Mad Men has always been a difficult show to pinpoint, both in what it offers us, and what we want from it. Is it more about an ad agency, or Don Draper? That question may seem reductive, but it gets to the heart of what makes Mad Men so good. The show is at its best when it’s about Sterling Cooper (in whatever its current iteration) and about Don’s role there (and how his life intersects with it). It’s what made the first half of this season so compelling (and unnaturally positive), and has been a marriage that, over time, has produced some of the series’ best episodes (“The Wheel,” “The Suitcase,” etc).
Unfortunately, “New Business” was almost entirely lopsided towards Don, which in the past, has been a hit-or-miss conceit. In “New Business,” it was mostly a miss. There was another ghost from Don’s sexual past who showed up in this hour (Sylvia), but there’s almost no need for Rachel, Sylvia, and whoever comes next to parade past him — Diana is an amalgam of them all. That doesn’t serve to make her more interesting than those other women, though. Rather, Diana is more of an archetype than a character, to the point that it feels like she really could just be a hallucination (even though, for the sake of saying it, we have seen Roger and Arnold interact with her). If she’s meant to be Don’s final hope at happiness (which seems very un-Mad Men-y), then we’re going to need a lot more for it to feel right.
The rest of “New Business” was largely devoted to Megan, another fan-favorite topic (I jest). Thank God for Julia Ormond, whose appearances almost make any Megan subplot worthwhile (“it’s a wonder you don’t have syphilis!”). The drama that “Mama” brings can never be overstated, and her clearing out Don’s apartment and then calling to demand Roger bring cash to complete the transaction (before sleeping with him and, perhaps, running off with him) were definite highlights to what was otherwise a banal episode.
One can only assume that this was Megan’s final goodbye — there’s not really much more to say after being handed a million dollar check and then returning the ring. Take the money and run, honey, back to L.A. Watch out for the Manson brothers (er … family). Still, Megan’s reappearance did two important things. It established the 1970 fashion aesthetic fully, and it reestablished the fact that Harry Crane is a complete dick. Harry has almost seemed, recently, like he wasn’t a terrible wretch, but “New Business” confirmed what we’ve always known. For that, Megan, we thank you.
And then there was Pima (Mimi Rogers). Oh, Pima. You hustler, you. More advertiser than artist, isn’t that what Peggy’s critique was? We barely knew ye, Pima, but you certainly did make a splash. She shook up Stan’s world (and possibly his relationship) with some dark room hustle, and later, tried to get her way with Peggy by suggesting having her way with Peggy. It’s hard to read Peggy’s response to all of this regarding Stan. Was she jealous that he slept with Pima? Or just righteous in her indignation over Pima’s actions and attempts to undermine her? Regardless, it was a bizarre, though highly amusing, interlude at the office.
This all returns to the original question of what kind of show Mad Men is. If its legacy, above all, is that of a show that is a loving postcard to its chosen era, then in that it is unparalleled. In every plot this week, the culture shift to the 70s was apparent — the mood, the dress, the facial hair. Attitudes about divorce are changing — heck, Don will probably soon be on his third. The exploration of the sexual revolution has reached the workplace, and the idea of the nuclear family that kicked off the series has devolved into Don standing his apartment, without furniture, alone. “New Business” was successful in connecting viewers with its specific 1970 aesthetic, but beyond that — particularly relating to Don — it hardly felt new.
Episode Rating: ★★ Fair
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I must of course mention the scene at the start with my dear Betty. Don walking out of the kitchen where Henry Francis more or less replaced him in his old family was a stark juxtaposition to where he ended up at the end, alone. I loved Don and Betty interacting alongside Gene and Bobby, just like old times. But it only served to make the final scene that much more tragic.
— Betty will absolutely be the most judgmental psychologist the world has ever known.
— Pete: “And you’ll rent pants, too?” Don: “I’ll … Throw my tie over my shoulder and roll up my sleeves. They’ll love it.” Pete: “Sigh. They probably will.”
— Another Manson reference …
— Extended shots of post-shower Don Draper almost made his boring scenes with Diana manageable. Almost.
— “It’s 3 in the morning. You know why you’re here. Do you want a drink or not?” – Don, getting down to business.
— “You’re like if Ali McGraw and Bridgett Bardot had a baby!” – Harry, and the Mad Men writers still trying to convince us that Megan is much more fascinating than she really is.
— “You’re an aging, sloppy, selfish liar”- Megan to Don. Well, that really can’t be argued with.
— “Never married. The adventures I would have missed …” – Pima.
— “Jiminy Christmas. You think you’re going to begin your life over and do it right. But what if you never get past the beginning again?” – Pete. Certainly feels that way …