Maybe it was because it was an episode devoted almost entirely to happenings at Sterling Cooper, or because it was an hour so tied to and referential about Mad Men‘s past, or maybe it was the humor — or probably all of the above — but “Time & Life” was most certainly the finest episodes of the season’s back half yet. This, finally, is the Mad Men I’ve been waiting for in this last stretch of episodes. Perhaps it’s because nothing else has felt like more of a goodbye, so pitch-perfectly executed. Over the years, Sterling Cooper has gone through many iterations, and each time they’ve morphed or restructured, or moved offices (sometimes in the cover of night) it’s been exciting, and a big moment of triumphant change for the core cast. In “Time & Life,” that idea was entirely subverted to great effect.
At first, the confirmation that McCann would be absorbing the company felt like another opportunity for the scrappy Sterling Cooper group (a scrappy group of millionaires several times over, that is) to find a way to keep their independence. Don dreamed up the brilliant idea of running away to Sterling Cooper West, and taking over the office there with the $18 million in conflicting corporate accounts. With everyone from SC on board, Don started what was about to be, undoubtedly, one of his best pitches. And then, he was shut down. It was all over and already decided. And like the Wizard of Oz, the partners were then each promised (except for Joan …) their heart’s desire (as far as accounts go, anyway).
Each of the five Sterling Cooper partners had (and have) their own reservations and fears about McCann, though. Joan is worried she won’t be taken seriously in their boys’ club (she was, noticeably, the only person not given an account at the table), while Don laments the loss of his freedom. Roger drinks in sorrow to the end of the Sterling name, while Pete fears he won’t be seen as valuable or even good at any other company. He grew up with SC, and is afraid of the change.
Ted, though, is happy to stay, although Ted is a relative newcomer to the world of SC. We got a little update on his life (he’s divorced, but has a promising relationship with a woman he knew from college), just like we did with Lou and his Scout’s Honor cartoon (he’s headed to Tokyo!) “Time & Life’s” main B-plot also gave its goodbyes to Pete and Trudy, after Tammy was turned down by a private school. It was one of the funniest twists the show has maybe ever done, when it was revealed that Tammy was excluded because of the Hatfield and McCoys-esque history between Pete’s family and the headmasters’. It wasn’t typical Mad Men, but it was great.
The fluttering around the office over the rumors of the corporate absorption, though, got a big payoff in the end when the staff murmured over Roger’s speech and then protestations, with even Don chiming in (only to be ignored) that this isn’t the end, but a beginning. Still, the even bigger moment was Peggy’s reveal to Stan about giving her son up for adoption, which brought Peggy and Stan closer together than ever (their moment on the phone was incredibly sweet, and perfectly illustrated a friendship … long-simmering romance? … that has been one of the show’s best).
But “Time & Life” set up Peggy’s reveal not only through her dealing with the children for the commercial shoot, but also in Pete seeing her embraced by a young girl, and calling her into his office to give her a heads-up about the McCann situation. “I’m telling you this because no one else will,” he says, and strangely he’s right. It was just one of a myriad of allusions to Mad Men of days past, and it was a beautifully complicated way, emotionally, to relive it.
Mad Men reached deep into its past for some of its references in “Time & Life,” bringing up former flings and friendships and business dealings (even Kenny got to complete the cycle of his revenge, and we got one more Secor Laxative joke). It wasn’t cryptic and redundant and overwrought like the first few hours of these last episodes, and it gave a big payout to fans while also staying true to its narrative. As I mentioned in my review of “New Business,” nothing is more compelling on Mad Men, especially these days, than the happenings in and around Sterling Cooper. With “Time & Life,” we start our goodbye to the company, and nothing has felt more like a true and final ending. No matter what kind of closure we get (or more likely do not) with Don, the end of Sterling Cooper & Partners really is the end of an era.
Episode Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Musings and Miscellanea:
– I realized last week that as much as I’ve loved Mad Men in the past for being a show full of non sequitors, symbolism, and vignettes, but I really need something more from these last episodes. If not a purpose, per say, at least some sort of drive. I loved “Time & Life” because of how it rested upon the (false) dilemma of SC needing to change and rebrand once again. But in the end, it fizzled out. It really was perfect.
– Jared Harris, late of Mad Men as Lane Pryce, directed this episode.
– When Don got those calls from Diana, I was prepared for another episode devoted to him chasing her down, but I was relieved she didn’t make an appearance. Don searching for her and finding the gay couple in her old apartment was fun, though, especially since the boyfriend wanted Don to come have a drink with them! (But of course, who can resist him? He oozes).
– Ted: “I don’t know … I kind of like it over there.” Pete: “That’s because you’re a sheep.”
– “The city has become a toilet” – Pete.
– “Greenwich, Connecticut is built on divorce money!” – Pete, who got most of the great lines of the episode.
– I don’t care what y’all say, I still don’t trust Joan’s new beau. I want to, but I don’t.
– Unsurprisingly, Don is willing to pack up and move to California on a whim for SC if he needs to, but not for Megan.
– I’m glad Pete and Trudy ended things (so far as we will probably see) with a tender moment and not a fight. This whole episode was pretty punchy, pun half-intended, and I’m glad it “went there” regarding Pete and the headmaster. Maybe some found it too broad for Mad Men, but I loved it.
– “The King ordered it!” – Pete.
– Don: “In another life, I’d be your chauffeur.” Roger: “And you’d be screwing my grandmother.”
– “Sayonara my friends, enjoy the rest of your miserable lives” – Lou.
– “What’s in a name?” – Don.
– “This is the beginning of something, not the end” – Don. In 1970, McCann-Erickson created Coca-Cola’s “It’s the Real Thing” campaign …