I can’t really recall another Mad Men episode with as bald and obvious an overarching theme as the one in Sunday night’s “Time and Life”—the preservation of legacies, and the uncertainty therein. With plotlines revolving around children, parents, work, and the continuation of the characters’ good names, the focus on what we all bequeath made its title a quite good double entendre, albeit a simple one.
That is: Sterling Cooper & Partners sold out to McCann-Erickson, and now McCann is coming home to reap its prize. They shut off the gas, so to speak, and SC&P is expected to move into their Madison Avenue headquarters, a staid reminder of the olden days. But if Sterling Cooper & Partners’ hours are numbered in the glamorous Time-Life Building, with its sweeping views onto Radio City, how long do the partners have themselves? They might all live past the series’ end yet, but if the sole thing that’s defined them is finally gone, what are they now but ghosts.
This was the first time Don’s ingenious hail-mary pass didn’t land and save the company. The entire episode played out like an extended game of “Telephone”—for awhile I was convinced the SC&P honchos were going to be entirely wrong about McCann’s intentions in the end. But if you think Draper and Sterling are patriarchs, have you met the lead guys at McCann-Erickson? They’re ancient and evil in a way that recalls Game of Thrones, and not just because we all watched it before Mad Men. The McCann guys told SC&P that they were being swallowed up but that losing their identities would be great, because who doesn’t want to work for Coca-Cola! Half of Don’s face lit up; of all of them, he needs something to believe in. “You’ve died,” confirms one of those silver-haired suits, “and gone to advertising heaven.” There was nothing left but to drink.
After Pete and Joan left their post-death day-drinking session to go home and tend to their nontraditional families, Roger and Don were left at the bar, utterly blotto, and it was very easy to forget that both of them are fathers. Sterling lamented that his lineage ended with him: his grandson’s got the surname of that whimsical son-in-law he hates, and who even knows if Roger’s seen the grandson (whatever his name is) since he left his daughter to farm and fuck on a proto-commune upstate. Last week, Don was basically disowned by Sally, the only one of his children with a discernible personality (sorry Bobby, but), and as for Pete Campbell, well—QUELLE HORREUR—his wee bougie daughter was rejected from a Connecticut prep school because of a centuries-long beef between Campbell’s ancestors and those of the headmaster. It was hilarious—it’s nice to see the writers playing out Vincent Kartheiser’s own legacy for maximum laughs—but it also underscored the episode’s underlying, perhaps more important subplot, which is that on the whole, machismo is dumb, dumb, dumb.
Because, while these very rich men lament their rejected benefaction unto the world and, in the case of Pete, literally fight for their honor, the people who have the most to lose are the women in the episode—all of the women. While Roger and Don are prattling about their dumb names and the goddamn Greenwood Cemetery, Joan is in a cab stewing over the knowledge that the McCann subsumption is the end. “We both know they’re never gonna take me seriously over there,” she tells Pete, who knows nothing of the deep humiliation of the sexually harassing fuckwads she tried to do business with. He tries to give her a boost—“they don’t know who they’re dealing with”—but not before he expected her to be cheery Joan, light of optimism in his miserable life. (“Enjoy the rest of your miserable life,” an oblivious and jubilant Lou Avery tells Don, but he could have meant it for anyone. Tatsunoko made Speed Racer, muthafuckas!)
Pete is a cad if there ever was one, and when he spills the McCann news to Peggy in his office, it echoed the moment he manipulated and seduced her so many moons ago. But it’s 1970, and apparently there’s not as much workplace boning, maybe because post-sexual revolution, people feel freer to do it everywhere else. That and the child actors milling about brought up the memories of Peggy and Pete’s infant son; Peggy’s deeply sad confession to Stan that it happened poked a hole in the balloon and bluster of the men, and made Stan realize exactly what it meant that the stakes are not as high for men as they are for women. Pete didn’t have to go away to a nunnery for nine months, and Stan assumes that if Peggy had a child, she wouldn’t have a career. “No woman shouldn’t be able to make her mistake and not move on,” she says in a sort of keening defiance. “She should be able to live the rest of her life just like a man does.” It was the most explicitly feminist conversation Mad Men has ever shown—Peggy, ever the pioneer—and it was utterly heartbreaking.
But there are levels to this shit. Peggy can go to McCann and earn four times her salary by ‘73, according to her head hunter. Dawn and Shirley, on the other hand, are skeptical that an old-world kyriarchal shop like McCann will even be willing to keep on more than one black woman employee. When Don’s secretary—Meredith or whatever, I can never remember her name, and that’s probably the point—butts in, you can understand Shirley’s disdain. She’s nowhere near as smart, capable, or senior as Dawn or Shirley, but her job security is very likely a foregone conclusion.
The most broken woman of this run, though, is nowhere to be found. Diana. Where is Diana? I’m hoping she just went back home to her daughter, but there are only
two three! more episodes left, and the whole proposition is tanking.
Image via AMC/screenshot.
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