A Recap, by definition, WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! Proceed at your own risk!
After a near excruciating wait for part two of the seventh and final season, “Mad Men” returned to us last night and Matthew Weiner gave us an important episode entitled “Severance.” Without further ado, allow me to take a look at a few important moments with you from last night’s season opener for the final episodes of “Mad Men” as we pay homage to Chris Hardwick’s “Talking Dead” with this the first installment of… TALKING MAD!
Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” bookends this episode and reminds us that this is it. We have 6 more episodes left and with Matthew Weiner, anything is possible. Whether you’ve been with “Mad Men” from the start or jumped on at some point in the series you know there have been some pretty high moments (and a few low ones.) Will the fans be asking “Is That All There Is?” when we meet the final scene of “Mad Men” next month? Will the series end in an aggravating way that many felt “The Sopranos” left off at? Or will we be satisfied in a way that’s closer to last years “Sons of Anarchy”?
“Severance” opens in just as mystifying a way that series premiere “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” did and we see Don audition “doe-eyed, fur-clad models.” And he wants them to show more skin while he’s smoking. At first we’re not sure if this is his next conquest that he’s having perform for him, but we soon realize it’s just for work. Just as surely as we ponder where Don currently fits into the universe as the Peggy Lee song speaks to us, we have our answers by the end of the episode as her song returns and plays out while Don sits alone in the diner. After many years on top of the advertising game and learning of the many years it took Dick Whitman to create the Don Draper alter ego, it’s really fascinating to ponder how it will end for the now screen-classic, legendary television character that Jon Hamm brought to life. Will he climb back to the top during the mid-seventies or will everything come crashing down upon him? Is Don going to die? We’ve all speculated on that one.
Before we move on to more speculation and reviews of “Severance”, here’s a counter for a few things that we have come to associate with Don Draper.
He smoked only once! Did I count correctly? Did I miss something? Was I reading too much into clues?
He drank twice, but we see Don pull out a flask from his tuxedo while he and Roger enjoy a night with a few ladies at the diner, where he first sees the waitress Diana. She’s played by Elizabeth Reaser and you have to wonder if she’s a figment of Don’s imagination, or in fact a real person that just reminds him of someone from his past. I could have sworn that Elizabeth Reaser was already on the show (apparently I’m wrong) and there’s a little more to her character that my notes overlooked as I was too enamored with the return of Don Draper to notice. According to Maureen Ryan at the Huffington Post,
“It’s worth thinking about Diana’s name, which carries with it a host of mythical associations. The Greek goddess Diana was strongly associated with the hunt, and nothing turns Don on more than chasing after a woman who gives him mixed signals. This episode had a couple of other Greek references, actually. One of the first images was of the coffee cup with ersatz Greek letters and figures (into which Don metaphorically put out a fire — his cigarette). There was also the hinted-at callback to Teddy the Greek, who taught Don about nostalgia. Don’s difficult quest for Diana brought out one of the major themes of the episode — the pursuit of money and how it helps, or interferes, with obtaining deeper kinds of satisfaction. Diana was put off by Roger’s rudeness, and then she thought the $100 he left was from Don. So to her, their sexual encounter had an element of monetary exchange. That, of course, brings up Don’s mommy issues: Sex and money are forever mixed up in the head of the boy who grew up poor and had a sex worker for a mother. All these confusions — mother, money, Rachel, death, sex — only make Don more eager to see more of Diana, whom he associates with his past (“Do I know you?”). Well, Don, let’s get real, you’ve slept with 40 percent of the women in Manhattan at this point, so you may already “know” Diana.
– Maureen Ryan Huffington Posted: 04/05/2015 11:00 pm EDT
Don has two trysts. The aforementioned Diana and Trisha, a TWA flight attendant.
Those mustaches! The mid-seventies! The silver fox that is John Slattery’s Roger Sterling. He had only a few moments in tonight’s episode, but he was great in everyone. And may I point out here that he played Howard Stark in “Iron Man 2” and will be reprising his role in this July’s “Ant-Man.” Everyone check that out. He’ll probably have a few scenes with Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter so that should be fun to see how their relationship has progressed. Okay, back to “Mad Men.”
“Severance.” Don severs his masked relationship with his past and, in fact, provides a few anecdotes about his terrible childhood. That was surprising considering how long he’s kept up the mystery of “Who is Don Draper?” Don never liked talking about his childhood, how poor he was, or the fact that he’s really Dick Whitman and that Don Draper was someone whose name he took to get out of The Korean War. I was a little surprised by how easily he spoke of his youth and this actually distracted me for the scene. That just speaks to my own investment into the mystery he’s kept up for so long.
“Severance.” After Ken Cosgrove provides a retirement gift for his father-in-law, Ed Baxter (Ray Wise) his wife asks him to leave his job. He resists at first and scoffs at the idea to write some kind of novel “for all the people that have forgotten” to live their dreams, but warms up to it later after he begins handing over his clients to Pete after McCann Erickson fires him the following day. I’ve always liked Ken Cosgrove and it’s been fun watching his character navigate the advertising world as he’s been a sort of an every-man. He’s also much more likable than Harry Crane, but that’s just my feelings. It was fun to watch him one up Roger and Pete when he announces that he won’t be taking their severance pay as he’s landed a new job – Head of Advertising for Dow Corning, the position Ed Baxter held. It was especially gratifying when he says that he’ll now be one of McCann’s clients and he is “very hard to please.”
“Severance.” Perhaps the biggest shock of tonight’s episode was learning that Don’s first girlfriend and real-love Rachel Menken (a Jewish department store client of Sterling Cooper from season one) died of leukemia. Was it just me of was this really sad to find out? I understood how hurt Don was to learn of this and for fans invested in the characters from season one, I understand how it feels to learn of a character having died. Don goes to the shiva and is told by Rachel’s sister that “She lived the life she wanted to have. She had everything.” While he is there to pay his respects, our protagonist/anti-hero Don Draper is once again faced with questions of life and his own mortality – a theme that runs throughout this entire episode.
By the way, did anyone else notice “The Most Accurate Watch in the World” ad poster framed behind Don’s secretary’s desk. Does that stand to signify time as something that haunts Don, “the fire in which we burn” according to Malcolm McDowell’s villainous Soren in “Star Trek: Generations.” The lines “You’re filthy rich and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to”, “the life not lived”, “she lived the life she wanted to live”, “Is That All There Is?” all seem to service the general idea of time and mortality that we all face, including our favorite characters from one of our favorite shows – “Mad Men.” What is Don going through right now? He’s been struggling to find his relevance in a world that no longer seems to need the kind of man that he is, especially the changing ways of business that no longer guarantee a place high at the table for that big hat, no cattle sort of person. Amid his two failed marriages, a surface only superficiality facade he has at work, Don doesn’t seem happy and is still searching for something to vindicate all the life choices he has made. After seemingly and impulsively meeting with Diana outside the diner, when he returns he asks just to sit there and for nothing else. He’s in an exciting bind that he’s created that will be interesting to see play out throughout the rest of the final episodes. As Joan and Peggy work on their respective places outside the office and in, Don is the only one that is somewhat caught in a limbo of not knowing whether to move forward or remain statically fixed in his life.
Thanks for joining me for the first installment of “Talking Mad.” This idea wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the @Nerdist himself, Chris Hardwick so I must thank him for riffing off of his talk-shows “Talking Dead” and “Talking Bad.” Last night was a great start to what will certainly be “the sweetest hangover” for the rest of the week until next Sunday at 10 pm on AMC. Check your local listings and be sure to enjoy a Don Draper/ Mad Men Monday and rest of the week!
*If you have comments, concerns, or drank too many old-fashions and just want to rant about “Mad Men”, be sure to comment here and find Steven Biscotti on Twitter at @ReggieMantleIII – He probably won’t agree on that age old debate of Joan/Peggy (he likes Peggy) just as much as he liked Mrs. Howell “Lovie” from “Gilligan’s Island. So find him, follow him, and be safe out there.