But while “The Strategy” ended with Don and Peggy sharing that lovely sort of father-daughterly moment, I thought this episode took them through a truly impressive variety of relationships and workplace power dynamics.
At first, for instance, they take on the postures of the tense workplace-star-and-underappreciated-coworker relationship: In the Burger Chef meeting between Pete, Lou, and Peggy, it became clear that even though Peggy is technically, structurally higher up on the ladder than Don is, Don’s still the one who wields more influence and gets more credit. Then, briefly, there was the surprisingly functional boss-and-obedient-employee stage: Don assures Peggy that he’ll do whatever she wants.
But when Don asks Peggy, seemingly as an afterthought, “What if we did it from the kids’ perspective?,” there’s a new hint of psychological menace; suddenly Peggy’s getting up in the middle of the night to rethink a pitch she thought she was sure of, and even she begins to suspect she’s a victim in Don's perverse quest for power. Then, for a moment, they exhibit the kind of festering animosity that inevitably exists between a dazzlingly gifted slacker and his or her envious, much more dutiful coworkers—just before sliding back into the roles of the supportive mentor and the bright, promising, but somewhat insecure protégé that are so familiar from the early seasons of the show.
This spectacular array of interpersonal dynamics, of course, wouldn’t be possible without wonderful acting by Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm. But what I’m especially impressed by is the fact that so many of these subtle shifts are made clear just through subtext. Peggy’s accusation—“Why are you undermining me?”—is the single moment in which the dialogue most explicitly addresses their constantly fluctuating power imbalance. Beyond that, though, much of their chatter about the Burger Chef account stands in for what they’re really saying about their roles in relation to each other. And that’s some damn good storytelling.
Heller: It really is. The finest moments of this show have been about Don and Peggy, so I'm glad to see it pivot back toward them as it approaches next week's "mid-season" finale. (Sidenote: What can we do to put a stop to AMC's year-long breaks? By the time Mad Men comes back in 2015, the only thing I'll remember is Ginsberg's nipple.)
Since we've only got a week left, I'm curious to see what you're expecting. The finale is called "Waterloo," which suggests a massive failure. I just can't figure out whose it'll be. Don's? Peggy's? Freddie Rumsen's? (It will not be Freddie Rumsen's.) Or… could it be the agency's?
Fetters: Well. I’ll refrain from making too snide a comment about how perhaps a couple of tweaks to the Emmy eligibility rules could squash AMC’s new habit of dragging out their final seasons. (I'm not saying... ! I'm just saying.) But in the few minutes I spent just now doing some extra-credit research (read: Wikipedia searching) on the Battle of Waterloo, I was reminded of something: Waterloo was a massive failure on Napoleon’s part, but it marked the end of years of turmoil in Europe and the start of an era of peace.
Maybe that’s worth reading into, and maybe it’s not at all; Matthew Weiner, after all, moves in mysterious ways. But let’s entertain the possibility. Whose massive failure could ultimately end a period of upheaval and chaos on the show, or at Sterling Cooper?
Probably not Freddie Rumsen’s.