I recall, after last week’s stellar episode—which I will say again was my favorite—that I was wondering if we were seeing the characters in Mad Men turn a corner.
I am amazed at how limited my conception of this season’s possibilities truly was. I thought it would be about paying retribution, but it goes much farther than that—it is about excess, about collapse, but also about renewal.
The retribution was only step one in a longer process. Yes, Don, Pete, Joan, and company are all facing the consequences of their past sins. But instead of destroying themselves, they are doing something I would never have thought I would see on Mad Men—they are showing resiliency and growth.
I think this is a good thing, but I honestly don’t know.
The optimist in me wants to believe that these characters are becoming better people, and are at a different place than they were at the season’s opening, so they deserve what is coming to them.
Pete Campbell is realizing he married the wrong woman, that he allowed his wife’s family to foot the bill for his success, and he is stepping away. At first, it is forced on him, but he finds a way to make it on his terms. Don has been bothered by the dark arrangement that allowed the Jaguar account to happen, and he has never liked it, so he finally pulls the plug, and feels an exhilaration that is unusual for him, seeing as he so rarely does the right thing,. Roger finally gets out there and really earns something, pulling a coup unlike any I have seen, and he creates opportunities for those around him through hard work.
So, they are all becoming at least slightly better people. If nothing else, they’re cleaning house. So, maybe they deserve what appears to be a massive, sudden, and unexpected turn of good fortune: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler Gleason and Chaough are merging, creating a financial windfall for all involved and a massive new player in the Madison Avenue scene.
But then I remember all my talk of them paying the price for the things they have done to other people, and some superego to my television-viewing id feels that I am seeing Don and company catch another break they do not deserve. Unless, of course, this merger will not go as smoothly as the characters are leading themselves to believe.
Mad Men has crossed a threshold. Last week, its world got completely disrupted, torn asunder, and as they put it back together they are approaching it differently.
I do have questions. How does this merger effect the public offering Bert Cooper and Pete Campbell were planning? How will Don and Ted Chaough work together? And then there is Joan, who is left having debased herself for nothing, reminded again of her total lack of agency. It’s no mistake the banker in the first scene mentioned how well she does paperwork. She is Layne Pryce, and things could potentially go badly for her in a similar way if she does not find a way to take control of her own destiny.
But as this week showed, anything is possible.