Mad Men Weekly Review-Severance

That’s not a coincidence. That’s a sign – Ken
Of what? – Don
The life not lived – Ken

She lived the life she wanted to live. She had everything – Barbara Menken

We’ve known since the first season of “Mad Men” that Don Draper is not the man he says he is but in fact an imposter living another person’s life. This duplicity has resulted in Don never feeling truly comfortable or satisfied with any of the parts of his life – whether it’s work, his marriages or his family.

In most instances Don is able to lie to himself and fully inhabit his created identity with no outward remorse, but throughout “Severance”, the first of the series’ final seven episodes, Don is confronted with the possibility of truly finding happiness.

As the episode opens, Don is perhaps the most confident and carefree we’ve seen him in a long time. The opening scene is an amusing reversal as Don gives a beautiful woman instruction as she stands before a mirror in a chinchilla coat. It’s played as one of Don’s many seductions, but it is actually a casting call for Sterling Cooper & Partners.

This is no longer the cowed Don, shamed by his past mistakes and writing tags for Peggy like last season. The purchase by McCann Erickson outlined by Roger Sterling at the end of last year’s episodes has gone through and Don and the rest of the partners seem to have everything they wanted. Jim Cutler and Lou Avery are nowhere in sight (Don is even back in his corner office) and Don is so relaxed that he’s willing to comfortably tell anecdotes about his childhood as Dick Whitman while sitting in a diner with Roger and a trio of models.

As he mentions to one of his later conquests, Don is soon to be divorced again and he’s happily living the life of a middle-aged bachelor. His untroubled demeanor is shaken though when he has a dream about Rachel Menken, a department store heiress and Don’s mistress from way back in the first season. He’s further unnerved when he finds out soon after the dream that Rachel has recently passed away from leukemia.

Don has of course had many affairs over the course of the show, but the one with Rachel was established as serious and one of the few where he entertained the idea of abandoning his life and running off with her. Rachel’s passing causes him to look back and perhaps wonder what might have been, but after visiting her wake and speaking with her sister, who clearly knows all about their illicit relationship, she assures him that Rachel led a very happy and fulfilled life after her time with Don.
Don isn’t the only character seeking out fulfillment in his life. Ken Cosgrove began the series as maybe the least troubled character on the series, but working in advertising has beaten him down both mentally and physically, as it appears his that his eye is permanently damaged from his hunting accident with the Chevy lunatics in the sixth season.

His wife would love for him to quit and focus on his writing career, so it seems an amazing coincidence when the next day he’s fired basically because McCann Erickson is still upset Ken badmouthed them after he was stuck working for them when the rest of Sterling Cooper jumped ship in the third season.

Ken tells Don he believes the chain of events was more than coincidence and we think maybe he’s going to finally pursue his passion, but it’s something of a surprise when he informs Roger and Pete that he’s using his connection to his father-in law to move on as the head of advertising at Dow Chemical, one of Sterling Cooper & Partner’s accounts. It’s an amusing maneuver, but also kind of sad in that it is vengeful in a way you wouldn’t expect from the Ken we saw earlier in the series. If nothing else, hopefully it ensures that we haven't seen the last of him on the show.

Joan, like the rest of the partners, is now extremely wealthy but as we see in her and Peggy’s cringe-inducing meeting with some sexist McCann Erickson flunkies, any power she has attained is negated by the fact that she is still a woman in the workplace in 1969. Even as she’s facing an uphill climb though, it’s clear from her later scene shopping at the department store she used to work at that she is not willing to go back to accepting a lesser role.

Peggy continues to excel professionally, but her personal life going back to last season is a mess, so much so that she has nothing to lose by going on a date with underling Mathis’ brother-in law. The date starts off awkward, but as they both get increasingly intoxicated, the two seem to click. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s a relationship that is further explored or if Peggy will write it off as a drunken one-off.

Like most season premieres (and even though it’s supposed to be the eighth episode of season seven, this definitely feels like a season premiere) “Severance” is a table-setting episode, but it does an effective job of setting in motion what we can expect to see from the final six installments.
Some other notes:

·         Holy mustaches Batman. The one Ted Chaough is sporting is pretty awful, but it’s nothing compared the monstrosity Roger is now displaying. I’m sure it’s era-appropriate, but hopefully there is time in one of the final episodes for a character to tie Roger down and shave that thing off his face.
·         Pete is still Pete. Even after attaining immense wealth, all he can do is complain about how it’s simply causing him tax problems. He also gets a great meta moment after Ken suggests he could write about hs advertising career by retorting, “This world is boring.” Thankfully, Matthew Weiner didn’t feel the same way.
·         It appears Lou Avery is gone for good and if that’s true, I’m kind of bummed we didn’t get to see Don tell him to get the hell out of his office.
·         Most of the series regulars are accounted for here, but Betty, Sally and the rest of the Francis clan are no where to be found this week. Looks like they will show up next week though based on the previews.
·         The song used at the opening and close of the episode was “Is That All There Is?” by Peggy Lee. As well as having been released around the time of the episode, it’s a pretty effective summation of the episode’s themes.

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About Kevin Fiorenzo

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