Is this then end of Sterling, Cooper, & Partners? Will our gang go the distance for their business? Is this truly the beginning of something or the end? Find out now as we take a look at a few key moments from last night’s (4/26th) episode of “Mad Men.” We only have three more episodes of AMC’s “Mad Men” and with the episode “Time & Life”, the seeds are sown for the final conflict the partners at SC&P will have to face; some together and some alone. Without further ado, here is the latest installment of “Talking Mad.”
Jared Harris*, director.
First of all, let’s acknowledge that Mad Men‘s very own Lane Pryce, Jared Harris directed this episode. It’s been a while since the suicide of Lane Pryce in the season five, episode 12 “Commissions and Fees”, but it’s still a very shocking and sad moment to think back on. After his seemingly calculating and unsentimental debut in the season three premiere “Out of Town”, Pryce eventually grew on us and quickly become one of the boys as he partied with Don in several episodes, went on to date an African-American Playboy bunny (his father did not approve), and eventually embezzled $7,500 from the company to cover a large tax bill. When his fraudulent signing of Don’s name and embezzlement was exposed and Don asked him to resign and to think of an elegant exit, Pryce hung himself in his office.
“Time & Life” felt very much like a Lane Pryce episode as much of the plot and character arcs deal with matters that would have concerned his character in past seasons. SC&P plot on how to save the name of their company from McCann Erickson by deciding on a move out West by securing several clients that McCann would have to let go of. Pete Campbell and his ex-wife, Trudy head to a prestigious elementary school so they could meet with the Headmaster regarding their daughter’s entry. She’s been denied not because of Pete and Trudy’s divorce, but because the Headmaster holds a grudge against Campbell’s family. Apparently, there’s a Hatfield’s and McCoy’s style grievance that has endured for 300 years. It plays out in a silly way that results in Pete punching the headmaster.
The arc of SC&P devising a plan to retain a form of independence from McCann brought to mind earlier seasons that found them trying to do just the same from whatever big company was daring to take over. As for the 300 year old grievance that turned into a sucker punch, well, I believe we all remember that fisticuffs between Lane Pryce and Pete Campbell!
*Jared Harris also played Prof. Moriarity in 2011’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”
Death and the Heaven for Advertisers
After learning of someone giving notice on the buildings lease, Roger, Joan, Don, Ted, and Pete eventually discover that McCann Erickson will be moving them out of their home, the Time Life building, by the end of the month. They become fearful over the prospect of being swallowed by McCann and no longer being able to operate in the way they’ve become accustomed to over the years. They manage to obtain several important clients to bring over to Sterling, Cooper, & Partners West if allowed to make the move by McCann. Don’s big, showstopping, visionary, and important speech revolves around how SC&P will exist as a division of McCann Erickson and of how they’ll be able to bring in numbers without the parent company having to even lift a finger. The unthinkable happens and at the meeting with McCann Erickson, Don is halted before he could even begin his pitch. When has Don ever been stopped with one of his trademark and famous pitches? He doesn’t even get to finish and is asked to sit down.
McCann Erickson tells the group that they are “dying and going to advertisers heaven.” SC&P learns of the plan to bring them “home” in a sense and of how they will be rewarded with McCann’s premium accounts such as Coca-Cola. (Everyone except Joan gets the promise of top-shelf accounts.) The promise doesn’t necessarily resonate with all of them, yet Ted Chaough tells Don, “I’m ready to let someone else drive for a while.”
“Enjoy the rest of your miserable life.” – Lou Avery
Early on in “Time & Life”, Lou Avery of SC&P calls Don. Don believes him to be calling regarding the news of dissolution, but Avery is really calling to gloat. He’s been given a $15,000 advance from the animation group behind Speed Racer for his cartoon he developed. He’s heading to Tokyo and arrogantly tells Don to “enjoy the rest of [his]miserable life.” With Avery leaving their offices in California, SC&P would close if not for the plan the group eventually develops to sustain their name. However, Avery’s biting words to Don sink in and rattle him more than he lets on. Don, already contemplating his “miserable life”, now has even more to contend with as he begins to see that he doesn’t matter anymore. First, McCann Erickson stops him before he could even get to his heartfelt attempt to win them over to opening SC&P West, secondly, the waitress Diana has moved leaving the furniture in her apartment, and at the every end of “Time & Life”, the SC&P employees walk away as he tries to silence their worries over the dissolution of their firm.
A few days ago, I fell while I was out on a run. My leg gave out and I went down. Nothing broke and all I have now is minor road rash on both knees. Almost as soon as I fell, I got back up and continued, but the fall did leave me thinking up until the “Time & Life” episode of “Mad Men.” A few years ago, 2009 to be exact, I started to run. I avidly engaged in the activity up until two years ago where I found I was no longer as committed as I used to be. This past year saw that change, but I found it was a little more punishing before and not as easy to get back into the saddle as it used to be. A little older, a little wiser, my body reminded me of the early days of my youth and of the impending aging we all have no escape from. The idea that Don Draper no longer matters is as captivating and shocking to the audience as it is to him. Here is a man who would command people with his voice, enchant women with a certain mystique and charm, and was feared/respected by even his greatest adversaries. Don could seemingly do whatever he wanted and crafted himself into the quintessential man who everyone wants to be and every woman wants to be with. It was a nice gimmick and a simple facade that was bound to chip away one day, but still a seemingly impenetrable fortress that would remain erect for as long as he lived. That is no longer the case with Don Draper. He’s a man that figuratively ran each day, morning and night. Outpacing others on the street and track, even those is better shape, he was at the top of his game. As time went on, he grew a littler slower, became a little more tired, all while refusing to believe he was no longer at the top. Here is a portrait of a man faced with his own acts of fraud. Don Draper no longer has the relevance that made him so important in the first place.
One of my favorite television critic’s, Sonia Saraiya of Salon, had this to say: “Throughout this episode, Don is in his element—the pitchman for a motley crew of partners, preparing for the hardest sell of all, the sell for the right to continue surviving. And he loses. He takes it gracefully, on the chin, but he keenly feels the loss: There’s nothing left. Not even Diana is living in her crappy apartment, working her crappy job. As the episode ends, he stands, in the middle of the five of them again, desperately preaching calm to a milling, panicked company. “This isn’t the end of something. This is the beginning.” They don’t believe him. He doesn’t believe him, not really. And they file out, while he continues to speak, until he is just gesturing at empty air. His fellow partners aren’t listening, either, caught as they are in their own reveries. The symmetry is broken: It’s supposed to be a balanced conversation, but the other side hasn’t shown up. It’s the most pathetic moment for Don yet, in a series that has spent eight years bringing him to new lows. As bad as it is to be a pitchman without a pitch—what good is a pitchman without someone to pitch to?”
While the group heads out for a few drinks to toast their attempts at saving SC&P and to celebrate their achievements, Roger and Don are the last to remain. Before leaving, Roger Sterling kisses Don on the cheek and tells him “You are okay.” In a way, Roger is simply a friend and a drunken partner heading in a different direction. “You are okay” equalling nothing more than you’re a good guy.
This is Matthew Weiner. His scripts, story arcs, dialogue and overall direction of AMC’s “Mad Men” must always mean something else. Yes? “You are okay” is more than just a friend parting ways, it’s more than a verbal pat on the shoulder. “You are okay” is that of a father figure reassuring Don that he will be alright. He may have fallen, but he’ll pick himself up in no time, just like that run I went on. But, is Don really “okay” and will he figure out a way to escape the impending madness of the next three episodes? Will we be “okay” after the last pitch of the series on Sunday, May 17th?
Jared Harris’ episode “Time & Life” truly reflects just that. It’s a terrific episode and probably the seventh and final season’s best episode yet. “Time & Life” gets five stars. “Mad Men” airs on AMC, Sunday nights at 10 pm. Check your local listings.