Mad Men” there was “Bewitched,” a sitcom about an actual witch who falls in love with a Muggle, er, mortal, and settles down for an ordinary middle class married life. Premiering in 1964 with Elizabeth Montgomery as the beautiful witch Samantha Stephens, the show trailed only “Gunsmoke” that year as the country’s second-most popular TV series.

I’m hardly the first to point out the similarities between “Bewitched” and “Mad Men,” including this promo from Me-TV touting “Bewitched” as the “original ‘Mad Men.’” What interests me, though, is the role that both these shows played in the culture wars. Last month I wrote a piece (Television as Archeology) arguing that television can offer important clues into an era’s social history. Well, here’s a case study. On the one hand, we have a 21st Century TV show that looks back not-so-fondly at the 1960s, and on the other hand we have one that was actually produced in the 1960s. Which is a more accurate depiction of the period?

The view of Sixties society that these two shows present could not be more different. In “Mad Men,” the suburbs are toxic and Betty Draper nearly breaks under the pressure of keeping up appearances, but in “Bewitched” the suburbs are happy places to which one naturally aspires.

Of course a sitcom and a drama are going to take the same circumstances and draw different conclusions. In “Mad Men” the drinking is a pathological way to escape pain, but in “Bewitched” drinking is fun. In “Mad Men” the tut-tutting of the neighbors is repressive, but on “Bewitched,” the same tut-tutting only occasions eye-rolling from Samantha.

Part of it has to do with the temperament of the housewives themselves.   The remote and emotionally fragile Betty Draper can’t take the pressure of keeping up. Like a classic case from the Feminine Mystique, she is a college educated woman (she speaks Italian!) who is bored and unfulfilled because she gave up her career (in modeling) to raise a family. Samantha on the other hand, is self-confident enough to stand up to her mother, who wants her to return to the wizarding world, and more than capable of brushing off the neighbors who bug her or the ad agency clients who make a pass at her.

Although not overtly political, “Mad Men” and “Bewitched” occupy different ideological positions on the television spectrum. “Bewitched” is essentially propaganda for the social conformity of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Samantha could have had a more exciting life as a witch but she actually likes being a housewife; it’s a choice she fully embraces. She’s a powerful woman and smarter than her husband Darrin, but is happy to play second banana.   In this regard “Bewitched” subtly undermines the patriarchy it appears to glorify because although Darrin may THINK he’s in charge, we know that Samantha is really calling the shots. Women are not as weak and powerless as they seem (a message that was reinforced in hundreds of “screwball comedies” from Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, by the way).

Matt Weiner, the creator of “Mad Men” was not alive in the 1960s, so much of what he knows about that decade comes from books and stories he’s heard. It’s Hell to be a woman in Weiner-world and the ninth circle of Hell is housewifery.

I love “Mad Men” but the Sixties that I remember were a lot closer to “Bewitched.” My own mother probably would have been bored as a housewife although we’ll never know since she always worked. Having a career then wasn’t as difficult or stigmatizing for women as we’re led to believe today. Having said that, most of the other mothers I knew stayed home; all seemed happy to make that choice and none seemed subordinate to their husbands.

This might have been a matter of class. Our family was in the very middle of the middle class. Neither of my parents went to college, so my mother, who unlike the upper-middle class Betty Draper, didn’t receive an anthropology degree from Bryn Mawr and subsequently didn’t feel intellectually stunted in our little ranch house.  On “Bewitched” Samantha apparently hadn’t been to college either (unless you count Hogwarts) so didn’t feel deprived of a richer intellectual life.

In a country as large and diverse as the U.S. in the 1960s no one TV series could hope to represent the reality of every housewife. Undoubtedly there were millions of bored at-home women in the Sixties, especially in the affluent suburbs, but as “Bewitched” indicates, the Sixties were not one long horror show. The families who moved to the suburbs had lived through the Depression and World War II and were in the middle of one of the great economic booms in history. They had a lot to be happy about and that joy in getting a fresh start in a new neighborhood is what is most striking to me about “Bewitched” now, 50 years after the fact.

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Jon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 14 - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

Jon Hamm as Don Draper – Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

There are several tried and true ways to end a beloved TV series.  You can end the “story” of the series, disperse the characters, and send them on with the rest of their lives – the approach taken by “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Office.”  You can project the characters into the future so we can see what will become of them (the so-called American Graffiti approach adopted by Six Feet Under and The Wonder Years).  Or you can come up with a huge twist: St. Elsewhere is an autistic child’s fantasy; Newhart is a dream; the mother’s dead on How I met Your Mother.

Mad Men went for the huge surprise. As the last seconds inexorably ticked away at the end of “Person to Person,” Don Draper is meditating at an encounter session at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, he smiles and suddenly we are in a real ad – the famous “Hillside” Coke ad (aka, “I’d Like to Teach the World To Sing”).  At first I thought the Coke ad was a commentary on how capitalism gobbles up and then commercializes anti-capitalist movements, but then slowly realized that it was Don himself who returned to McCann (the real-life creator of that campaign) and exploited his own counter-culture experiences to develop one of the most famous ads of all time.

“Person to Person” was a great episode of “Mad Men,” but it wasn’t a great series finale by traditional television standards.  It gave us some unforgettable moments but not the emotional closure we crave.   After all the emotional turmoil – after Don’s journey of self-exploration – we are back to where we started.  Don might be a better, more self-aware person but he’s where he was 90 episodes ago – reaching deep inside himself to connect with people through advertising.

This might not be the ending we wanted but it’s true to the vision Matt Weiner established.  There was an early hint even before the episode started, when AMC released one last sentimental promo based on Paul Anka’s “Times of Your Life.”  That song was the basis for yet another famous ad – the monstrously manipulative late-seventies Kodak commercial suggesting you could capture the times of your life before they slipped away (an ad that makes me tear up even today).

The reference to Kodak reminds us of Don’s most famous pitch – the Carousel – which turned a slide projector into a time machine.  In the end, a carousel is exactly what the Mad Men characters are riding.  Life goes round and round while the painted ponies go up and down.  People might grow and evolve but they don’t fundamentally change – they fall into the same behavior patterns and bad habits.  This fundamental insight is what has set Mad Men apart from other shows.  Sometimes it’s been frustrating to us, especially in the seasons where Don was trapped again in self-destructive behavior, but it’s unfortunately the way people really are.  In our own fantasies we might want Don to quit advertising and become a novelist or humanitarian, but in the real world, someone like Don is likely to return to his career; people want to start over but most don’t.

In “Person to Person,” the characters ending up being true to themselves.  They follow their talents if not their dreams.  “Work isn’t everything” as Stan tells Peggy, but it’s a big thing and you might as well do what you’re good at.  Don, Peggy, Roger and Pete are great at advertising and they stick with it.  I’ve never thought Joan was a very good account representative but she’s an excellent organizer who puts her skills to work as a film producer.  The question that all of us face is how do we live our lives?  How do we spend our days? What makes us happy?  The Mad Men answer seems to be that you find what you’re good at and stick with it.

This episode was filled with many classic Matt Weiner feints and misdirections.  That Don apparently returns to advertising, and that an actual real-life ad closes out the series were two of those inevitable-yet-still-surprising developments that has characterized Mad Men, but they weren’t the only ones.  I, for one, never expected that Peggy would find romantic fulfillment and that Joan would not.  Peggy and Stan’s sudden realization that they love each other was a shock, if only because it was so transparently obvious that you couldn’t believe Matt Weiner would actually go there.  It’s like he was throwing the audience at least one bone by giving them what they most yearned for: a happy ending for Peggy.  The scene where Peggy and Stan declare their love could have come out of a Nora Ephron Rom-Com but was still deeply satisfying.

On the other hand, the collapse of Joan’s relation with Richard was equally unexpected, but equally satisfying in its own way.  Richard wants to be on perpetual vacation but Joan has too much energy and talent to become someone’s playmate.  When Ken (whose return is another surprise) asks her to help him find a producer for a corporate film she takes the job on herself and launches her own production company.  At first it looks like Joan and Peggy will team up in their own production company, but Peggy decides her talents lie in advertising, not film production, so that’s one fan fantasy outcome that is denied us.

Also completely unexpected – to me at least – was the lack of resolution in what will happen to the Draper children once Betty dies.  The adults all seem to have their happy-for-them endings, but for the children the future is bleak.  When Don hears that Betty is dying of cancer he wants to come home and taken care of his kids, but in a heart-breaking call Betty tells him to stay away.  She wants things to be as normal as possible for the kids and having Don away is normal.  Worse, she wants the kids to live with her brother and his wife because they need a woman in their life.  I had fully expected this episode to feature a showdown between Don and Henry over custody but Henry doesn’t even make an appearance.  As far as I’m concerned this decision remains an open one because I can’t imagine that either Don or Henry would allow those kids to be raised by that weasely brother William.  This is another example of bad judgement by Betty – it’s archaic thinking, even for 1970 – to assume kids need to be shipped out to the nearest female relative and I have to think that decision will be reversed once Don comes back East to resume his job at McCann.  He might agree to let them live with Henry, as Sally, the clearest-thinking person in the house, wants, but I can’t see them with William and Judy.

In any event, it’s that brutally honest conversation with Betty that precipitates Don’s final collapse.  Realizing how much he’s failed his own kids after having been an orphan himself, he goes on a bender and ends up tracking down Stephanie,  Anna Draper’s niece, because he wants to give her Anna’s wedding ring, once worn by Megan.  California, the one place where he’s known as “Dick,” has traditionally been Don’s refuge, but by now too much has happened to recapture the Edenic qualities we saw earlier in the series. Like Don, Stephanie has made a mess of her life and lost custody of her baby son.  She takes him to a hippie-like retreat – the real-life Esalen Institute, which still exists but  is not identified on the episode .  According to Wikipedia, Esalen is “a nonprofit organization devoted to activities such as personal growth, meditation, massage, Gestalt, yoga, psychology, ecology, spirituality, and organic food” – in other words a playground devoted to the usual Sixties fixations.   The show’s attitude to this retreat is unclear. Plainly a lot of it is ridiculous and self-indulgent, as exemplified by the nudist participant who tells self-serving stories in the counseling sessions.  Some of it is brutal; for someone like Stephanie, whose life is too broken to fix, the honesty is just too painful to bear.  Some of it seems preposterous , with all the happy talk and “how does that make you feel” line of questioning.

At first it seems like Don can’t fit in. Among the aspiring hippies, he looks completely different in his traditional suburban clothes and he’s skeptical of the mumbo jumbo.  When Stephanie has a painful session, he tries to be the hero, offering to help her out financially, but she rejects him: “You’re not my family.  What’s the matter with you?” Don then gives her the same basic advice he gave Peggy after she gave away HER baby:   “You can put this behind you.  It will be easier as you move on.” Don’s entire operating philosophy has been to repress the bad memories, to compartmentalize, and to create a new persona.  “Oh Dick, I don’t think you’re right about that,” she replies, understanding that there are just some things you can’t repress and just need to deal with.

When Stephanie leaves in the middle of the night, Don is nearly undone.  There once was a time when he wanted to escape TO California, but now he wants to escape FROM California, but is trapped by his lack of transportation.  He’s furious that Stephanie left without saying good-bye and then realizes that he never said good-bye to Peggy so he calls her on the phone to talk.  We never see him talking in the Esalen sessions, but he does engage in some hard-core talk therapy with the one woman who understands him.  “What have you been doing?” “I don’t know, I have no idea.” “You can come home. McCann will take you back in a second.  Don’t you want to work on Coke?” “I can’t.  I can’t get out of here.” “Don come home.”

And then it all comes out. When she asks what he ever did that was so bad, he tells her: “I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name, and made nothing of it.”  He’s confessed to Peggy before, but this time the strain is too much for him and he collapses after hanging up.  And for a long time we think he might actually die after all.  But Shelia, one of those preternaturally calm counselors, finds him and brings him to her session.  And at this point you wonder if all these encounter groups, as ridiculous as they seem, might not have a purpose.  After all, confession is one of the seven sacraments in the Catholic church.  And at the American Legion hall in last week’s episode, the story-telling by the traumatized vets serves the same purpose as the Esalen confessions: to sooth the pain of the memories by giving them voice.  To some extent, Don is purged by his conversation with Peggy.

At Shelia’s session, he listens to the heart-wrenching story of a man who feels forgotten, alone and invisible.  It’s not satisfying to us that the last major speech of the series is given by someone we’ve never seen before.  In fact Don himself has no dialogue  at all in the last 10 minutes of the series.  Instead, we hear from Leonard, who, like Don, is a clean-cut suburban Dad with a serious case of “Is that all there is.”  He says his wife and kids don’t look up when he comes home.  “It’s like no one cares when you’re gone.  They should love me.  Maybe they do. You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it.  People aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize, they’re trying and you don’t even know what it is.”

Leonard then recounts a dream in which he feels like an unloved consumer product (maybe one of the very food products that Don advertises.) In this dream he’s on a shelf in the refrigerator.  “Someone closes the door and the light goes off and I know everyone’s out there eating.  And then they open the door and everyone’s smiling.  And they’re happy to see you, but maybe they don’t look right at you, and maybe they don’t pick you.   And then the door closes again.  And the light goes off.” That’s a chilling image. Life is all about waiting for people to love you, to see you, to want you.  But they don’t and then the light goes off.  When he breaks down sobbing, it’s Don who comforts him with a silent, tearful hug.

And then in the very final scene, we see Don on the Big Sur cliffs, meditating with the other seminar participants.  Except now he’s wearing a clean white shirt and white pants, like a virginal bride or baptized penitent. The very final words of the series are not Christian, though; they are Zen-ish, spoken by the meditation leader: “Mother sun, we greet you and are thankful for the sweetness of the earth.  The new day brings new hope.  The lives we’ve had; the lives we get to lead; a new day; new ideas; a new you.  Ommm.  Ommm.”  With that we get an ambiguous smile on Don’s face and then the transition into a commercialized Coke version of that scene on the cliffs.

Even on a second viewing, that Coke commercial disturbs me.  It seems cynical to think that after all the progress Don has made in his voyage of self-discovery, it’s reduced to a commercial, as great as the commercial is.  Has Don really become “a new you” and is that even possible?  I have a feeling we’ll be debating this ending for years.

Some other thoughts:

  • The title of this episode was “Person to Person.”  Back in the old days, boys and girls, before cell phones, there was something called an “operator assisted call.”   If you were at a phone booth, and didn’t have enough money to pay for a long-distance call, you’d ask the operator to call collect; the most expensive form of a collect call was the person-to-person call in which you wouldn’t be charged unless you connected with the very person you wanted to talk to.  There are two person-to-person calls in this episode: when Don calls Betty and later when he calls Peggy.  Altogether there are four telephone calls, including Don’s call to Sally and the Peggy/Stan  “I love you”/”I love you too” call.  Each of those calls is emotionally powerful in a way that is lost on the today’s Millennials, who hate talking on the phone.  In fact, as Stan explains, sometimes the phone call is better for actual communication because being in the presence of another person can make it hard to get the right words out.
  • Think there’s any question that Don came up with the Coke ad while at Esalen?  Here’s the smoking gun.  The pigtailed girl at the reception desk  is dressed exactly like the pigtailed girl in the ad.

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  • The scenes with the Draper children were wrenching.  We can at least comfort ourselves with the knowledge that Sally Draper is somehow well-grounded and more emotionally mature than either of her parents.  The steel in her voice talking to Don makes it clear she won’t be anybody’s patsy.  And when he returns home and finds Bobby pathetically trying to make dinner, she has a maternal kindness that Betty never had.  For his part, Bobby gets to show that he’s not the dupe Betty thinks he is; by trying to keep her illness a secret, she has made it worse for everybody’s emotional state.  Bobby has learned the truth from listening to Betty and Henry fight but has no one to talk to until Sally comes home.  But what a grim fate, to lose your mother and possibly even your father and step-father.
  • To understand this episode better, it helps to re-read Tom Wolfe’s famous essay on the Seventies “The Me Decade“. The essay, which I just had the occasion to cite in a post on narcissism on TV,  is about the encounter sessions at Esalen and EST (Erhard Seminars Training).  As average Americans became remarkably wealthy between 1945 and 1970, they had the time and money to worry more about their emotional well-being.  This has been Don Draper’s problem from the beginning: once he achieved all his material needs, what was left?  According to Wolfe, around 1970 Americans began to turn inward, spending more time worrying about the most fascinating thing in the world – themselves – de-emphasizing the traditional values of community, family, etc.   And at the heart of the movement was the encounter session.  Per Wolfe:  “The encounter session—although it was not called that—was also a staple practice in psychedelic communes and, for that matter, in New Left communes. In fact, the analysis of the self, and of one another, was unceasing. But in these groups and at Esalen and in movements such as Arica there were two common assumptions that distinguished them from the aristocratic lemon sessions and personality finishings of yore. The first was: I, with the help of my brothers and sisters, must strip away all the shams and excess baggage of society and my upbringing in order to find the Real Me. Scientology uses the word “clear” to identify the state that one must strive for. But just what is that state? And what will the Real Me be like? It is at this point that the new movements tend to take on a religious or spiritual atmosphere. In one form or another they arrive at an axiom first propounded by the Gnostic Christians some 1,800 years ago: namely, that at the apex of every human soul there exists a spark of the light of God. In most mortals that spark is “asleep” (the Gnostics’ word), all but smothered by the facades and general falseness of society. But those souls who are clear can find that spark within themselves and unite their souls with God’s. And with that conviction comes the second assumption: There is an other order that actually reigns supreme in the world. Like the light of God itself, this other order is invisible to most mortals. But he who has dug himself out from under the junk heap of civilization can discover it.”
  • Esalen may have the appearance of a hippie commune but it’s definitely a commercial enterprise.  Don’s relieved that the women who checks them into their cabin takes a tip, and we also see that he’s free to leave whenever he wants because he’s fully paid up on his account.
  • I don’t think I ever look at a clock with as much anxiety as I did during the last 15 minutes of “Person to Person.”  I knew it was going to end at 11:15 p.m. but as we started that last encounter session, I started to panic — how would this ever get wrapped up in the allotted time? Of course Matt Weiner delivered by essentially jumping us ahead to 1971 when the Coke commercial premiered.  Without saying as much, we know that Don Draper’s life continues after we tune out.
  • Among the various reasons I have reservations about the ending is that it looks like Jim Hobart is one of the winners after all.  His acquisition and eventual destruction of SC&P pays off handsomely if the end result is that Coke ad.
  • I’m sorry for the demise of Joan’s relationship, of course, but am glad she got out in time.  When you have no other goal in life other than to seek pleasure after pleasure, it’s hard not to slide into decadence.  Richard’s initial foray into cocaine was a troubling sign of what could come next.
  • Let’s contemplate the inanity of the Coke Commercial lyrics for a second (see below).  These were not written by McCann.  They came from a popular song by the New Seekers.  For more on the origins of the commercial, check out this link:

    I’d like to build the world a home
    And furnish it with love
    Grow apple trees and honey bees
    And snow white turtle doves

    I’d like to teach the world to sing
    In perfect harmony
    I’d like to hold it in my arms
    And keep it company

  • There are a lot of abandoned kid issues in this episode.   Stephanie lost custody of her child by being such a screw-up.  Don, of course, is told to essentially abandon his kids because he hasn’t been there for them before now.  We learn that Greg Harris treats Kevin like he doesn’t exist (“He’s just a terrible person,” is Joan’s too-accurate judgment.)  Roger’s daughter, who’s still off at the commune, has abandoned her son Ellery.  Peggy gave her son up for adoption. The woman Don has been chasing around the country, Diana, left her remaining daughter after a second daughter died.  So all, in all, not a good showing by the parents of today’s  Baby Boomers.  And the decisive verdict comes down from an Esalen participant who says her mother left her as a baby:  “What I feel is sadness.  My mother left and I can tell you, your baby is going to spend the rest of his life staring at the door, waiting for you to walk in.”  Ouch.  No matter Stephanie can’t take it.
  • Sweet goodbye between Pete and Peggy.  No mention of their baby, now adopted by another family.  Just respect from two colleagues who have come a long way together professionally.  Plus this nice sentiment from Pete:  “Some day people are going to brag that they worked with you.”
  • As usual, Roger gets the best lines.  To Joan: I’m getting married.  I met her through Megan Draper.  She’s old enough to be her mother. Actually, she is her mother.” And after Kevin won’t come to him, “Little rich bastard.  He really is, I guess.”
  • Some interesting casting last night.  The actress who played Sheila was Helen Slater, the star of the “Supergirl” movie.  And one of the mechanics from the Utah Desert Flats, Spencer Clark, is from Darien, CT, my current hometown.
  • The Democratic National Committee tried to capitalize on the “Joan as victim” narrative from last episode by having numerous Democratic office-holders tweeting about an equal payment bill last night.  The thing is, Joan’s solution turned out to be a Republican narrative.  She didn’t get relief from the government: she started a small business!

Well, that’s it.  This is not the place for a long retrospective on the end of an era, even though it is one.  Undoubtedly, we’ll all have more to say later as we digest the meaning of this episode.

Betty-cell-18388-1431356287-5

Hey, it’s Mother’s Day.  I have an idea.  Let’s kill Mom.  After all, she’s been a pretty terrible TV Mother: more self-centered and spoiled than her own kids.  But once she gets a death sentence we realize she matured while we weren’t looking.

I’ll pay ten bucks to anyone who can prove they saw THAT coming.  Mad Men fans have been obsessed with how the show will end and a great deal of speculation has centered around who will die, with Don’s suicide, Roger’s heart attack and Megan’s murder at the top of the list.  But no one thought it would be Betty, even though the logic is irrefutable.  From the very first scene of the series, back in the pilot, smoking has been a core theme of the show.  Its omnipresence has been a signifier that these are very different times (imagine – people used to smoke on airplanes!)  But cigarette advertising on Mad Men also came to symbolize capitalism at its worst – by the 1960s everyone knew that smoking killed people but ad agencies still scrambled to develop the most effective way to sell the product. In the series pilot Don saves the Lucky Strike account with the inspiration that they should claim their tobacco is “toasted” and from then on a major preoccupation of SC&P is how to court or eventually, how to reject, cigarette advertisers.

In retrospect, it was inevitable that one of the characters would die of lung cancer, but we always thought it would be Don, who has coughed his way through many an episode.  Instead, it’s poor Betty — and just as she’s getting her act together too.

“The Milk and Honey Route” is an episode with three stories about three people on their life journeys.  One’s at the beginning of a journey, one’s at the end, and one’s still lost in the middle.

Betty’s the character at the end of her journey.  Last week Don’s parting words to her were “Knock ‘em dead Birdie.” I don’t think he expected that the one to be dead would be Birdie herself.    Yet here she is collapsing at college, where she’s pursuing a Master’s in psychology (and didn’t she tell Don last week that she was tired from carrying her books?  It obviously wasn’t the books that were tiring her out.)

Betty still looks good enough to be called “Mrs. Robinson” (The MILF from “The Graduate”) but she cracks a rib when she falls on the stairs and the x-rays detect that she has lung cancer that has spread to her bones.  The male doctor won’t give her the news until her husband is present, and when Henry arrives he reacts in typical man-in-charge fashion, first going into denial and threatening to cut off the hospital’s funding, then researching treatment options, then telling her to stop wasting time being in shock and finally bringing Sally back from school to talk some sense into her mother, who’s refusing to get seek the aggressive treatments that might extend her life by a few more months.

For once, Betty’s the wise one. She has her priorities straight, worrying about the impact on her children, and refusing to put them through the agony of watching her die slowly (which makes me wonder if she’s going to seek out Dr. Kevorkian to expedite matters.  She was very specific about what she wants to look like in her coffin, like she’s not planning to waste away.)

Mad Men is occasionally a very sad and depressing show, but I almost never cry.  This time, however, I came close twice: when Henry told Sally the news and she covered her ears and then when she read Betty’s note about her funeral instructions.  Betty’s closing paragraph came close to Nicholas Sparks territory but it was still a legitimate weepie: “Sally, I always worried about you because you marched to the beat of your own drum, and now I know that’s good.  I know your life will be an adventure.” (Jeez, I’m getting a little misty just typing that. Those words of support were a great Mother’s Day gift after all.)

And with that message, it becomes apparent that Betty has finally evolved from the brittle, insecure housewife of Season One to a reasonably content and occasionally wise middle-aged woman.  She says one of the most perceptive things in the episode: “I learned to believe people when they tell you it’s over.  They don’t want to say it so it’s usually the truth.”    And while Henry is losing his mind – focusing only on his own loss – Betty is the one who retains her dignity by choosing acceptance.

The character who’s at the beginning of a journey is Pete and we are presented with the discouraging but true-to-life fact that the three characters on the show most likely to have happy send-offs (Lou Avery, Jim Cutler, and Pete) are the three most undeserving.   Pete has always been whiny, unsatisfied and entitled.  In fact, he argues to Trudy that they should get back together again because “We’re entitled to more.”  And yet even Pete, like Betty, has matured.  When he says he wants more, it’s not simply more money (he’s already loaded and living in the Carlyle hotel, for cripes sake) but the less tangible satisfaction that comes from being a good husband and father.

When we see Duck Philips we should know something is up.  Duck is Mad Men’s Zelig: it was Don’s decision to hire Duck as head of accounts over Pete that precipitated Pete ratting out to Bert Cooper that Don was an imposter; it was Duck who was having an afternoon tryst (yuck) with Peggy when JFK was shot; it was Duck who beat up Don in the bathroom during the famous “Suitcase” episode (and then took a dump on Roger’s desk thinking it was Don’s); and it was Duck who brought Lou Avery to replace Don on Thanksgiving Day at the end of Season Six.

Despite being an alcoholic Duck manages to be a pretty decent head-hunter and he tricks Pete into meeting with the CEO of Lear Jet, not telling him it’s actually a job interview.  Pete is everything Mr. Lear Jet wants in a Chief Marketing Officer – he’s Ivy League, a “knickerbocker” (i.e., from old money), and smart.  His strategy is sound – seek corporate clients, not celebrities with pets. His advice that Lear needs a marketing executive who’s comfortable with board room leaders who see Lear Jet as a tool, not as a frivolous extravagance basically seals the deal.

By inadvertently playing hard-to-get for once instead of displaying his usual obsequiousness, Pete increases his attractiveness.  And that gets him to thinking about reconciling with Trudy.  After all in the previous episode, she inadvertently increased her own attractiveness by telling him that all the Greenwich husbands were chasing her (it’s human nature to want what others want or what we can’t have.)

Like Don and Roger, Pete has consistently been preoccupied with the question of happiness.  If you have everything you think you want, why aren’t you happy?  As he says to his Romeo brother “Why are we always looking for something better – always looking for something else?”

Presented with the opportunity to begin again – he convinces Trudy to start over.  She’s stuck in a rut too, but she initially dismisses him, remembering their relationship without the cloud of nostalgia, but in the end, she opts for reconciliation. In a way, they really are meant for each other; Pete and Trudy have tremendous chemistry together and they share an affinity for their privileges.  Wichita might seem like The Sticks but they’re be royalty there – and having a jet at their disposal will help them remain cosmopolitan.  Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

The character who’s still in the middle of his journey is, of course, Don.   He is literally wandering all over the country.  We last saw him headed to St. Paul and since then, he tells Sally, he’s been in Wyoming and Kansas.  He’s on his way to the Grand Canyon when his car breaks down in Alva, Oklahoma, and he’s forced to hole up in a $6/night motel drinking Rye and reading paperbacks that other guests have left behind.

The good people of Alva seem to fit the cliché of honest down-to-earth Americans and Don even finds a measure of satisfaction in fixing the proprietress’ typewriter and Coke machine (there’s that Coke again!).  But there’s something a little fishy about Andy the housekeeper, who’s a con man like Don, making him pay twice for a bottle of Rye.

Don’s duped into attending a fundraiser at the local American Legion, just like Pete was tricked into dinner with Mr. Lear Jet (there’s a lot of canny editing between the Pete and Don scenes in this episode, switching between them at dinner or drinking).   Don’s treated like a respected compatriot, being a veteran himself.  We’re so accustomed to the conventions of cheesy TV shows that I certainly wasn’t the only viewer who cringed when he was introduced to another Korean War vet (Hey, that’s Pam’s old boyfriend from “The Office”); I fully expected him to point an accusatory finger and bellow, “You’re not Don Draper: You’re Dick Whitman!!!!  But that’s not the kind of show Mad Men is, where obvious coincidences advance the plot.

Instead of a confrontation, the guys drink some more, enjoy an extremely seedy striptease, and end up telling war stories.  Telling these stories is supposed to exorcise the pain, but it doesn’t really seem to be doing the trick.  We hear a grisly story about how during the winter of 1944 a small platoon of G.I’s coldly murdered another small platoon of surrendering Germans.  This is obviously a well-polished story but the teller is still miserable and broken.  So much for talk therapy.

But the safe and welcoming environment of the American Legion hall gives Don a chance to finally tell his story about accidentally killing his commanding officer.  The other veterans are accepting of each other’s war-time atrocities, rationalizing that “you just do what you have to do to get home.”  And “home” is the key word of the episode.  Don says he killed his CO and got to go home.  But of course Don has no home.

Later is transpires that the yokels of Alva Oklahoma are not exactly Norman Rockwell figures.  When the money from the American Legion fundraiser goes missing, they immediately suspect Don, the outsider.  They rough him up and grab his car keys so he can’t leave until he pays them back.  But Don knows that Andy the housekeeper is the culprit and forces him to return the stolen $500.  Lecturing him, but really lecturing himself, he tells Andy that if he takes the money and runs, “you’ll have to become somebody else.  And that’s not what you think it is.”  In another reference to home he says “You think this town is bad now.  Wait until you can never come back.”

Don gets his car back and impetuously gives it to Andy, perhaps recognizing him as a kindred spirit. “Don’t waste this,” Don says, in the final line of the show.  Don’t waste the opportunity to start a new life.  And don’t waste your life either.  And in the final scene, we see Don waiting at the bus stop in the middle of nowhereville  Oklahoma, as lonely and homeless as he ever was.

But that’s just for show I think.  The series finale can go one of two ways: 1) with Don vanishing into the great hinterlands,throwing off his identity and becoming Dick Whitman again; or 2) Doubling down on home and realizing that his home is with his soon-to-be-motherless children.  Personally, I think it’s impossible that Don would let his children become orphans.  I think the ending that we never saw coming is that Don will find acceptance and home by finally becoming a real father.  Which would be a more shocking ending than anyone has ever proposed.

Some other thoughts:

  • This episode takes place from Sunday September 27, 1970, when Pete takes Tammy apple picking on his visitation day, to Sunday October 4, the day after the American Legion fundraiser.  This can be dated by the Redd Foxx appearance on the Flip Wilson show, which Don is watching in his hotel room and which occurred on Thursday October 1.

  • The closing song – Buddy Holly’s “Every Day” – is the second time this half season that Matt Weiner has closed with a song from the 1950’s (the previous being Dean Martin’s “Money Burns a Hole in My Pocket”).  It’s possible that the rights to these songs are cheaper than songs from 1970, or maybe Weiner’s trying to demonstrate a continuity between the Fifties and the Seventies.    In this episode, there’s a geographical connection because Don’s in Oklahoma and Holly was from neighboring Texas.  But the opening line is a bit haunting considering that so much of the episode is taken up with admonitions not to waste your life: “Every day, it’s a getting closer/Faster than a roller coaster.”  The song is about love coming closer but in this context, you also sense that Death itself is coming faster than a roller coaster.

  • Buddy Holly, of course, was killed in a plane crash and there was feverish speculation this week about Don turning into D.B. Cooper, who famously hijacked and then jumped out of a plane in 1970. I doubt the Buddy Holly song was made in direct response to this theory, but there is another aviation reference with Lear Jet, so who knows.
  • The title of the episode was “Milk and Honey Route” — a term defined by hobo sociologist Nels Anderson  in his book “The Milk and Honey Route: a Handbook for Hobos.”  This is the third episode in the series with a title explicitly alluding to hobos.  There’s also “The Hobo Code” from Season One and “The Gypsy and the Hobo” from Season Three.  In Mad Men, the hobo is one aspect of the American character on steroids.  There’s a long strain of rootlessness in American culture, from the cowboy constantly moving on to another place in the west to the beatniks in “On The Road,” which was mentioned in last week’s episode.  But the hobo, who is constantly on the move and constantly begging is an extreme example of that, and Don has never really thrown off his feeling of being a hobo.  Regarding the Milk and Homey Route itself, here’s what Anderson himself says: “The road the real hobo follows is never ending. It is always heading into the sunset of promise but it never fully keeps its promise. Thus the road the hobo roams always beckons him on, much as does the undealt card in a game of stud. Every new bend of the road is disillusioning but never disappointing, so that once you get the spirit of the hobo you never reach the stone wall of utter disillusionment. You follow on hopefully from one bend of the road to another, until in the end you step off the cliff.”

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  •  That was a very sad scene with Henry and the doctor discussing Betty’s prognosis right in front of her, as if she wasn’t there.  The men will handle this dear.
  • Matt Weiner, a child of the Seventies, has consistently said that Mad Men is the story of how his parent’s generation screwed things up and left a tornado of divorce, emotional ruin, and sexual permissiveness for his own generation to handle, and we can see that with Sally.  A 16-year-old girl being forced to comfort her grieving step-father, plan her mother’s funeral and be a second mother to her brothers, all the while trying to stay sane after growing up with a self-destructive father and a narcissistic mother.   That’s a heavy burden for poor Sally Draper.
  • Wise words: When Henry angrily asks Betty what would Nelson Rockefeller do if he had this disease, she yells back, “He would die.”  And he would too.
  • Pete takes Tammy apple-picking at Lyman Orchards, a real place in Middletown CT.  I’ve actually picked apples there with my own son when he was young.  I wonder if Pete and Tammy where there with Tammy’s little boy.  They would have been about the right age.
  • This episode features two obvious callbacks to Alfred Hitchcock movies.  First the motel where Don is staying reminds us of The Bates Motel from “Psycho.”  Second, that closing scene of Don at the bus stop looks a lot like Cary Grant out in the middle of nowhere in “North By Northwest.”

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  • Not a lot of humor in this episode, but there was the scene where Duck tells Pete he’ll get along fine with Mr. Lear Jet because he’s Princeton ’52.  Pete is all huffy  because he’s Dartmouth ’56.  Duck: “I know that.  Don’t pretend that you’re not going to jack each other off.” Which resulted in this response on Twitter:  “@popinattic I always knew that was what happens when people from Ivy League schools get together!”
  • Of all the ridiculous excuses for having an affair, the one Pete’s brother comes up is the worst: my wife likes it that women are attracted to me.  As if!!
  • Oh how I wish we could have had more Alison Brie during this series.  Trudy is indomitable and no one’s patsy.  She’s privileged and thinks it’s her right, but she’s always charming enough to bring it off.

Not seen in this episode: Peggy, Joan, Roger.  My guess is that we’ve seen the last of Pete and possibly the last of Joan, but we still need to wrap up Peggy and Roger’s story.  And of course, there’s that burning issue of what happens to Don.  There were no coming attractions so we can’t be sure what characters will be seen next week.  All I know is that according to my DVR, next week’s show is an hour and 15 minutes.

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It’s moving day for the good folks at the entity formerly known as Sterling Cooper & Partners, and it’s not going well. Between the bureaucratic snafus, the misogyny, the bad jokes and overall culture clash, many of our favorite characters are not adapting easily to their forced relocation to the Evil Empire (aka McCann Erickson).

As someone who’s participated in a few corporate relocations and witnessed many others close at hand, my stomach hurt throughout the entire episode of “Lost Horizon,” which is the next-to-the-next-to-last episode of Mad Men. It is deeply unnerving to be yanked out of your comfort zone and thrust into new offices, with new colleagues and new assignments. It’s like going from elementary school to middle school: a transition that almost everyone has to make at one time or another, but which is usually miserable for the first few weeks.

What makes this particular transition so fraught is that McCann is a totally different beast than SC&P. They might technically be in the same business but their organizations are nothing alike. It’s now apparent that SC&P really was a boutique agency run by a handful of idiosyncratic partners by the seat of their pants. Like a family, it was sometimes dysfunctional, but at least it operated on a human scale. By contrast, McCann is a massive operation, with bureaucratic layers, redundancies on top of redundancies, and warrens of narrow halls and windowless offices. It’s not for nothing that the women who come to Joan hoping to get onto her accounts joke about letting the “Soviets” (e.g., the bureaucrats) figure out how to make the assignments work.

As in real life, the way the SC&P alumni react to their new reality is driven by a combination of circumstance, personality, history and opportunity. Here, in descending order of happiness are how our heroes are handling it:

Getting alone fine. Pete and Ted seem to be fitting right in. Last week Pete denounced Ted as a sheep but he’s not much better. Both are willing to play the corporate game. To them, this is just a job and they are making the best of the situation and are maybe even set to thrive because they’re willing to try not too hard. There’s also Harry Crane, who’s thrilled to be going to McCann. He never got the respect he thought he deserved at SC&P and believes the move to McCann will be his “moment.” McCann is “Mission Control” (i.e., the operation room from which NASA runs the space missions). I’m still betting that he doesn’t survive at McCann given his relative doltishness, but for now he’s fine.

Not going but resigned to it. Roger’s back-up secretary Shirley resigns rather than go to McCann. “Advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone,” she explains. Especially for women and African Americans, she doesn’t say because she doesn’t need to. Roger is sorry to see her go because he’s losing another familiar face, but in his typical all-about-me fashion, he never bothered to inquire before now whether she was going to be taken care of at the new place. Then there’s Ed, one of Peggy’s minions, who was not asked to go to McCann, but is hanging around the empty SC&P offices to make long distant phone calls. Passive and cynical, he prepares a satirical ad about Dow Chemical, saying it can clean up a quagmire (a reference to Down’s role in Vietnam, widely recognized at this point as being a quagmire.)

Needing to be pushed. Peggy and Roger, who haven’t interacted as far as we know since he paid her several hundred dollars to work with him on a Memorial Weekend a few season back, are the last evacuees from the S.S. SC&P. Peggy refuses to go to McCann until she has an office – apparently the McCann office manager saw her name on a list, assumed she was a secretary and sent her and the other secretaries a nice basket of flowers instead of an office. Rather than sit in the McCann office pool or work from home, she heads to the empty SC&P offices, where she first encounters Ed (see above) and then Roger, who’s supposedly packing but is really just doing an impersonation of the Phantom of the Opera by playing the organ in a deserted, half-deconstructed floor.

Roger’s feeling sorry for himself because he inadvertently caused the destruction of the SC&P business by selling it to McCann, not realizing they would eventually swallow it up and dispense with the Sterling name. Reluctant to move to his new office (located on a floor that resembles “a nursing home”) he’s procrastinating as long as possible.   When Peggy wanders into his organ recital, he first tries to get her to run an errand and buy some booze (an offer she rejects out of hand) before finally drinking the day away with her bottle of Cinzano (how they didn’t throw up after consuming so much Vermouth, I’ll never understand. )

The blunt way that Peggy deals with Roger is hilarious. She’s never really been scared of him – back in Season Two she asked for and got Freddy Rumson’s vacant office when her male colleagues were afraid to. Now after listening to him yak she tells him that he doesn’t need help, he needs “an audience;” that he’s the one responsible for the mess they’re in; that he was “supposed to look out for us;” and that SC&P “looks good now but was miserable when you ran it,” an assertion she quickly disavows.

Finally they buck each other up, through a experience when Roger was in the Navy and needed to be pushed from the deck of his ship to swim in the water below. In the end, they agree that they each need a push for this next stage of life, that it’s not the end of the road for either of them, and that Peggy might get her own name on the door one day. This leads to two of the greatest wordless scenes in Mad Men history: Peggy roller skating while Roger plays the organ and then Peggy strutting into McCann oozing confidence – with sunglasses, a cigarette on her lip and Bert Cooper’s erotic Japanese drawing.   It looks like she won’t get a happy romantic ending when the series ends, but she’ll do fine at McCann.

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I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore: Joan’s situation is the opposite of Peggy’s: she’s got the romantic ending but not the job. McCann Erickson, we quickly learn, is a cesspool of what we used to call make chauvinism. We get a taste of that in an early scene when two women copy writers come sniffing around looking to work on Avon, Butler Shoe and her other female-oriented accounts. They too seem to be in a female ghetto, working only on feminine brands. They invite her to an after-hours women’s group at the Oyster Bar, but are quick to assure her it’s not a women’s lib thing and strictly for “consciousness lowering.”

But it doesn’t get downright ugly until she and Dennis, the cretin who told her several episodes ago that she should work on a brassiere account, try to transition the Avon account via speaker phone. Dennis, who is both arrogant and lazy, interrupts Joan’s introduction and tries to impress the client with Big Agency perks, including a golf outing at Augusta National. Oops. The guy’s in a wheelchair, which Dennis would have known if he’d read Joan’s written briefing or remembered her oral briefing.  He gets all indignant when she calls him out, saying “I’m sorry, who told you you get to get pissed off,” adding, as he storms out of the office, “I thought you were going to be fun.”

Joan takes it up with Ferg Donnelly, Jim Hobart’s hatchet man, who says he’ll replace Dennis on the account himself and proposes a trip to Atlanta where all he really wants is a good time. There was a time when a younger Joan might have put up with this kind of thing and maybe even turned it to her advantage through flirtation and humor, but her tolerance for sexual harassment burned out a long time ago. Plus, as her boyfriend advises, she doesn’t have to put up with any job she doesn’t want.

She marches into Jim Hobart’s office and tries to get Ferg taken off the account. She quickly confirms what she already suspected. The boys at McCann don’t value or her clients. Let’s face it – even Avon is small potatoes next to Miller Beer, Coca Cola and Nabisco. As far as Hobart is concerned, she’s just an adornment to his real objective, which was to bring Don Draper into the firm. He quickly tires of her demands, especially when she backs them up with a threat to sue on unspecified equality issues. She wants the remaining $500,000 due to her and he counters with an offer of 50 cents on the dollar. Initially she refuses but finally accepts when Roger talks her into it. It’s not about the money, she says; “It’s only about the money,” he says. In addition to what she’s already been paid, she walks away with a quarter of a million dollars, her Rolodex, her photo of Kevin and her dignity.

Not handling it well at all. Finally we come to the story of Don Draper. The whole McCann acquisition was done for one reason: to bring Don Draper into the McCann fold. Jim Hobart admits as much, calling Don his “white whale,” apparently forgetting that at the end of “Moby Dick” the great beast takes Captain Ahab and his crew to their doom. Hobart rolls out the red carpet and lavishes Don with praise but fails the most basic function of management, which is knowing how to motivate talent. By imperiously deciding to integrate SC&P into McCann without consulting the SC&P partners, he essentially destroys the value of his investment. He loses Joan’s clients, loses the clients that are conflicted (Burger Chef, Peter Pan, Sunkist, etc.) and ultimately loses Don too.

Hobart’s philosophy of life is that “when I see something that I want, I buy it.” What Hobart never understood is that Don is not motivated by money. Coming from nothing, Don is proud of having reinvented himself and building his own company. He has zero interest in working at a place like McCann, where idiots like Ferg Donnelly run the show. (It’s a bad sign when Freg tries to do a Don Draper imitation – “I’m working very diligently on the matter at hand” – that sounds much more like Dick Nixon than Dick Whitman and Hobart laughs like it’s funny. Who wants to work with people like that?)

Don’s first big meeting is with the team trying to decide how to sell Miller’s diet beer. Sitting in a room with more than a dozen other McCann creative directors, all drinking identical Coke’s, taking the same notes, eating the same boxed lunches, Don listens to a research consultant describe the target Miller customer. The consultant uses data to draw a word picture that Don might have done through intuition ten years ago. Having sat through the the PR agency equivalent of this meeting, I got the willies watching it unfold.  Will this be Don’s fate too, to sit in a conference room with boring while guys, playing corporate mind games?

Gazing out the window at a jet plane passing behind the Empire State Building, Don is lost in a reverie of day dreams until he carries himself and his roast beef box lunch out of the room. In typical fashion, he has forgotten that he’s supposed to take Sally back to Miss Porter’s School for the new term. He shows up late at the Francis home only to discover Sally already caught a ride with another girl. And then we have a scene of great tenderness and reconciliation. Betty is mildly complaining about being fatigued from carrying her textbooks (when she’s probably really overwhelmed by Freud). Don massages the back of her neck, flirtatiously suggests that she find a freshman to carry them for her, affirms her attractiveness, and then exits with the killer line: “Knock ‘em dead Birdie,” using his old endearment.

With this part of his life healed, Don doesn’t return to the city – instead he drives west, to find Diana Bauer, the depressing waitress who has inexplicably transfixed him this year. Driving through the night he hallucinates a conversation with Bert Cooper, who tells him, “You like to play the stranger.” Don evokes Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece “On the Road,” that’s Fifties paean to rootlessness, motion and expanded consciousness. A perfect Don Draper book.

Diana is not at Chez Bauer in Racine, Wisconsin and neither her ex-husband, nor the new Mrs. Bauer know where she is. Who is there, however, is Diana’s daughter, a sad reminder of Diana’s abandonment. When her ex-husband sees through both of Don’s cover stories, he says, “I’m worried about her. She seems so lost.” But the husband replies that she’s a “tornado” leaving broken people in her wake. Don must have known that he wouldn’t find any trace of her in Racine, so off he goes again aimlessly. He picks up a hitch hiker headed to St. Paul, and Don agrees to take him there as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” swells in the background.

Don is now literally on the road again. He was always threatening to take off when feeling endangered – he even wildly suggested to Rachel Menken that they run off to California when he feared that his background would be uncovered in Season One. Now he’s finally done it. At this point only a fool would predict what will happen in the final two episodes.

Some other thoughts:

— This episode, like the previous two, is hard to date in time, but I’m guessing it’s the week after Labor Day in 1970. Last week was apparently early August and the thirty remaining days on the SC&P lease must have ended on Sept, 1.

— The title of the episode, “Lost Horizon,” refers to a famous Frank Capra movie from the 1930s about a traveler who stumbles upon Shangri-La and has to decide whether to stay or return to the real world. This was discussed in my recap of last year’s episode called “Time Zones,” because Don was watching that movie during a visit to Megan’s. At the time I thought California itself represented Shangri-La but now I think anything that’s not the old Don Draper world would be a paradise to Don. Here’s a scene:

— I love that the episode closed with “Space Oddity,” a truly weird and out-there song, even today. The original video from 1969 makes it clear that Bowie was influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey,” something I never realized but which seems blindingly obvious now. This movie, was obviously alluded to many times in last year’s episode “The Monolith.”

— The philosophical difference between the way Joan and Peggy advance at work has been a running conflict since the very start of the season. A product of the Fifties, Joan says women should get ahead through feminine guile since her beauty is her strongest asset, but Peggy believes in talent, hard work and asking directly for what she wants. We now see how that plays out and it doesn’t look good for Joan.  As much as I sympathize with her predicament (and she was briefly trending on Twitter last night so she has a lot of support in 2015, at least), she can hardly become a feminist hero by just dropping Betty Friedan’s name and threatening to bring in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Instead of fighting for herself and the other women in the office (previously not a concern of hers), she takes the money and runs after less than a week on the job. And she’s not smart about the way she plays it. Instead of telling Ferg that Dennis insulted the wheelchair-bound client by inviting him to play golf, she just mentions vague client discomfort. Instead of telling Hobart that Ferg is sexually harassing she falls back on her previous status at SC&P. She immediately threatens a lawsuit rather than trying to work things out and to make matters worse, throws away the one piece of incriminating evidence she has at her disposal – Freg’s note offering to take her away for the weekend. How would Ferg’s wife like to see that? The men are pigs but she has nothing to prove in a court of law. She quits because she can. Peggy, on the other hand, decides to challenge the McCann culture on her own terms, proudly brandishing Cooper’s Octopus/geisha drawing. She originally told Roger that she knew she couldn’t afford to make the men feel uncomfortable but now seems very intent on making them very uncomfortable.

— Joan says she’s going to call a lawyer, but after this show I bet it’s the real-life McCann who calls the lawyers. Last week there was considerable discussion in the real world about McCann being a place that was more welcoming to women in 1970 than the other agencies and the must hate the way they are being held up as examples of 1970’s Neanderthal behavior.  I also can’t imagine that The New York Times is very happy either by the assertion that McCann could kill any negative story in the Times because of the amount of advertising space they bought.  And here’s a Tweet about the Ladies HomeJournal strike, which occurred on March 19, 1970.  I guess the NYT wasn’t particularly afraid of the Ladies Home Journal since they covered that incident.

— There’s been a lot of discussion this year about how out-of-step Don is by refusing to adopt the funky Seventies look, but the guys at McCann Erickson are even more caught in a time warp than he is.  Ferg says it’s a shirt-sleeve culture, which means the guys don’t wear their jackets all the time, but they do all look alike in their short hair and white shirts.  With his mustache and hip clothes, Ted is completely out of sync with the rest of the McCann men.

— The guys at McCann may seem like drones but transforming “diet beer” into “Miller Lite” (“Tastes good! Less Filling!”) was one of their most brilliant successes.  As this commercial below makes clear, no one who drank Miller Lite had to feel feminized.

— Don has a view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral so McCann must be on Madison Ave near 50th Street. When he arrives at his office and lingers at the whistling window, a shiver of excitement ran through all of Mad Men Nation. There’s been a huge debate over whether he will jump out a window to end the series and, well maybe this was the moment!!! Nope, I think this was just Matt Weiner yanking our chain.

— Poor Meredith.  Betty calls her a moron, which she most certainly isn’t.  Jim Hobart comes looking for Don at his office and she covers for him perfectly.  But in her final shot she looks worried for him.  Now she’ll never get to decorate his apartment.

— I love how Joan and Don say they’ll have lunch sometime, and Peggy promises Ed she’ll call him when she gets to McCann. That’ll never happen, as I’ve discovered through years of trying to follow-up on those vague lunch invitations.

— I doubt it’s the psychology textbooks but Betty finally does seem to have grown up. “She comes and goes as she pleases, “she says of Sally. “And we can’t get mad at her for being independent. It’s normal.” This from a woman who needed her own psychiatrist in Season One.

— I just Googled the driving distance from New York City to Racine. 13 and a half hours. So I guess it’s doable in the time frame in whuich Don did it.

— I hope we’re all adults, because here’s the Bert Cooper painting (Dreams of a Fisherman’s Wife, from 1814). It’s even more provocative than I imagined from seeing it on TV.

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McCann Conference Room

All season long our friends on Mad Men have been grappling with the question of how to achieve satisfaction in a material world – a very material world. If they don’t achieve their dreams the mad men aren’t happy; but if they DO reach them they’re STILL unhappy. This theme continues in spades in “Time & Life,” although there are finally a few glimpses of what might bring contentment.

I hope you liked “Time & Life” as much as I did, because it’s probably the end of the line for the Mad Men we’ve all come to enjoy so much. The road ahead is uncertain. We could jump ahead a month, a year or five years.   The Mad Men formula as introduced in the pilot has held firm for seven TV seasons and ten plot years. The premise of the show is that we are following eight to ten characters as they interact in a 1960’s ad agency. Well, the Sixties are over and so is the agency.

In a last-ditch effort to keep Don from being fired in July 1969, Roger arranged for Sterling Cooper to be acquired by the giant agency McCann Erickson. He dangled the McCann millions in front of the SCP partners and they all grabbed it and became rich. Now it’s a year later – July 1970 (which we know because Don hasn’t moved out of his apartment yet) – and the partners are reaping the consequences of selling out. They no longer control their own fate. SCP is being swallowed up by McCann and the partners are wage slaves of the corporate behemoth. If they want to keep their millions they have to work at McCann for four more years.

I always enjoy Mad Men most when it focuses on corporate machinations, and this episode was a gem. The gang is back together for one more time as they try to squirm out of the trap they’ve set for themselves.   In one of the great Matt Weiner decoys, Don comes up with the brilliant idea to open a satellite agency in California using their existing but conflicted clients as a base. For a few minutes, every fan could envision how the rest of the series would play out: with Don in California – the land that has always meant freedom and a reconnection to his true self. It’s fun to watch them cobble together a plan, just as they did in “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” that great episode at the end of Season Three, when they escaped the clutches of their then-British owner Puttnam, Powell, and Lowe, which was being sold to, of all people, McCann Erickson.

They avoid being swallowed up by McCann in 1963 but not this time around. When they present their idea for a California agency to Jim Hobart he shuts them down fast. He’s not interested in sending them off to LA to form a California subsidiary – he’s not interested in Sterling Cooper in any form. As far as he’s concerned, what he’s bought is talent and clients. He tells them they “passed the test” and that he’s giving the five SCP partners five of the most desirable jobs in advertising; they’ll be able to experience “travel, adventure, international presence.”  And, joy of joys, they’ll be able to work on some of the biggest brands in advertising. He tells them they’ve died and gone to “advertising heaven,” and the way he pronounces the names of the brands, you’d think he was reciting the celestial spheres of heaven from Dante’s “Paradiso.” Buick, Ortho Pharmaceutical, Nabisco and most heavenly of all, Coca Cola. Let the choirs of angels rejoice!

By rights, the partners should be happy, since they’ve achieved their professional goals and could even have better prospects ahead. But they’ve lost their independence.  How much more confident they were when they first rented the space in the Time & Life Building (see below compared to the boardroom photo above) than when then leave it.

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The lease for the SCP headquarters at the Time & Life Building is up in 30 days, which means that the next time we see our friends they’ll be dispersed within the McCann empire. Maybe they’ll be working together and maybe they won’t. And this, I have to say, feels like real life. People work together for years and years, become friends and maybe even create workplace families, but then it’s over and life goes on. Where Mad Men is headed is someplace we almost never see on TV: what happens when the natural “story” of a series is over. The Sterling Cooper tale is complete but the show continues for three more episodes.

In the final scene we see the further consequences of the sell-out. The partners pull together the SCP employees to announce the news and a revolt nearly breaks out. Sensing that the partners are no longer their bosses, the staff grumbles and eventually disperses, not bothering to listen to their platitudes. Even Don can’t summon them back with his forcefulness and eloquence: “This is the beginning of something,” he shouts at them, “not the end.” No one’s listening by this point. The old Draper magic is gone.

The corporate plot was great, but “Time & Life” was an episode that fired on all cylinders. In addition to the edge-of-your-seat corporate machinations, the episode featured laugh-out-loud humor and a remarkably touching sub-plot about Peggy’s dark secret.

Like most of the episodes this season, much in “Time & Life” harkens back to Season One. Certainly we are meant to recall that Jim Hobart tried to recruit Don to McCann in 1960, which is how Don ended up a partner at Sterling Cooper. And Roger bellows “Joan, come in here,” just like he did in Season One (although he gets a very different response now, when she simply says: “Don’t do that.”). But the real call-back to Season One is the allusion to Peggy’s baby, conceived in the pilot episode because of Pete’s selfish need for affirmation on the eve of his wedding.

We have seen that Peggy is nervous around children, and Stan jokes that she hates kids, which is a dagger to her heart. They are trying to cast children for that lousy Tinkerbell cookie ad they came up with last episode, and Pete melts a little when he sees one of the urchins embracing Peggy in a loving way. Only Don and Pete know about her pregnancy, and only Pete knows he’s the father, a secret never spoken of by anyone.

The issue boils over when one of the stage mothers leaves her daughter behind for the try-out while she goes to pick up her son who’s at a casting call somewhere else. The little girl staples her finger, which freaks out the mother, causing Peggy to get all judgey: “you shouldn’t have abandoned her in a midtown office building,” (good point) and “I bet you love cashing her checks.” The mother has the ultimate put-down, though, “You do what you want with your children and I’ll do what I want with mine.”

This leads to one of the most touching scenes in Mad Men history, with Peggy gradually letting Stan in on her secret. Peggy chastises Stan for judging the Mom (even though she just did it herself) saying he doesn’t know anything about her circumstances. It slowly becomes clear that the conversation — on choices and the consequences of mistakes — has evolved from being about the Mom to being about Peggy. And what a great friend Stan is, absorbing her criticism and just listening as she asserts “she should be able to live the rest of her life like a man does,” in other words, a life without constant regret for her mistakes. “No one should have to make a mistake – just like a man does – and not be able to move on.” Of course she has no idea what Pete thinks about having a son that he’s never met, but she assumes that he’s moved on without pain.

As for that son, she explains, “I’m here, and he’s with a family somewhere. 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 get on with your life.” Fantastic acting in this scene by Elizabeth Moss, Scientology membership notwithstanding.   And beautifully directed – in a show with many short, information-packed scenes, this scene lingered beautifully, as the secret slowly unfolded.

All season long – all series-long really – Mad Men has confronted the Peggy Lee question: is that all there is? There was less despair in “Time & Life” than in previous episodes, but the characters are still unhappy with the consequences of their decisions, even though they all nominally have the material rewards they crave. Joan worries that she won’t be taken seriously at McCann, Roger’s worried that the Sterling name is dying out, and Don is unhappy that money and security doesn’t bring satisfaction.

There are a few clues, though, on a way out. When Joan tells her new squeeze Richard that she’s having a bad day at work, he says a bad day at work can’t be that bad, something we never understand until we are away from work and have perspective on what’s important. More pointedly, Jim Hobart tells the partners to stop struggling – because they’ve won. “Stop the struggling” is excellent advice in all aspects of life. And Pete goes all Zen in the cab with Joan.   “For the first time I feel like whatever happens is supposed to happen. “ The Dalai Lama could not have said it better.

And there is, after all, one character who’s reasonably happy – Ted. In the previous episode, “The Forecast,” his prosaic dream – to get a major pharmaceutical client – seemed like a joke on limited expectations, but here he is at McCann, getting to work on Ortho Pharmaceutical and he’s happy as a clam. He was a wreck at the end of both Season Six and Seven(a), in a bad marriage and feeling guilty about his kids. Now we learn that his wife stayed in California when he moved back to NYC and for some reason his spirits have soared. He has reconnected with his college girlfriend, who’s gorgeous, not too young, and a little bit deep; he’s developed self-awareness and compassion, acknowledging that Don should have gone to California instead of him; and he seems professionally satisfied, while somehow understanding that a job is not an identity. He might have a terrible Seventies moustache, but he could provide a path for the rest of his colleagues if they want to find fulfillment in life.

Some other thoughts on the episode:

— The closing song, “Money Burns a Hole in my Pocket” is a 1954 Dean Martin hit. Dino was one of those guys like Frank Sinatra and Don Draper who peaked in the Fifties and early Sixties and seemed corny and out of step in 1970. The song itself is anachronistic but the lyrics, with the implication that money will buy happiness, are not: (“Money burns a hole in my pocket/How I wish I had millions of dollars and nothing to do/But just buy pretty presents for you.)

— This was one of the all-time funniest episodes, and who would have thought the high point would be a scene with Pete and Trudy? Any scene with Trudy is by definition a call back to the first season, when she always managed to get what she wanted out of Pete. They’ve been estranged for years but come together in a joint crusade to get little Tammy into the exclusive Greenwich Country Day School, where the Campbells have been attending since it was a barn. Trudy first thinks Tammy’s being blackballed because she and Pete are divorced, but the headmaster, a Mr. MacDonald, explains that it was because she failed her “draw a man test.” But the truth will out: it seems he has a prejudice against all Campbells because the Campbell clan (supporters of King William after the Glorious Revolution of 1688) massacred the MacDonalds (supporters of the recently deposed King James) at the Battle of Glencoe. The complete absurdity of this feud still causing trouble 300 years later is what gives this incident its humor, to say nothing of how Pete defends the Campbell honor (“The king ordered it!”) before finally punching the headmaster, who responds “Another sucker punch for the Campbells!”

slug

Never take a nap in front of a sleep stabber

— The other hilarious incident is when Lou Avery calls Don to quit because his moronic cartoon, Scout’s Honor, has been picked up by a Japanese syndication company. “I wish I could see your face now,” Lou cackles, assuming that Don gives a rat’s ass about him and his $15,000 advance. “Sayonara, my friend. Enjoy the rest of your miserable life.” He then hangs up so very pleased with himself.

— The episode was directed by Jared Harris, who played Lane Pryce in earlier seasons. A nice touch that Harris was directing when Pete punched MacDonald, given that Lane was the one who beat up Pete several seasons ago.

— Lou’s minor victory leaves open the possibility that the only two Md Men characters who will have ever achieved their dream will be the two villains from Season Seven(a) – Lou Avery himself and Jim Cutler, who got his million and doesn’t have to work at McCann.

Someone else who gets to live out his fantasy is Ken, who gets to fire Roger and Pete. From Ken’s perspective, though, he’s going to find that the momentary satisfaction of getting revenge on your co-workers fades fast when he’s trapped in a job he hates.

Exeunt Time & Life Building. We hardly knew ye. Here’s a little background of the Time & Life building during the Mad Men days.

There is some age-appropriate romancing going on in this episode. Ted and his college sweetheart; Roger and Marie Calvert; the growing romance between Joan and Mr. Leisure Suit; potentially a reconciliation between Trudy and Pete (she seemed very impressed with the way he defended her honor: “Peter, you can’t punch everyone.”)

People are surprisingly tender with each other: Peggy and Stan (as discussed); Pete and Joan consoling each other in the cab; Joan laying her head on Roger’s shoulder when they get the bad news about the move to McCann; Peggy bucking Pete up (“You’ll do great”); Joan hugging Don (“We went down swinging.”)

Let’s remember that if Joan is unhappy with her situation, it’s her own fault. As “Benedict Joan,” she precipitated the sale to McCann last year by siding with Cutler in his campaign against Don. It was only in desperation to save Don that Roger sought out the McCann deal in the first place.

Once again, a stellar episode for Meredith, refusing to give Don his Alka Seltzer until he clears the air with the staff, insisting on knowing if she’ll be joining him at McCann, hanging around Don’s office too long until she’s shoed out, and generally asserting herself – so sweetly – where she doesn’t belong.

Diana, the Waitress So Sad, called and left two messages for Don, then suddenly moved out of her apartment. All of Mad Men Nation heaved a sigh of relief when two gay guys (and not Diana) were discovered to be living in that rat-hole.   I’m sure everyone is as uneasy as I about where this is headed, though. I’d have sworn we’d seen the end of her.

— Peggy continues to channel her inner Hermione Granger. When the headhunter comes by to discuss her career, she sprightly asks “Who wants me?” This on top of last week’s request for a praise-laden performance review.

— For the second episode in a row, there were no historical signifiers. If Don hadn’t been still in his apartment, we would not know it was early July 1970.

— Not to be overly granular, but didn’t McCann only buy 51% of Sterling Cooper and Partners? If so, should they pay for the remaining 49% before dissolving the company? That should be another windfall for the remaining partners.

— Harry Crane thinks the new arrangements will be great.  Which almost certainly means that Harry Crane will be fired.  Does McCann really need another media buyer?

Am I the only one who wishes AMC would step handling the countdown this way? “Only two more episodes until the Series Finale.” Can we just say three episodes left, please?

Don in office the forecast

Sunday’s Mad Man starts and ends with someone standing outside the door of Don’s apartment, an apartment that has become a heavy-handed metaphor for both Don himself and Sixties culture in general. That apartment was the embodiment of the decade’s dreams just five years ago, with Megan singing Zou Bisou Bisou. It was so glamorous that once Betty got a look at it she had to run home and squirt whipped cream in her mouth.

Here’s the apartment at the peak of its glamour

Now, like much of modernist architecture, it’s decaying – not built to last, with a white rug that shows everything and no furniture to evoke a happy living environment. In her frustration at not being able to sell the place, Don’s realtor Melanie says, “It looks like a sad person lives here – and what happened? He got divorced, spilled wine on the carpet and didn’t care enough to replace it. … These place reeks of failure.”

Engaging in a bit of revisionist history, Don says, “A lot of wonderful things happened here,” although any steady viewer would be hard-pressed to recall anything wonderful about the arguments, cheap sex and embarrassing child-rearing mishaps we’ve witnessed there. Since he can’t be bothered to replace any of the furniture that Megan’s mother stole, he tells Melanie (who looks disturbingly like Betty, by the way) that she should sell the place by telling a story – the kind of thing that he does to sell products. He may believe in his power to cast a spell on a susceptible audience, but she pooh-poohs the idea – people buy real estate with their eyes open, she says.

Yet in the end, the apartment does sell. To a young and very pregnant couple – a couple at the beginning of their lives, with their dreams still in front of them. They probably adored the penthouse view. Or maybe they saw beyond the stained rug and glimpsed a life of possibility. And at the end, Don is left standing in the empty lobby, displaced from his home by a more future-filled family, with no home, no wife, no plan and no ties at all, really. He has all the freedom he could want and the final four episodes of the series will be about what Don does with that freedom.

But what does he actually want to do with that freedom? This was not a very subtle episode. Don’s quest for meaning in a world where all his material wants and needs are satisfied is evoked again and again. The ostensible trigger point for this navel-gazing is that Roger needs to provide his benevolent overlords at McCann with a company update and statement of goals (ugh, how I have hated writing these!)  He asks Don to write the “vision” part of the report, something he could normally wrote in his sleep. But he’s got writers block, somehow conflating a banal corporate report about the firm’s goals and objectives with his personal meaning of life.

Roger has asked Don to write a “Gettysburg Address,” by which I suppose he means he wants Don to throw in some eloquent, soaring rhetoric, but if there’s one speech that shouldn’t be used as a model for a corporate vision statement, it’s the Gettysburg Address.  Lincoln’s famous speech is meant to remember and honor the past, with a special emphasis on the honored dead. But the reference to the Gettysburg Address is more appropriate than Roger realizes since much of this new season has been about dealing with the past – everything from dead mistresses, to ex-wives and former clients. You don’t need Dr. Phil to tell you that it would be healthy for Don to confront the past in an honest way and then move on, but not as someone who only likes beginnings, but as someone who can build on a beginning.

And what does Don want out of life? Now that Sterling Cooper has been acquired by McCann, he has serious financial security, but, as he tells Ted, he has “less to actually do and more to think about.” When he quizzes Ted and Peggy on their dreams, they both answer prosaically. Ted’s answer in particular is hilarious in the way it’s shot. You know what I’d love, he says, slowly, thoughtfully dragging it out, so that you expect him to say “write a book” or “spend a year in France learning how to run a winery.” Instead he finally spits out that he dreams of landing a pharmaceutical company (i.e., a really big client.)

Don pushes Peggy a little harder, and we’ve seen Peggy dream of a different life, but her answers aren’t that much better. She wants to be the agency’s first women creative director. She wants to do something “big.” Maybe even come up with a famous catch phrase (imagine the immortality of the creative director who came up with “Where’s the beef?” Truly something for the tombstone!) Finally she says she wants to create something of lasting value, but storms out when Don scoffs, “in advertising?”

In the end, we never see if Don ever did come up with an acceptable vision statement for Sterling Cooper. Instead we get that vision of him standing alone outside his own symbolically-important empty apartment as he heads into yet another phase of life.

The passage of time – including how we deal with the past and future – are central to this episode’s two other storylines, which concern the surprise appearance of two very different men: Glen Bishop and Richard Burghoff.

We haven’t seen Glen Bishop in a few years and when his 18-year-old self shows up at the Francis Mausoleum with long sideburns and chest hair more than one audience member gasped. Glenn is played by Matt Weiner’s son, Marten Holden Weiner, which adds an extra element of weirdness to any scene he’s in because Matt claims not to think of Glen as “creep.” How he cannot see this is beyond me. Ten years ago he was spying on Betty in the toilet and seeking out locks of her hair. And he’s not a very good actor, which lends an air of strange stiltedness to the characterization.

In any event, the last time Betty and Glen conversed, Glen had run away from home (after Glen’s mother had banished them from seeing each other after the lock-of-hair scandal) and hidden in the Draper playhouse. Ten-year-old Glen wanted to take Betty away from all her troubles and “rescue” her. Now that he’s all hirsute and grown up, she doesn’t recognize him at the door, and is taken aback to discover that her daughter has been carrying on with him in secret all these many years.

Betty’s not the only one taken aback. Sally realizes that Glen has a thing for her mother when he wants to have a beer and visit with Betty rather than go to an amusement park with Sally and his girlfriend. And when she finds out that Glen has enlisted (by listening as Glen tells Betty about it) she blows a gasket and runs off.

As if this wasn’t emotionally freighted enough, Glen shows up at the Francises the next day knowing that Sally won’t be there and makes a pass at Betty, something he’s obviously been planning for ten years. Talk about playing the long game!  All of Weiner-land held its collective breath at this scene – it would be morally incestuous for Betty to give in, but you can’t be sure what will happen since she’s obviously taking pleasure in being admired by this now-virile young man. Fortunately, she turns him down (letting him down easily by explaining she’s married, instead of the more appropriate “Are you friggin’ kidding me – I’m literally old enough to be your mother.”)

Once his advances are rebuffed Glen, reverts to the little boy and comes clean on why he joined the army. He had justified it to Sally as idealism (i.e., he was bothered that “a bunch of Negro kids [were] dying while we just sat at home getting stoned.”) Then he tells Betty that he wanted her to think it was because he was “brave and wanted to protect this country and everyone in it.” But the truth, as he finally confesses, is that he flunked out of college and rather than face the wrath of his stepfather, enlisted to make him happy. In other words, instead of doing something brave, he’s doing something cowardly (although, to be honest, he probably would have been drafted anyway, so better to take control of the situation.) The moment at the end, where Betty brings his hand to her face is sweet and touching, suggesting that Betty too might be growing an itty-bitty heart after all.

The other man who has dreams and plans is Richard Burghoff, Joan’s new squeeze. Now, with the end of the series bearing down on us, it was always a given that either Peggy or Joan would have their stories wrapped up romantically or face a revolt from series enthusiasts, and it now appears that the lucky girl is Joan. Unfortunately, for my money, this story arc was about as pedestrian as they come. Very little about it was fresh and surprising, from the moment they met cute (he was searching for his eye doctor and was near-sighted not blind, ha ha), to his unhappiness at finding out Joan has a son, to their reconciliation.

The sudden appearance of a rich, handsome, unattached, vigorous Prince Charming veers dangerously close to “Downton Abbey” territory. He’s the kind of suitor that’s always materializing on Mary Crawley’s doorstep. One day this guy is trying to find an optometrist in L.A. and after one roll in the sack, he’s prepared to buy property on the East Side of Manhattan so he can welcome Joan and her whole family into his life. Pretty damn convenient.

This is such an unworthy plotline that I wouldn’t mention it except for one aspect that fits into the overall theme-of-the-week. Richard is initially taken aback by the existence of little Kevin – and why not, since Joan told him she didn’t have any other mouths to feed. He stayed in a loveless marriage for 22 years for the sake of the kids, who are now out of the house: “I have one plan,” he says, “to have no plans.” And the presence of Kevin will require planning if he wants to get Joan to the pyramids. But upon reflection he says the key line: “I don’t want to be rigid. It makes you old.” This is the philosophy of a man who is comfortable in his own skin, open to new experiences and not worried about forecasting, planning, the “vision thing” and the Gettysburg Address. He’s a lot older than Don, but more confident about the future. And he demonstrates that no matter what your age, you can still embark on new adventures. That’s something for Don to reflect on as he’s contemplating the emptiness of his vacant apartment lobby.

Some other thoughts.

— There are no firm signifiers to tie us to a specific date, but this episode clearly occurs in June 1970, at the very beginning of summer. Glen’s just out of college and Sally’s on her way to a 12-day bus tour of 12 states — the kind of tour that takes place as soon as school is out.

— The closing song is Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I saw Your Face,” which was released on her “First Take” album in 1969 and became a major hit single in 1972. A meditation on remembering new love, the song could refer to a number of characters: certainly Glen remembering his first crush on Betty; possibly Don remembering Megan and the new apartment; and maybe even Richard, thinking about his new-found passion for Joan.

— After two grim opening episodes this half-season, “The Forecast” was practically a sitcom. The scene where Johnny Mathis blows up his career by using a Don Draper joke (“I’m surprised you had the balls to show up again after the fools you made of yourself last time”) was jaw-droppingly awful and hilarious.   Also pretty funny were the dirty looks between Peggy and Pete as they squabbled in from of Don – like two siblings fighting in front of Dad.

— Of course any scene with Meredith is by definition a comedy gem. I’ve been meaning to mention this all season long, but she is on the verge of usurping Roger as the funniest character on the show – albeit unintentionally. Her combination of ditiziness, assertiveness, cluelessness, and protectiveness is comedy gold. This was an episode where people are constantly bursting into Don’s office, upsetting her vision of a well-ordered executive life. “Stay out of this,” Peggy snaps when Meredith tries to intervene in one such off-schedule meeting. Ha. She’s funny even when she’s being yelled at. And of course her vision of the future (“Did you go to the World’s Fair? That’s what I think it’s going to be like,”) is hilariously off.

— I’m not exactly Tom and Lorenzo when it comes to noticing the thematic implications of the fashion choices, but even I noticed the preponderance of green on a show that heavily featured Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up (gee, who could that be?) The very first shot in the episode is the green-clad boob of Don’s real estate agent, followed by Joan’s green post-coital outfit.

— Speaking of real estate agents, there have been at least three female real estate agents on Mad Men over the years and they’ve all been aggressive and assertive (this includes Pete’s girlfriend agent in California and Peggy’s agent when she wanted to move in with Abe). Selling real estate appears to be one of the few career avenues open to women, but only to a certain kind of woman.

— Speaking of career opportunities for women, consider Joan and Don’s differing responses to their jobs. As discussed, Don is nearly paralyzed with ennui, but Joan tells Richard that she needs to work – not because of financial needs but because she finally has the job she wants. The same is true with Peggy, for that matter. These women need the job to show their self-worth. You have to be at a very rarefied level of accomplishment and privilege like Don to worry about whether your job is providing the emotional benefits you need.

— Two jokes/sarcastic comments that stopped the heart. 1) Sally’s joke to Betty when she warns her about boys on her trip (“I’m sorry Mother, but this conversation is a little late – and so am I.”) and 2) Joan’s assertion to Richard that she’s sending her son away so she can spend all her time with him instead. These are both pretty alarming things to be said out loud even in jest.

— The most heart-breaking line of the show: When Kevin’s babysitter shows up late and Joan snaps at her, “You know what? You’re ruining my life,” a line that is really being spoken to Kevin. “Bye bye Mommy,” he responds and it takes Joan a moment to compose herself before replying in kind.

— Don gets verbally abused in practically every show now and usually he doesn’t really deserve it, although he probably thinks he does. Mathis says that he doesn’t have character, “You’re just handsome. Stop kidding yourself.” Not fair. Don is a creative genius, for better or worse. Then Sally, jealous of the way that Glen and her friend Sarah have come on to her mother and father respectively, says her dream is to be completely different from her parents: “Anyone pays any attention to you – and they always do – and you ooze everywhere.” More to the point, although Don is right that Sally is destined to be like them in some respects: “You’re a very beautiful girl – It’s up to you to be more than that.”

— Don is so checked out from his job that he OKs a terrible tagline for the new Peter Pan cookie: “One Tink and you’re hooked.” That’s probably about the worst tagline that’s ever been presented to a Sterling Cooper client. Of course Don has rejected the first proposal (about loving Tinkerbell cookies) asking, “Jesus, ‘Love’ again?” Pete: “We use it all the time.” An unbelievably blasphemous exchange.

— Well, we got an answer to two questions in the first five minutes of the show: Yes, Sterling Cooper still has a California office, and yes, Lou Avery is still employed, but apparently now exiled in California, where Pete and Ted were just a year earlier. Hilariously, he’s still promoting his cartoon “Scout’s Honor,” described by his loyal secretary as “Like Gomer Pyle, but he’s a monkey.”

705ScoutsHonor Lou Avery cartoon

— Not answered yet is where is Jim Cutler? He must have resigned after the buy-out but there has been no mention of this.

— Joan’s a liberal, preferring to use open space for low-income housing instead of a golf course. “I root for the underdog,” she explains. Except, of course when that dog is under HER, as numerous Sterling Cooper secretaries will attest.

— Betty’s a Republican. She tells Glen, “Don’t listen to Jane Fonda here” (i.e., Sally) when Sally is aghast at his enlistment. Jane Fonda was not always an exercise mogul and Ted Turner trophy wife. In 1970, she was merely an outspoken opponent of the war. Her treasonous trip to Vietnam, when she happily posed for photos in an antiaircraft gun that was used to shoot down American pilots, didn’t occur until 1972.

Jane Fonda was at the peak of her fame when she visited Vietnam in 1972

— Rye Playland, where Glen wants to take Sally, is a real amusement park with roller coasters and boardwalks in Rye, New York that still exists. I’ve even been there.  Built in 1928, it’s a bit cheesy now, and probably was even in 1970, especially if it was a place where you could buy some grass..

— Jiminy Christmas, Pete has delicate ears. He’s furious that the Peter Pan client meeting did not go as smoothly as it should have: “Then Mathis said a four-letter word that starts with F. Have you ever heard such a thing?” No, Pete, I’ve never heard such a thing — because in the very next scene, Sally says that very word after learning that Glen has joined the army, but AMC beeped it out. (True, she uses the adjectival version of the word – “F—ing” – but morally it’s the same thing.)

— Peggy wants a real performance review. This is something that no person in their right mind would welcome and she should be glad that Ted lets her write her own review. You might think she’s one of those serious, diligent employees who uses the performance review to solicit honest criticism so she can improve her work, but I think she really wants to be praised, telling Don, “I’ve had quite a year.”

— A lot of ink has been spilled this year about Don’s unchanging image. In an age where Ted and Roger have grown bushy mustaches and others have tried to look more hip, Don looks the same except for the occasional blue shirt. This is sometimes attributed to Don’s rigidity and dinosaur-like approach to the new era. I tend to think he just has a superior fashion sense; every man from the 70’s who tried to adapt to the latest fashions looks back in horror on those days. Look at Richard’s horrible proto-leisure suits! Some men did manage to look good by staying a little square. Here’s Ronald Reagan in 1970, debating a Berkley radical. Like Don Draper, Reagan never changed his look after the 1950s.

Irving-Debates-Reagan

Next Week’s episode is called “Time & Life.” I assume this is a reference to the Time and Life Building on Sixth Avenue, where Sterling Cooper has its offices, although the concepts of “time” and “life” are so broad that it could mean anything.

New Business Megan

If last week’s episode (“Severance”) was all about the paths not taken, then the opening scene in Sunday’s “New Business” is a perfect example of a life not lived. There’s Don in the kitchen, making his sons chocolate milkshakes, and there’s a dolled up Betty. For a split second you wonder if this is a parallel universe in which Don and Betty did not break up. But no, here comes Henry Francis in his tuxedo. It seems the Francis’s are back from dinner with a Dean of Fairfield University (a minor Rockefeller and a potential funder for Henry) and we’re brought back to reality.

But it’s a nice reality. We haven’t seen Don and Betty together since they had that sleepover at Bobby’s camp several years ago, but that night seems to have healed their wounds and everyone is pretty chummy now. Betty tells Don she’s planning to get a master’s in psychology because “people like to talk to me. They seek me out to share their confidences.” Ha, leave it to Betty to think that being a psychologist is like gossiping with your girlfriends. Don merely smiles, though, and as he leaves the house looks back at the happy family scene ruefully contemplating what could have been.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the first minute of this episode because from there it’s a straight slide down to a black pit of despair. There have been episodes that were more operatically tragic or emotionally devastating, but few that evoked the low-grade depression you get when you realize everything decays and ultimately goes rotten. Because this episode was all about dashed promises.

This is the fourth in a series of episodes in which we’ve said good-bye to an important secondary character. First it was Bob Benson going to Buick, then Bert dying, then Ken Cosgrove to Dow, and now it’s Megan’s turn for a swan song. The Megan/Don marriage, which began with so much promise in Disneyland is grinding to an unhappy conclusion. Remember how Megan told Don he didn’t owe her anything and he said he’d take care of her? Well forget that. Like many divorces, this one is turning ugly over money.

Roger warns Don not to settle until he’s happy with the number. Reflecting more on his own failed marriage to a former secretary than to Don’s he says, “You have given her the good life. She would never have had it.” When Don replies that Megan is not Jane (Roger’s ex-wife, who was a more obvious gold-digger) he asks, “She never said you squandered her youth and beauty? Thwarted her career? What career? She’s a consumer. She made her choices.”

And the sad thing, is that when they have their final meeting, Megan does display Jane-like tendencies: “I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of knowing you ruined my life… I gave up everything for you. I believed you and you’re nothing but a liar – an aging, sloppy, selfish liar.”

This is a bit harsh considering that she was just a secretary when she broke up Don’s very mature relationship with Dr. Faye, that his connections launched her acting career, and that his money has subsidized her in Hollywood for a year-and-a-half so far.

Megan’s decline has been sad for several years now and her lashing out at Don is more a lashing out at her own failed dreams. Once described by Peggy as the girl who could do everything, she had confidence, youth, creativity and a real talent for sizing up a situation. Her acting career got off to a fast start and she was a minor soap opera celebrity before she quite her job thinking that she and Don would move to LA to start over. But when Don reneged on the California plans (after being begged by Ted to let him go instead) she didn’t even try to get her job back and just left for LA on her own.   Now she’s stuck – no husband, no career, no prospects, an incompetent agent, and possibly no talent.

It’s a sign of her desperation that she called Harry Crane, who she despises, for help in finding a new agent. They meet for lunch, flattering each other shamelessly, until Harry suggests that she demonstrate her acting talent between the sheets. What a downer – Harry had seemed to be willing to help her out of friendship but in the end was only interested in one thing.

And to cap it all off, she had left her mother in charge of finishing her move out of Chez Draper and when she returns unexpectedly after dumping Harry at the restaurant, she finds Mom and Roger in dishabille. I don’t care how sophisticated you are, you still don’t want to find your married mother dressing in a hurry in your former dream apartment after a quickie with your husband’s partner. Or to further discover that said mother, out of spite alone, has stolen your husband’s furniture and sent it to your cozy house in California where it will be completely useless.

In the end, the only thing that will end the acrimony between Don and Megan is for Don to write her a million dollar check to shut her up. Don has a bad habit of thinking he can solve problems by writing a check and frequently he can. A million dollars can buy a lot of silence. So exeunt Megan. Don’t spend it all in one place.

The end of the second Draper marriage isn’t even the main misery this episode. That would be Don’s pursuit of someone who’s even more damaged than he is – the Dos Passos-reading, Mildred Pierce-impersonating, Racine-fleeing, Avon-shopping, ominously named Di. Twitter almost melted down last night when she reappeared on the screen and you can understand why.

When the final Mad Men episode is aired and we look back on the entire series, “New Business” will probably be one of the least-loved episodes, not least because of this extended dalliance with Di.   But the Di subplot serves its purpose in the narrative arc of this season. We learned from last episode that he’s been on a sexual bender since separating from Megan, but he now appears ready to settle down again. Maybe it was the death of Rachel Menken last episode, maybe it was scene of the cozy family in the Francis household, maybe it was the finality of the divorce from Megan, or maybe it was just whatever mysterious pheromones Di is excreting, but Don is smitten. “I’ve been separated a long time,” he tells her. “You’re not the first thing to come along. I’m ready.”

Many pixels have been spilled trying to understand what Don sees in Di. She doesn’t have the innate sexiness of Megan, the coolness of Midge, the maturity of Dr. Faye, the beauty and status of Betty, the innocence of Sally’s teacher – well, this list could go on and on, but she doesn’t have any of the things that the other women in his life had.   Instead, he’s attracted to her because she’s another lost soul undone by grief – someone who can understand him in a primal way. “You don’t think I’ve felt grief?” he asks when she tries to out-suffer him. “You knew that about me the first time we met.”

The problem is that unlike Don, she cannot compartmentalize her grief. She had been living the American dream. It was not much compared to Don’s success but she had a ranch house, a two-car-garage, a husband and a daughter back there in Racine, Wisconsin.   She evokes Don’s famous “carousel” pitch for Kodak, telling him that she has a twinge in her chest; it’s a “pain” Don says, which is how Don had described nostalgia. (The first hint that the carousel pitch was in play was the call from the owner of the diner where Di and Don met – he’s a Greek, and it’s a Greek copywriter named Teddy who told Don that nostalgia is a pain from an old wound.)

Like Don, Di has secrets that she doles out. First she confides that he daughter died of the flu two years ago, and then devastatingly, she confesses that she has another daughter who she’s abandoned to her husband. Grief-stricken at the death of a daughter, she has blown up the whole family, leaving a daughter who probably needs her desperately. She can only wallow in her grief, explaining to Don as she breaks up with him up with him: “I told you about my heart; I don’t want to feel anything else. When I was with you I forgot about her and I don’t ever want to do that.”

The romance with Di, as unpleasant and uncomfortable as it was to watch, presumably leaves Don at another emotional low point and possibly ready to build himself up again, setting the stage for the last five episodes. Only a fool would predict where Mad Men is headed, but previous seasons have ended in a catharsis. You can’t have a catharsis unless you hit bottom and we can only hope, for our own enjoyment, that this was the bottom.

Some other observations:

  • There were zero clues to the time frame of this episode, until the end, when we caught a glimpse of Don’s million dollar check, which was helpfully dated May 24, 1970. In other words, we have resumed the pattern of each episode taking place about a month after the previous one.
  • The name of the episode is “New Business,” which is something that all agencies crave. There’s nothing better than the prospect of a new client and the possibility of a lucrative new relationship. Presumably the title refers to the new Cinzano account, the Nabisco client that Pete and Don go golfing with, or the beginning of the relationship with Di. It could also ironically refer to the “old business” that comes to an end between Don and Megan.
  • The closing song of the episode was Yves Montand singing “C’est ci bon” (or “It’s So Good”) is meant to be ironic, since life is not so good, certainly not for anyone who speaks French on this show. It’s a love song and its appearance is a bittersweet way to say goodbye to Megan: Translated, the opening lyrics are: “I don’t know if there is anyone more blonde/But more beautiful, there is none for me/She is truly all the joy in the world/My life begins the instant I see her”

  • Also disheartening, like we needed more punishment, was the scene in the elevator, when Don and Diana (in her waitress uniform no less) run into Arnold and Sylvia. When the Drapers were married, they were all good friends, by that too has decayed. Arnold, once the only man Don looked up to, makes snarky jokes about Don’s sexual conquests. Worse, it seems he actually is a jerk, not just someone cranky at Don, as he describes his new daughter-in-law as ugly. Nice.
  • The “B Story” in this episode – the struggle between Stan and Peggy over “Pima Ryan,” a famous photographer hired to shoot the Cinzano ad – is as dispiriting in its own way as Don’s interactions with Megan and Diana. We’re able to confirm what we expected all along – that Stan hates himself for working in an ad agency, when he should be expressing himself artistically. Like Ken Cosgrove and fiction writing, Stan wants to be a photographer but has subsumed that dream in favor of earning a living (unlike Megan, btw, who actually did pursue her dream to disappointing results.) Pima flatters both Stan and Peggy, telling Stan he has talent drawing (but not apparently in photography), and complimenting Peggy on how well she’s doing in her career. She also observes that Stan “hates himself,” something that Peggy’s too blind to see. She’s canny, but not canny enough; wanting more business from the agency she seduces Stan and makes a pass at Peggy, When they compare notes, Peggy denounces her as a “hustler” and says she’ll refuse to do business with her again, leaving both of them disillusioned by someone they had considered an artist.
  • Pima was played by Mimi Rogers, the first Mrs. Tom Cruise. As a former Scientologist I wonder if she had much to say to Elizabeth Moss, a current practicing Scientologist (!!?).
  • As usual, the few humorous sketches from the episode belonged to Roger. The scene with his “two secretaries and three telephones,” was hilarious. His current secretary Caroline can no longer keep up with him, so recruits Shirley to help out, making life twice as complicated. He eventually retreats to the privacy of Don’s empty office, remarking that he feels like “Marlin Perkins is chasing me on the Savannah.” This is clearly an inside joke because with his white hair and white moustache, Roger actually LOOKS like Marlin Perkins, who had one of the first wildlife shows on TV.

perkins

  •  As if the shattering of Megan’s dreams weren’t bad enough, she also has to face reality of the terrible dynamics in her own family. Ugh. What a terrible family. It’s bad enough that they all speak French and have the condescension to go with it, but Papa’s a champagne socialist and adulterer (this we know from previous episodes), Mama’s a judgey snob and a slut (ditto), and sis is some kind of religious nut, who judges Megan’s life a failure because of the divorce, presses her to get an annulment instead, and is distraught to discover that Mama has run off with some man because she’ll need to explain that to her kids. Megan’s so disgusted with them all that she can’t even enjoy the $1 million check that’s burning a hole in her pocket book. Still, Mama does get off the funniest line of the episode, when she discovers the stain on the bedroom carpet: “You think he drinks red wine? It’s a wonder you don’t have syphilis.”
  • Second-funniest line of the night: Meredith to Harry Crane about L.A. “How do you go to sleep at night knowing the Manson brothers could be roaming around?”
  • An speaking of Charles Manson, that line was undoubtedly another inside joke about how frantic everybody got two seasons ago about Megan potentially being murdered by the Manson family.
  • Even a blind pig eventually finds an acorn. A stopped clock is right twice a day. And once a season Pete Campbell will say something smart: “Jiminy Christmas. You think you’re going to begin your life over and do it right. But what if you never get past the beginning.” Good point Pete, but keep your eyes on the road.
  • As we see from the first scene. Gene Draper seems to be growing up nicely, although I don’t think he’s uttered his first bit of dialogue yet. But Bobby Draper doesn’t seem to have aged at all. He should be about 14 now but he still looks about ten.
  • It’s a nice touch that Don moved the Mets poster from Lane’s office to his own. By jumping ahead from July 1969 to April 1970, we not only missed the Manson murders, Woodstock and the chronological end of the 60’s, we also missed the Amazing Mets campaign of 1969, when the Mets shockingly won the Word Series.   That poster, which Don retrieved from Lane’s trash can, is not only a symbol of Lane’s love of Americana, but also an example of how there are actually are cases in real life (if not in the Mad Man universe) where dreams do come true.
  • Last episode Roger learned that Ken Cosgrove, whom he had so cavalierly fired at the request of McCann, would end up as his client at Dow. This episode he learns that Bert Peterson, whom he’d fired with so much relish after the merger, is now managing the client account at Nabisco. Maybe he should stop firing people.

“It wasn’t my idea.” Such a useful line.