In “Time & Life,” the best episode of Mad Men since its return this year, everyone is making proclamations to audiences that just can’t believe them. “Stop struggling, you’ve won, “ McCann-Erickson’s head, Jim Hobart, tells the Sterling Cooper partners, so why do Don, Roger, Pete, and Joan sit solemnly like they’ve lost?
“This is the beginning, not the end,” Don tells the SC&P underlings about the absorption and move to McCann, but why can Don barely be heard over the roar of an office that’s acting as if it’s the end of days? “You are okay,” Roger Sterling tells Don at the bar with a kiss on the cheek, so why does Don sit dazed like a man with no wife, home, or power?
The absorption of SC&P is the first big thing to happen in this abbreviated half season. I was in dismay about how much time these latest episodes were spending on new characters instead of reveling in wrapping-up the storylines of characters we’ve come to care about. Thankfully, we get fantastic kiss-offs from characters like Ken Cosgrove and Lou Avery, who get to broadcast big F-Yous in their last likely appearances, as well as parting words on one of Mad Men’s biggest internal struggles, Peggy’s decision to give up her child.
Peggy’s complicated relationship with children and mothers has always simmered behind Elisabeth Moss’ expressive eyes, but in this episode, it finally bubbles to the forefront when Peggy scolds a careless mother who leaves her daughter to linger after an audition at the office. The spat leaves Peggy unable to focus, and she and Stan end up having a deep conversation about gender and the responsibility of parenthood. Stan makes an off-hand joke about how he could have kids he doesn’t know about, which is the wrong thing to say to Peggy. She lashes out, stating how it isn’t fair that men can get out of their responsibilities to a child so easily when women are left to make the hard, life-altering decisions.
She finally confesses to Stan that she had a child, and the scene is not only a highlight in a (mostly) platonic relationship of two characters who have had plenty of wonderful scenes together, but an absolute doozey that makes the couple closer than coitus ever could. Most shows would have had them embrace physically. Instead they share silence together on the phone. What’s more romantic than that?
Another big treat that this episode delivered was seeing great teams back at it. Ted Chaough and Don Draper share another good talk as they work on the Sterling Cooper West plan side by side, Pete and Trudy get back on speaking terms as they defend their privilege against a Campbell-hating headmaster, and our ears get to hear that old “getting the band back together” score as our main cast marches to their, unbeknownst to them, doomed meeting at McCann.
The dream of California is always alive in Don Draper, and surprisingly, no one is better or more creative in crisis mode. That’s why I was genuinely shocked that the Sterling Cooper West plan failed. I still think it’s a great idea on Weiner’s part, because another last minute plan to save the Sterling Cooper brand would have really felt like overkill, but the idea of a California-based Don for the last few episodes seemed really intriguing. I guess I’ll have to agree with Pete and say “whatever happens is supposed to happen.”
The Best of the Rest
- Poor Joan may get the worst end of being absorbed by McCann. She fought hard and overcame her appearance to finally land an account, but when Hobart was dropping Coca-Colas for every partner at the table, Joan was left out. She’s still got Richard to brighten her day, but it looks like Joanie will have to start all over at work.
- However, Ted Chaough is stoked. “I like it over there,” he says with a smile. “That’s because you’re a sheep,” Pete retorts with a sneer.
- That’s not even the best Pete Campbell line of the night, which is definitely, “THE KING ORDERED IT!” Classic Campbell.
- Let’s hope Lou Avery’s Japan-bound plane is attacked by Godzilla while flying over the Pacific.
- Some devastating glances were thrown around this week, like when Pete sees Peggy around the kids in the office, or when Peggy responds to show mom saying, “You do what you want with your children.”
- Or how about Don’s look after Roger reveals he’s seeing Marie Calvet. Good luck with crazy pants, Rog!
- Like the rest of the internet, I’m waiting for Peggy and Stan to officially happen.
- Meredith doing Meredith stuff has become a weekly event.
- After a night of boozing, Don naturally seeks New York’s second most miserable person, Diana, but a gay couple now occupies her apartment.
- Stan’s ascot game is so strong.