MAD MEN: “Severance”

Lock up your daughters — Don Draper is back. And how.

As Mad Men debuts its final seven episodes, longtime fans are treated to Easter eggs, a changed/unchanged Don Draper, Peggy brilliance, and Pete finally getting what he deserves. Subtly we see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it is clear this is the beginning of the end. This episode was all about the “what if’s’” the “never dids” and, maybe, even hope. There really is no sense in hiding hyperbole: even in this post-modern Golden Age of Television, Mad Men is consistently the best dramatized series on any broadcasting service or network. And you can quote me.

All the Feels

Peggy Lee belts a tune as we open with Don seductively directing a Raquel Welch look-a-like, who’s modeling a chinchilla coat in front of the partners – er, the male partners; it’s set up as if Don is bedding this young lady, but we’re all seasoned audience vets here, we know it’s a casting session. Fun fact: remember the first time Don met Betty? Yep, she was modeling a fur coat.

Cut to later that night, as Don delights a table full of women and Roger at a diner about his young days growing up in the boarding house. Turns out, Draper is so comfortable in his skin now he wears his honesty as a badge. After leaving the young ladies in stitches – and Roger (sporting a white Burt Reynolds lip blanket) in utter annoyance at always playing second fiddle – Don is taken by waitress Diana (Elizabeth Reaser), convinced he’s seen her before. Roger ribs the lady, but leaves a rather large tip as an apology. We know we’ll see her again – she’s the kind of haunted, lost thing Don loves to destroy.

Comfortable in his skin or not, Don runs through all the stewardesses in town whilst dreaming about Rachel Katz at night. Ain’t that just a trip down memory lane! When Joan and Peggy’s Topaz Pantyhose account nearly goes belly up (more on that in a moment), Don uses the opportunity to reach out to Rachel and set a meeting. Only it’s too late – Rachel died of leukemia just a week before. What are the odds, right? He goes back to the waitress and seeks solace in, um…her comfort in the back alley. Not to be a lasting relationship, she’s just happy to repay the large tip and move on, but she leaves Don with parting words about dreams and death, reminding him that in grief, it is all too easy to confuse events, and maybe he always dreamed of Rachel, of the past, and him reaching out right after her death was merely a coincidence.

What Women Want

Joan and Peggy have their hands full selling Topaz pantyhose on a drastic marketing overhaul, as L’eggs has cornered the market in drug and grocery stores. Don suggests they work with McCann Erickson on pitching to department stores, leading to a salacious meeting where the McCann guys shoot horribly offensive sexual puns Joan’s way. But stalwart Peggy steers the meeting to numbers and facts while Joan stews. Later, in the elevator, our favorite ginger delivers the best line of the night: “I want to burn this place down.” We all do, honey. We all do.

When the ladies do not exactly agree on how to handle the situation, Peggy reminds Joan that she’s filthy rich (after the McCann buyout) and can do whatever she wants. And so the redhead buries her annoyance in shopping therapy. Here’s the thing – this is probably the most tragic of any scene in a series full of tragedy. The smart, capable Joan built her empire on her body, her dignity, and now she is a shallow version of the strength she once displayed. She stands in front of the shop mirror admiring the outside, when she knows this might be all she has left. Oomph.

Meanwhile, Mathis offers to set Peggy up with his brother-in-law, and at first, typical Peggy proves to be difficult. After her run-in with Joan, however, she acquiesces and meets the would-be lawyer for dinner. And my little heart squee-d with the delight of a thousand fangirls when said date Stevie turned out to be none other than Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall)! Angela’s lovesick best friend grew up hawt. Anywho, after a few bumps in the road, the two lovebirds connect so fully that they drunkenly decide to travel to Paris together. Right. That. Minute. But continuing the “life not-lived” theme of the episode, Peggy cannot locate her passport, and the fantasy evaporates. Though the pair agrees to try again in a few weeks, I would not hold your breath. Looks like poor Brian is left watching Jordan Catalano walk away with his dreams, once again.

Grow Some Balls

Ken’s father-in-law is finally retiring from Dow Chemical, albeit at a very advanced age. Faced with what her husband’s own end might resemble someday, wife Cynthia urges the eye-patched wonder to walk away from the ad agency, buy a farm, and write a novel. But ol’ Ken wants to see how it all plays out – that is, until Roger unceremoniously fires him due to his unfortunate prior relationship with McCann Erickson. To top it all off, in order to collect severance, Cosgrove must reconcile all of his accounts with Pete – his favorite person ever. Ken confronts Don in the lobby, going nearly Lane Pryce on him, but Draper urges him to get it together. And he does. Deciding to grow a pair and stick it to those who’ve taken his eye, his dignity, and his job, Ken decides to use his relationship with Dow to become their Head of Advertising…making him Pete’s client. “And I’m hard to please.” Love you, Boo Boo.

Final Thoughts

It is very rare that a scripted series has the ability to maintain relevance as it ages; in fact, those that last as long as Mad Men usually ride off to the sunset in nothing resembling the carriage it burst through town in. So it is with delightful surprise that I still hold onto these last few episodes with all the wonder I had in Season One. Don Draper is as magnificently complicated as ever and his world – and those who revolve around it – continues to fascinate and surprise. Whether this all ends in death, a blank screen, or a blue french horn, I imagine the final episode of Mad Men will rank among those that most satisfied.

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