I must have miscounted, because I was expecting this week’s episode of Mad Men to be the last of 2014. I was wrong – that’s Sunday, May 25.
I wrote last week that I found “The Runaways” to be a strange episode. This week, I thought things were back on track with “The Strategy”. The highlights were the fantastic scenes Don and Peggy had together, and Joan’s storyline with Bob Benson. Click through for more, if you’ve seen the episode.
If I had to sum up what this episode was about, I’d say it was about how a very long time can pass and people can still have nothing and no one. It was dark and sad and harsh, in that melancholy way that Mad Men has always been so good at emoting.
Not great, Bob.
I’m going to start with Joan and Bob, because I just loved everything about that storyline so much. We’ve been building to this development for a long time. At first, viewers weren’t supposed to be sure if Bob was gay. Then, in Season 6 Episode 11, we were given this scene, where Bob rather subtly tested the waters with Pete Campbell. This fantastic recap from Tom & Lorenzo looked more in-depth at who Bob Benson really was. That recap also pointed out that Joan lived in the village throughout the 60s, and would have been accustomed to being around, or being friends with, gay men. In fact, I don’t think Joan would have let a straight man become so close to her son, to be known as “Uncle Bob”.
Bob was back in New York, briefly, and at first got tangled up in a closeted-gay Chevy exec’s legal troubles. He was angered – obviously, Bob goes to great lengths to avoid this kind of thing. But then he got news – Chevy was going to take the work in-house, and they wanted to take Bob with them.
That’s good career news for Bob, but I suppose looking at that Chevy exec’s life was getting a glimpse into the future. If he remains unmarried, people will wonder about him. He needs an “understanding” wife. So he proposed to Joan – and it was literally a proposition. They would get married, he’d provide for her and Kevin yet she would still be able to have her career. To Bob, it was the perfect solution. And there is a pragmatic side to Joan that, I think, would want to go for it. But poor Joan hasn’t had the life she thought she’d have so far. She’s been wanted by many men, but has so far ended up alone. She’s been used and abused. She knows what she wants for her life now, and it’s not an arrangement.
This was a sad storyline. I’m sad that Bob, who seems to be a great guy, lives in a time when this is necessary. I’m sad that someone thinks this is the best offer Joan will ever get. But as far as good television writing, it was fantastic.
This has been a difficult year for Peggy. As a character, she’s had some of her most unlikable moments this season. But it’s all on point – it seems like her life has been at an all-time low, which is saying something for a woman who was once surprised with Pete Campbell’s baby. Peggy just turned 30, and she’s lost everything romantically and professionally. She doesn’t have someone to share her life with, she doesn’t have a family. And she doesn’t sit in the office she deserves, with the job title she has rightfully earned. She doesn’t know if she ever will.
During a meeting, Pete declared that Peggy is “every bit as good as any woman in the business!” It was like twisting the knife in Peggy’s heart. Even someone who has come to acknowledge her talent, like Pete, still cannot put her on equal ground with male colleagues.
Sidenote: As a woman who also works in marketing, I’ve always found Peggy’s story the most interesting to watch. I have it so much easier, thanks to real-life women like Peggy. And yet, gender inequality still exists.
Don is also in a dark place. His interactions with Megan this week showed, once again, that they are drifting further and further apart. He’s filled with regret, and wondering how he could have lived his life differently. He’s also wondering if he’ll die alone, having accomplished nothing. The moment they shared dancing to “My Way” summed up more about the relationship between those two characters than words can.
Cos Cob Chaos
Meanwhile, Pete was also facing the harsh reality that his life is quite empty. He brought his new, hot girlfriend to New York, but needed to spend time at work and with his daughter as well. His daughter, of course, barely recognized him. Trudy attempted to completely avoid him, and when Pete discovered she was on a date he was furious. It was a selfish, hypocritical, sexist point of view that reminded us of the man Pete Campbell really is. He’s not tanned, happy and relaxed. He’s insecure and angry. “I don’t like you in New York,” his girlfriend said. That’s because this is the real Pete, and he’s unlikable.
Throughout the episode, Peggy was struggling to land on the right idea to pitch to Burger Chef. Was their brand about dads giving moms permission to bring home take-out? Was it about kids loving fast food? No. The idea Peggy landed on was that whoever sits at a table together at Burger Chef is family, no matter what it looks like. In 1969, the traditional family is becoming less and less common – as evidenced by Joan, Don, Peggy, Pete and the other characters of Mad Men.