A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Everything comes to an end. That sentence by its very nature can mean anything, even though its inherent connotation is largely perceived as being negative. Mad Men, a term as the pilot noted was coined by ad men to describe themselves, can be described as a series about the inevitability of conclusions and the necessity of moving beyond them. Don has never been a man who is able to embrace change, embrace the inevitability of a circumstance and prepare for its inevitable consequences, be they good or bad. Heck, he’s worn essentially the same suit throughout the entire series while everyone else’s wardrobe has fastidiously changed with the times, as of somehow just by an item of clothing he could delay the inevitable. But times change and the obstinate become the unprepared, resorting to a desperation to prove otherwise. Perhaps that is why on every account tonight, Don danced and charmed and spread his confidence with a suave that never managed to land. It’s not the suave that was lacking, to be fair, as evidenced by Ken’s quick “Ok” at the opening dinner. It was the circumstances that didn’t support the Don Draper of old. On no account tonight did Don get exactly what he wanted or largely anywhere near it, not even an Alka-Seltzer from the loyal Meredith.
In the busiest episode of Mad Men’s swan song, the inevitability of McCann’s purchase of Sterling Cooper & Pryce came to a head. It was a distinct possibility ever since that acquisition was conducted, but it never crossed the mind of anyone that it would actually occur. There was no formal announcement, no nothing. A simple letter that McCann had told the Time Life building that Sterling Cooper & Pryce would not be paying their rent that month, a quiet and effective notice that the agency that had gone through so many evolutions was going to at last be shut down. Don being who he is cannot accept that consequence that had been inevitable ever since the acquisition that had made him so wealthy to begin with. He pitches a crazy idea of adopting their own firm in Sterling Cooper Pryce West and even in that moment, the inevitable disappointment is evident. Don has always been a man to shoot for the stars. Here he shot for a much more realistic goal of becoming a subsidiary but even that wasn’t enough. The tide had moved and the only thing Don could do was hold on to a life support so he didn’t simply drown. As the end of the episode arrives, Don finds himself standing in the bustling center of SC & P with the other partners, claiming that “This is the beginning of something… not the end.” But his charms fell upon a crowd that for once simply wasn’t buying what he was selling.
There wasn’t even the option of drowning available to anyone, considering they had all signed four-year contracts with McCann Erickson to begin with. If Don was floundering and trying to turn a capsizing ship into a deus ex machina, the reactions of everyone else were exceedingly telling in and of themselves. Ted had always been the man who was by far the happiest to simply melt away into the massive corporate oligarchy. He never coveted the spotlight, he never raced for it. He simply is okay with his corner office and the creativity of his work. And now that he has a former flame of his to go back to, he doesn’t care for anything more. Roger is, well, Roger. He accepts the consequences and drinks some more. Pete is aghast, worried that they aren’t putting up enough of a fight and are simply going to whither away into a behemoth. As he ruefully tells Peggy, this was the only place he had ever worked. Out of all of the partners, however, it is Joan who by far has the most reason to complain. Ted got his dream pharmaceutical account, Pete got Nabisco, Don is gifted Coca-Cola, and even Roger gets Buick. But Joan gets nothing. In retrospect, while the scene with Peggy and Joan in a boardroom is still too heavy-handed, it is made all the more powerful by one of the most blatant displays of disrespectful, unapologetic sexism the show has ever done. “They don’t know who they’re dealing with,” Pete says in an effort. While Joan smiles back in appreciation, the sadness in her eyes vividly displays her understanding that they don’t know, but more importantly, they don’t care.
“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.”
Peggy’s journey this episode climaxes in one of the most beautiful, evocative scenes in Mad Men’s history. At its core, that scene is centered heavily around the consequences women face in their sexual lives, consequences made inevitable by society. Surrounded by kids for an advertisement, Peggy’s fury rises when a little girl is left alone by her mother, who had gone to grab her son from his auditions. Seeing that girl alone before her mother came back into the office triggered those memories she had buried deep beneath her, memories Peggy knew shouldn’t have the weight they had. Stan tries to calm her down while noting that it’s a good thing that Peggy doesn’t have children, because she wouldn’t have her career otherwise. It’s a patronizing pat on the head and Peggy knows it. She snaps, telling Stan to his face that he can laugh all he wants at the idea that he might have children that he doesn’t even know about, because it doesn’t matter. When a man leaves a child behind, no one says anything. He could just walk away and there would simply be no consequences. But when a woman makes a mistake and she makes a decision about it, no matter what her decision may be, she is punished for it for the rest of her life. But Peggy has no intention of being punished for her choice, the choice she felt at that moment was the best thing to do. She’s made it and as it always is, there’s work to do.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Peggy prefers Battle Royale
+The Pete and Trudy subplot was well-done, with Trudy admitting the amount of harassment she faces because of her divorce, Peter getting to punch the headmaster in the face, and him realizing that Tammy can’t draw a man
+“Because you’re a sheep.”
+Richard taking an overnight flight for Joan. Best of fortune to these two, honestly.
+Lou moving to Tokyo to make Scout’s Honor into a cartoon, but he’s still a dick
+“My old girlfriend measured it.”
+Joan potentially losing Avon for SC & P West was another slap in her face
+“We’ve done it before.”
+“What’s the best offer?”; “McCann Erickson.”
+“I feel like a spy.”; “You look like one.”
+Ken getting his revenge moment
+Persuasive vs. misguided
+The ancestral rivalry between Pete and the headmaster was, for whatever reason, absolutely hilarious
+“In ten years, everyone will leave me alone.”
+Ken’s revenge moment
+“You never take no for an answer.”
+“All I had to do was not make that joke.”
+“Glad he missed it.”
+“You went down swinging.”
+“What a disaster.”
+“I bet you love cashing her check!”
+I love the way Elisabeth Moss said “Fuck her!”
+ “I guess that’s the secret to your spectacular career?”
+“I… I’m… 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 go on with your life.” What a beautiful delivery by Elisabeth Moss.
+Peggy’s revelation to Stan meant quite a bit for the best working duo in Mad Men going forward
+“You’re a young man with an incredible future ahead of you.”
+“What’s in a name?”
+“In another lifetime, I’d be your chauffeur.”
+“When I married my secretary, you were hard on me. Then you went ahead and did the same.”
+“For the second tine today, I surrender.”
+“The last thing they need is another office manager.”; “Or another black girl.” A Dawn and Shirley spin-off, AMC? Make it happen!
+“Don’t sweetheart me.”
+“My goodness Meredith, we should put a bell on you.”
+Line of the hour: “It is not a normal day!”
Title: Time & Life
Written By: Erin Levy and Matthew Weiner
Directed By: Jared Harris
Image Courtesy: EW