Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mad Men: "Time & Life"

Spoilers ahead.
The end of SC&P came quicker than I thought.  I was prepared for an epic, multi-episode fight for the firm.  However, the big changes in "Mad Men" tend to happen quickly, and it only took an episode for the axe to fall, despite Don rallying the troops for what looked like another of his famous last minute miracle saves.  Another fresh start.  Another grand escape.  We've seen him do it so many times, it took a few minutes for it to sink in that SC&P really is finished.   This was easily the best episode of the season so far, as the big firm upheaval events usually are, and it got a lot of extra oomph from multiple callbacks to and echoes of previous episodes.
This is Pete's first spotlight of the season, and perhaps his only spotlight.  He's not awful for once.  Oh sure, we know he can still be a rat bastard, restarting a blood feud over Tammy's school enrollment, but he's an absolute gentleman to the three women we've seen him consistently clash with in the past: Peggy, Trudy, and Joan.   Even though he was at odds with Peggy last week, she's the first one that Pete warns when the news about McCann Erickson breaks.  He shores up Joan's ego on the ride home after their fates are sealed, letting his guard down enough to reveal that he really does respect her.  Even a reconciliation with Trudy looks possible.  I wonder if Pete has fundamentally changed or if it's just the circumstances of the the firm going down that's made him more altruistic.  Might Pete without the competitiveness and the jealousy that the job brings out, actually be a decent person?
Peggy, one of the only employees who seems fine with SC&P's end, is dismayed to discover her best option is to continue to operate in Don Draper's shadow at McCann.  She's also forced to revisit her decision to give up her son after some adventures in babysitting with Stan.  It's one of the few times the frustration with being a career woman is so plainly expressed by anyone in the show.  It's a welcome rant, even if Peggy's example of a double standard doesn't put her in a sympathetic light.  She's come a long way since Season One, but she resents how much of a gender gap she still has to overcome and the sacrifices that she's had to make to get where she is.  But as much as she doesn't like her choices she still makes them and has found ways to live with them.  I also think that Stan's a little premature in concluding that Peggy will never become a mother.  Her prospects aren't good but she still has a chance.  
The rest of the SC&P regulars are far less sure about their own fates even though they've largely been decided.  The partners are handed plum accounts, but the signs of impending doom are everywhere.  The highlight of the hour was McCann exec Jim Hobart, played by H. Richard Greene, trying to convince them that they were entering "advertising heaven" in terms that recalled Ned Beatty's business-worshipping speech from "Network."  Don and the other partners allow themselves to be convinced, briefly, that the move might not be so bad.  The closing scene, however, where they're unable to quell the buzzing panic of their staff, is pointing to some bleak times ahead.  The inescapable irony is that Don fought his way back into the advertising game and is going to end up stuck in advertising hell.  Peggy was told to get out of McCann in three years, but Don will be forced to stick around for four.
In the end I'm glad that three episodes are left for a proper denouement.  I hope we get more little sendoffs like the one Lou Avery got.  The idea of him shipping off to Japan to become an anime producer is absolutely hysterical.  The mentions of Diana were so brief but so pointed, it surely means the show isn't done with her yet.  I'd like Roger and his legacy woes to get a spotlight episode next, but at the same time there are a lot of other characters we need to check up on and not a whole lot of time left.  I'm going to miss these characters once they're gone. 


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