Could there be a more succinct, summarizing title for Mad Men’s Episode 11 than “Time and Life?” Talk about spotlighting our awareness of how little time remains, how quickly things can change, and what yields our greatest sense of accomplishment in life.
Just as we were focused on Don Draper’s potential demise (last week), all eyes (and ears) are on the agency itself. It seems that the Time-Life Building, home to SCDP, then SC&P, is about to lose our favorite tenants.
30 more days, Mad Men fans, and then, an era as we have (re)lived it is wrapping up. And yes, life goes on.
As for the plot line to nudge us closer to our farewells, McCann-Erickson is absorbing the agency, which was apparently their plan all along (should the partners pass muster). Cue the lease that is not renewed, and precisely the future that the five partners never wanted — to be caught in the machinery of a large agency in which they would exercise no control.
What’s in a Name?
Issues of name and identity are brought to the table — literally — in this episode. But the issues are no longer about Don, but about the agency as a whole and its legacy. The senior partners discuss their looming absorption over drinks in several scenes with a poignant quality — the camaraderie of the partners as they raise their glasses, each peeling off for a partner of a different sort — Joan giving Roger a hug as she leaves to meet Richard, and Roger leaving Don on his own to hook up with Marie.
Before he is tenderly abandoned by his old friend Roger, we see how easily Don can now make reference to his own backstory, even wryly quoting Shakespeare to his old pal, “What’s in a name…” And while he initially gives Roger grief over Marie — “she’s crazy, you know,” he says — when his friend tells him not to judge, Don says:
For the second time today, I surrender.
There’s real affection between these two, as Roger takes Don’s face in his hands and says “You’re ok,” and he plants a kiss on Don’s cheek and exits.
Pass the hanky! No doubt there are more goodbyes to come!
One More Good Fight, or Is It a TKO?
Uplifting though it is to see Don’s wheels churning as he comes up with a scheme to prevent dissolution of SC&P, and the other partners doing their bit to rally, the McCann brass wants no part of the idea. Give it up for Don on the concept of creating a West Coast operation that would eliminate the conflicts of interest between SC&P accounts and McCann’s — some $18 million in billings.
For a few minutes, we were seeing the old team in action — impressive! — and surely we all flashed back a few seasons to the energy and optimism of Don, Roger, Joan and Pete as they were building their own Brave New World. Cooper is no longer with us of course, but good-natured Ted is doing his part. And score one for Matthew Weiner for giving us high hopes, only to dash them resolutely, tossing us off the top of that renowned building.
After all, hitting bottom for those of us who love this show is only a few weeks off.
In an image that is reminiscent of the partners beginning their journey to build SCDP, we see them facing the music — the demise of that identity and what it means to them.
Gender: Peggy, Past and Future
The long road ahead for women is equally apparent in Peggy’s scenes. We catch a glimpse of her struggle over the child she gave up years earlier, and the way she deals with it as she discloses snippets of her story to Stan. This takes place after he makes remarks concerning a mother who brought her child in for commercial casting, and callously states that she shouldn’t be a mother.
Peggy is incensed at the ignorance of his comments, and in a rare moment of letting her guard down, she talks about her son, albeit with hesitation, and the severely limited options that are available to women who find themselves in her position at the time. Not too that Stan all but pegs our Peg as over-the-hill at this stage in her life — past the opportunity for children.
And our Miss Olson is… what… 26? 27?
As Peggy meets with a headhunter to consider her professional options as the restructure awaits, it’s clear that her wish to become the first female Creative Director of the agency is unlikely to happen.
Joan Prepares for the Worst
Joan’s less than sunny perception of the takeover is right on target. She’s skeptical of anything they promise. (Aren’t they going back on their word in this latest move?) The McCann meeting dangled carrots in front of the partners as follows: Buick for Roger, Nabisco for Pete, Ortho Pharmaceuticals for Ted, and Coca Cola for Don. “You are dying and going to advertising heaven,” says the McCann suit. All well and good (for the men), but it isn’t lost on Joanie that there is no advertising heaven for her, no place for her.
“We both know they’ll never take me seriously over there,” she says to Pete.
The viewers may be happy she seems to have met a great guy — What’s not to love about that? — but it was only recently that Mrs. Harris expressed how fulfilled she feels in her job. And as Peggy reminds us in her conversation with Stan – why can’t the women have what the men have? They get to enjoy their careers, their independence and their families.
On a side note, one of the best early film treatments of the male-female double standard appears in a scene in 1965’s The Sandpiper starring Elizabeth Taylor.
Pete and Trudi
Scenes with Pete and Trudi seal the deal on the gender issue. After Pete gets into an argument with an admissions officer at a private school that refuses to accept daughter Tammy, and the gentleman in question insults Trudi, Pete punches him. His former wife seems genuinely pleased at her ex’s chivalry. And in a later conversation back at her house, she explains that as a divorcee, her life isn’t much fun. The other husbands hit on her, and her future prospects — especially in the suburbs — are none too pleasant.
(Might there be a reconciliation for these two?)
It is 1970, after all. And as all the show’s female characters demonstrate, the constraints and bias toward women are far from over. And while the picture has certainly improved, some 45 years later, too little of real “life” has changed, even with the passage of time.
As a final thought, Ted has a new girlfriend he seems to truly care for, Pete doesn’t seem disoriented in his singleness at the moment, Roger is content seeing Marie, and Joan is feeling good about her new man, Richard. We are uncertain if Peggy is seeing the man she met on her blind date. But one thing is for sure: Don goes searching for waitress Di, and comes up empty. Our hero is no longer actively wrestling with his past, but his present — and possibly his future — seem strikingly lonely.
Click images to access originals at AMC TV.
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