The Past, The Present, and The Future
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The past is always present, whether or not it is acknowledged in any moment. There are times when we hide certain tendencies of our existence deep down in our minds somewhere and certain objects or people trigger those tendencies and then they flood towards the forefront. An emotional cataclysm ensnares itself into the very consciousness. The past is a tricky beast to deal with, an incredibly thin line to walk if you will. It must be kept in an understanding so you may learn from it, yet it needs to be kept at a sufficient distance so you do not find yourself within its unforgiving grasp, drowning in absolute despair. For an episode entitled New Business, this hour of Mad Men is fairly concerned with checking in on the past, tying various threads together from some of the most disparate storylines in a fairly cohesive fashion. As the series approaches its finale, Don finds each chapter of his existence sort of flashing before his eyes. Betty, Megan, Sylvia, and Di the waitress from last week are all apparent in New Beginnings, forcing Don to confront the critical junctures within his life and what each and every single one of them means for him going forward.
The episode begins with Don at his old home, taking care of Bobby and Gene by making them milkshakes. Betty, in perhaps the most serene tone we could ever have imagined from her, seems more content than ever in her new life. Without any hint of irony or bitterness, she calmly tells Don that she is going back to school for her Master’s Degree in Psychology. As far as she figures, people have treated her like a confidante and she has spent a fair amount of time in some therapist’s office or another. She’s ready for her new beginning, embracing the past, present, and future for something greater on the horizon. The scene subtly shifts in tone when Henry enters the room. Bobby asks Don to make Henry a milkshake and Don replies with a quip of “You give him a sip of yours.” “Maybe I’ll make my own,” was Henry’s quiet commentary and in an instant Don’s expression completely changes to one of morose regret. As he leaves his former home, he looks back at the family he might have had, the family in fact he at one point did have before his own selfishness absolved everything. And at that critical juncture of his own existence, he was alone.
Peggy this episode finds a new beginning of sorts only to find as the hour comes to a close that it was anything but. She meets a photographer named Pima, seeing her work initially as if she were some sort of artistic vision, something Peggy could be down the road while Stan dismisses her on the outset. If there is someone in the Mad Men universe who is more married to their work than their actual life, it is Peggy. There has never been a moment where she hasn’t sacrificed something personal to her for the sake of her work. Part of that work ethic certainly comes from being a woman in a despicably patriarchal industry. But the majority of it is that Peggy sees something that almost no one else sees in their work. A plethora of her fellows see basic advertising, a dreadful dredge to shuffle through. Peggy sees a deeper meaning in her work that speaks volumes on a creative and artistic level. Pima’s sensuality and seduction works on Stan but Peggy doesn’t fall for it. All she sees is something rudimentary masquerading as a masterpiece. There’s a dismissiveness and bitterness in Peggy’s expressions and tone towards the end, and it’s hard to believe that it isn’t because her inspiration was nipped in the bud.
Don happens upon Di once again at a new restaurant, giving her his phone number so she can call back a man she might be fairly convinced is a psychopath in a suit. She does call him in the dark of night, perhaps out of a desire for some semblance of companionship than anything else. In the tradition of awkward elevator scenes, Don finds himself face to face with Arnold and Sylvia while riding with Diana. They exchange pleasantries, but the unnerved state of discomfort on Don’s face speaks volumes. Perhaps in his mind he was approaching a new beginning with Diana now that him and Megan have gone their separate ways, but the past has an annoying habit of arriving at the most inopportune of moments. Diana, as Don is a bit surprised to discover, isnt merely an empty cipher for him to imprint his future upon. She is damaged, harboring her own secrets. She had run away from home, one of her daughters dead while the other remains with her father. While Don runs away from his past faster than Usain Bolt on the track, Diana doesn’t want to. When she’s with Don, she forgets her past and that is something she doesn’t want. In many ways, the damaged Diane in despair is the closest female equivalent to Don we’ve ever had and their severance perhaps might be an indication of where Don’s personal storyline is headed.
The Calvet women get a decent amount of screen time this episode as Megan and Don’s relationship culminates in the direction everyone had assumed since Don began sleeping with Sylvia in the first place. Marie is as pleasant and biting as ever, exposing her hypocrisy when she labels Megan a whore for accepting $500 from Don for moving expenses – but she has little qualms with calling Roger for $180 after she cleans the hell out of Don’s apartment and the movers demand more money for their increased labor. Nor does she have any hesitancy about having sex with him. Megan certainly has never had a clean run of it and her potential hope in a meeting with Harry Crane goes downwards when he tries to force Megan to have sex with him. It was a moment of aspiration for Megan, perhaps an indication that after everything reached a nadir that there was some semblance of hope on the horizon but it was simply another person in her life who wanted to take advantage of her, turning her into something they want instead of acknowledging who she is. Don writes her a cheque for a million dollars and Megan understandably has a hard time not believing that it’s a cruel joke of some sort, a way for Don to throw something at the problem and feel good about it without actually having solved it. But Don means it, perhaps understanding that the two of them know each other more than either of them would admit to the other.
Megan rarely has ever had the freedom to make her own choices and the lack of freedom to truly be your own person without someone forcing you to be something they see in you is something that ironically Don understands. It is poignant that Megan chose acting as her profession because she in one way or another has always been framed as someone else’s character, whether that is on her television show or in reality. Taking that check was not admitting defeat. It was a tacit recognition that it was Don’s sincere apology and simultaneously a door out of the dark tunnel she had been stuck in that led to a new, brighter beginning. Her blunt, liberated attitude when she returned to that dramatic room where her sister was in dramatic tears over their mother is indicative of that change she espoused so ardently and fastidiously. Several of the shots within New Beginnings were evocative of dark, enclosed spaces with a bit of light filtering through, a bit of hope in the abyss. The most bewildering place for Don to be was the one in which he calmly entered his apartment full of light with a few threads of darkness seeping in from the corners. He has been trapped like so many others in this series for so long that when he stares in bewilderment around his empty apartment, perhaps he’s realizing that a trapdoor can indeed be opened for him as well.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Manson brothers.”, “The Manson family.”, “Are they coming in?”
+“I don’t know anybody in New York. It was strange to see someone I know.”
+Don can look like a private detective, right? Spin-off, AMC!
+“Do you sleep like that?”
+“You should go.”; “It’s my house.”
+“I try to treat it like art, even though it’s just selling something.”; “All art is selling something.”
+“How many girls have you had in this elevator?”; “That’s not what that was.”
+“It’s a wonder you don’t have syphilis.”
+The word “failure” acting as the catalyst for Megan
+“I don’t spend my entire life ashamed.”
+“Stop being a bitch.”
+“Let her go cry in a church.”
+“What if you never get past the beginning?” A rare moment of long-term clarity from Pete
+“Well, hello to you too.”
+“I hate what he did to my daughter.”
+“You should be the most famous person in the business.”
+“Well, my opinion is the only one that matters here.”
+“The adventures I would have missed.”
+“The way you’re looking at me right now … I would capture that.”
+“And you’re nothing but a liar.”
+“I want you to have the life you deserve.”
+“I know it’s not real – nothing about you is.”
+Peggy on Pima’s work: “…which turns out to be more advertising than art.”
+“I’m not interested in your drama.”
+“You know it’s a sin to be a ghoul and feed on other people’s pain? She’s been very unhappy for a long time. At least she did something about it.”
+“And you’ve never had a worse day than me.”
+“You’re fooling yourself if you think this will make a difference.”
Title: New Business
Written By: Tom Smuts and Matthew Weiner
Directed By: Michael Uppendahl
Image Courtesy: Wall Wide HD