It was inevitable. To maintain its reputation as a series that has a reverence for history, “Mad Men” had to incorporate more of 1968’s tumult into the consciousness of its characters. This week’s episode (June 2) was devoted to change, both inside and outside the offices of Sterling, Cooper & Partners, as the new firm is called. As we noted in our previous blog, there was a nearly constant chorus of police sirens in the background during last week’s episode. As it turned out, the sirens were a prelude to the tumultuous events of this week’s episode, including the protests and their aftermath outside the Democrats’ convention in Chicago in 1968.
Avid readers of this blog will know that we’ve taken much space recently with analysis of Don’s psyche and what we’ve called his love calculus. Those episodes, while not always deep, included nuggets of deep character information, allowing us to play armchair psychiatrist. This week, though, it’s as if Matthew Weiner and the writers purposely followed up slower moving, relatively cerebral episodes with an episode loaded with more action. It’s almost as if they’re emulating symphonic composers, who alternate movements of fast and slow music.
Let’s look at theme of change that dominated this past week, doing so in terms of its relation to several characters:
Don and Roger: First, it’s a new world at SC & P, with the name being the most obvious change. Add to that Roger and Don leaving Mecca, aka NY City, and heading to the West Coast for a business trip. In itself, that speaks of change: the New Yorkers acknowledging that the Empire is not in NY alone and thus trekking cross country in search of commerce.
More than that, Harry Crane clearly is ensconced on the left coast, where television is starting to become king (another major change to Don and Roger’s business). Harry, who’s previously been a few rungs above an office joke, now seems in charge, planning Don and Roger’s itinerary, taking them to parties to meet influencers and renting a snazzy convertible and refusing to get a more moderate (read square) car despite Don and Roger’s protests.
And the party he takes Don and Roger to, while being one of the more clichéd moments this season, helped Weiner make his point: The two Mad Men appear to be relics. Although they’re both handsome and smartly dressed, they stood out like a skunk at an outdoor wedding. It’s clear they’re going to have to move with the times or risk being, er, drowned.
Yet Roger is unable or unwilling to adapt. Heck, he can’t even, (er again), stomach little Donnie Siegel reinventing himself as a movie mogul. But after Don’s actual drowning incident (Don and pools don’t mix; remember his misadventure in season 2, during another trip West, when he fainted near a pool; at least this time he landed in the water), Roger and he are on the plane back to the Apple and Roger’s summation is that NY remains the center of the universe. Obviously, Mr. Sterling has missed one of the main points of the trip.
Meanwhile back in the office, Harry Hamlin’s Jim Cutler is proving to be more devious than his mirror image, Roger. While Roger generally prides himself in doing as little as possible and acknowledging that fact, Jim likes to loaf (he pushed the Manishewitz meeting on to Bob Benson), but he’s not ready to admit it. With the help of Bob, he deftly dodges the ire of the firm on that one. On the other hand, why didn’t Roger brief him that Manishewitz already was unhappy with SCDP’s work? Maybe Roger’s not as disengaged as we thought.
Burt Cooper: One of the smartest characters on the series, Burt seemed totally lost in this episode. On the other hand, he, like Roger, is at his best when others think he’s missed the boat. Don’t count out Burt. Or Roger.
Pete and Joan: Has anything gone right for Pete this season? On the personal side, this sixth year has included Pete’s marriage hitting the rocks and his mother losing her marbles. To top it off, Pete’s soon to lose it on top, as his hairline is receding. In the office he feels so undercut that he’s visited with Duck Phillips, now a recruiter, to see what his value’s worth on the market. As we discussed last week, Duck tells him his value could be better from a professional viewpoint. Duck also tells him to lean on his family, something Pete can’t do at the moment for obvious reasons.
This week Pete was particularly irked when he was quickly made head of new business, a position he says he doesn’t want. In addition, when an attractive new piece of business is ready to be hooked, Pete’s not been invited to the party. Joan, who brought in Avon, although she hadn’t intended to do so, eventually decides she wants to shepherd the account, proving to all and especially to herself that she can do it, despite not having ever done so previously.
This storyline about defining Joan’s responsibilities is a nifty piece of work by Weiner and his fellow writers. Several episodes back, Joan’s childhood friend, Carol, came to NY to visit her. Recall Carol was in awe of Joan, praising her as a big Madison Avenue advertising executive. Joan’s mother joined the chorus.
Yet Joan herself felt awkward; yes, she’s a partner in a Madison Avenue ad agency, but she was unable to tell Carol and her mother the precise reasons she’d risen to such a high position. That was the moment the writers introduced the concept of Joan, despite her position and money, being uneasy about her professional life. They also knocked the concept of Joan being a partner down a few levels, showing that while women had come a long way since the show’s beginning, they’d not yet reached a place where they could be considered an executive, as opposed to a female executive. It’s debatable whether women have reached that level even today.
At any rate, Andy Havens, the man from Avon whom Joan meets during this episode, was introduced to her by none other than Carol, who told us weeks ago that she’d come to NY to explore switching from Mary Kay to Avon. Needless to say, she made the switch. Talk about tying up loose ends.
Pete, as we saw, has been asked to embrace change rapidly and he’s not doing so well. He’s nearly apoplectic in this episode, and not without reason. Besides being undercut by Joan, he feels uncertain about the future of the ad business due to Peggy’s keen doctoring of the Avon situation, interrupting Teddy’s disciplining of Joan by having a secretary tell the assembled that Andy from Avon is calling, when in fact Peggy’s made up the whole thing.
What we learned from this action with Avon is that Joan can talk a good game (once she realizes she’s in a business situation, she handles Avon Andy with aplomb, despite it being her rookie run). And Peggy is a loyal soldier. She easily could have put Joan under the bus on the Avon escapade, but she came to her rescue, twice. Oh, Peggy, when all is said and done, we think you’ll be smiling. Mad Men will turn out to have been your story.
Nixon: You had to love the scene at Carnation where Roger smugly spouts that the Chicago protests had won the election for Nixon, the patriot. The Avon executive says that’s beside the point; “Dutch Reagan is a patriot, Nixon’s an opportunist,” the exec yells, putting Roger in his place and giving us a Californian’s insight on a local pol he seems very familiar with.
Awkwardness: This season has included countless examples of awkwardness. This episode was not an exception. The examples included Peggy and Joan’s lunch presentation with Avon; Ginsberg’s rant at the lack of significant change in a changing world, and directed at Jim; Roger and Don at the CA party; and Roger’s aforementioned political chatter with Carnation.
Don: As unsettling as his life has become, Don seems to realize he must adapt to survive professionally. He’s all business in California, despite Roger urging him to let loose. Hmmm.
Vietnam: We’re still awaiting a more significant nod to the War, although that might come next season, assuming the final season skips a few years, jumping past 1969 (what, no mention of the Miracle Mets besides the vintage banner in Lane’s old office?) to the early 1970s.