Oh man, even though there is as of now only ten episodes of Mad Men left; it’s still hard to believe how slow and quick the show can move at almost simultaneous intervals. Since Mad Men runs so deep on symbolism, you run the risk of almost always over-thinking every single camera shot and Don Draper eyeroll, but last night’s episode set the tempo pretty well for the remainder of the show’s run.
At least, so we think.
Anyway, let’s do a brief recap. Don Draper starts the episode off in roughly the same position we have seen him in the early-going of Season 7, well-dressed when speaking to individuals but for all intents and purposes; seemingly alone. He does appear to be getting some of his mojo back though as he sternly demands Dawn to continue doing his bidding when it comes to ordering more letterhead until receiving a phone call from Megan’s casting friend that we were introduced to in episode one.
Apparently Megan is having a near-breakdown in California and Don immediately rushes to California. At first we are expecting Don to play the role of good husband, until of course after he has reunion sex with Megan; he treats her like some bizarre daughter-wife. I’m not a big fan of the Megan character, but there are times when I find her sympathetic. She moved out to L.A. not to necessarily bolster her acting career but to support Don and have a new start. Then she sees her husband only when he feels like lecturing her or trying to exert some control when she’s by herself out there and not really setting the world on fire.
After being pressed by Megan, Don comes clean and admits he was placed on leave by SC&P. After a tense conversation, Megan all-but-separates with Don and orders him to go back to NYC and leave her alone. Don looks crushed, and there is a big part of you that feels for him as Jon Hamm somehow makes this bastard sympathetic, but nonetheless retreats and entertains a new job offer from a rival ad firm.
It seems that Don is finding his professional groove again as he immediately gets hit on by a blonde woman (who I swore looked familiar) and we are led to initially believe that he’s knocking on her door when Roger Sterling answers instead. Don asserts himself and demands to know if he can be rehired and while Roger has no problem admitting why Don was placed on immediate leave (he was a trainwreck); he tells him the words he wants to hear. “Come back Monday” followed by an “I miss you” as the crowd goes AWWWWWW.
It’s early, but I nominate Don’s return to the office to be the best scene of Season 7. You can feel how awkward the situation is as Don notices that while the office has only mildly changed (aka the names on some of the doors), it has forgotten about him. The specter of Don Draper might always be around but considering all the hustle and bustle in the office; he’s not going to get the “WELCOME BACK” that he wants.
Don continues to slo-mo walk and part of you almost thinks its him fantasizing about what the day will be like (the scene was mixed with shots of a nervous Don looking at his watch in his apartment) until he runs into Lou Avery and the two of them have about as cringeworthy of a conversation as they could have. They both know why Don is here, to get his job back.
But one thing, Don’s expecting a partner’s meeting and Roger isn’t in yet. So Don gets stopped by Ginsberg when he seems to be on the cusp of leaving to check out their newest campaign and offer his two cents. Don sees some of the old CC&G team who don’t seem that upset to see him and even Stan seems to have slightly forgiven Don after being undercut by him. Of course the only person who genuinely seems thrilled to see Don is Ken Cosgrove (retaining his title as most sincere person in the office) who gamely reminds us of Don’s brilliant carousel pitch of Season 1.
Joan, who was with Ken, immediately goes to Cooper’s office and tells him of their new visitor and after Rogerdrunkenly (but level-headed) walks in, there is an emergency meeting of the partners (with Cutler speaking for Ted and Sterling for Pete). Roger has the best solution to this mess, and he seems to be prepared for this moment as he explains that while Don is expensive; it’s cheaper to retain him than to buy him out. The partners seem to begrudgingly agree after some terse moments but Roger wins as Don is called into the office.
Don tries to play it cool but the partners immediately tell him that he can return (with the risk of immediate termination) but there are some stipulations. Don can’t be left alone with a client, he must stay on a script (to be approved before any meeting), he cannot drink alcohol unless its for client hospitality and most importantly, he has to report to Lou.
Yes, that’s right, a senior partner who was instrumental in the creation of the agency (and its merger) has to be a glorified junior copywriter. Don looks at the contract, smirks and goes “Ok” as Jimi Hendrix takes us home.
Unfortunately, there was a subplot one of which I think is perhaps one of the most useless side plots of Mad Men’s history. Bobby Draper wants to go on a field trip and Betty, looking to play the role of eager mother, accepts which makes her middle child beam. Apparently this field trip is to a barn (“where they grow eggs!”, Bobby is a fucking idiot) and uptown Betty seems to be enjoying some mother-son time on the bus trip over. Of course, she meets Bobby’s teacher who wears a blouse that is not quite buttoned all the way up and as the bus lurches forward; she almost spills out. This leads to a sarcastic comment by Betty who begins to gossip about the teacher to another mother.
As Betty gamely drinks milk straight from the udder, she finds a picnic blanket set out for her and Bobby. Bobby, being the genius that he is, traded two sandwiches to a girl who had none in exchange for gumdrops. Dammit Bobby. Betty then passively aggressively makes Bobby feel like shit and the arc ends with Betty snuggling Gene (who is permanently two) and asking Henry, if she’s a good mother.
In other character news, Harry is back and demands a computer, while having a mini standoff with Cutler. Peggy blasts Don and continues her descent into personal, professional and emotional frustration. She’s basically Don. Dawn seems overwhelmed by her new job but is still the ultimate team player for even somewhat helping Don. Wonder if that will payoff down the line.
Well, how long do Don and Lou work in harmony if they ever do? Lou is going to be immediately threatened and be sure to stifle any creative input from Don just like he does Peggy. The only difference is Don actually could fire Lou if he wanted (he would risk immediate termination though) and Lou is an asshat who is permanently complaining.
Don being in this position is very interesting. He immediately accepted it, probably to tell the partners that they will have to remove him before he voluntarily leaves, and all he has to do is be a team player. But he’s Don Draper, there’s no way this show ends with him being Dick Whitman to Lou Avery and happily reporting to him. Maybe Don kills Lou and takes his identity.
The symbolism is crazy though as this sounds like a suicide mission and lo and behold, Don gets Lane’s old office. I also wonder how Ted and Pete will react to the news of Don’s return, I’m sure part of them wishes he were in California with them as Pete is underrepresented and Ted is on autopilot still. Will Peggy team up with Don or will she continue to cast him aside? Or better yet, will Peggy be treated better or worse by Lou (in an effort to get her on his side as opposed to Don’s)? Where do Ginsberg and Stan play into this?
I still like my idea that Lou cripples the company enough with uninventive creative that they are forced to promote Don back. But the current arrangement will not last past an episode or two as the show begins to wind down. We are almost halfway done this abbreviated season already.