This week on Mad Men
the firm continues to experience growing pains thanks to the shotgun merger of SCDP and CGC. The partners all wander off in different directions trying to nail down business with various levels of success. Bob Benson is either a great guy or a sociopath, but he's definitely rising up the ranks of the firm by being everywhere at all times. And Joan finally fights for a more powerful position in the agency and mostly wins the fight.
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What's in a Name?
But perhaps most important, the agency finally settles on a name as everyone finally starts to settle into the new reality of the combined firm. The episode opens with a fight about the agency name and closes with the firm rechristened nearly back to its original status.
Obviously, the agency was going to need to get a name someone could potentially say without having an asthma attack halfway through. And SCDPCGC was not that name. That looks less like the name of a powerful ad agency and more like the CAPTCHA you keep messing up when trying to buy a pair of shoes online.
So instead, they decide to pick a name that is more or less offensive to everyone: Sterling Cooper and Partners. (SC&P it is!) The more things change, the more they stay the same. But things are actually changing, quite a bit, in both the culture at large and in SC&P in particular.
Avon can't decide if it should be "groovy" or nostalgic, and this dichotomy has always been at the heart of Mad Men. It's embodied especially by the Don and Peggy relationship. Don is the old guard, not quite comfortable with the large shifts happening in the culture surrounding him and in his own marriage.
As his fantasy showed, he thinks the way to repair his relationship with Megan is to have her barefoot and pregnant, having given up her career as an actress to devote herself entirely to Don. Their "second chance" is really just Don's desire to hit the reset button on their courtship, back to when Megan relied on Don for everything.
Meanwhile, Peggy has always represented the future, and this season has even begun to outshine her old mentor
. Last week, she was stuck between two mentors as Don and Ted tried to force her to take a side, only to both ultimately disappoint her. This week, she's stuck between Joan and Pete, as Joan tries to assert her power in the office. But Peggy takes a side and helps Joan, choosing Joan's new way over the way things have usually been done.
Joan Fights for Position
Throughout the season, we've seen Joan struggle with her new position within the company and how she acquired it. The specter of Herb from Jaguar has never been far from her mind, and no one has let her live down how she managed to get her partnership.
But for everything Joan sacrificed to get a place at the table, her actual power has been sadly negligent. She couldn't even fire a secretary, making her less powerful as a partner than she was as an office manager.
The episode she realized this fact was also the episode she proved herself the best wing lady ever when her friend Kate came to visit. That's no accident, because early on in the episode Joan is meeting with one of Kate's contacts from Avon, where she now works. It soon becomes obvious that what Joan thought of as a social call is actually a client meeting.
When Joan reports they might be able to bring in Avon to Peggy, both women are excited. Considering how great both Peggy and Joan are, it's shocking how few scenes we get of the two of them together. This episode is fantastic, if only to watch Joan and Peggy squabble about their differing paths to success and ultimately form a pretty good team.
Peggy and Joan might have taken vastly different paths to get where they are at the company, but neither path was lined with roses. For both women, the climb up the corporate ladder was rickety and dangerous, and we've seen them both fall and pick themselves up. Now that she's got the position, Joan wants it to be more than an empty title.
So even though Ted hands off Avon to Pete, Joan circumvents him by scheduling a breakfast and conveniently forgetting to invite him. Peggy is furious, because this is not the way things are done. But Joan is tired of waiting around for her contributions to matter.
"It's all right in front of you for the taking," Kate once told Joan. Finally, Joan is reaching out and stepping up.
Unsurprisingly, Pete freaks out when he learns what Joan has done. He immediately tattles to Ted, who is also shocked at Joan's actions circumventing the normal ways the office is run. Peggy, listening in the next room through a speaker, does Joan a solid by having Clara run in a message that the man from Avon is calling for Joan.
Peggy tells Joan she better hope he really does call, but it's a lovely moment of solidarity between the two women who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get to the still precarious positions they currently hold.
Will Joan's gambit backfire in her face? Will Pete actually quit? This season, it seems just when you get comfortable with the status quo, the show throws another curveball.
The Times They are a-Changing
Meanwhile, Don, Roger, and Harry "convertible lover" Crane arrive in California to woo Carnation Instant Breakfast. But the real-life civil unrest is making even pitch meetings harder and harder to get through. Soon the meeting devolves into a rant about long-haired hippies.
On TV, the riots are in full swing in Chicago, where Megan and Don watch in shock at the violence unfolding. In the SC&P offices, Ginsburg begins to go into an Abe-like spiral about how they're all the problem and how Jim Cutler doesn't care about the war. Cutler, both complacent and not incorrect, points out that the war doesn't actually affect the job at hand pitching a wine company.
Culter wants to clean house, but Ted talks him off the ledge. Somehow, Bob Benson arrives and ends up shepherding a sweaty, freaking-out Ginsburg through the pitch. They lose the account, but after weeks of skulking around the corners of the office, having a father both dead and alive depending on the situation, Bob has finally made an impression.
Just what is up with Bob? There are multiple theories swirling around the Internet, from spy to psycho killer. Whoever he is, Matthew Weiner is playing a long setup with the character, only occasionally sprinkling him into episodes. As the season keeps progressing, Bob has managed to weasel his way into more and more sectors of office life.
As Bob said, there is no such thing as being in the right place at the right time. You have to be in the right place all the time. And Bob does seem to be everywhere at once. Does he have all these people low-jacked or something?
While we still don't know the deal with him, his goal of climbing his way up the corporate ladder seemingly gets a major boast this week. Somehow, this doesn't feel like a positive for the new SC&P.
Don Dreams of Death
The Don portions of the episode feel a little light this week, but certainly hit hard on the death motif present this season since the premiere
. Don seems to float insubstantially around the lavish California party, smoking hookahs and hallucinating Megan.
In other corners, Roger spends most of his time fighting with Danny by throwing zinger after zinger about his small statue. This eventually results in the episode's most GIF-able moment: Danny using his height to his advantage by punching Roger directly in the crotch. And that is why you never tease short people.
Don eventually ends up face down in the pool in a strange sequence where he has an out of body experience, looking down at his own lifeless-looking body in the pool. It's Roger who saves him, in a mirror of the scene where Dr. Rosen saved the building doorman in the premiere.
"Dying doesn't make you whole," the solider from Hawaii tells Don seconds before he ends up face-first in the pool. Yet Don seems obsessed with the idea of death. In the premiere, the Hawaiian hotel executives rightly pointed out the abandoned clothes on the beach in Don's pitch looked more like a suicide than an enticing ad for a hotel. First, we have empty clothes on a beach, and now this episode Don ends up floating face-first in a pool.
Is all this death symbolism just Don longing for a way out of the cycle of his unhappiness? Or will we see more death in the SC&P family before the last three episodes of the season are over?
What do you think? Did you like the episode? Did you agree with Joan's decision? Will Pete actually quit or just smoke more joints? Sound off in the comments below!
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(Image courtesy of AMC)