Every week for the sixth season of AMC's acclaimed series Mad Men, our roundtable of Eleanor Barkhorn (Sexes editor, TheAtlantic.com), Ashley Fetters (editorial fellow for TheAtlantic.com's Entertainment and Sexes channels), and Amy Sullivan (National Journal correspondent) will discuss the latest happenings at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Sullivan: I believe the thought balloon over Peggy's head when she walked into Ted Chaough's office asking about the Chevy pitch and Don answered was: "WHUT."
Oh, Pegs. Abe was just trying to warn you—you can't stop change, whether it's in the White House or the stoops of the Upper West Side or in your own workplace. "I don't like change," complains Peggy. "I want everything to stay the way it was." Of course, without change, Peggy would still be Don Draper's secretary instead of the copy chief, "at one of the top 25 ad agencies in the country," as Chaough describes their new super-group.
But just because Peggy has benefited—and will continue to, as the women's movement picks up steam—from change doesn't mean that she has the temperament to enjoy it. Don, on the other hand, likes few things more than blowing up his current situation just to see what happens. The way he describes it to Arnold sounds enterprising—"You make your own opportunities." We know, however, that Don loves above all the rush that comes from getting engaged impulsively or breaking up the original Sterling Cooper to start a new agency (in the third-season finale, the episode that most resembled this one in tone).
One of the important differences, of course, is that Don is the one who controls change—or at least controls whether it happens. Part of Peggy's resistance—and Joan's fury at Don—comes from the fact that powerful men are usually the ones in control of the change. Everyone around them is impacted and yet helpless. "We're all rooting for you from the sidelines," Joan tells Don, "hoping you'll decide whatever you think is right for our lives."
Joan is understandably livid about the fact that Don blithely threw away the Jaguar account. And honestly, it only makes sense to me as a device that allowed the show to get the whole gang back together again. Yes, Don can be a selfish jerk who does not suffer fools and hates Jaguar Herb on Joan's behalf. But it hasn't even been a year since that account saved SDCP. And given the awful way in which Jaguar became a client, it's doubly hard to believe that Don would have dumped the car company without a second thought. Joan had a great line—"Honestly, Don, if I could deal with him, you could deal with him"—but it's a reminder that Don Draper normally would have just held his nose and put up with Herb.
Which is not to say that I'm complaining. It's a caper! Don and Peggy are back together again! And Ted kissed Peggy! Roger's back, baby! And once the glow fades, Don is going to realize that he's joined forces with his once-and-future archnemesis. Plus, Harry Hamlin! (That really should have been our clue that something was up.)
Pete Campbell had some excellent physical comedy scenes in this episode— throwing his hands up to his face in glee when Bert Cooper tells him they can go public at $11/share, and of course slip-sliding down the stairway in his haste to chew out Don over Jaguar. It will be a shame if we don't get to see his reaction to this latest bit of freelancing by Don. As much as they annoy the hell out of each other, Pete does have Don pegged. In assuring Joan that Don wouldn't stand in the way of the firm going public, Pete says it's not about money for Don but the fact that "he's tired of playing in the bush leagues." Pete was right—Don just had a different solution for that problem.
The best line of the night award goes to Ted Chaough at the hotel bar, in response to Don's cryptic "I have a better idea": "No, you don't. I just heard it. This is why everyone hates you."
I'll leave it to you, Ashley, to figure out whether this plot twist helps the Draper marriage by putting Don on more confident footing as his wife gets increasingly more famous. (Those fans were camping out in her apartment building? Creepy.)
Meanwhile, I don't know that I can take Peggy's heartbreak in a month when Bobby Kennedy is killed. I hope in that press release she's typing up, the one for "the place you'd like to work," she names the new agency Olson, Harris, and (Trudy) Campbell. Now that would be change we can believe in.
Fetters: Amy, you'll be pleased to know that Pete's epic tumble down the SCDP stairs has already been .GIF'd.
Is it possible that Pete's fall from the top of the staircase is a visual metaphor for SCDP's descent into chaos? I'm willing to bet that's not something Matt Weiner intended, but it did seem just as swift and just as morbidly entertaining to watch.
I wondered a while back if SCDP as we know it was about to meet its demise, but this merger with CGC isn't something I saw coming. I am, though, absolutely tickled to see the alliances realigned and a new iteration of the "all-star team" in the works. Don and Peggy working together is always full of multi-layered tension and intrigue; their work relationship gave us five seasons of great TV, didn't it? And Ted Chaough! Be still my heart. Ted has been a starter on my Mad Men fantasy team for a while now, so I'm excited for him to move a little further into the show's main plot—and I'm excited for more weird sexual tension between him and Peggy, obviously. Ted's finding himself at the center of a few different kinds of dissolving and re-forming unions, it seems.
And speaking of Ted: Amy, I'm so glad you brought up that awesome "Everyone hates you." A few weeks back, Ta-Nehisi Coates wisely pointed out that Don has reached something of a dead end this season:
Don is a beautiful philandering stud. That was always there but it was wrapped in so much more—his role as father to a young daughter (gone thus far), his role as a kind of father to Peggy (gone by necessity of plot), his relationship with Roger as some future image of himself (also gone), his relationship with Anna (gone to the grave), his fear of unmasking (seemingly also gone.) What's left is a dude who makes adultery look beautiful. My impulse is to say that this Don Draper is lot less interesting.
Without those compelling, conflicting storylines complicating his character, Don's quickly hardening into a crusty old bastard who cheats on his wife, ignores his children, and screws over his friends and business associates. There's no reason to be rooting for Don Draper anymore, it seems, and at this point, Don has almost become the villain of the show rather than its tortured protagonist. Ted Chaough kind of spoke for everyone with that plain, matter-of-fact dressing-down.
As for Don and Megan, I actually found myself on a less vigilant deathwatch for the Drapers' marriage than usual this week. Good for them, I suppose, but my thought (my hope, really) is that one of these weeks, someone will show up elsewhere in Megan's life and make her feel like a winner—and she'll realize that love doesn't always have to mean feeling like the loser, as she does in her relationship with Don. (If we learned anything this week, it's that everybody has to be the loser their relationship with Don. Don, as he himself points out in the episode, is a guy who insists on winning.)
Megan's conversation with Marie, though, was a telling one. She describes Don as "distant," to which her mother responds that she should reel him back in with sex appeal. It works, to the extent that Don, as predicted, can't get Megan's clothes off fast enough, but the sad irony is that Marie has vastly overestimated what sex means to Don.
Also, sorry, but every time the camera follows Don Draper far enough into a sexy situation (as it did in this episode), there's a certain point at which all I can think about is Jon Hamm in the opening scene of Bridesmaids.
On that note, Eleanor, I'll turn things over to you. What kind of agency is Peggy the marketing mastermind cooking up? And is this a creative dream-team, or an irreconcilable-artistic-differences disaster waiting to happen?
Barkhorn: What struck me most about this week's episode was how every single one of the business dealings turned on personal relationships. That's always been true on this show to some extent. In the second season, Pete used his father's death to try to get the American Airlines account. Sterling Cooper landed Hilton in Season Three because the company's owner liked how Don mixed drinks. And so on. But this week had an unusually large number of work issues being influenced by personal issues.
Don hates Herb, so he throws away Jaguar, an account they only got in the first place, of course, because Joan slept with Herb. Trudy's father fires SCDP because he spotted Pete at a brothel. SCDP gets a meeting with Chevy because Roger's sleeping with a stewardess at JFK who monitors the auto execs. (How great is it to see Roger hustling again, by the way?) SCDP and CGC merge because Don and Ted got drunk together at a hotel bar in Detroit—and, probably, because Ted is shaken by the news that his creative director (who's also his friend!) is dying of cancer.
The problem with these sorts of arrangements is that they are extremely volatile, both for the business and the personal side of things. All it takes is a three-second encounter between a man and his father-in-law for a multi-million-dollar account to go out the window. The dissolution of that business arrangement loops back to have consequences in the personal realm: Frustrated by losing the Vicks account, Pete tells Trudy he saw her father at a brothel. Which makes Trudy so angry she throws Pete out of the house for good.
So to answer your question, Ashley, about whether the SCDP-CGC merger is a "creative dream-team, or an irreconcilable-artistic-differences disaster waiting to happen?," I'd say yes. As in, it'll be both. It's exciting to imagine the work the new agency will produce. I'm looking forward to the next few episodes having fewer tense dinners and more slam-dunk pitch meetings.
But it's also a disaster waiting to happen. The footsoldiers at both agencies will be frustrated that such a massive change has taken place without their input. As Peggy already illuminated when she asked who she should give the press release to, it's going to be hard to figure out who's the boss in this new arrangement. And, as Amy rightly points out, Ted Chaough is Don Draper's arch-nemesis. I LOLed when Ted complained about how sick he is of being thought of as nice. Remember when he taunted Don at Benihana? Or when he was so fixated on stealing Pete away from Sterling Cooper that he showed up at the hospital while Trudy was giving birth? Or when he talked Peggy into selling out Stan? Nice? Dude's a weasel. And he'll be bringing his weaselliness into this new partnership with SCDP.
As a viewer, though, I'm bullish on this development. I agree with Amy that this episode was exciting, full of intrigue and sexual tension. I'm hopeful that the new arrangement will inject some more energy and optimism and fun into this rather bleak season.
Darkness still lurks, of course. I'm wondering how Dr. Rosen's unemployment will affect Don's relationship with Sylvia—no more sneaking into the apartment while the good doctor is at work. And oof, Peggy and Abe. I hope we'll talk more about that next week. I'm glad for Peggy's "I hate change" monologue this week because it finally offered some insight as to why she's staying with him (that and his offhand comment about how he wants to have kids with her some day). There's so much tension in that relationship—resentment about money and politics and life choices—that I can't imagine it'll last much longer without a huge blow-up.