Mad Men – Time and Life
This week in Mad Men we saw Don Draper’s losses continue and his power and position continue their downward spiral. Sterling, Cooper, & Partners either hit the jackpot or lost everything, depending on how you look at it. We were also given some nice scenes involving some special relationships on the show.
The biggest news in this episode is that McCann-Erickson is “absorbing” Sterling Cooper. They’re being bought out by the firm from whom they have struggled throughout the series to remain independent. They have always wanted to make it on their own, without having the clout that comes with a name like McCann-Erickson, but that isn’t going to happen. “You have died and gone to advertising heaven,” says Jim Hobart of McCann-Erickson and proceeds to parade in front of them some big names who are their clients. The are accounts Sterling Cooper & Partners dreamed of. It’s sure to mean more money for all of the partners but is it a victory? It doesn’t feel that way. It feels like defeat. “Is that all there is?” seems to be the question pervading this season. They have all just gotten what they wanted in some ways, but it’s empty.
Among the events contributing to Don’s downward spiral is his failed attempt to prevent the loss of Sterling Cooper & Partners. Once before, they were literally hours from being bought, and Don Draper came up with a plan that saved the day. He tried again this time but failed. His charisma has faded and his charm, if not completely gone yet, is dying more every week.
If that isn’t enough, he goes out drinking with the other partners after his failed attempt to save the firm, and every one of them has to leave because they have someone to go home to or to meet up with. To make this even more depressing for lady’s man Don Draper, the woman Roger Sterling is meeting is Marie Calvet, his ex-wife Megan’s mother. It’s a drunk, disheveled Don Draper with we see in this scene. Marie literally took everything from Don when, in her daughter’s absence, she told the moving men to empty the apartment of all furnishings. She is the reason he came home to an empty apartment.
And then there’s the phone call with Lou, the man Don has always battled with. The man who stepped into his position at the firm while he was on leave. The man who never respected Don, who always thought he had no talent, just a way of swaying people with his good looks and charm. Lou doesn’t care about the buyout because someone has bought the comic he has been writing for years and he’s going to be rich without Sterling Cooper’s money. He laughs as he rubs it in Don’s face. That “someone,” by the way, is a Japanese company. It’s no coincidence that Roger Sterling has a hatred for the Japanese that has its roots in his WW2 days, a hatred that has caused the firm embarrassment in the past. In this episode, he comments on Lou’s future by saying, “The Japs are gonna eat him alive.”
Ted Chaough is a contrast to Don. Ted Chaough has met someone. He and Don talk about the fact that they both have ex-wives in California. Ted tells him he knows Don is attached to California, and he is, but I don’t think it has anything to do with Megan. I think it’s a sentimental tie and is all about Anna, the one person who knew his story and truly cared about him. Ted says he can’t leave New York because of his new love. Don has nothing to keep him there. Ted comments in the bar that he is glad to let someone else do the driving. Doing the driving is exactly what Don misses. He’s lost control. He doesn’t like it. But it hasn’t fully hit him yet. We haven’t seen a real, raw reaction from him yet. Will we? I hope so.
Joan is uniquely impacted by the buyout. In the meeting with Hobart in which he rattles off all the big names everyone will have access to as part of McCann-Erickson, he looks at each one of them and names an account he knows each of them has dreamed of having. Everyone except Joan, a detail that does not go unnoticed by her. She fears they won’t appreciate her talents at McCann-Erickson, and she’s probably right. She fought hard and made personal sacrifices to earn her current status at Sterling Cooper, but she knows she still lives in a world in which women are not taken seriously. During a taxi ride with Pete, she comments that “we both know they aren’t going to take me seriously over there,” and she’s probably right. Just a couple of episodes ago she met with a client who made one sexual comment after another and found it humorous despite Joan’s agitation. But she has met a man who does take her seriously – Richard. During a phone conversation, she tells him she has had bad news at work and begins crying. He tells her he’ll be on the next plane to New York so she can tell him all about it. Will she decide to leave McCann-Erickson and begin a new life with Richard? Leave a place she knows she won’t be respected for a place she believes she will be? Maybe. But, as she said in the episode in which she met Richard, she needs to work. Not for the money, she probably has more of that now than she needs. No, she just needs to work. It’s important to her. It makes her feel valuable.
We also saw some nice moments with Peggy this week. There was a nice moment with her and Pete on the couch in his office, a spot where many important things have happened between them. One of those things was a conversation in Season Two in which Peggy told Pete about their child she gave up for adoption. In reference to that fact, it is the sight of a child hugging her legs that prompts him to call her into his office and give her a heads up about the buyout. It’s a nice moment between them. His desire to give her advance unofficial notice about something that will have a significant impact on her followed by her giving him a literal pat on the back and gentle reassurance that he will succeed in the new organization.
Peggy also had a very important conversation with Stan this week. A girl who auditioned at Sterling Cooper for a commercial waits in Peggy’s office for her mother to return to pick her up. When she does, Peggy and the mother argue. In the course of that argument, the girl’s mother tells Peggy, “You do what you want with your children. I’ll do what I want with mine.” Ouch. The pain shows on Peggy’s face.
“Look, you got to a certain point in your life and it didn’t happen. I understand you’re angry about it, but you’ve got a lot of other things,” he says to Peggy later when she tells him she can’t quit thinking about the argument. “I mean it. You couldn’t have done all you’ve done otherwise,” he says.
She responds with, “I guess that’s the secret to your spectacular career? The fact that you don’t have kids?”
“Well, not that I know of,” he says, and chuckles.
They argue over about a man’s ability to just walk away from a child and “get on with his life” while a woman can’t. They talk about his mother and that doesn’t know if she wanted him. Peggy tells him he doesn’t understand his mother. He says he doesn’t want to. Followed by this from Peggy:
“Maybe she was very young and followed her heart and got in trouble. And no one should have to make a mistake just like a man does and not be able to move on. She should be able to live the rest of her life just like a man does.” You see the truth click in Stan’s eyes, and he tells her she’s right. Peggy again, “I know. Maybe you’d do what you thought was the best thing.” He asks her what she did. “I’m here. And he’s with a family. Somewhere. I don’t know. But not because I don’t care. Because you’re not supposed to know or you can’t go on with your life.”
In the final scene, the partners make their announcement. As soon as Roger tells them about the buyout, everyone starts talking over him and walk away. Don tries to save it with, “This is the beginning of something. Not the end.” His statement isn’t even heard. The magic is gone. The glory days are over. What comes next?
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