Mad Men Weekly Review - Time & Life

Are we really going to play this game? – Joan
We’ve seen the last-minute save many times on “Mad Men”.
When Don convinces Lane to fire everyone so they can evade moving to McCann Erickson and start their own agency. When Don and Ted decide the only way to land Chevy is for their two agencies to merge. And at the end of last year’s episodes, when Roger put together the deal for McCann to purchase Sterling Cooper & Partners as an (allegedly) independent subsidiary.
Of course, it was probably inevitable the merger with McCann wouldn’t be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow everyone anticipated so when the other foot came down in “Time & Life” that McCann would be moving the agency to their own building and effectively absorbing Sterling Cooper & Partners, it was equally inevitable that Don would concoct a scheme to maintain his and the agency’s independence and autonomy, this time by moving the agency to Los Angeles.
Only this time, it’s a fight he can’t win.
There is no magic escape hatch and having signed long-term contracts, the partners are locked to their fate. Jim Hobart’s tries to sell the partners with a speech designed to lure them with the glamour and excitement they’ll attain at McCann, basically sounding like the Devil himself, while conveniently leaving out the power and control they’ll be losing. He says “Stop struggling. You won,” but he might as well be saying “You lost. Say uncle.”
And now they have no choice but to remain resigned to the outcome. Ted gets to work on the pharmaceutical he dreamed about last week and says he is happy to have someone else in control, while Joan knows that any headway she made over the years as a powerful woman will go out the window at McCann. And then in the final scene, when the partners inform the rest of the agency about the move, even Don, who has made his career on being persuasive, is unable to calm the storm with his feeble sentiment that “This is the beginning of something, not the end.”
We know, just like the Sterling Cooper & Partners underlings know, that with just three episodes remaining, the opposite is true. We’re nearing the end, but the story still has a few chapters left and while matters are bleak at the moment, I have a hard time believing that leaving all these characters, especially Don, as cogs in the wheel at McCann is the final endgame Matthew Weiner has planned.
Peggy is one of the few non-partners, thanks to Pete, who finds out about the move to McCann and has time to weigh her options. She ultimately makes the decision to stay on and, as we’re reminded, she knows something about making tough decisions.
Whenever Peggy interacts with children it’s a reminder of the pivotal choice she made to give up hers and Pete’s baby years ago. It’s a choice, prioritizing her career over a family, that she’s made peace with but one that haunts her whenever she is around children.
That discomfort manifests itself in her awkwardness around kids, like in the casting session for Play-
Doh, but it especially stings her when the mother of the little girl who accidently staples her finger says, “You do what you want with your children.” Peggy can’t do that because she doesn’t know where her child is.
That pain then reveals itself when Peggy ultimately opens up to Stan in a fantastic scene that is incredibly well-played by Elisabeth Moss (Give her an Emmy now). “Maybe she was very young and followed her heart and got in trouble. And no one should have to make a mistake just like a man does and not be able to move on. She should be able to live the rest of her life, just like a man does.”
Peggy has grown a lot from the naïve secretary who embarked on her first day at Sterling Cooper during the series pilot, but she still has to live with the choices she’s made and ultimately she would probably do things the same way. As the headhunter she meets tells her, she'll likely quadruple her salary if she stays on just three years at McCann. The future looks bright for Peggy.
Pete’s storyline with Trudy doesn’t really fit much into the larger context of the episode, but it does give an opportunity for a (final?) appearance by Alison Brie. The school headmaster rejecting Pete and Trudy’s daughter because his family got screwed over by the Campbells 300 years ago is kind of a silly resolution, but somewhat fitting. Pete has always been able to fall back on his family name, either Dykeman or Campbell, but just as Don’s power of persuasion has limits, this time it has no effect.
Some other notes:
-Harry isn’t much of a presence but he gets two very funny moments. First when Peggy and Stan are tending to the little girl left behind by her mother and he goes on a profane tirade over the phone. Then when he’s the only one pleased at the McCann announcement and tries to assure everyone that it’s good news. Once a selfish mercenary, always a selfish mercenary.
- When the “Previously On” scenes showed Don with Diana the Waitress and then when Don’s telephone operator tells him she tried calling him, I dreaded we’d have to spend more unnecessary time with female Don. Instead when he visits her apartment, she has moved out and disappeared to parts unknown. Maybe she went back to her family in Racine, but I’m not sure we’ve seen the last of her.
-Roger is still in a relationship with crazy Marie Calvet and if there is any “Mad Men” spinoff, that should be it and it would have to be a sitcom.
-While they were getting raked over the coals, McCann Erickson did a hilariously self-deprecating job of live-tweeting the episode on their official Twitter feed, @McCann_WW, up to and including comparing their offices to the Death Star. Looks like they’re doing it each week so that will be something to check out over the final three episodes.
-Joining the tradition John Slattery and Jon Hamm started of cast members directing episodes, Jared Harris, Lane Pryce himself, returned to helm this week’s episode and did a stellar job on arguably the best of the first four episodes this year. In particular, the wide shot of the partners morosely sitting at the McCann Erickson conference table mirrored this more optimistic moment from the fifth season. Also the slow pull back in the final scene during Don's futile attempt to rally the troops. 
A great episode and one that sets things in motion for the final three installments. Like Pete said, “For the first time I feel like whatever happens is supposed to happen.”

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