I was traveling recently, and missed reviewing the last couple episodes of Mad Men. So this blog will do double-duty, since I loved “Time and Life” so much that I can’t not talk about it.
Everything from here on out will contain spoilers, so…
There are so few episodes of Mad Men left, and so much seems to happen in each one. I’m going to have to watch this entire season – both parts – over again when all is said and done.
“Time and Life” was, to me, Mad Men at its best. The SC&P gang was scrambling to reinvent themselves, as they have so many times before, to avoid being completely swallowed by McCann-Erickson. But they couldn’t pull it off, because no amount of ingenuity, creativity or gumption could save them this time.
The thing I most want to talk about is Peggy, and what a great episode this was for her. When Pete tipped her off about the absorption, their entire history together was bubbling just beneath the surface. Then, babysitting a kid who’d been left behind after an audition forced Peggy to reach a boiling point. She blew up at the crappy stage mom and ended up having a very tense, very heartfelt conversation with Stan. Stan, one of her closest confidantes. She’s kept the secret of the child she gave up so close to her chest these years, that he of course did not know. Pete and Don would never speak of it, and Peggy never speaks of it.
“She should be able to live the rest of her life, just like a man does!”
Peggy was hoping she wouldn’t have to go to McCann, but the headhunter told her it was by far her best option. Peggy goes to McCann, because she’s chosen her career. And why shouldn’t she? Just like a man does.
I’m really enjoying the increased focus on the feminist movement now that the show has reached 1970. Peggy and Joan are my favorite characters, and it’s always been fascinating to watch them navigate through this world in two very different ways. But in these final episodes, it has become even more prevalent.
In “Time and Life”, Joan began to see that life would not be easy for her at McCann. They did not absorb SC&P for her, and they named a shiny new client for every partner but her. Joan’s dealt with these chauvinistic pigs before, and she thought she knew what she was in for. But in “Lost Horizons”, we saw that it was so much worse.
No matter who Joan turned to at McCann-Erickson, she ran into misogyny. First it was the guy who didn’t take her seriously, didn’t read the brief, blew a client call and then complained that he thought she’d be “more fun”. Then it was a guy who only wanted to sleep with her. Finally, at the top, it was a guy who essentially told her to prepare to become increasingly miserable. That no man could reasonably expect to work for her. That she should take half of the money owed to her – half, after all poor Joan has been through – and leave.
Don couldn’t help her. Roger couldn’t help her. After all Joan has done for these men, after all Joan has done for herself, this is what she got. A framed photo of her son, a Rolodex, and half her fortune. What would 1960 Joan think of this? She has, seemingly, landed a great guy. She’s comfortable. She could live happily ever after. But that’s not enough for 1970 Joan. That’s not the point. 1960 Joan toured Peggy around the office, telling her how things were. She knew how to navigate the waters and never rocked the boat. 1970 Joan doesn’t just want to rock the boat, she wants to sink it. 1970 Joan is a feminist hero.
Meanwhile, Peggy doesn’t yet know what she’s in for. She’s been yanked around a bit, but has played her cards right. When her office wasn’t ready, she simply didn’t come in. When her office was ready, she didn’t rush. In “Lost Horizons”, Peggy has two scenes that will go down in Mad Men history. Two! First, she spends the day drinking with Roger and then roller-skates around the empty office while he plays the organ. Then, the next morning, she enters McCann-Erikson with sunglasses hiding her hungover eyes, a cigarette hanging out of her smirking mouth, and Bert Cooper’s raunchy octopus art under one arm. There is no better way to exit one office and enter another. Replicating these scenes has become my only aspiration in life.
Peggy is going to have a hard time at McCann-Erickson. But I’m not worried about her. In fact, she’s just about the only person I’m not worried about.
Pete will be fine, because he’s a cockroach. No matter what happens, he survives. Ted will be fine, because he’s a lemming. He’s happy in a room full of people just like him. He doesn’t need to stand out. Harry will be fantastic, because he’s gross and will fit right in.
But Joan’s already screwed. Roger’s going to be miserable. And Don, well he already ran for the hills. Or the prairies, I guess.
I haven’t been the biggest fan of the whole Diana storyline this season. It felt like it came out of nowhere, and I resented spending time with her instead of the characters I know and love. But this week, it all made more sense. We could sense Don’s desire to escape as soon as he arrived at McCann. He’s a trophy there, he’s something they’d wanted to acquire for years. They finally got him, and he’s surrounded by knock-offs. Men just like him, but not quite. His longing looks at the window, and then the airplane, gave him away. And then he disappeared.
Betty doesn’t need him anymore, and neither do the kids. His job is gone. Don Draper has no reason to stay in New York – he has no reason to even be Don Draper anymore. He can go anywhere, and be anyone. His impromptu road trip to find Diana was reminiscent of his unplanned to visit Anna in California – and was likely the reason that Roger told the McCann guys that Don just does this kind of thing sometimes.
He didn’t find Diana. So, now what? Instead of heading back to New York, Don kept driving west, taking a hitchhiker to St. Paul, Minnesota. That’s quite a hike in the wrong direction, but Don had no reason not to.
“Space Oddity” was a great choice to close out this episode, because of Bert Cooper’s connection to astronauts and space travel. His presence was felt in this episode – from his appearance as a ghost to Don while he drove, to the painting that Peggy took with her to her new office, to the fact that the company (companies) he’d helped build is now truly gone.
Only two episodes left. I can’t even believe it. I long for an ending that shows us what becomes of Joan, Peggy and Sally – even if we never know what happens to Don. But this ain’t Parenthood. I doubt we’ll get a montage.