‘Mad Men’ Recap: ‘Time & Life’ Addresses Loose Threads (SPOILERS)

'Mad Men' Recap: 'Time & Life'
Image courtesy AMC

“This is the beginning of something, not the end.”

“You passed the test.”

“Enjoy the rest of your miserable life.”

“Having a leg up on the rats who fly off this ship is going to help you.”

Spoiler warning: Stop reading if you haven’t seen the April 27 episode of “Mad Men,” titled “Time & Life.”

There were plenty of great lines, great performances and plot developments in this episode but nothing was more startling than Peggy Olson trying to come to terms with the baby that has shadowed her since the end of season one.

Kudos to Elisabeth Moss, to writers Erin Levy and Matthew Weiner and to director Jared Harris (yes, Lane Pryce was back at Sterling Cooper) for the delicate way her revelation to Stan was handled. The build-up to it with the kids auditioning in the office and the shouting match with the stage mother made the scene with Stan that much more poignant. Give him credit — underneath all that hair, he’s awfully perceptive and sensitive, especially where Peggy is concerned.

At the same time that Peggy is showing some maturity about her decision, Roger still seems to be in perplexing denial about his child with Joan, Kevin. Even when soused, when you’d think his guard would be down, Roger laments to Don that he’s the last man in the Sterling lineage. Fine, fine work by John Slattery throughout — as usual.

This episode seemed to go out of its way to show us a lot of old-school “Mad Men” relationships and where they stand at this time in the series’ run. The big news of the episode — the fact that McCann-Erickson is absorbing Sterling Cooper fully into its operation — was a catalyst for dealing with a lot of loose ends.

Pete spends time with Trudy doing what they both do best — social climbing, or attempting to on behalf of daughter Tammy. When Pete clocks the headmaster of the Greenwich Day School, the tony private school that has rejected Tammy, Trudy is clearly impressed. She even confesses to Pete her fears of being an aging divorcee. And Pete is sympathetic.

We also see Pete extending a kindness to Peggy, by tipping her to the fact of the McCann-Erickson integration. And Peggy is kind back to him, going so far as to rub his back and assure him that he’ll be fine.

We see Roger and Don deepening their friendship once again over a lot of cocktails. One of many great moments in the episode was the scene that cut from McCann bigwig Jim Hobart telling them to “pop some champagne” to the sight of the five Sterling Cooper partners hoisting beer mugs.

We also got some interesting Roger and Joan moments. None was better than Joan calmly scolding him — “Don’t do that” — after he started yelling for her as if this was six seasons ago. In general there’s been a noticeable rise in the amount of assertiveness expressed by Sterling Cooper’s secretaries in these last few episodes. Don’s secretary Meredith isn’t afraid to tell him what’s what. She even withholds his Alka-Seltzer — a move that could probably get any executive assistant fired today.

Maybe the second most heartbreaking scene after Peggy and Stan’s moment was the sight of Don Draper suffering Pitchus Interruptus. He looks stunned that McCann’s Jim Hobart wouldn’t even let him put the Don Draper Treatment on the pitch to relocate most of Sterling Cooper’s business to Los Angeles — a last ditch attempt to salvage the agency’s imprimatur and identity. “It’s a gold rush out there,” Don says at the windup before he’s clubbed on the knees by Hobart.

Hobart makes it clear that McCann-Erickson bought Sterling Cooper not for its cash flows, but for its executive team. “You passed the test,” he says. Ted is getting what he told Don the previous week was his heart’s desire — the chance to work on big brands and big ideas. Don is still singing “Is That All There Is?”

The integration with McCann is ultimately welcomed by some (Peggy, Ted) and feared by others — especially Joan after the indignity she suffered at the hands of the frat-boy execs in the premiere episode. They have every reason to fear the worst — which is why no one listens to Roger or Don when the partners gather the Sterling Cooper staff to announce the move.

“This is the beginning of something, not the end,” Don says in desperation as staffers begin leaving while Roger is mid-sentence. But there’s no snapping them back to attention. The rank-and-file know that the Sterling Cooper partners have just lost all of their authority. They’re back to being employees like everybody else.

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  1. Mike says:

    hands down one of the best shows of the decade. right up there with breaking bad. really amazing quality television

  2. Goodbyenoway says:

    This was one of the best episodes ever. Brilliant on every level. I will miss this show..

  3. Sandy Klein says:

    What I took away was that everyone showed a vulnerable side and something is revealed about them.
    Roger doesn’t have an heir and admits he’s with Marie. Peggy admits she gave up a child and her guilt and inability to move on from her decision is clear. Stan reveals he had a lousy mother and that he has feelings for Peggy when she tells him he doesn’t know much about a lot of people and that’s the point, and he looks into her eyes and says, “No, it’s not.” Trudy admits she fears getting old and reveals admiration for Pete when she tells him he never takes no for an answer. Pete tells Peggy he’s only worked for one agency and it’s clear he still feels connected to her once he sees the little girl hug her, leading to his decision to tell her. I think he may have also shown he still harbors feelings for her when she uses her hand to comfort him and he tells her to get back to work. Joan mentions she was the only one who wasn’t given an account at the meeting with McCann and admits she feels insecure about being taken seriously. The black secretaries talked of their fear of discrimination at McCann and reveal distrust of white co-workers when they tell Meredith she should wear a bell around her neck. Even the gay couple in Diana’s old apartment reveal that the plainer of the two distrusts his partner, only for the partner to prove the point that the distrust is warranted when he asks Don if he wants another drink.

    Only Don reveals nothing and shows no vulnerability, although it’s obvious he realizes his ability to sell an idea is gone. Between the guy at McCann cutting him short, and staff walking away while he’s still talking, it’s obvious nobody even wants to hear it anymore.

    Everyone is getting what they want – the big accounts they’ve dreamed of. Joan will get what she really wants – love of a nice guy. What will Don end up with and what does he really want? He has no clue. After all these years of watching him, we don’t either.

    The partners all leave the bar with someplace to go – with someone to connect with – except for Don. He can’t even keep a waitress interested.

    Meredith was the one who was completely aware of something going on around her, and after weeks of people dismissing her, she stands up to Don and lets him know he needs her more than she needs him.

    Some additional thoughts:

    The comment the Schoolmaster makes where he says the McDonnell’s will never get along with the Campbell’s seems to portend the future of the two agencies.

    Joan’s new love, who insisted he is retired, is in an office and tells someone off camera to make travel arrangements, making us wonder if he was being truthful.

    And last, but most important but not related to this episode, in next week’s tease the blinds in Don’s office are up and he’s looking AT the window, not out of it. Is Matthew Weiner messing with us with that or will the opening shot of the man falling from the building be more than just a metaphor?

    • dryheat says:

      Joan’s boyfriend hasn’t insisted he’s retired; on the contrary, he spoke of golf courses he owns in CA, and a building he will buy on NYC…

      • Sandy Klein says:

        His story over dinner about the protestors didn’t make it clear if it was something that just happened or happened in the past. And when he told her he was going to buy some property in New York, it didn’t really tell us anything about his work status. The jury is still out for me.

  4. Barbara says:

    What’s in Don’s future? Coca-Cola! Does he (with Peggy?) come up with one of the century’s most memorable ads, the iconic song that unites the world of Coca-Cola drinkers, “It’s the real thing…it’s the way it should be (etc.)” Now that’s an ad man’s legacy, that 30 or more years later we still remember it and how it reflected the thinking of the time, that all the diverse people around the world could be united by Coke.

  5. Daniels says:

    The way the employees reacted would have been the same way I felt, “You keep telling us everything is going to be alight but it doesn’t feel like it.”

  6. The Memetrix says:

    Reblogged this on The Memetrix.

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