Those Are The Cons, And You Know It
Mad Men Season 7 Episode 6 recap
Oh my God, oh my God. I’ve always loved this show, and loved writing about it. But sometimes it’s still, you know, a commitment. This was not that. This was …not just a pleasure, probably a gift.
Because there is nothing I love more than an episode of this show where the work – the actual stuff they do – is the stand-in for everything else. I love it so much I can’t even stand it.
Don’s doing work, so he’s happy enough to pass a beautiful weekend with Megan, thinking that maybe this could work if he had his creativity and his sense of self-worth back again. Pete’s doing work, and showing it the courtesy he could never show any of the women in his life – so he doesn’t. Peggy knows the work isn’t good enough, and so she can’t rest, won’t rest, is going to be cantankerous and horrible until she figures out what’s wrong with it – that’s kind of her birthright as Peggy Olsen. Even Joan sits through her horrible proposal of convenience and, even though she has to dispatch Bob, she’s most worried about Chevy. It’s about the work.
Joan and Bob were fascinating to watch, though, because there was never a lot to say. There was never a lot about how they became friends, only that they suddenly were in each other’s lives – or at least, he was in hers. Still, it was obviously very ongoing and very comfortable. Joan has always had a social fluidity about her that allows her to take people as they are. So when Bob was offering friendship, well, she took it for what it was. That Bob, whose secret Pete sniffed around but didn’t care enough to push play on, was so in earnest about the kind of life they could have together speaks volumes to how open he assumes Joan could be.
Here’s what kills me about Joan. She’s a pragmatic woman, as I’ve said here before. She isn’t above making choices that benefit her. But because she made certain choices – frowned upon choices, I might add, that were judged on everyone else’s moral scale – she doesn’t have to accept Bob’s offer. She wouldn’t be any further ahead in a loveless arrangement with Bob than she would now.
Isn’t that liberating? Isn’t that amazing? Joan doesn’t have everything. She doesn’t have all the flexibility to do what she wants or to stop working or keep Harry Crane away from being partner or to magically get Kevin a father (or a T-shirt). But she doesn’t have to take any offer that comes by from Bob Benson just to grasp onto some sort of security. It’s a far cry from the Joan we met 7 years ago. It’s impressive. She’s a partner.
Perhaps it’s because we’re nearing the end that I feel a little nostalgic. As I watched Bob, who is “not of your stripe”, and therefore protesting a little too much, I couldn’t help but think of Sal. Remember Sal? He was not long for the Sterling Cooper world really, in the grander scheme of things, but seeing that this came up again I wonder how many people were casualties like he was. Who moved on out of necessity, who couldn’t help but fall victim to secrets they didn’t want to see.
Megan sees a whole lot of things she doesn’t want to see. It’s always been clear that, while she’s not Don’s soul mate, she shares his enthusiasm for sweeping into rooms and owning them. For being a presence. She doesn’t have it all the way down yet, obviously – the secretary didn’t even notice her – but she loves the idea of it. Just like she loves the idea of Don’s big office. The one she thinks Peggy might inherit someday. Peggy mutters that it’s just next door but it doesn’t matter, Megan’s already pointed out what it is that she thinks matters. I am joining the chorus of the internet in thinking this episode – and this season – is just about flawless, but what if Don had not had his job for longer? Would Megan have cut out of here? Is she hanging out because she sees Don returned to his former glory?
One thing is clear – the plane to LA carried women away from any sort of messiness. Megan leaves behind all the stuff that she “misses”, knowing she’s never coming back to it – not for real. Bonnie is as exposed as her feet were on New York streets – she wanted all of Pete’s time and attention and in LA she could kid herself that it was possible. In New York, he’s a different man.
In New York, he has a whole bunch of shadows. I had forgotten that he lived in the pied-a-terre in the city before moving to LA. He’s been edging farther and farther away from Trudy and Tammy for years. But obviously, he still cares. Obviously, he hangs out to see Trudy back from her date. Obviously, he misses her. I don’t know whether this is a chicken or an egg situation because I had forgotten, until I saw them together, what chemistry Pete and Trudy have together. I love seeing scenes with them. I desperately want them out of the city, but can you imagine Pete and Trudy going on dates again, now that she’s a sophisticated woman? Did you catch him complaining that he didn’t know about her father’s heart attack? Pete wants to be part of the family. Desperately.
He’s part of the family.
I have been hoping for words to do justice to what went on between Don and Peggy last night. For me – for everyone – this has always been the great romance of the show. Peggy wants to do the work; she’s in love with the high that comes from the best idea. Don is and always has been the conduit to that romance. She’s not in love with him and never has been, but he’s the instrument through which she has experienced the best highs of her life.
The scene where he acknowledges just how similar the two are together – “I abuse the people whose help I need, and then I take a nap” – is also showing how great they are together. The abuse – Peggy calling him at home to rant about his “from the kids’ perspective” idea – is water under the bridge. It was part of her process and he doesn’t question or get upset about it. Don doesn’t worry about her, because Peggy is glorious. And even though she and Stan are friends, even though he loves her in some way, he is never going to be Don. Don comes in. Has to. Can’t resist the idea that she might need help. That he might get better just by being in her presence.
Dancing to My Way is the kind of moment that could have been cheesy on another show. It could have been too heavy handed or indicative of a long romantic entanglement (and isn’t it funny that Don and Peggy’s creative romance is so much more compelling than Ted and Peggy’s romantic romance?) or patronizing. This was none of that. It was reminding us that you don’t know when you come across the people who will understand and matter to you. The ones who you will be able to expose yourself to. “That I’ve never done anything…don’t have anyone”. The ones who will automatically be able to understand who you are aren’t necessarily the ones you marry or choose as friends or who position themselves as constants in your life. How could Don have known the person who was going to understand him most closely is an awkward, argumentative woman almost 20 years his junior?
The joy of finding that out is why he and Peggy continue to love what they do. Why the highs of creativity continue to satisfy them. Making human connections professionally – even human connections through products – lets them share their delight that the possibilities of feeling less alone in the world are infinite.