For a show highlighting deception, self-reflection, and human frailty, Mad Men is, at its core, all about family.
It’s About Family
Peggy is having a rough time (must be Sunday) traveling around the Northeast doing research on the BurgerChef clientele. It takes awhile…a grueling, intensive, hair-pulling while, but the team – consisting of Peggy, Don, and Hufflepuff Mathis — arrive at a pitch: it’s all about Mom. Pete (more on his “B” story in a moment) loves the idea but insists to Peggy that the clients would respond better to seasoned pitchman Don, and she should take a back seat in the meeting. Lou smiles when the news is broken to her, but Pete concludes, lamely, the decision is ultimately up to her. Peggy, through gritted teeth, and much to Lou’s continued delight at the tension Don’s presence is causing, agrees to let Draper take lead, albeit only for show.
Megan attempts to surprise Don at the office but runs into Peggy instead. In one of those subtle character moments, the erstwhile soap actress becomes embarrassed at how far her husband has fallen, sharing office space next to Peggy. It colors her icy performance the rest of the episode highlighting the increasing distance between the couple.
When Don flippantly suggests to Peggy that the concept might still need a little work, the wound festers until she spends all weekend at the office attempting to fix it. She calls Stan at home and bitterly spews at her friend the bile Don has thrust upon her, but ultimately tells him to stay home and not come to work. Peggy finally aims her disappointment at the right person, and Don comes to the office to help her arrive at the right angle. She tells him to show her how his mind works so that she can finally understand what really sets them apart. Finally having her say and lashing out at him, Peggy is able to reconnect with her mentor. They share a dance to Sinatra’s “My Way,” and…she’s got it: take the family out of the home, into the 70’s, away from the old 50’s mindset. They cannot regain the past. They have to make the future work. It’s a theme carried through this season so far: Lou versus Don. Joan and Peggy versus the Men of the office. Dawn versus Lou. Sally versus Betty. Tradition versus Reality.
The two invite Pete to a real BurgerChef, and Peggy relays that she wants to shoot the commercial in the restaurant, showing that the idea is all about family. The camera pulls back to reveal Peggy, Don, and Pete gathered around the table in the booth. Our Mad Men family.
Will You Marry Me (But, Like, Never, Ever Touch Me)?
Everyone’s favorite loose canon Bob Benson is back at SC&P along with the Chevy guys to bring the partners up to speed; everyone has a spring in their step, but the joy is short-lived. Bill Hartley, Chevy’s new Vice President of Branding, hits on Joan hardcore in the office, but he might have been protesting a little too much: he is later arrested for trying to kiss an under-cover police officer down there, and has to call Bob to bail him out. It’s cool, though, his wife is “in the know,” but Bill does have bad news for Benson: SCP is losing the Chevy Vega, but Buick is going to be offering Bob a job with in-house sales….and maybe SCP can get them.
In the meantime, this little encounter has Bob thinking about his future and his image. He shows up at Joan’s apartment and takes the whole family out for a day on the town. When they return, both grandma and baby Kevin are tuckered, so Bob and Joan get close on the couch and hang out. Then, quiet unexpectedly, Bob pops the question. He wants Joan to be his wife and goes on to give the world’s worst you’re-a-consolation-prize-and-means-to-an-end proposal. Basically: he’s pretty, she’s not going to do any better at her age, so what if they don’t have sex, he’ll have a good job! Red turns him down flat and kicks him out adding that just the very idea of real love is worth everything compared to his empty proposition.
It’s different kind of family, sure, but it is worth it to Joan to not live the lie Bob is offering. She yearns to teach her son that there has to be something better. She will not settle.
Such Great Heights
Pete and Bonnie seem to be getting along famously, as Mr. Campbell brings his girlfriend along on a flight to New York. They go over their schedule on the flight, she insisting he spend time with her over the vacation, and then Bonnie inducts good ol’ Pete into the Mile High Club.
While visiting the Big Apple, however, Bonnie is displeased at how often her main squeeze leaves her alone. He takes a trip to the ‘burbs to visit Tammy, and ends up staying all night to stalk Trudy – who has clearly moved on. He’s lost his family. The Los Angeles Playboy persona he has so clearly wanted everyone to believe is the real Pete is cracking. After he tries to suck up to Bonnie by putting the patented Campbell moves on her, she leaves him wanting.
The episode ends with Bonnie and Megan on the same plane, headed back to LA, each alone. Um…so? Look, I know our guys need dolls and all that jazz, but who really cares about these characters? Bonnie is just another highlight of Pete’s continued failures – frankly, he does fine exhibiting that on his own – and Megan is far more interesting when she is vulnerable and conniving. As much as Don loved the idea of Megan, she’s never really been his family. Both are so selfish and searching outside themselves, neither can truly commit. Good riddance, I say. (Though we all know the sun has not set on this LA-NY love fest.)
Recapping poor seasons of Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead kept me skeptical and reluctant to fall in love with television again this year, but thankfully, shows like Mad Men and Orphan Black still exist, albeit a very short time for the latter. Spotlighting relationships is what Mad Men does best, and “The Strategy” was simply that.
In her quest to become like – and ultimately surpass – her mentor, Peggy has been put through the ringer. Finally, we see her come out the other side and do her best work with BurgerChef, of all clients. And ironically, she needed Don to do it: not his approval, necessarily, but she had to know how to think like him in order to rise above, to stand on her own. The great love between the two portrayed so brilliantly in season four’s The Suitcase returns with a shared drink, a knowing look, and a dance. For two people so isolated, so alone, they have each other. The one constant carried throughout the series has been this great love, and as we near the home stretch, this pinnacle is authentic and earned. Don has given Peggy his respect, his truth, the best of himself.
The final shot – Don, Peggy, and Pete in a booth at BurgerChef, sharing a family meal — could have been a final series shot, but creator Matthew Weiner has more in store for us, and thank the TV gods for that!