Don’t Be So Cynical
Mad Men Season 7 Episode 7 recap
People are surprising, and that’s a good thing. It seems not to be true, for weeks and years, and then all of a sudden, people do things that are different. They surprise you. They decide to be different.
Every single character we care about decided to be different.
Everyone told Roger that they knew how important Bert was to him. Roger proves it – he listens to Bert say he’s not a leader, and in order to honor his memory, and what he would have wanted, and to protect his team, Roger becomes a leader. Just like that. He surprises you.
Sally Draper, all dressed up in a giant beehive and a bathing suit and tripping over shirtless beefcake boys in her kitchen, is primed to become Betty in first year of college (though if we’re going for genetic accuracy, I sure hope Sally hits a growth spurt soon). Her looks and her attitude are unimpeachable popular-girl, as is her ability to parrot whatever is guaranteed to sound uber-sophisticated coming out of her mouth. But she surprises you. She doesn’t kiss beefcake, though the show hammered us over the head with the idea that she would have ample opportunity. She kisses the nerd who shows her something new. She stops being cynical. It was as refreshing as the surely-menthol cigarette she draws on afterward, as she contemplates the mysteries of the universe. Also, before we move on – how can you all watch Betty Draper give her daughter this face and still tell me you don’t love her?
I did, however, get the idea that this might be close to the last we see of Betty. “I think of him as an old bad boyfriend” means he’s just not that relevant in her life anymore and that she has other concerns. I don’t believe the Mad Men writers are any less interested in her, but with seven episodes next year to tie everyone up, it might be a tight competition for space. And there’s so much to cover.
This show wants you to know that people have to change to keep moving. People have to surprise themselves to stay afloat, to change direction when it’s necessary. One of my favourite phrases is “ride the horse in the direction it’s going”. That means if new bosses come into your work and hate everything that’s been going on, you better damn well hate what they hate, or lose your job. Yes, it’s true that it can make you feel like your head is spinning, but the alternative is that you don’t have any boss to complain about.
It’s a turn Joan is adept at making – or has been, in the past. She knows that whatever way the wind blows is the way the smart woman appears to want to go. Not just that – but to make the decision-makers glad that was the choice they made.
But she learns – and turns – fast. In that incredible scene upstairs in the executive offices, the camera mimics our thoughts. Whose side are we on? How is this going to go? Flying from Roger to Bert to “Joan, GET OUT HERE”, who’s going to be on top in this scenario? Don immediately calls out Joan for not having his back. Roger just as quickly calls out Harry for not being a partner and therefore unwelcome in the conversation (I think Ken Cosgrove may have been in that scene purely and only to smirk at Harry). It looks like Don is going to lose it all – after all he did (sort of) violate his contract. But, in a move that everyone in that office will have memorized for years to come, he doesn’t back down. He throws every card he has on the table in that moment – and he wins. Jim Cutler either doesn’t know how much everyone values Don, or how many asses he’s saved in the past. Or, as Roger thinks, he truly doesn’t value creativity. (Harry and a machine. Shudder.)
So it’s left to Joan, who threw her hat in with Cutler not only because Don was “costing [her] money”, but because he was the one who told her she should be an accounts man. She has divided loyalties, but, ever my pragmatic woman, she turns around again right quick when she realizes that being against Don means being in the minority. And later, when she realizes she’s about to be really, really rich. (Her share would be worth almost 10 million today.) Joan is now and always has been a pragmatist. She’s never been overly sentimental which made her essential in a business context. Now that she’s looking out for number one, that skill is extremely beneficial, to the point where she might not remember that she has other sentiments at all.
It’s not hard to understand how you would get there; Megan’s in the same situation. Ugh. My stomach actually hurt for Megan this episode. Just like that. You can be having a normal conversation and just like that, something changes, and the trajectory of your conversation and your day and your life is so different. It’s those moments you want to rewind, not necessarily to do them differently, but because they happen so damn fast.
This is what maturity looks like. She’s much older now than when she first met and married Don – even if, in years, it’s only been a few. She understands so much more about what it is to be unhappy – how geography can make a difference, how a place can start to feel like freedom. It’s not just the absence of that person – even if that person is someone you love – but it can be. It’s not being alone that’s the draw. It’s not being watched. It’s an important distinction.
It’s been simmering in the background this year that Megan’s acting career has stalled. Probably for no larger reason than volume; there are a lot of people competing for what she wants. But when Don was flailing and falling, Megan’s career was better and faster and stronger. She was out of the house when he wanted her near. She was always thinking about what would be best for her – and he was disappointed.
Can you blame her for thinking that now, as he gets back on his creative feet, (anyone with eyes can see that Don Draper is on his way back, whether at SC& P or otherwise), it’s embarrassing that she’s floundering? She sacrificed him for herself, goes a certain way of thinking, so shouldn’t she be further ahead?
Don, of course, is not sweating it. He’s on a cheap bed in Indiana, and his only concerns are whether the astronauts will make it - I had no idea this was a worry, back then – and whether Sally will be a jaded child and pass that on to her brothers. In fact, Don this episode was at his most benevolent and relaxed, and again, it’s because all his energy was focused on the work. Even before he knew he was giving the pitch to Peggy, he was utterly comfortable, able to express himself to Pete in a few words, able to convince Peggy she had the skills to get things done (“We have no liquor!”) and ultimately able to convince Ted Chaough, in a few scant words, that signing on for five more years is the right thing to do. In his casual, effortless way, he makes everyone in the room extremely wealthy, and buys back everyone’s favour. My only regret about the last scene in Roger’s office is that Pete’s gleeful “I have 10 percent!” i.e. “I’m about to be twice as rich as you!” is too context-dependent to be a fun thing to say to people. Oh well. We’ll always have “Not great, Bob”.
But Don is fine. Even great. And the person who’s had the biggest day and yet the smallest one is Peggy. I don’t wish much from this show – mostly it gives me everything I need – but I wish we’d seen her answer the phone from Burger Chef. Think about it. The phone rings, she answers and as soon as she realizes what’s going on, she leans out from her desk, maybe carries the handset to the door, trying to find someone to signal with her eyes, and it’s all only secretaries, who don’t care. Who don’t know. Or worse, Lou Avery, whose pettiness extends even to his own forearms, which don’t merit being covered for reasons I can’t really understand.
No, Peggy gets her good news alone and offscreen, and I wonder if for her this will be a defining moment. Certainly this weekend was about several of them – she knows where she was during the moon landing, and she knows when she landed her first big account based on a romantic, expansive pitch – and maybe she remembers the first time she felt a longing for something that she let slip away.
I admit that I didn’t see it. I didn’t know why the kid upstairs was bugging Peggy, save for some comic relief. I didn’t do the math.
But I comfort myself that she didn’t either. Peggy didn’t know, until he was right in front of her, about to leave, that she loved him, that she realizes the other life she might have had. That, unbelievable as it seems (“It will shock you how much this never happened”), she could be the mother of a boy almost this big. On some level it’s never happened, and yet, on some level she remembers. “Of course she loves you. That’s why she’s moving.” Peggy’s demons don’t keep her awake at night – two episodes later, Ginsberg is only a wisp of a memory – but she has Don’s sentimentality that keeps her in the hearts and minds of the people she sells to. It also keeps her from being perfectly happy.
So if Peggy is a reflection of Don, if the two are the partnership that will define for us the beginning of the next decade, what’s he meant to take from Bert Cooper’s little song and dance? To me the whimsy was so incredibly on point it didn’t even seem problematic. I do like that hallucinations in the office always seem to happen from exactly that perspective – that’s also where Don saw Ken tapdance his little addled brain out.
But Bert cares about his people. His team. And he never collected his team because they were savvy about money or fantasized about computers. (You guys, the unending misfires of Harry Crane! Nothing makes me happier!). He brought people in who had a penchant for being entranced by a story, by a bit of fantasy. Don’t be so cynical. You see, Don, the ghost of Bert says, as long as you can still be spellbound by a bit of magic, you can do this. You have five more years in you – hell, maybe fifteen. He lived a long and happy life (“Bravo”) because he retained a bit of whimsy, and because he took his shoes off. Becoming calculating is not the key to a long and happy life. Don’s on the path that’s the most right for him – and he’s doing the best he can to pass that philosophy to the young women in his wake who matter.
Seven more episodes next year. Peggy and Roger and Pete and Joan and Sally and Don. Those are the people we prepare to say goodbye to – these people who have clung together while everyone else around them falls away or fails to move on. You have to keep moving, keep wondering. Smile when a man lands on the moon. Don’t be so cynical.