Mad Men’s sixth season was full of institutional shake-ups for SC&P. While this kept the series from getting too comfortable or stale, it also made the season feel unbalanced and plot heavy, trading the show’s trademark purposeful pacing and philosophical leanings for multiple character introductions and messy office politics. Season 7 seems to be following a similar pattern in terms of its mid-season office shake-up narrative, but this time it is more intensely grounded by its characters, namely Don’s, so that all the office swapping and building renovations seem to exist to inform the character’s mindset, provide obstacles and reflect the character’s situation within the narrative.
So we get the answer to the question we may have asked ourselves at the end of the last episode. Is Don really going to dig in and meet this challenge to work his way up from the bottom again at SC&P? The answer of course is ‘no’. Well he puts in the absolute minimum effort. He deigns to walk all of 5 feet into Peggy’s office at her demand, but at the slightest hint that she wants him to WORK, as in do his job, he gives her the angriest deadpan – excuse the expression – ‘bitchface’ that the show has ever seen, besting even the formidable Betty Draper. You can see it in his half-assed effort to move the couch and the way he non-chalantly steps over the couch to get to his office. He just isn’t prepared to do the work that others ask him to do. He’s used to being the one who asks others for work. The one who sets deadlines and assignments. As a ‘creative director’, unlike for an accounts man, the work comes first and the wills of the client comes second. This has always been Don’s biggest weakness within SC&P. His creative work is great, but what good is great work if the client doesn’t want it. Lou understands this and that’s why the company prefers Lou. The work is fine, the clients are happy and the company soldiers on with no-one rocking the boat. Meanwhile Don is incapable of not being the person who has final say on the work he does. He’s not a team player and that’s why he’s drowning.
Pete’s in the episode briefly but really it’s just to hammer home Freddy Rumsen’s point: Do the work. Pete is different from Don in that he wants the company to do well, regardless of what he has to do. The work is the work. He doesn’t want praise for sweet talking clients; that’s his job. He only wants recognition that his work has lead to the success of the company. Peggy is more like Don than she would care to admit. She’s at her happiest when HER work is recognised and even then that happiness never lasts for long because she always feels like something is standing in the way of her ascent. Earlier in the season she couldn’t even pretend that she was happy for the company when it was nominated for a Clio, because HER work wasn’t nominated. And this is only one example of how a father-figure’s mannerisms and bad habits can be picked up by daughters.
I enjoyed this episode quite a bit but I feel it was a tad on the nose, even for a Mad Men episode. Now I appreciate that the show realises that the displacement of the creative lounge with an enormous computer is a literal displacement of the creative process in favour for data and stats and is not just left as an obvious metaphor for the fears of technological change. But even so the conversations Don has with the man installing the computer are too…..easy. Dialogue like ‘people see the computer a metaphor for what going on in their lives’ is just too bizarrely to-the-point that it almost wastes an opportunity to intelligently and subtly discuss how the fear of change and progress as manifested through fast growing technology speaks to our own sense of redundancy – especially in relation to Don’s current situation. As mortals of limited time and means we are always chasing the infinite; we want the most and we want the best. The computer is almost a master of the infinite and that’s scary. What do we do when we don’t have a place in the world anymore; when we’ve been replaced? We drink ourselves stupid if we’re Don. As usual there is some true eloquence in these discussions but they’re shrouded in a forced set up and some uncomfortable interactions.
As frustrating as it is to watch Don waste his potential and his second by purposely wasting everyone’s time and filling up his coke can with vodka like a bogan teenager heading into the city on a friday night, at least we are given a mild catharsis when Don knuckles down and starts typing his 25 taglines. Maybe I’ll get what next episode what I hoped we’d see this episode – an engaged Don; someone who uses his skills to serve something greater than his own sense of worth.
Surprisingly for me the most engaging storyline saw Roger trying to connect with his daughter, Margaret. Neither of them want to ‘do the work’, whether that means raising children or contributing to the company. It’s not a perfect story, the machinations that allow Roger to stay but send Mona away feel a little forced, but the pay-off is heartbreaking. Margaret/Marigold seems genuinely happy. She’s at peace, she’s connecting to people and she’s living free. Roger knows that this is at least somewhat bullshit. Roger has spent much of his life running from commitment and work because they get in the way of him ‘living’. But as Mona points out, that’s the hard truth; that’s what living is, putting in the hard yards, being responsible and doing right by others, not just yourself. The final shot of Roger walking away wordlessly as he realises he’s responsible for somewhat fucking up Margaret’s life, something he claimed wasn’t possible in the car ride over, is heartbreaking and it potentially represents the nail in the coffin of the relationship between the two. All he can do now is continue doing what he’s done his whole life; run away. I couldn’t help but think this is how Don and Sally’s relationship could turn out if he isn’t careful.
– The music in the elevator as Don was heading up to SC&P was particularly tense. The score isn’t usually so obviously quick-paced and uncomfortable.
– Shitting on Harry Crane #348. ‘It can do magical things like make Harry Crane seem important’.
– Pete – ‘A women’s point of view, or whatever Peggy counts as’.
– Elisabeth Moss’ reading of ‘Is that right?’ is the perfect blend of pissed off superior and disappointed child.
– ‘Along with a dead man, who’s office you now inhabit’. Lane’s ghost does hover over this episode probably more than in any season 6 episode.
Overall Rating: 8 fart smelling couches as a metaphor for the fear of change out of 10