Mad Men season 7 episode 9 review: New Business

This week’s Mad Men may not be a classic, but it takes care of old business and starts clearing a path to the show’s finale…

This review contains spoilers.

7. 9 New Business

New Business was a bridge, not a destination. As such, it’ll never be anyone’s favourite Mad Men episode but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a piece of crucial engineering. It took Don from cosy milkshake-making domesticity with Betty and the kids to an apartment stripped bare – a simplified flick-book reminder of his trajectory over the last decade, if you like.

It also, with the help of a fat cheque, said goodbye to Megan (if not the entire Calvet clan, depending on how Marie and Roger get on) and shoved Betty towards her own potential ending. A master’s degree in Psychology will be perfect for Birdie – she could get a lifetime’s business as a therapist for clients she’s pushed out of her womb alone.

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Two ex-wives down, and one former lover dead. This half-season is rapidly severing Don’s connections to his past and clearing a path to his eventual exit.

Because despite the title, new business wasn’t really on this episode’s agenda. (Even Diana “you know, the waitress” doesn’t feel like a new affair for Don. She’s not only a Rachel Menken lookalike but a composite of his past experiences –grief, a disappearing act, guilt, oblivion.) No, New Business was about settling old debts and breaking old bonds.

As such, divorce was the talk of the day. “It’s the twentieth century,” Megan told her judgemental sister, “people get divorced all the time.” That they do, especially on this show, and to each it means something different. To Roger, divorce meant a hefty settlement; to Pete, it meant the loss of his wife-shaped accessory (not having a spouse on your arm at a client dinner is like showing up to the golf course with hired clubs); to Megan, it meant a new chance at happiness; to Diana, it meant more loss. What though, does it mean to Don?

Judging by this week, divorce is simply something Don is impatient to reach the end of. “It’s almost over” he said twice in the episode, to Roger and Diana. (At this unignorably late stage in Mad Men’s life, it’s hard not to hear it as a painful reminder to us watching, too.) That’s why he wrote that cheque, to pay his debt and accelerate the process. As to what comes next for Don Draper, who knows.

Pete offered one proposal: “Jiminy Christmas! You think you’re going to start your whole life over again, but what if you never get past the beginning?” That may well be the most unwittingly insightful thing Pete’s ever said on this show (it’s certainly the most insightful thing anyone’s ever said following the exclamation “Jiminy Christmas”). Dick Whitman has had countless attempts at starting his whole life over again, and where has it got him? Standing alone in an empty room. Doomed to repetition on a mythological level.

Pete’s other insight into divorce, “You want to punish them, then they want to punish you,” held a key to another of New Business’ recurring themes. Megan and Marie both wanted to punish Don (Marie, it has to be said, pulled it off with much more style than her daughter. That daylight furniture robbery beats refusing a cigarette any day). Marie-France, Megan’s sister, lived in fear of spiritual punishment – something most of the rest of these modern characters have shaken off by this stage. Diana however, was punishing herself.

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Interspersed with the Calvet furniture heist, Harry “Creeper” Crane’s casting couch, and Peggy and Stan’s adventures in 1970s sexuality, the Don/Diana scenes formed the episode’s backbone. Diana’s story spooled out steadily with each appearance. Her divorce and no children became a divorce and a dead daughter, which became a divorce, a dead daughter, an abandoned child and a life of self-imposed punition.

(Incidentally, I loved the cynicism of Don’s “Already?” response to her “I lied to you”. He wasn’t surprised that she’d lied to him – that was inevitable – only at the timescale.)

Diana – if that’s even her real name – was channelling season four Don in her self-punishment. She’d swapped a Wisconsin ranch house with a  two-car garage for a purgatorial dump. She found oblivion in exactly the same places Don had – booze and sex. Judging by his timeline, she’ll face up to what she’s been running from in around two seasons’ time. Of course, by then we’ll all be watching some other show.

The Pima Ryan storyline added a piquant note to the episode. Gender boundaries were being crossed all over the shop, from Pima’s suave suits to her aggressive sexual pursuit of a male underling (a reversal of that toe-curling “the bottles and the models … take whichever you want” promise from the firm to the client at the shoot) and a female boss.

It was the detail in the performances that really sold these scenes, from Elisabeth Moss’ flushed-face excitement at Pima’s come-on, to Mimi Rogers’ momentarily raised eyebrow when Peggy asked Pima to get the door, back to Moss’ expression of surprise when Stan boasted of his conquest. The best though was Peggy’s brassy “Which part?” response to Stan’s incredulity. Does he not believe that Pima hit on her, or that she resisted her advances? Perhaps he’s right to be suspicious. We never saw Peggy turn Pima down, remember…

Elsewhere, there were one or two laughs to be had. Harry “Dirtball” Crane’s worldly assertion that Nic Constantinopolis might be Greek. The Manson Family as potential clients. “Marie-France, don’t be a bitch.” Roger whispering “wasn’t my idea” to Megan. Meredith being, well, Meredith.

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There may have been no Sally, no Joan, and for many (not me) altogether too much Megan. But it led us somewhere, this episode. We knew from the halfway point that Don’s bare apartment was waiting for him like a cruel punch line, and that’s where we left him. Where he goes next is anybody’s guess.

Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, Severance, here.

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