So many characters feel like they’re under severance as start driving down the road to the last episodes of Mad Men.
Mad Men: Season 7: Episode 8: Severance: GRADE: A-
Ah it feels good to be back in…April 1970? Yes people we have truly escaped the decade that was the 1960s. I have to say that was something I honestly didn’t see coming. I thought the final scene would be seeing whoever was left by the series finale transitioning into the 1970s, but this was a pleasant surprise, even if it did confuse me through a good part of last night’s premiere before I re-watched it to make sure I got my shit right.
Looking back upon the episode one must ask the same question that Peggy Lee did when her song played in this episode, “Is That All There Is?” Which has also been a long standing theme in Mad Men of each character in one way or another what this all means and we get more of that with this premiere.
The opening after the credits this week was a delight in how much its a classic Don Draper moment to be with a model for a possible mink advertisement and he uses his greatest weapon, his words. His seductive charm, just pouring on word after word and she is hooked on it then you pull back and see its in an audition. Also not surprising is that Don is right back to a different woman every night, which begs me to ask if Waterloo is truly the last we’ve seen of Megan, because at least one more appearance or an epilogue for her would be great to here. Maybe a better fate than one of Don’s familiar flames, Rachel Menken. Don suddenly is thinking about her, seeing her in the face of another model trying for the mink ad. Its weird for him and us to see Maggie Siff, but then Don learns the sad truth that Rachel has recently died from leukemia.
The effects of this are clear throughout the show and they work well. Its a great way to bring back and send off Rachel without having to suddenly place her right into the episode. The show does this respectively and its really good to see. The after effect plays heavily into Don’s actions such as how he gets fixated with this waitress that looks similar to Rachel to the point they have some back alley fun, getting things all mixed up and his funeral visit which he so isn’t welcome at by Rachel’s sister. Rachel’s sister plays as a great indication as to how the affair Rachel had with Don. The sister tells Don, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re looking for here.” If that wasn’t enough, Rachel’s kid was certainly then a wake-up call for Don the life the live he wants. But knowing Don, if does live the life he wants, is he even really gonna be happy about it?
Don is the person that’s comfortable living the lie. You can see this in the opening with Roger as he regales their lovely ladies with tales from Dick Whitman’s actual childhood and how Roger even said how Don loves talking about growing up poor. That’s one the most fascinating traits I’ve loved about Don but I feel like at some point before the end, he’s going to crack.
Speaking of going after the life not lived, lets have a focus on Ken Cosgrove. While not as played down and more overt than Mad Men has been in a while and compared to what Don went through in the premiere, I still really liked what happened with Ken as its some of the best stuff with him in a while on the show. Ken is still good at his job and seems to enjoy it but his wife sees something else. She wants him to be happy which is why she prompts him during a talk to quit his job and get off pursue his writing passion. That’s not so easy for Ken, part of his identity is his job, its a good part of who he is. Ken’s storyline runs a gambit of things from then being fired by Sterling Cooper & Partners because their new parent company, McCann-Erickson, holds a grudge against him. Ken’s stunned reaction says it all. He’s happy, he feels free, but finds that he’s not really that excited about it now. How convenient that his father-in-law is retiring from Dow Chemical because after a talk about lives not live with Don, Ken’s back in the game as Dow’s new head of advertising. As he tells Roger and Pete, “It’s going to be way worse than that. I’m going to be your client and I hate to tell you I’m going to be very hard to please.”
Joan and Peggy are off in their own corner of episode plots. I shouldn’t say corner as much as sharing the stage. Peggy and Joan are doing with with Topaz and when meeting with McCann-Erickson partners they have to deal with so many sexually charged jokes about them both. That’s the set up for their own little stories in how they deal with it. Peggy powers through the meeting with a plastered smile whereas Joan barely keeps speaking.
The elevator ride after has to be one of the best scenes Mad Men has ever done. Its rich in tension, animosity, and great acting. Joan is ready to just let loose in anger but Peggy actually goes about it in a positive way by reminding them they did just a get a win in there. Joan particularly is harassed in the meeting with her figure and Peggy even suggests she brought it upon herself with how she dresses which shows off her figure. Peggy is then immediately shut down by Joan. Joan goes on a shopping spree to calm down, which even then the words linger in her mind. Is that all there is to, Joan? Well from past seasons we know certainly not but even in her prime right now and with so much she’s proven to everyone, Joan can’t help but even think about that question.
Peggy is set up by her brother-in-law on a date and it goes well. So well that after some win she’s ready to possibly hop on to Paris, but can’t find her passport which gets her out of the situation, but deep down she kinda wanted an out. She’s obsessed with her career because she loves what she does. Everyone needs an outlet sometimes, but Peggy doesn’t wanna seem to find herself one.
Mad Men sets up the true end nicely with its return. When I heard the season was being split, I wasn’t too much a fan, but seeing the transition in time from here and last May, I like the idea. Its really good that this happened and works in the shows benefits. Everything there is to love about Mad Men is there, even mustaches now via Roger and Ted. We often think about the life not lived, it inspires a little curiosity in us all to explore different things, but it can sometimes upend things, much like for our characters here.