This review contains spoilers.
6.6 For Immediate Release
“It’s a common mistake to not ask questions when you want something, because you’re afraid of the answers”. Thought-provoking stuff there, and no, that’s not from a Draper pitch, or a nugget of Sterling’s gold, but the observation of a one-scene underwriter on valuing SCDP’s public offering. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mad Men: the show where no opportunity for aphorism is wasted, and no chin is left unstroked. Do you think the guy who delivers Don’s milk accompanies it with a few sage words on what it really means to be whole?
For Immediate Release put a gag in the mouth of anyone who complains that nothing happens in Mad Men. Accounts were lost and gained, relationships were severed and forged, and a brand new enterprise was created from the union of erstwhile rivals SCDP and CGC (a venture that would be wise not to continue with the using-initials-as-names tradition unless they’re happy to end up as a clue from Only Connect’s missing vowels round).
The episode, written by showrunner Matthew Weiner, also hushed talk that season six has so far lacked direction. The business side of things at least – the CGC scenes, Don vs. sweaty Herb, that Heinz bake-off – had all been leading towards this merger, though admittedly, took a doglegged route to arrive there. Before this week, why would successful CGC have needed to join forces with the competition? A convenient cancer diagnosis and a mirror-firing of their car account came as our answer, neither seeds that were sown before this week’s surprise coalition.
Exactly how willing that coalition is remains to be seen. Peggy’s “I don’t like change, I want everything to stay the way it was” wasn’t just a tiny conservative voice paddling against 1968’s current, but provocation to Mad Men’s gods of irony. You don’t like change? Fine. Why not have your old boss and his retinue of career pessimists back? There’s your “way it was”.
The last six episodes have seen Peggy morph professionally into Don Mk. II, even down to this week’s spot of light infidelity (that kiss with Chaough has been on the cards since season five’s coffee shop flirtation). Will the newly merged company survive two Don Drapers? Remembering that Dick Whitman keeps at least three personalities under his felt-brimmed hat at any one time, surely that’s too much Don for anyone’s money.
On the subject of filthy lucre, Pete and Joan had dollar signs in their eyes this week as SCDP’s company valuation promised to make millionaires of them both. That is, until Don’s ego scratched the itch that’d been bothering it since the previous Christmas, and fired Jaguar. Christina Hendricks showed her versatility in two scenes this week, the first showing her ablush with girlish optimism, the second, incandescent with Don’s disregard for anyone but himself. Oh, and Pete, if you’re reading this, that is how to tell Draper off with style (after that staircase tumble, I bet Campbell’s regretting that second floor expansion now).
“Don’t you feel 300lbs lighter?” Don asked Joan post-Jaguar, bemused perhaps at her lack of gratitude for his having seen off the Herb beast. In his version of the story, Don’s cast himself as the chivalric Joan-defender, not the egotist whose self-serving actions utterly negate her sacrifice and jeopardise everyone’s financial future. It’s a good job he learnt his lesson, and didn’t then go on to make any major company-wide decisions without the consultation of his partners. What’s that you say? Oh.
If they’re not in the room, they don’t exist, runs Don’s solipsistic logic. It’s the same psychological trick that’s helped him to six consecutive wins for the annual crown of New York’s least plagued-by-guilt adulterer. He’s in good company at least, as Burt, Pete and Joan also colluded to keep the public offering plan from SCDP’s “second hurdle” until they had the deal they wanted. Boy, if there was ever a firm that needed one of those trust-building corporate away days… I can picture the jokey nickname t-shirts now.
A hearty rebonjour to Julia Ormond as Marie, Megan’s glamorous, sophisticate mother, a treat who’s been missed since her introduction in last season’s sublime At the Codfish Ball. Incensed by being subjected to the coarse company of Mr and Mrs Sweaty Herb instead of the anticipated delights of Roger Sterling, Ormond was cattier than a block of retirement flats and delicious to watch.
Picking up on Megan and Don’s marital troubles, Mme Calvet advised her daughter to accentuate her positives, and seduce the man back into her fold. It was advice Megan duly followed, and though he was no doubt grateful, it’s difficult not to think that Don’s star-copywriter wife would have been more use to him in the run-up to the Chevy pitch with a pen in her hand than with his pe… Umm, I’m not going to finish that sentence. My mum might read this.
Speaking of flying off balconies, Roger was back at his comedy best with his air hostess grift (and ensured that any Sterling character doll produced from this point onwards must come complete with its own Georgio shoe-shine kit). Roger’s tricksy manoeuvres got SCDP on that all-important plane to Detroit, after which point, Don did the rest.
Pete, meanwhile, continued along his dyspeptic path to an early heart attack, with his second office explosion in as many episodes. Losing nine million dollars’ worth of billings from the Vicks account after an inopportune run-in with his father-in-law in a brothel corridor, Campbell contributed to SCDP’s losses, and burned his bridges with Trudy in the process. Like a cornered animal, he lashed out at his father-in-law through his estranged wife, arguing that he had no choice but to crow spitefully about Tom’s “200lb negro prostitute”. Trudy’s right, he had lots of choices, but ever the Pete Campbell we’ve come to know, he chose the sleaziest. (If anyone’s keeping count by the way, on the list of season six’s client casualties this far are Heinz, Jaguar and Vicks, with Chevrolet now in the in-tray.)
I wouldn’t want to jinx it, but there’s a whiff of Shut the Door, Have a Seat excitement in the air at this point in the season. With Don acting the feudal lord, Pete blowing his last fuse, and SCDP about to be hit by Peggy’s press release bombshell, Mad Men’s sixth series is seriously motoring.
Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, The Flood, here.
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