On a gut level, as a fan of the show, my enjoyment of Mad Men is determined by how the story treats its two protagonists: Don and Peggy. Do I care about Betty, Pete, Harry, Joan, and the rest of SC&P? Of course I do, but these characters are cyphers. They are made to represent characteristics of 1960s society, serving doubly as a representation of a certain personality type and a certain factor of corporate society. We have the put upon housewife with no place in the workforce, the self-destructive, forever-drinking smooth talker who functions solely on charms and alcohol, the well intentioned worker corrupted by a lucky break in a growth market, the hard-working suck-up who wants the world and is resentful that he’ll never get it, the intelligent, forceful secretary with no power in her home life, and so on.
When a tearful Roger walked away from his daughter realising how thoroughly he’d ruined her life, it was a tragic moment, but there was also something cathartic about it. Watching a reckless and utterly selfish man see where his life choices had taken him, like a 1960s Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, seemed almost just and inevitable, the effect of something that had been hidden in plain sight for decades. I honestly wouldn’t care if that’s where his character arc ended for this show. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that his character is finally starting to take initiative in this mid-season finale, but I would have no qualms with the show ending the arc of a character who was so focused on escaping sadness and loneliness through the short term pleasures of alcohol, drugs and sex, with having to confront the long term implications of that recklessness.
That whole paragraph was a roundabout way of saying that I could not accept such a fate for Don or Peggy. Both characters are also cyphers – Don for the american dream and Peggy for the changing role of women in the workforce – but they have evolved so much beyond that and I get no greater joy then seeing either of these characters put a tick in their respective win columns. That’s what made these two episodes so damn winning. Peggy’s win is a win for Don and for all the viewers. She is the best and worst of Don all rolled into a unique, brilliant and occasionally abrasive character. She is central to the story of Mad Men for what she brings out in Don and vice versa. That is why, ultimately my enjoyment of this final season will come down to how both characters manage to evolve and realise that they are better when they working alongside each other. We see the beginnings of this professional and personal camaraderie in episode 6 and the pay-off in the mid season finale.
7×06 – The Strategy
– Pete joins the Mile High club. It’s good for him to get a win every so often. Also the gleeful way he says ‘I’m drinking rum. Can you believe it?’ is eternally endearing.
– Lou’s line ‘It’s nice to see family happiness again’ could be my entire review of this episode. The final shot of the old Sterling Cooper crew sharing a family dinner is touching in the same way that Sally’s ‘I love you’ to Don was episode 2.
– I don’t have much to say about Bob Benson’s storyline except to note that the lives of gay characters will not end well on this show.
– ‘Then you’ll turn and hit the tag like you just thought of it’ – ‘Do I do that?’ – ‘Yes you do’. The perfect description of Don’s pitch style.
– ‘Are you mad at me?’ ‘No, goodnight Stan’. I love the moments where the happy-go-lucky Stan gets caught up in Peggy’s moodiness.
– Odd note but the New York backdrop from Don’s balcony is looking surprisingly realistic in this episode.
– Harry Crane makes partner. The series will end with Dawn making partner at this rate.
Overall Rating: 8 gay sham wedding proposals out of 10.
7×07 – Waterloo
– “She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the thirty-seventh floor of a skyscraper. She’s an astronaut”. Bert words that will adorn Ida Blankenship’s grave stone carry even more weight after this mid-season finale, as Bert meets his maker mere moments after the first men landed on the moon. If the moon landing wasn’t the beginning of a new era, then Bert’s death certainly represents the end of an old one. He was around for the advent of modern advertising and he passes on just before it shifts into something else, where data mining and information gathering are more important than creative, where computers replace people and oligopolies run rampart as companies subsume each other and expand.
– At this stage, Pete has essentially become comic relief and I quite like him in this state. He’s always been very old fashioned in the way he expresses himself, perhaps due to his conservative old-money upbringing. ‘This is a very sensitive piece of horseflesh. He shouldn’t be rattled’ is something I shall endeavour to say in everyday conversation (but never will)
– Favourite Peggy line. ‘I have to talk to people who just touched the face of God about hamburgers’.
-Peggy’s relationship with Julio was always a strange little curio but it’s in this episode that we see why she let him into her life, somewhat as surrogate for the son she gave away. Their parting is quiet and subtle but heartbreaking. Elizabeth Moss most definitely deserves Emmy recognition for this episode.
– The dissolution of the Draper marriage 2.0 is one of the things I’ve liked most about this half season. It was slow but sure with both sides trying to save face. They were intermittently smitten and then the next moment, they were a transamerican booty call. Their ending is more of a tearful sigh than a tragedy but it holds more weight than his divorce from Betty because here there is no real catalyst for the break up; just a weariness and the realisation that they’ve lost what they once had, which is infinitely more realistic than most on-screen divorces.
– Part of me wishes the show found another way to shake up the status quo beyond a character death (Season 5) or an institutional shake-up (Seasons 2 and 3 finales and mid season 6). Here we get both.
– If it weren’t already obvious, I thought Peggy’s Burger Chef pitch was perfect. From the opening shot of the back of her head, to the nervous slo-mo around the boy’s club that makes up the room, to the pitch itself. Just…………I love this show.
– Don: ‘How did you get in here?’ -Roger: ‘Money!’. Another perfect character summary.
– The song and dance routine felt quite odd for a moment but eventually I gave in to its message and charms. More than anything it’s Jon Hamm’s fantastic reaction to the song-and-dance that sells it and lends pathos to this touching send-off to a great man and an entertaining character.
Overall Rating: 9 Secretarial chorus girls out of 10.