Previously on Mad Men, Roger Sterling spearheaded the effort to unite Sterling Cooper & Partners ad agency with the much larger McCann Erickson while retaining some independence. This arrangement made the SC&P principles very wealthy, although Don was always uncomfortable with the move. In Time and Life, when SC&P is backhandedly alerted that their agency is being swallowed up by McCann Erickson, rumors begin to fly. Watching Don and Roger lead valiant but failed attempts to hold SC&P together, it’s fascinating to see how people pushed into a chaotic situation show their true colors – for better and for worse.
First, there’s the color of revenge. I love the way Dow Chemical’s Ken Cosgrove, the former SC&P account man recently fired by Roger, toys with Pete and Roger by letting them wine and dine him with Chateau Margot 1953 on more than one occasion. Ultimately, he bluntly reveals with some glee that he has no intention of doing further business with their agency.
And how about that random phone call from Lou Avery, signing off to Don? Previously, Lou was hired to replace Don when Don was put on leave for his alcoholism, and after Don returned to the agency, Lou was eventually demoted. Beyond the humor of two men talking about two different things while misunderstanding each other throughout most of the phone call, there’s the hilarity of Lou boasting to millionaire Don that he’s already received a $15,000 advance on his Scout’s Honor comic book character from the Japanese company he’s quitting SC&P to join – as if that’s going to make Don feel jealous of him. Lou ends the call with a foolish sting: “Well, sayonara my friend. Enjoy the rest of your miserable life.” Later in the episode, Don, Roger, and Ted are drinking, and Roger says: “I’d like to make a toast to Lou Avery. The Japs are going to eat him alive!” They all laugh as they tip their glasses.
Revenge turns bizarre when Pete and Trudy, divorced though they are, meet together with Headmaster McDonald in a desperate attempt to have their little daughter, Tammy, admitted to Greenwich Country Day School. Disgruntled with each other, they suddenly slap on big grins and cheery dispositions as soon as the headmaster enters the room. After a courteous greeting, the headmaster cites one reason after another to justify why Tammy wasn’t admitted – she was waitlisted and there’s no room for her – she did poorly on her “draw a man” test – Pete didn’t go to the school – Trudy demonstrated carelessness and arrogance by failing to submit applications to other schools. At this point Pete becomes irate at the insult to Trudy and invites the headmaster to step outside, presumably for a fist fight. Headmaster McDonald replies, “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather get me while I’m sleeping? . . . No McDonald will ever mix with a Campbell!” Dumbfounded, Trudy yells, “What are you talking about?” and Pete explains the 300-year-old feud between the McDonalds and the Campbells, in which the Campbells accepted the hospitality of the McDonalds and then murdered the clan in their sleep by order of the King. The headmaster yells at Trudy, “Just be grateful you can remarry and get rid of that name!” Pete then punches McDonald in the jaw, to which McDonald retorts: “Another sucker punch from the Campbells! Coward!” It’s a comedy of the absurd.
To counterbalance these dark sentiments, heartwarming shades of sympathy and confessions among friends color the episode in surprising abundance. Despite their past relationship tensions over the years, Pete shows care and concern for Peggy by secretly informing her of SC&P’s impending move to McCann in order to give her a leg up on the competition. Joan, despite her many frustrations with Roger after ending their affair years earlier, sits with Roger and responds with deep sympathy as he receives the phone call about SC&P’s demise. Joan then finds a sympathetic ear when calling her new love, Richard, who senses her mood and offers to fly to NYC on the red eye in order to listen to her in person the next day. Don and Ted spend time sharing a work space at the office where, despite the hostility of their original competitive relationship prior to the merger of SCDP (Don’s company) with CGC (Ted’s company), they now have a warm personal conversation. Ted sheds light on why he doesn’t want to be a part of Don’s plan for SC&P-West, and Don fully understands and encourages Ted to follow his own dream instead. Even cranky old Pete gives Joan an encouraging pep talk as they share a cab ride home from their drinking celebration. And Roger, after confiding to Don that he’s living with Don’s ex mother-in-law, Marie Calvay, surprises him with a big, non ironic kiss on the cheek as he departs the bar where they’ve been sharing drinks in the wake of their company’s demise.
I especially enjoyed the warming dynamic between creative copywriter Peggy and art director Stan. Back when Stan first started at the agency, he claimed to be sexually liberated and had a strip-down stand-off with Peggy. In this episode, though, he spends a great deal of time listening to and expressing his feedback to Peggy, who doesn’t always return the favor.
With clipboard in hand, Peggy commands a small group of grade school kids to play. One little girl is playing a children’s organ and Peggy walks over to her and stops her from playing. The other kids sit at the children’s table, fidgeting awkwardly. Stan steps in to help Peggy understand that kids are shy and need to be treated like people, but Peggy stubbornly insists that if you put just one toy out, they will all play. Stan tells her, in a nice enough way, “You hate kids.”
Later on, Peggy and Stan walk back into the creative office and see one of the audition participants, a little girl named Susie. They tell Susie the auditions are over, but she says she’s waiting for her mom to pick her up. In the next office, Harry is yelling over the phone and swearing, so Peggy and Stan attempt to shield Susie from the adult atmosphere by bringing her inside one of the private offices. There they let her monkey with the phone and stapler as they sit on the couch facing her and work quietly together to choose which children should get parts in their ad. Just as Peggy whispers confidentially to Stan that SC&P is moving to McCann, Susie shrieks, having accidentally stapled her thumb. The mom walks in and a game of “uproar” ensues, with Peggy and the mom accusing each other of child endangerment and Stan being the sole voice of calm.
A little later, Peggy and Stan work next to each other on their independent projects and Peggy confides that she can’t get any work done because she keeps thinking about “that woman.” As their conversation unfolds, Stan asserts his rather supportive observations about the woman and about Peggy, and Peggy, without giving him any credit at all for his insights or attempts to understand, insists that he just doesn’t understand a woman’s point of view and that he’s judgmental. Eventually, Stan pauses to listen between the lines and realizes that Peggy is covertly talking about her own experience of motherhood, of giving away her baby boy through adoption – something he was wholly unaware of prior to that moment. His thoughtfulness and consideration contrast strongly to Peggy’s self-righteous self-involvement.
The next morning, though, their conversation continues via a phone call from Stan’s office to Peggy’s. This time, Stan’s interest in and openness to Peggy is mirrored by her openness to him. Stan asks Peggy if she’s decided what to do, and Peggy replies that she’s going to McCann . . . “and you can come too, if you want.” Surprised, Stan asks, “You think I should?” “Everything’s going to be fine,” she reassures him, after which she suggests that they both stay on the phone while they work at their respective desks. Here she seems to open the door to a new level of togetherness.
The final colors in this episode would be pure white – signifying the white flag of surrender – along with pure black – indicating the acceptance of finality, a sort of death. Roger talks by phone to McCann’s Ferg Donnelly about renewing SC&P’s lease, but Ferg says, “Roger, calm down. I think you’ll see it’s all good news” (meaning no, the lease isn’t being renewed), and ultimately Roger accepts this. Don rallies his team to form SC&P-West, but ultimately, McCann’s Jim Hobart tells Don to sit down and give it up – the decision to disband SC&P has already been made. Slowly, Don surrenders to McCann’s decision. Roger tries to convince Ken to bring Dow Chemical Company’s ad business to their SC&P-West agency (the company branch that Don is hoping to rebuild), but Ken denies him with a sense of finality, and Roger understands and accepts the rejection. Joan is presumably shut out of her current position once they get to McCann, as McCann presumably won’t take her seriously as an account executive due to her gender and appearance – although we don’t see whether she accepts the situation as final. Peggy seeks a job anywhere but McCann, but is told by the headhunter that the door to advancement will close on her unless she goes there, and so she resigns herself to that fate. And Don, after hearing about Roger’s revived relationship with Marie and Ted’s new relationship with the woman he knew back in college, looks for Diana but finds that she’s moved out. Given no choice in the matter, Don has no chance to build that relationship unless Diana returns to him on her own.
What’s next for Don? Will he find a new relationship or return to an old one, as Roger and Ted both have done? And professionally, will he move to McCann or find a way to reinvent himself somewhere else? The surprises aren’t over yet. Be sure to tune in to the next episode of Mad Men this Sunday night, 10/9c on AMC.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00WNBQ9O0,B00M6X9ZTG,B009YR7UKI,B00BUUAV08]