Strange Bedfellows, Unlikely Alliances Dominate Mad Men Season Six, Episode Six
I have often called one of Mad Men’s great strengths to be the intensity of quiet moments- a longing gaze about things past, a rueful look between two estranged partners, the caress on the cheek that carries meaning and import. Well, there was none of that in Season Six, Episode Six.
The episode was certainly intense, but it was never quiet. Bravura and showy performances among the core members of the ensemble cast underpinned some truly unexpected developments- events that will undoubtedly play out for the remainder of the season, if not for the series stretch run.
The show began with a potential initial public offering of SCDP and ended with a merger of convenience between SCDP and Cutler, Gleason and Chaough, with Elisabeth Moss as Peggy showing genuine confusion, concern and excitement all in one exhilarating moment as both of her mentors order her to write the press release that announces the merger and christens this episode (titled “For Immediate Release”). In between, a dizzying array of alliances and break ups reorder the Mad Men cosmos.
Joan for the first time shows her frustration with Don, voicing the “it’s all about Don” mantra we’ve heard from other characters in the wake of Don’s disastrous dinner with the oily Herb the Jaguar Guy. Joan, seven figure payouts dancing in her head, was finally about to get her ultimate reward for compromising her principles and body through her liaison with Herb, and Don in a fit of ego and pique screwed it up. For Joan, this was the ultimate disrespect, and a sad irony, given the chivalry Don displayed throughout the Herb episode.
In turn, Don’s break with Herb and Jaguar works like an aphrodisiac with his increasingly frustrated wife Megan, as their lovemaking threatens the bedroom walls, while Megan’s French Canadian mom (Julia Ormond, in a small but unexpectedly hilarious reappearance) sits in the next room, ruefully listening to the result of her motherly handiwork while chain smoking and downing yet another bottle of wine– and showing a languid kind of pique toward the AWOL Roger when he phones to ask for forgiveness (and a word with Don). For once, Megan accepts her mother’s advice before the fateful dinner with Herb, wears a flashy outfit that shows off her leggy, youthful frame, and this, in addition to the Herb-sized piano that comes off Don’s back at dinner seems to do more than Sylvia’s absence to reignite the dormant Draper ardor for his soap opera star wife. The dinner scene, where an increasingly bored and frustrated Marie cracks wise in French as she loses her patience with the Herbs is a minor Mad Men classic, solidifying Ormond’s stature as one of the series’ most memorable supporting actors.
While Bert Cooper, Joan and the increasing agitated and lonely Pete Campbell conspire to bring a huge payday and badly needed outside capital to the still-fledgling enterprise, Don and Roger solidify their own often-shaky alliance through Roger’s landing of an opportunity to pitch Chevrolet. (The pitch is for a new car, which sounded alarmingly like the car that in Spanish is translated as “won’t go”. We’ll see if that’s what it is, since they landed the business.)
Don once again does some of his best thinking on a barstool, as that’s where he and Ted Chaough hatch the plot that brings their two firms together and wins them the Chevy business. In a great scene where the two leave their respective stools long enough to pitch each other with their ideas for the new Chevy, we are reminded that beyond the booze, sex and dangerous liaisons, these guys- like others in their orbit- truly get off on making great advertising. It’s a “dad loves his work” moment, and an important one, demonstrating that Don and Ted may be competitors and may not even like each other, but they share something in their love of craft that is truly transcendent.
We also witness the continued resurgence of Roger Sterling (with the parallel, equally astonishing star turn of Sterling alter ego John Slattery), as he completes his transformation from a puppy dog begging for Pete Campbell’s scraps to becoming the central player in putting a halt to SCDP’s brief but scary slide from potential IPO darling to potentially failing enterprise. Roger has shown a remarkable facility for getting women to help him pursue business (through his socially connected corporate and first wife Mona, and later the conveniently Jewish Jane Siegel, who helps Roger try to land Manischewitz), but nothing comes close to his alliance with Daisy, the deceptively bright and wily flight attendant who plays his wingman to help him sidle up to the Chevy exec at the gate (and who later conveniently misplaces the competition’s luggage). `
Finally, we’re reminded of the poisonous relationship between Pete and his father-in-law, as even the “mutually assured destruction” moment of finding themselves face to face in a brothel can’t deter Trudy’s outraged daddy from sticking the knife in Pete’s back. Without Vick’s and Jaguar, there’s no IPO and no fat payday to compensate Pete for the increasing void at the heart of his life. And, no Trudy, who sees Pete’s betrayal of her dad as the final nail in the coffin of their dying marriage.
Some may view the big question coming out of the episode as can Don and Ted find harmony and success (while putting their dueling egos aside) battling the ad behemoths together? Perhaps it will be old pros Roger and Jim Cutler (the gracefully aging and former Sexiest Man Alive Harry Hamlin, essentially playing Slattery/Sterling’s less charming but equally smooth doppelganger) that take the edge off the Don/Ted relationship and keep the merged ship on an even keel.
But for me the more interesting issue may be whether Peggy and Abe’s relationship can survive their adventure in the gentrifying upper West Side and, more importantly, Peggy’s fantasies about Ted (not to mention his advances toward her). I’ve always considered Abe and Peggy mismatched- she’s been a counter culture dilettante rather than a true believer like Abe, and she seems much more suited for the Upper East Side condo that she lost out on than a fixer upper in a “transitioning” neighborhood. My prediction is when Nixon wins the presidency (rather than one of Abe’s two heroes, the quixotic Gene McCarthy and the star-crossed Robert Kennedy), Abe and Peggy’s relationship won’t make it through the inauguration.
Author’s Note: In the “here’s something I’d never thought I’d hear” department, Dr. Rosen, complaining to Don about “pissing my life away in New York City” when Dr. Michael DeBakey takes the honor of doing the first heart transplant away from him (after which, Don counsels him to make his own breaks, ironic given that it’s Roger’s ingenuity that has given Don his latest shot at redemption). And in the “here’s something that’s hard to believe” department, imagine a company doing an IPO working with one investment banker sitting on a couch with an adding machine, rather than a conference room full of number crunchers, lawyers, and, yes, PR consultants. Pretty hard to believe, but after all, it was 1968 and the SCDP offering would have been pretty small potatoes. Finally, in the “here’s something I’ve never seen before” department, there’s an advertising person writing a news release. Now, that’s something completely different.
Submitted by Harlan R. Teller