Mad Men is a tough show for me because at most I’ve respected it but never really enjoyed it. Honestly, I would have bailed if we weren’t so close to the end, but I must say that this season has been quite good. While season six was about how Don fell back into old habits (and the writer’s room looked like it had run out of ideas), the first part of season seven has done some really interesting things with its characters. I lead with this disclaimer so you know where I’m coming from as I step in temporarily for Allison.
This week’s episode, “The Strategy” was another good step forward as Mad Men decided to show there’s really no going home again, no matter how much Burger Chef you order. Hit the jump for why “I’m just being realistic.”
I do not envy Allison for having to write these recaps because Mad Men episodes tend to revolve around themes that aren’t readily apparent, and she churns out quality reviews the same night as the episode airs. I think some people find the show rewarding because you have to work for it a bit, and an episode may not come into focus until the very end. For me, “The Strategy” came together as some characters realized that the notion of traditional families faded some time ago, and perhaps it’s time they started catching on.
But this notion of the traditional family is still the ideal in the Burger Chef ad Peggy pitches at the beginning of the episode. She’s thinking with a 1950s mentality and the 1960s are almost over. So it’s not much of a surprise that Lou thinks the ad is great. Peggy seems satisfied with her work until Pete wants Don to come in and play the man. At first, I thought Peggy was being neurotic as she tried to re-evaluate the as a way of reasserting her control, but eventually it became clear that while she doesn’t want to return to the old dynamic between her and Don, she also can’t return to that male-dominated age. It doesn’t compute.
It’s not just a male-dominated age that’s fading, but one constructed around the nuclear family. But that family is always out of sight in this episode. From the opening scene we see a woman and her kids wanting to get home to her husband. The ideal family—the wife cooking at home—has already fractured, but Peggy wants to reconstruct it into the old ideal, not yet realizing that family dynamics have changed.
Pete doesn’t realize it either and thinks he can have a church-and-state arrangement as he keeps Bonnie away from his daughter. He’s also deluded enough to think that Trudy will take him back. She has to tell him in no uncertain terms, “You’re not part of this family anymore.” He’s clinging to the idea of the old ways where he can be a father and husband, but what happens in an airplane lavatory stays in an airplane lavatory.
Trying to force a family construction runs through the episode. For once, Don is surprised to see Megan and not the other way around. It’s yet another reminder that their marriage is based on inertia, and how it weakens with every episode. “The Strategy” was one of their healthiest episodes so far in that they didn’t fight or have any underlying tension, but Megan still flew home unsatisfied. It’s also telling that she’s on the same plane as Bonnie. Neither one is part of a family because the notion of family has changed.
Bob Benson (who I quite like and was happy to see him again) can’t wrap his head around that. Because Bob is a phony, he thinks that you can build a real life off a false image (ask Don how that worked out). He’s not attracted to Joan, but he can make a nice life for her as long as she accepts that she’ll be in a loveless marriage. Bob Benson is a charmer, but that’s crossing the line. What’s interesting about their conversation is that Bob thinks he’s being the realist by wanting to concoct a fantasy, but Joan is the one who knows the truth because she wants love. It’s as simple and true as that, and the trappings of a fake, “traditional” family will never be true happiness.
My favorite scene of the episode came near the end when Don and Peggy bond again. It showed the maturity of their friendship, and how their mutual passion for their work can drive them to excellence. They’re better than what appeases a dickhead like Lou. Furthermore, Peggy and especially Don know it’s time to look forward. Women are now in the workplace. Peggy isn’t a mother at 30 and that’s okay. The woman at the drive-thru in the beginning wasn’t happy; she was harried. Looking at the TV commercial family Peggy and Don are trying to concoct, Peggy asks, “Does this family exist anymore?”
It doesn’t. We’ve left the house behind, and that can be scary, and it can be hurtful. But the family isn’t gone. It’s simply found a new home.
Episode Rating: B+
- I’m not going to argue against more Roger Sterling, but his jokes in this episode fell flat.
- “I want you shopping all day. And screwing all night.” Someone should put that on a greeting card.
- I loved the look on Lou’s face when Pete says he asked Don to join the meeting. I want that face to be put on Lou’s obituary/tombstone/aforementioned greeting card.
- I also don’t believe Lou has a wife. I think he goes home and wears a dress.
- That was a pretty terrific little pause after “You’ve really got to keep an eye on him.”
- Another tangential theme was how authority and emotion are separate entities. The man has the authority and the woman has the emotion. It’s an antiquated notion, and I’m glad Peggy and Don rejected it.
- “It’s an erector set. America needs engineers.” If toddlers love anything, it’s sharp metal.
- “My face doesn’t please you?” That is a valid question. Bob Benson is a dreamboat.
- I would harp on the I Am Curious (Yellow) reference, but I haven’t seen the film. I know I need to. The one week where you get a film critic to do recaps, and I got nothing for you.