Elisabeth Moss Emmys

This week’s episode of “Mad Men” was as full of emotion as last week’s was full of allegory.

“The Strategy,” episode six, the penultimate installment of the all-too-short season 7-A, was packed with developments big and small for the core group.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading now if you haven’t seen this episode.

Peggy’s life, or lack thereof, was a theme of the episode, taking centerstage even ahead of the goings on in Don’s life. But as always by the end we saw that the whole Peggy story was designed to bring us around to a better understanding of Don at this moment. It was beautifully written by Semi Chellas and directed by Phil Abraham, and both writer and director were in sync with a raw and frank tone that didn’t leave much doubt about what was trying to be imparted. After last week’s bizarro ride with Ginsberg’s freak out, Don’s niece and Megan’s amorous adventure, “The Strategy” was a nice return to form.

Awkward homecomings were the running theme of this episode. Various characters were engaged in a process of learning where they belong, and where they don’t belong. And it was pretty unequivocal by the closing scene of Pete, Peggy and Don at work in the field, at a Burger Chef restaurant. It’s the old Sterling Cooper gang back together, doing what they do best — embracing work to such a degree that they avoid the stresses of family life. All three of them want an idyllic family life, but we’ve spent now six and a half seasons seeing why these people, along with Joan and Roger and Betty, simply can’t pull it off for any length of time.

The scenes toward the end between Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm were completely captivating. Without thinking about it I stopped taking notes and just watched incredible actors at work with genuine appreciation. This is the glory of TV at its best — when two fantastic actors have hit Malcom Gladwell’s proverbial 10,000 hours threshold — they know these characters so well it’s chilling and thrilling to watch them do their thing.

“Show me how you think. Do it out loud,” Peggy instructs Don in her moment of desperation and doubt about the soundness of her pitch for Burger Chef. Did he really make the suggestion about a possible another route for the campaign — even after the success of Peggy’s Don Draper-esque delivery with storyboards — to undermine her confidence? Or did he do it to prod her to thinking of something better in order for her to succeed? He knows Peggy did her homework — schlepping across the Midwest to lean into station wagon windows to do her own focus group research. That’s dedication, and I have to believe that Don admires that.

After all, Peggy is his protege. Just in case anyone forgot, we see the two dancing to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” in her office, her head on his chest with a brother-and-sister kind of sweetness to it. He’s there for her in a moment of weakness and despair — about her life, about turning 30, about her professional competency — like no one else could be. Stan just isn’t that dedicated. But Don knows where she comes from and knows what she’s feeling.

“I was in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and I looked into the windows of so many station wagons. What did I do wrong,” Peggy tells him. Don gets it without further explanation. The last few scenes of the episode are a real win for Don, who happened to be very much in need of the feeling of being wanted and needed right at that moment. Megan’s trip back to NYC to grab some summer clothes and a fondue pot may well have sealed the nail on the coffin of their marriage. It’s just hard to see those two ever getting back together full time, as hard as both of them want to try. It didn’t help that Don’s secretary didn’t even know he was married.

The disconnect between those two is indicative of the physical and cultural differences between the coasts. Don is soooo not an L.A. guy — just as Pete’s girlfriend Bonnie is soooo not an NYC gal. At this stage of the series, I’d be surprised if we ever see Pete back in L.A. again. He doesn’t like being a stranger to his daughter — that scene was eye-opening for him. Bonnie picked up immediately on the fact that he couldn’t be too serious about the relationship if he didn’t want her to meet his baby girl. Pete wanted to see Trudy, and even sacrificed his ticket to “Oh Calcutta” to stick around even when he didn’t have to. He was none too happy to see that housekeeper/nanny Verna seemed to be doing most of the child-rearing, at least on that day. He’s not over Trudy — or at least he’s not ready to give up entirely on having a family life with a wife and daughter.

As usual Pete’s pathetic about accusing others of engaging in behavior that he is guilty of — “debutante moves” indeed. You know the Peggy-Don-Pete material had to be good if it could take away from the excitement of Bob Benson’s return in this episode. That guy is just a bad penny — he brings the drama wherever he goes. I have to imagine that whatever job he’s going into for Buick, disaster lies ahead.

Bob’s proposal of expediency to Joan was heartbreaking. But it also gave Joan a chance to shine in terms of demonstrating that she still knows what she wants and believes she can find it — even if she is living with her mother.

“We could comfort each other through an uncertain world,” Bob tells her, earnestly, describing his offer of a “mansion” in Detroit and other perks. Bob sounds like he needs a golden retriever, not a woman like Joan.

I was puzzled by this whole scene for a few minutes until I remembered how the Chevy executive whom Bob bailed out for soliciting a male police offer made two cutting remarks. “My wife understands, thank god” and “How did you live in this city with so much temptation?” This is also a reminder of how painful it must have been for most gay men in this era to have no hope — probably not even the concept — of what it could mean to live life out of the closet. But Joan does!

“I want love. I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement. You should too,” she tells him. Joan will be there in another year few days at Stonewall, helping to throw some bottles. Roger Sterling is on an interesting path these days but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to Joan — the romantic ending that I would bet many “Mad Men” fans are rooting for. He is clearly on course for a massive blowup with Jim Cutler — and like the old song goes, “I wanna be around/ to see how he does it/when he breaks your heart to bits.”

Final thoughts:

  • ** Harry Crane, partner? I suspect Harry’s now over-inflated ego will be his own worst enemy as the dopey Jim Cutler lines up some press for Crane and his computer.
  • ** Pete, always with the back-handed compliments. “You know that she’s every bit as good as any woman in this business” he exults when Peggy agrees to his ridiculous request to hand the Burger Chef pitch over to Don to deliver with manly “authority.”
  • ** Don and Peggy’s exchange about 1955 and 1965 was interesting. Don cites ’55 as a “good year” and notes that he got married in 1965 — to Megan, obviously. This made me think of Betty, weirdly enough. (I initially thought he referenced getting married in 1955 but the math doesn’t work.) I know they can only do so much in one hour, but I hope we get a good dose of Betty in the 7-A finale next week. Never thought I’d say this but, I miss her. Almost as much as Stan misses Megan.

 

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