Mad Men: The Strategy

In our eyes, the first half of Mad Men's final season is all about parents and their kids.

It’s hard to pitch Mad Men to anyone unfamiliar with the show. You can say “it’s a period piece about an ad agency,” but that’s not very enticing or representative of what the show really is at its core, is it? I usually tell people Mad Men has more in common with good literature, with its strong dynamic characters and enveloping theme tying them all together. If I try to further distinguish what type of themes the show hits on I can go down a number of different avenues, and at this point, the person would be better off just watching an episode than having me talk their ear off. I could talk about identity, love, pride, and privilege, how life and society is ever shifting, yet somehow always stagnant…

Like I said, I can go.

Yet in its final hours, Mad Men seems to be focused on one theme in particular, and that is parents and children. Everyone in the main cast, excluding Megan, now have children and those children have almost dominated the first six of this season’s seven episodes. Yes, it’s been about Don getting back to the office and defeating the villainy of Darth Cutler and General Avery as well as the shifting sands of time, but everyone else’s scenes seem fixated on the parental relationship. Roger spent considerable time focused on Margaret and her sudden abandonment of her family for a hippie lifestyle, and then he was smacked with the harsh realities of his own decision making as a parent. At the same time, he seems just as focused on fostering a relationship with his grandson and Kevin as he is on stopping the overtaking of SC&P by the new P’s.

The time we’ve spent with Betty this year has been coupled with Bobby and the sass of Sally. Though I often joke about the youngest Draper child, he’s no doubt suffering from being raised by a woman who is as petulant, spoiled, stubborn, and cruel as any schoolchild, and then has the ignorance to wonder why her children don’t love her. Betty has had her own troubles, and it really is man who made the beast here, but it doesn’t excuse her mothering tactics, and it absolutely explains her daughter’s complete disdain. Speaking of Sally, she’s also had her big moments with dear old Dad, but much has been made of that already.

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It’s discovered in this episode that maybe Peggy’s general unhappiness may have more to it then the reappearance of Don and the absence of Ted. She hints at the fact that giving up her child may have been a huge mistake, regretting the decision now that she’s thirty and alone. She also clearly reveals her own Daddy issues with Don. Peggy creates a completely suitable pitch, a pitch that is constantly praised throughout the episode, but all it takes is Don being included in the pitch and offering a slight variation on the idea to sour the whole thing. If Don offers a variation, then Peggy’s logic tells her that it’s clearly not good enough. She’s been harboring ill will towards Don all season, yet still desperately seeks his approval like a child would a father. When he finally does accept her idea after a little cathartic brainstorming, they share a father-daughter dance to Sinatra and she even gets a kiss on the head.

Pete arrives in New York almost for the sole purpose of seeing his daughter Tammy. Sure, he’s got Burger Chef business and the business of flaunting the gorgeous Bonnie around the office and New York, but he makes it clear that his chief priority is to see his daughter. He comes bearing a Barbie and it’s a nice sentiment, but being an absentee parent shouldn’t come with rewards, and having his daughter only intimidated by his foreign presence is his punishment. He eventually wins her over, but he’s also punished by having to bear seeing Trudy return late for a date. Pete has things so well right now, but he can’t even enjoy it when the idea of family, the kind of family Peggy wonders even exists anymore, is dangled before him.

The kind of family he ends up with might just be as dysfunctional as the one he already has, but it’s exactly the family Peggy pitches for the Burger Chef ad. Pete, Don and Peggy become the commercial; an unconventional family made up of a pseudo-father and his daughter and the man she fathered a baby with, all grabbing a burger together. Nobody loves you like your parents, and no one can mess you up worse either.

The Best of the Rest

– BOB BENSON ALRET! The enigma, the man of mystery, the elusive Bob Benson reentered our lives tonight! He helps out Chevy Executive Bill who is jailed for attempting to perform, as the officer in the episode tastefully puts, fellatio on an undercover. On the excellently shot car ride home, he then reveals to Bob that Chevy is leaving, but that Bob is being asked to come to Buick and that SC&P is in line for another car. Bob also confronts the future in a realistic way by offering to wed Joan, so that he can hide his sexuality and so Joan can have a father for Kevin. He tells her that it’d be him giving her everything, but Joan protests that it’s everything but love, and love is what she’s really after.

– Not to drive the point home even further, but the first thing Ken does upon Don’s appearance back at the office is show a picture of his kids and he brings them up again tonight as his excuse for why he left the Chevy account. Ok, I’m done harping on the parents and kids idea.

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– Don is almost too perfect in this episode. He takes orders easily, seemingly does his work, and he remains levelheaded when pressed by anyone. He even plays the good husband when Megan visits (he even cleans that poor apartment). Hell, he finally mended fences with Peggy and acted like the caring mentor she always knew he could be. Even with all this goodness, it gives me an uneasy feeling, because somehow Don will blow a fuse, you just know it. Maybe not, but history suggests.

– Lou Avery isn’t particularly diabolical this week, but he does offer up his square approval of the nuclear family in Peggy’s ad. Cutler on the other hand actively mocks Roger upon the revelation that they’ve lost Chevy, even gloating about his success bringing in cigarette business. It’s no matter for Roger because he gets the inside scoop that SC&P could land Buick with a some carefully laid Sterling charm.

– Ted randomly appears as a voice on the phone. It’s pretty funny, but not to Peggy, who is clearly annoyed.

– Cutler votes to make Harry Crane partner, which angers Joan and Roger particularly.

– Bonnie goes back to California without Pete. “I don’t like you in New York.”

– “I just turned 30.” “Shit.”

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– Alison Brie is a total babe, and she’ll date who she pleases, Pete Campbell! Preferably me!

– The episode is titled “The Strategy,” in a possible nod to the Peggy/Don-centric classic “The Suitcase.”

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5 out of 5