This season of Mad Men is its last; in all senses of the word, time is running out. Time is running out for the Madison Avenue lifestyle, the clock is ticking on the 1960s, and time is running out for our characters to fix what they’ve broken. As Freddy Rumsen remarks in the opening scene of Season 7, “This is the beginning of something,” but in fact this episode is the beginning of the end.
Despite their leaps forward in seasons past, Peggy and Joan are both struggling. Don’s drowning again, and Kenny Cosgrove is totally flipping his shit. Everybody’s dozing off, waking up late, remaining stagnant when they should be moving forward, and checking their watches as they do it. Time is of the essence in this episode, and it sets a distinct (and distinctly depressing) tone for the season. Last season launched the latest fan theory: Megan Draper as a doomed Sharon Tate, the late wife of Roman Polanski and victim of the Manson Family in 1969. Matthew Weiner is rarely so transparent, and as such I doubted the veracity of the theories – but this episode seems to give them more ground.
In the first scene, we get a close-up of none other than Freddy Rumsen, briefly studying some notes then launching into an earnest, thoughtful pitch for Accutron watches. The protagonist of the commercial “looks like Steve McQueen,” but wears a suit and tie. “This is a business man,” Freddy tells us. It’s “you, late 20s, shaggy, the youthful colleague. Staring at his watch as muffled conversation swirls around him.” Weiner films the scene as we’re used to him filming Don Draper – close, intimate, addressing the camera and thus, the audience. We’re the targets of this pitch. The Accutron pitch pits the Youngs against the Olds, an adept reflection of the cultural shift in the late 1960s. It’s on point, which is far more than anybody expects from Freddy “I pissed my pants” Rumsen. “Accutron: It’s not a timepiece, it’s a conversation piece,” he finishes, his eyes narrowed, face glowing. Peggy, of course, wants what Peggy wants. She ditches Rumsen’s brilliant pitch in favor of her own work: “Accutron: It’s time for a conversation” sounds more elegant to her.
And here we leap into the fray with Roger Sterling. A telephone phone rings, the sound reverberating about a darkened apartment as various nude people pass the phone to a duly naked Sterling. It’s his daughter Margaret calling, of course; no one else would be in touch with Roger – and he’s not terribly thrilled to hear from Margaret, either. When you’ve severed all your ties, being summoned makes you suspicious. He agrees to a brunch, but only if there’s vodka. After he hangs up, a naked girl about Margaret’s age props herself on her elbow, smiling. “I feel like we really got somewhere last night,” she says. All the drugs.
Lou Avery, the new Creative guy who replaced Don, is pretty deplorable, as it turns out. I mean, Don is deplorable, but he’s our antihero. A gent who comments on the race of his secretary by asking derisively, “What do we have here, Gladys Knight and the Pips?” is not someone we are built to like in the 21st century. He nitpicks Dawn (a woman of color in a sea of white folks), ignores Peggy (a woman in a sea of penises), and is generally a dick to everybody else.
Ken Cosgrove, he of the science fiction novels and the ability to compartmentalize, to stay out of the Madison Avenue fray, is wearing an eye patch (I assume due to the car accident with the Chevy team last season) and screaming at his help while Clara looks on sheepishly. He sends Clara to get him a buttered roll (really? a buttered roll?) and invites Joan into his office. He’s popping a pill direct from his shirt pocket; wonder what it is? Joan brings him the Avon file and says they’ve got another one to attend to: Butler Shoes. Kenny, who’s totally bogged down and upset, tells Joan to “make it go away.” It’s notable that in the first scene she’s in, Joan is walking up the stairs, wearing her power color of regal purple. She’s always walking up the stairs in this episode.
After enough time to contemplate how interesting it’d be if the first episode didn’t even feature Mr. Don Draper, he pops up. Our own bicoastal fallen ad exec is on a plane, shaving with an electric razor. He’s being carried by the moving sidewalk past a gorgeous melange of colored mosiac tile (an homage to Jackie Brown, my friend pointed out). Outside LAX, Megan meets him in a tiny, tiny minidress with enormous, sheer bell sleeves. She’s lacquered with blue eyeshadow, her curls impeccable. Importantly, she’s still dressing like Sharon Tate – this outfit is so Valley of the Dolls it clangs in your head. Notably, Don Draper is being carried, first on a plane, then on a sidewalk, then by his wife in her gorgeous convertible.
As Don is traveling back to the left coast, Ted Chaough is trading places with him, flying from L.A. to New York. Peggy is really not happy about it. The dynamics of SC&P (the conscpicuous absence of D still stings) have altered irreparably. First there was a truce between two leading ad agencies, instigated by Don Draper; now Draper’s gone, but the conglomerate he built is split in half by an entire country in turmoil. Peggy closes the actual curtains on Chaough giving Moira a hug. “Why, aren’t you brown?” remarks Gleeson to Ted; Ted answers snidely that it’s still January in California. He doesn’t belong there, this tells us – he’s meant to be in NYC, and both he and Peggy know it. He orders two dozen bagels for Pete, who’s also stationed in Los Angeles.
Megan takes Don to dinner with her agent, a small, neatly groomed man who exudes slime through his swishy demeanor. After calling Don a matinee idol, he says, “Know that it’s important to me that you know the man your wife is spending so much time with.” He puffs contemplatively on a cigarette. “She evokes strong feelings.” He’s very smug and thrilled to tell Megan she’s got a callback, but finishes it off with a small slap in the face: “We can hold off on fixing your teeth, obviously I jumped the gun on that.” He orders “French champagne for my French TV star.” (My boyfriend, who manages a wine shop, would facepalm all over this kind of line.) It all makes me want to take a shower – but hey, at least she (and Don) probably won’t be asked to jump into bed with this guy and his wife.
Joan attends a dinner in Ken’s stead and meets Wayne Barnes, a kid who looks about fifteen. When she orders drinks, it turns out a “drink” for Wayne is a Coke – possibly because he’s too young to order booze? Or maybe just a deliberate poke at the idea of a “business drink” with a woman. He’s decided Butler is going to keep all their advertising in-house. “I was hired to be bold,” says the kid an easy fifteen years younger than Joan, and you can feel him looking straight down his nose at her. “I’m sure you had a hard time keeping this seat empty,” he remarks, “but I have a degree in business.” After he gets up to leave, Joan orders a splash of whiskey with her Coke. The house is burning down, and she doesn’t have a big enough hose. (Hah, see what I did there?)
Don drives a stumbling Megan home from their dinner. She’s living in the Hollywood Hills in 1969. Seriously, this is doing nothing to quell rumors of her imminent demise. Coyotes yip and howl from outside, and when she turns off the lights so Don can see the view, the darkness creeps in. “You sure you don’t want to move into a more populated area? It’s Dracula’s castle up here,” Don says. Before she passes out drunk, she implores Don, “Please don’t flick any cigarettes off the balcony. I don’t know how, but everyone says they can tell where the fire starts.” What an interesting way to say it. Doom, death, destruction.
When Peggy comes into SC&P the next morning, she inadvertently runs into Ted in the kitchenette. She yells for Stan repeatedly, and when he doesn’t appear she clutches her can of Folgers coffee like she’s drowning and it’s a life preserver. (Folgers is another potential reference to the Manson murders, as Abigail Folger was another victim.) When Stan finally shows up, he says he thought Ted would be more tanned. “You’re in an office here, you’re in an office there; what’s the difference?” Peggy snarks. Stan, a smarter cookie than he sometimes seems, remarks that “None of this seems related to coffee.” Their relationship is fast becoming one of my favorite on the show. It doesn’t rely on sex (because she wouldn’t let it), but it retains a familiarity, respect, and slight agitation that I appreciate. Before he leaves the kitchen, he tells her to buck up, chief.
In L.A., Don meets Pete Campbell for lunch in a diner. Pete is the only one this season who seems to be genuinely thriving. He’s wearing a short-sleeved baby blue polo (the same color as Megan’s dress, actually), plaid pants, and a pastel sweater around his shoulders. His hair’s long, his chops longer. He tells Don he found this diner and “immediately felt divine,” then orders a Brooklyn Avenue. “It’s a pastrami with the coleslaw right on the sandwich!” He reports to Don that he loves the vibe of L.A. “You not only dress like a hippie, but you talk like one,” Don says shrewdly. This is total insanity, as anyone with eyes looks at Pete and sees Preppy, Wealthy Poseur, not hippie. It just goes to show how out of touch Don is. Pete’s apparently been working to get Don back into SC&P, but Ted won’t have it (not a surprise).
Pete takes Don back to the SC&P office’s L.A. location. Bonnie, a California blonde if ever there were one – she’s in a brightly printed dress, frosted lipstick, and massive sunglasses – is helping Pete find “the right pad.” In this episode’s first temptation, Bonnie offers Don her card. Pete places his arm possessively around Bonnie and smirks: “Don’t worry, Don. She turns it on for everyone.”
As Pete, Don, and a Bonnie have this breezy conversation about real estate on the left coast, Joan Harris is slipping all over a sheet of ice on the right. She’s visiting a university (NYU, probably?) to ask advice from a business professor. She’s automatically on the defensive with the older gentleman, despite the fact he seems not to disrespect her out the gate. If I were Joan, I’d be defensive too. He asserts that the Butler Shoes kid is wrong, that it makes more sense for Butler to diversify. Joan asks how much it’d cost to get an analysis like that in writing. “Well, let’s see if you have anything to trade,” the prof responds, leaning forward. Her face is brilliant here. “This is a business school, doesn’t money work here?” she asks, the chill pouring from her in waves. “I’m doing an advertising study; I wanted to know what percentage of your clients work on fees vs. commission,” he responds, eyebrow raised. Slightly contrite about her suspicion, Joan agrees to that trade. When he says, “I don’t know if you can answer this or even understand it, but what’s the difference” between fees and commissions? she responds that she does, in fact, understand, and “You’re going to need another pad.” (I haven’t put too much thought into this, but in the preceding scene, Bonnie tells Don he should contact her when he “wants another pad.” It’s an interesting way to link the two scenes and to link Joan and Don.)
Don orders Megan an enormous television, and she’s pretty pissed about it. She’s gotta hide her wealth because everyone she knows there is starving. “Don’t you want to watch yourself in living color?” he asks. It’s yet to be seen whether he knew what he was doing or not. Was he trying to assert his power, to insert a bit of himself into her West Coast life? Or was he just a dolt? Frankly, it seems Don is never just a dolt. Megan has the same feeling, but tells him exasperatedly, “You’re not here long enough for a fight.”
Peggy, the newly minted landlord of the building she bought with Abe, opens her door to an invasion of sorts. A kid named Julio wants her to fix a clogged toilet. Peggy tells him to report to his mom “she’s not supposed to flush…things down. She’ll know what I’m talking about.” Julio provides us with some great imagery: some people just throw it out the window, but she’s not gonna. His momma said to yell at Peggy because Peggy doesn’t listen. Poor Peggy, always getting yelled at. “Here, this is for you. It’s a gift!” Peggy cries, hands him a plunger, and slams the door. It’s a Saturday and she’s working; she doesn’t have time for this shit. It’s all getting to be a bit much for Peggy Olson.
Don watches the credits of some soap opera (something called Lost Horizon, apparently); the title cards are indicative of the tone of the whole episode. “In these days of wars and rumors of wars — haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?” the cards implore us in a complex script, wavering in the 1969 TV signal. “Of course you have. So has every man since Time began. Always the same dream. Sometimes he calls it Utopia — Sometimes the Fountain of Youth — Sometimes merely ‘that little chicken farm.'” “Time” with a capital T. Megan is, for some reason, uneasy about everything. She’s not interested in sex, she’s nervous about Don seeing her body in the light. Her uneasiness is, perhaps, a foil for our own. Anybody who’s paying attention gets a bad vibe from where Megan’s character is going. So does she. When they awaken, she seems more comfortable in the daylight. “How much time do we have?” she asks before kissing him gently. Time, time, time.
Roger brunches with Margaret. As they toast over their Bloody Marys (a condition of Roger’s attendance), she tells him what’s on her mind. “When all is said and done, I forgive you.” Roger responds, twice, that he forgives her too. “All of your transgressions. Abandoning Mother, making me ask for money, your intermittent interest in Ellery,” Margaret says, a beneficent smile on her face. She doesn’t even care that he smells like incense. “I’ve been searching, and with a little help I’ve come to realize that anger can be vanquished by love.” Roger, squinty-eyed, asks if she’s going to church. Oddly, she responds, “Not in any way you’d understand.” So what’s up with Margaret? Is this another Manson Family reference? As usual, others have theories.
Don boards the red-eye flight and next to him sits a lovely brunette, similar in looks and in demeanor to one Sylvia Rosen. First Linda Cardellini, and now Neve Campbell. It’s like Weiner is inside my head sometimes, with this casting. Campbell’s Lee asks Don if he wants a sleeping pill, then decides she doesn’t want one after all. Don starts flirting almost immediately; he basically can’t help it. “I always hope I’m seated next to someone like you instead of a man with a hairpiece eating a banana. Why would I expect anything else?” he muses. She answers, “You can blame Madison Avenue for that.” We get a momentary linger on Don’s face as he processes that. You, sir, are responsible for your own dissatisfaction. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.
When Roger returns from a day of drinking and contemplating Margaret’s benevolent forgiveness, he goes home to climb into bed with his young lady. When she asks where he’s been, he snipes, “I thought we hated all things domestic.” He tells her to move over so he can get into bed, and then he realizes there’s another dude in bed on the other side of her. Roger, as always taking things in stride, just asks her to move him, too. He’s not in a good place at the moment. He may playing the part of the free spirit (acid helps), but Roger’s spirit is stuck beneath that gray suit he peels off. It’s chained under the ever-shifting conformity of the very world he helped to build – and the personal world he tore down.
On the plane, Lee and Don continue their gentle flirtation. “This is nice. I usually sleep alone,” she says. This scene gets really weird really fast. Her husband died a year ago, and since she couldn’t take his ashes to his first choice (too much of a tourist trap), she took them to his second choice: Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island. When Don asks how he died, Lee answers cryptically, “He was thirsty.” She was with him because she was supposed to be part of the cure, somehow. She thought the doctors would help, but instead they just observed. A doctor told her he’d be dead in a year, and “all of them would be.” (I’m not exactly sure to what she is referring, but I think it’s probably the DTs? If you have ideas, hit me up in the comments.) When she awakens as the flight descends, she apologizes; “I’m sorry, I must have dozed off.” When Lee asks a few questions about his marriage, Don allows that his wife knows he’s a terrible husband, but she doesn’t know everything. Lee advises that if she doesn’t know, you should keep it that way, because that’s what people do. In a rare moment of total vulnerability (which generally come with total strangers, for Don), he says, “I keep wondering, have I broken the vessel?” When she offers to give him a lift, Don apologizes and says he has to get back to work. He pulls up the shade, letting the sunlight in.
Peggy’s tenant is bugging her at the office. She has her secretary call Peggy’s sister Anita so that she can call her husband to ask him to fix the plumbing. Peggy can’t call the husband, it has to be Anita. (Could this have to do with the baby Peggy had?) She’s also not giving up on the Accutron account. The new Creative douchebag, Lou, tells her he chopped firewood all weekend – in other words, he got to relax while the rest of them were in the office. He doesn’t want to parachute in to this account; he wants to take the easy way in. When she pushes for perfection, he says to her, “I dunno, Peggy, I guess I’m immune to your charms.” And then all of America wanted to punch him in the face. Afterward, Peggy asks Stan to do more boards for Accutron. Stan tells her to “just let it go, baby,” and she starts breathing fire. “You’re all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit. Nobody cares. No one wants things to better? I get it, I’ll just stand out here all by myself!” There are a number of tantrums in this episode.
When Scarlett lets fly that Butler is coming in for a meeting with Ken this week, Joan calls Wade Barnes to ask why he’s already scheduled a meeting. After her session with the professor, she can offer genuinely good advice to the new, “bold” kid. If you fire SC&P, she says, “You will be competing against us, not against other shoe companies. If you move boldly now, the decline will be your responsibility.” It works – when she speaks with a man’s words, the kid listens. He asks her, outright, what should he do. “Tell them we cancelled the meeting, we need more time to present a revised media strategy.”
Despite her experience in advertising, Joan is a partner because she used what she knew she had: her body. She has the knowledge and smarts, but she keeps bumping up against obstacles. Ken Cosgrove comes to see her about Butler, and it turns out she can’t even make a phone call from a man’s office without leaving one of her earrings (a symbol of femininity) on the desk. In the only funny scene this episode, Kenny tries to throw it back and can’t, because he has no depth perception. Poor Joan Harris, it seems, is always walking up the stairs, and she’ll never get to the top.
Meanwhile, Don’s back in New York, watching Nixon’s address to the nation. The country’s most infamous crook gives an impassioned speech about the state of the U.S.A.: “Rich in goods, ragged in spirit…we are torn by division wanting unity. We see around us empty lives wanting fulfillment.” Well, if that ain’t the truth. None other than Freddy Rumsen knocks on the door. He’s in Don’s pocket, of course; that’s why he’s pitching so brilliantly, that’s why he’s even back in the door. “Do you want the door open? It’s freezing outside,” Freddy says. But Don can’t close the patio doors, through which frigid air breezes. It’s notable that Megan doesn’t know Don hasn’t been working for two months. Don’s using Rumsen to get in good with the firm and to give himself a lifeline to, well, the only thing that makes him feel alive. This is yet another link between Joan and Don: Freddy uses Don’s words to get both of their feet back in the door, while Joan uses the professor’s words to bail out a sinking ship. It’s all very Cyrano de Bergerac, and the writers even make a reference to that effect.
Peggy returns to her apartment and finds her sister’s husband asleep on the couch. “Sorry, I dozed off,” he says groggily, jumping up. It’s the same exact thing Lee said on the plane. He looks at his timepiece (not a conversation piece); “you’ve gotta be kidding me.” He leaves, telling her he’s not comfortable leaving Anita alone at night. By herself, in the apartment where she stabbed Abe thinking he was an intruder, Peggy collapses on the floor, sobbing.
In his loft, Don strips off his robe. He still can’t close the doors, and it’s icy January in New York City. He steps outside in his underwear, lowers himself onto a chair, and shivers as Vanilla Fudge’s psychedelic cover of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” plays. “Set me free, why don’t you baby / Get out of my life, why don’t you baby,” the lyrics implore.
This episode sets the final season up to be quite a doozie. Time isn’t on our side, and everybody’s floundering. (Well, everybody except Pete Campbell.) There’s a palpable feeling of unease, of impending doom, and many of our beloved characters are literally and figuratively out in the cold. It’s 1969, baby, and things they are a-changin’. Will anyone really be able to adapt?
Share your thoughts and theories in the comments! Next week’s recap will likely be very late, as I’ll be traveling on Sunday and Monday.