Tag Archives: Don Draper

‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E4 “Time & Life” is a Meditation on Transitions

Last night’s episode “Time & Life” lies squarely in the middle of the second half the seventh season, which might be one reason it orients itself around the concept of “transitions”. In fact, McCann-Erickson surreptitiously did not renew Sterling Cooper and Pryce’s lease meaning the agency will literally be transitioning to a new home base. The final three episode will no doubt tell the story of this transition within a show also in transition (to not existing) but if The Sopranos is any indication of Matt Weiner’s sensibilities, I doubt we will receive anything like closure on the series finale. Anyway, along with overarching transition happening this episode comes but the success and failures that led the characters of Mad Men to this point.

After the partners get notified in a backhanded fashion about McCann’s decision to absorb SC&P, Don characteristically leads the charge to try and remain independent by staking a claim to all of their conflicting accounts (say McCann’s Coca-Cola versus SC&P’s Sunkist). Don’s the idea guy and as we have seen time and time again he has the gift of gab, with a history of hitting home pitches no one else could have secured. Yet when Don launches into his presentation for McCann he gets interrupted (gasp) and dispatched with a couple of amused, “Don’s” (double gasp). Don’s identity crisis last week brought on by Mathis suggesting he might be more charm and good looks echoes here where a Don pep talk is not enough to save the company. Luckily for the partners McCann reframes the move in their minds from dissolving the agency to rewarding each partner on success since the merger.

The partners subsequently go out to a bar to celebrate and one by one they all leave to do things with family and friends. Eventually Don and Roger are the only ones left, and even Roger leaves – to meet up with Marie Calvet no less. A sloppy drunk Don so desperately searches for connection that he heads over to Diana’s gross old apartment only to find a gay couple. Even gay men a year after Stonewall are capable of an intimate relationship, while Don can’t even find the trainwreck that is Diana. Even Meredith stands up to Don this episode for being the last to know about the whole McCann situation and she tells him that in a few months he won’t have either an apartment or an office. He has lost his mojo and these past few episodes have illustrated that his transition into self awareness has brought him from bad to worse.

An artful zoom in to the faces of the partners on one side of a conference table mirrors a later zoom out at the end of the episode as they lose control when telling the office what they thought to be good news. Platitudes from the upper echelon don’t drown out the dissenting chatter, highlighting the privileged view both the partners have that insulates them from fear among the many lower level employees who won’t make it to the new office. Don tells them, “this is the beginning of something; not the end.” Well not according to Matt Weiner and again Don fails at keeping the calm with his trademark charisma. Transitions mean different things to different people, and this transition to McCann means even the partners will become cogs in a larger machine.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.44.37 AM

Peggy particularly understands her status as a cog this episode after hiring a headhunter who informs her a job at McCann offers both the highest salary and prestige across the board. She probably has her last sexist encounter with the McCann guys looming in her mind because as she mentions later in the episode, she wishes she could succeed just like a man does. From this stems another important development where Peggy conducts a focus group with children that highlights the transitional stage Peggy is in biologically. Her attempts at relating to the children are laughable and the focus group can only proceed when Stan intervenes and gets the ball rolling, in this case literally. In a touching moment later in the episode Peggy mentions that men have the luxury of ignorance, whether it be of how to play with children or even if they have children. She tells Stan she chooses to not know where her and Pete’s son is because it would hurt too much to know, and implicitly she might keep herself ignorant of children as a method of distancing herself from the family she has had to forego in order to succeed.

Save Don, nonromantic relationships get a boon this episode to the point where even Pete patches things up with Trudy. A slightly absurd storyline has Pete questioning the headmaster of Greenwich Country Day for placing dear Tammy on the waitlist, only to find out it’s due to a longstanding MacDonald-Campbell feud in which the headmaster and Pete are opposed. More to the point, he offers compassion to Trudy even though she was at fault for applying to no other schools. Don may have started out the show on top with a wife, kids and a debonair attitude that helped him score accounts and women on the side, but Pete in at least being up front about the kind of person he is and has been able to meaningfully grow into someone increasingly likeable.


‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E2 “New Business” Brings Parallels, Mirrors and Foils to Add Past and Future Character Perspectives

I have to say reviewing Mad Men is pretty difficult because I assume even the lackluster parts of each episode weave into the larger tapestry Weiner wants to weave for us. Still the absurd amount of sex and propositioning this episode contains outdoes even its own high standards, in my opinion, and at points certain hookups like Prima with both Stan and an attempt at Peggy in addition to Don’s sexin’, Megan’s Mom with Roger and Harry’s come on to Megan it just feel like drama being orchestrated to suit certain themes or ensure certain arcs take shape. That said Weiner will never be in the same boat as Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk who frequently jam in so many plot points into their shows they feel more like a series of high octane events rather than a story, but for Weiner this week’s “New Business” came across as a tad disjointed among the many different story arcs.

Each story arc jived for me individually, however, and specifically for Don his brief tryst with the formerly mysterious waitress Diana did him no favors. Don has been more or less stalking Diana since the last episode, finally coercing her into giving him a ring for a late night booty call. Don and Diana have a lot more in common than a penchant for late night drunk sex with strangers, it turns out. Peggy has oft been presented as Don’s protégé and mirror with shared closeted, working class backgrounds and stellar instincts for creative. Now with Diane we see Don’s romantic protégé, i.e. someone just as emotionally damaged who applies many of the same tactics Don has so deftly employed in seasons past.

After their first hook up, Diane mentions that she is running from the death of her daughter and then just a bit later she adds she that she was lying before and that she left another alive daughter with her father to flee the pain. Not only does Diane lie about her past, but she also continually deflects personal questions and uses both sex and alcohol as a refuge. Sound familiar? Don finds his female counterpart yet as implied by Megan later on who accuses Don of being a liar who ruined her life, at least Diane comes clean about her true nature within about week of their meeting. Don took three children to only partially admit his past to Betty only because she had already discovered it on her own.


Interestingly Prima, an photographer this week, plays as a potential future Peggy, albeit far more comfortable in her sexuality. Prima solicits both Stan and Peggy, but offhandedly mentions she has never married or had children and instead has achieved great professional success as a photographer. The parallels are not quite as clear with Prima and Peggy as with Don and Diana, but that’s all for the best otherwise the episode would have felt even more outlandish with two sets of doppelgangers. Season seven on the whole has time and again highlighted Peggy’s anxieties about relationships and starting a family with the touching Julio arc as well as the more on-the-nose Burger Chef pitch about families-by-any-other-name. Furthermore the last episode where Scottie momentarily swept Peggy off her feet only for her to turn back to work in the morning suggests Peggy will make some sort of decision about the juncture of her personal life and her work life by the end of the show and that could be anywhere from work-focused, personally lacking Prima/ Don to the other end of the spectrum. Also Prima Don(na).

After not appearing in the premiere, Megan returns in spades to the second episode to finalize her divorce from Don and get her furniture out of their apartment. In a very un-Mad Men ­fashion her tone and outlook changes over the course of just this episode. She begins upbeat and hopeful about starting fresh post-Don with all the acting prospects she had when she acted in New York, but her unsupportive family make Harry’s shameless propositioning feel like a much bigger to blow to the future of her career than it might otherwise have been. She mentioned how excited she was to be free of Don, but in a bittersweet fashion Harry reminds her that with that freedom comes a lack of financial support and no more access to Don’s wealthy bank of connections. At the same time her pious sister and bitter mother illustrate what can happen to women once they stay in toxic lives for too long – their anger damages them and those around them. Megan has always appeared to be the most emotionally stable and well adjusted of the cast so I believe her sadness by the end of the episode if a momentary setback instead of the beginning of a long decline.

In other news Betty wants to be a psychologist. I guess as long as she isn’t sharing her opinion on the Vietnam War, Francis will indulge her crazy, crazy whims. I certainly hope that this was not Megan’s last episode, but leaving with all of Don’s furniture and $1 million would be fitting given her enterprising character arc. Chaotic episodes such as these will likely be par for the course for the remaining episodes in order to tie up loose ends but hopefully each arc will intersect in a more fluid manner in upcoming episodes.

‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E1 “Severance” Sets Up Its Central focus for the Episode and Series: Identity

Last night’s “Severance” brought a focused return to the second half of Mad Men’s seventh and final season. The episode only delved into the lives of our dapper protagonist Don Draper and his coworkers, leaving Megan, Betty, Sally and co. for later in the season. By not addressing the family, the Matt Weiner-penned episode could explore how the employees of SC&P relate to their identity, as constructed from the workplace and otherwise. This rather melancholy episode starts off with what may be the show’s central focus: identity. Each character’s understanding of their identity is seen conflicting with their hopes, desires and even reality with characters like Ken and Peggy worried about falling into an inertia that come so easily in adulthood, particularly in the sixties. With the show wrapping up, notions of the past and future also get subtly intertwined into all this identity business, illustrating where identity inertia can lead 45 years down the road.

Don is back to his womanizing ways with alcohol close behind, yet his relationship with drinking, at least for now, seems a lot more healthy than when had to be escorted out of the office by Freddy Rumsen. On one hand he has accepted his impoverished past, telling the women he and Roger bring to a diner an elaborate story about his stepmom’s toaster in their boarding house, yet Don now wields his real past like a sword for slaying the ladies that doesn’t quite match up with the bleak flashbacks. Don still seems incapable of allowing others to delve into his past and understand his true identity, and that same issue with intimacy permeates the entire episode. In a telling moment Don walks into his apartment and turns on the lights to gaze upon his lavish, but completely empty, apartment which prompts him to turn the lights off again and check in with his secretary on how many women have called asking for him (3). Don barrels through these nameless sexy women, but a dream he has of Rachel Katz that sends him searching for the one woman who prompted him to truly open up about his troubled childhood years before he did so to anyone else. He discovers she died just one week before, sending him to where her family is sitting shiva. He he looks over at all the mourners, suggesting a longing not only for Rachel but also for an intimate community that would be there to proverbially sit shiva for him when the time comes. Perhaps this loss sends him trying to pursue Diana, an employee at a diner, where he tries starting with sex and then unsuccessfully following up with romance.

Don’s protégé Peggy is not quite as aware of her identity and how to manipulate it as Don is, but she definitely has a certain idea of how she should behave. Peggy’s employee Johnny Mathis sets her up on a date with his brother-in-law and after a few drinks she almost flies to Paris with the guy! Peggy is often seen as a parallel to Don by critics and that certainly fits with their guarded nature and keen eyes for creative, but a fundamental difference between the two gets squarely addressed this episode. While Don has sex with that Diana in an alley without saying more than a few words beforehand, Peggy insists that her date Stevie wait to have sex with her since she believes in their potential as a couple. She wakes up the next morning regretting being emotionally indulgent enough to almost fly to Europe, but we see that she still has access to her emotions and, at least while drunk, craves intimacy over sex. Don acts on drunk autopilot much of the time and seems to have lost hope of actually allowing access to his real emotions. Mad Men is a cynical show so there’s no saying Peggy will build on this momentary emotional fragility but there is a hope in her I’m not sure Don has at this point.

Peggy’s role as a woman in the male-dominated SC&P also comes into play in contrast to Joan who we may remember from earlier seasons consciously throwing around sexuality to get what she wants out of the men at the office. Since then Joan has matured and refocused her attention now as partner, but sexist McCann employees harass Joan and then Peggy unintentionally underscores the issue by mentioning how rich Joan is from becoming partner she doesn’t need to really work. That lucrative partnership wouldn’t have happened if Joan hadn’t slept with Herb Rennet in order to get the Jaguar account. Joan comes back the next day wearing a buttoned up, puke green shirt and librarian-esque glasses. After getting a call from one of the sexist McCann employees Joan finishes off the day with some designer retail therapy. Peggy has largely ignored the issue of sexism by focusing almost singly on the word, but Joan’s relationship with sexism suggests confusion in how her identity previously hinging on attractiveness will play out now that she manages accounts.

An interesting addition to this week’s episode is Ken Cosgrove who debates with his wife about whether he should continue along his lucrative trajectory in advertising or opt for his dream job as a writer. His wife’s dad brings into stark contrast what it meant to be a man in his generation versus Ken’s when he brags about cooking a Poptart. Likely puttering around Ken’s mind is the thought of being less of a man by pursuing his dream of being a writer in a world where men were so alienated from the domestic life that his wife’s dad found making a Poptart a commendable task. By the end of the episode Ken continues along in his role in advertising, relocating to Dow Chemical out of spite after he is unceremoniously fired from SC&P. I think the American model is often one of redemption because every soul has a bit of good in ‘em, but not so for Mad Men. Every character has seen significant changes since season one, but I wouldn’t say they are changing. This show has always been conscious of its temporal relation to the now being set in the sixties, but that focus is even more relevant now that the show is on the cusp of the seventies. We can all theoretically understand what identity is, but as the character have shown this episode abstract knowledge can often be at odds with real experience.

Mad Men Season 7 paisely

Mad Men Second Half of Season 7 Predictions

Predicting what the future of Mad Men will hold is all but impossible (except for that time Peggy had the surprised baby, which I totally called). Overall I’m paradoxically expecting surprised I couldn’t have fathomed, but I don’t see the show deviating too far from the world of realism where people’s lives move glacially.

I think our main man Don Draper is mostly on the right track. Yes he saw Bert’s ghost sing “The Best Things in Life are Free” but I’m going to chalk that up to withdrawal symptoms from being an alcoholic for at least seven years, and a super alcoholic for about two and Don looking to find personal fulfillment outside of the Time Life Building. This is the first time the show has deviated greatly from reality so I believe Weiner wouldn’t do that unless he had a darn good reason. I do believe Don will reconsider making a living at peddling half-truths now that he has come clean about himself. Of course he has swankified Manhattan apartment, alimony and maybe Megan to pay so he probably won’t quit his day job just yet but I think he’s going to start investing time in an activity that will help him better understand who he is and what he wants. If the Sopranos is any indication, due to Weiner’s writing for that show, I would think the final episode will indicate he has taken the first step to recover from alcoholism and his former life but he has no illusions about the temptations he will face along the way.

As Don’s protégé, Peggy has already learned a lot of the business from him, but I also see her learning from his personal foibles as well such as the time she had to take care of him like a drunk college student. Additionally I think she already had her low point that Don is currently wallowing in, during the season one finale where he she had Pete Jr. and wouldn’t even look at the little guy. She was also rebuffed by Pete, which must be embarrassing but thank goodness. Since then she has had to prove herself again and again as a woman in creative. Through this process I think she has got a better understanding of herself in the world, and specifically her strengths and weaknesses. I think she has come to the realization in her pursuit of a career, she neglected an interest in family that hit her like a speeding baby carriage, so I think she’s going to amass a community of proverbial Julios, maybe by developing her relationship with Stan or patching things up with Ted, so that she doesn’t end up alone like Don.

Joan’s had her fair share of hard knocks in the show, and more than I think she deserved even in her bitchier days deriving her sense of self worth from making people below her feel bad about themselves. She has made the biggest transformation in the series because after the disaster that was her marriage to Greg, she started demanding more for herself. She could’ve easily settled down with Bob Benson who would’ve bent over backwards to keep her happy and his secret safe, but she rebuffed him. She has a baby now and she’s getting on in years, so sadly I think she might end up alone, but she can at least take solace in her newfound self respect when she thinks about crying over Marilyn Monroe’s death, seeing her own future in her sad end.

Mad Men staircase
(Credit to Independent UK)

I’m not going to address Betty because she’s awful and will continue to be awful until she dies. Sally, on the other hand has just begun to shine. She is in a sweet spot where she is strong willed, especially against Betty, but not entirely committed to being rebellious to her detriment, something she illustrated by choosing the earnest boy her age over the dumb jock staying with them. The next few episodes I believe are going to set her up as an optimistic, confident girl trying to figure out where her values are and where she stands, i.g. being the prototypical Baby Boomer. Maybe she’ll sneak out with Glenn to catch a Jefferson Airplane concert or do shrooms with Glenn and follow the path from On the Road (you can see I’m pulling for Glenn to come back) but all I know fore sure is there’s no way she’s going to be an Italian speaking debutante like Betty.

Now Roger I think is going to quietly acquiesce on the Marigold front, but I don’t think he can quite admit to himself yet that she’s right. He isn’t personally strong enough, nor do I think he has any desire to change his hedonist life. I think he’s going to continue on his depraved path, maybe not forever with the hippies but in the same vein for the foreseeable future. Megan never needed Don, in fact I think he was holding her back, so I think that now that she is free she is going to become a 70’s sex symbol. Who knows, maybe she’ll make gap teeth a thing before Madonna gets on the scene.

I Love the 70s
(Credit to kyweathercenter.com)

Pete is one I truly can’t figure out because he has been sitting on the backburner so far this season so there must be some sort of big bang coming up. I could see the McCann acquisition totally violating his autonomy in LA to the point where he might even have to move back to New York which would remind him of all the problems he ran away from. Maybe it’s just my personal prejudice, but I think losing Bonnie and realizing both his daughter and his wife have moved on was only just the beginning of something worse that lies on the horizon.

Overall the technology that has been slowly creeping in this season will start flying in like a spaceship in the last seven episodes. The computer project is going to expand in scope and cost until everyone accepts that computers and technology are here to stay. At the agency the collective fear will either have reached a fever pitch or as is more likely for the adaptable humans we are, will be replaced with acceptance of the inevitable. The underlying emotions and scenarios these characters have always connected with us viewers, but I think the technology component is going to bridge the end of the show with now. Predictions are a tricky thing, but let me know in the comments where you disagree.

Mad Men First Half of Season 7 Recap

Don Draper hit rock bottom this season. Don’s daily use of deception to cover up affairs, alcoholism and most recently losing his job were all unraveled in the season six. After all his lies were forcibly uncovered by other characters, Don finally made the decision to rip off the Don Draper bandaid himself and let loose about his childhood – during a Hershey pitch meeting in last season’s finale. Come dawn of season seven, Don is jobless, temporarily wifeless (and looking like it might become permanent) and getting covert SC&P intel from his former secretary Dawn. Don hit rock bottom. Don has finally acknowledged he is on the way out as evidenced by his tutelage of Peggy to take over the Burger Chef pitch, but Don is still damaged goods. This mid-season is about he, and everyone else, getting a handle on the rapidly changing America they live in and attempting to find their places in it.

Self Realization: Don, Roger and Pete

In one last cashing in of Don’s charms in episode four, “The Monolith”, the partners allow Don to return to SC&P – as Peggy’s underling. Don gets (dead) Lane’s old office, moves a couch and is generally treated like a second-class citizen. He gets drunk on Scotch hidden in a Coke bottle and Freddy Rumsen ushers him out, note Freddy is the one who drunkenly peed his pants a couple season ago. Don finally acknowledges he no longer has the upper hand and attempts to trudge his way through demotion as per Freddy’s advice to “do the work.”

Don Draper drinking
(Credit amctv.com)

Don keeps cropping up in relation to many of the secondary characters not only because he is the protagonist, but also because many of the other characters are positioned in relation to him. Roger too has been forced into self-revelation after descending into a hedonistic, polygamous relationship with a bunch of hippie twentysomethings, echoing a lifelong struggle with consideration for his family. His daughter Margaret undergoes a zen transition this season beginning with with an apology to her father in episode one and ends with her moving to a commune and changing her name to Marigold in episode four. Roger considers Marigold’s abandonment of her child and husband as distinctly different from his long-term familial neglect, but seems to at least briefly understand because he doesn’t forcibly remove her from the commune. Roger’s parental rock bottom doesn’t result in a personal change, but does prompt him to take control of business and broker a deal for McCann Erickson to buy SC&P.

Pete lingers even farther back than Roger in self-realization as his relocation to Los Angeles resulted in nothing more than superficial changes of acquiring a girlfriend and learning about new sandwiches. Pete’s return to New York in episode six, “The Strategy”, causes his own family problems to resurface upon visiting Tammy, his daughter, who quakes in his presence. Where Roger at least took note of Marigold’s criticism before ignoring it, Pete ignores his problems entirely by extricating himself from New York.

The Feminine Spectrum from Megan to Betty

Over the course of the show, feminism has emerged in SC&P and this half season has highlighted this point more than ever. Megan, who never really seemed shackled to Don or men in general, leverages her bohemian independence by alternately using her sexuality to try and keep Don in episode five, “The Runaways”, and later in the midseason finale by denying Don’s plans to support her after the divorce. Even Betty, the least socially engaged of all the women in the show, asserts her opinion on the Vietnam War in opposition to her husband’s at a house party in episode five.

Betty, Joan, Peggy Mad Men
(Credit semiurban.com)

Joan’s negative experience with the Butler Shoe representative who won’t even meet with her in episode one, “Time Zones”, most clearly show that her sixteen years of employment still don’t equal Ken or Harry’s less time and higher position. Ultimately she manages to show her experience, the last few with two different jobs, do indeed stack up against an MBA she could neither have afforded nor likely been allowed to take. By directly affecting 50% of the population, feminism crops up again and again on the show, while civil rights has been understandably stifled by the wealthy, white men of SC&P who have nothing to gain from it. Still the movement has appeared this season when Bert objects to Dawn sitting at the front desk and due to their feminine connection or perhaps out of logistical necessity, Joan bumps Dawn up to her old job, Head of Personnel. Maybe Dawn will be able to leverage her advanced experience in aid of the underdog one of these days too.

Don 2.0

Peggy, arguably the other protagonist of Mad Men, has been pretty clearly set up in the past seven episodes as Don 2.0. Ever since her accidental pitch so many seasons ago she has shot up the SC&P ladder in spite of being a poor girl from Brooklyn, echoing Don’s humble beginnings. Peggy gets punished for being a woman, but in episode six she sees herself at 30 and her most maternal connection is with Julio from upstairs and even he’s moving to New Jersey. She sacrificed a family for her job and in her loneliness she finds a companion in Don who ultimately coaches her to a stellar Burger Chef presentation in the season finale.


Don hit rock bottom.

Another hallmark of this season is the IBM computer that Cutler and Harry tout as SC&P’s saving grace for the upcoming years. While most of the characters react to the invasive, incomprehensible IBM computer with subtle fear, the more extensive feat of technology, the lunar landing, unites the characters in a way only something that spectacular could do. The computer appears like some kind of villain that no one understands and even though a thousand IBM computers were probably involved in the trip to the moon it just feels different. Everyone from Betty and her family to the de facto creative family in Indiana cluster around the television. No one at the agency, except for perhaps Cutler and Harry, see the connection between the clunky computer in their office and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. But they will.

Mad Men’s first seven episodes so a sensational job of tying up a lot of loose ends from the first six seasons, while still indicating a final phase of the tumult that was the sixties. New episodes won’t be airing until 2015 so my advice would be to do some rewatching and stay tuned for my upcoming predictions for the last last season.