There’s a Coke but no Smile in Mad Men, Season Seven, Episode Eleven
The five surviving SCP partners finally got a glimpse of their future, and the only one who seems intrigued by it is Ted Chaough, who lands the global pharmaceutical account he lusted after in last week’s episode (“The Forecast”).
The partners find out that SCP’s life as a conflict agency—and the firm Ken Cosgrove loves to yank around—is about to come to an end, as McCann CEO Jim Hobart reveals that they’ve been auditioning to become senior-level cogs in the McCann global account machine.
That means that the slick-on-the-verge-of-oily Hobart has finally gotten the fish he tried to hook back in Season One, when the world was much younger, Betty Draper was trying to revive her modeling career and Don Draper was still bringing some real heat on his creative fastball. Betty’s brief re-emergence as a model came to an end when Don turned Hobart and McCann down, and the spurned Hobart fired her from a commercial shoot. But more than ten years later, Draper has been bought lock, stock and barrel, and he’s powerless to stop Hobart from bringing him into the fold. The McCann CEO’s lure for Don is the Coca Cola account, which he pronounces as if it were a holy sacrament. Don may find Coke at least a bit intriguing, but he’s not smiling. In fact, in the next scene, in a familiar position (e.g, prone on his office sofa), he’s scheming.
The rally of his fellow partners that Don initiates in a vain attempt to keep SCP out from under the thumb of McCann is a pale imitation of past efforts—in particular the audacious, daring and ultimately successful gambit to win their freedom from Putnam, Powell and Lowe. This time, Don isn’t scheming for his freedom and to run his own show and call his own shots; he’s just trying to keep the SCP nameplate on the door, which is pretty small beer in comparison to the high stakes he played for in the past.
We’re ready as usual for Don to wind-up into presentation mode and intrigued with what he’s come up with to persuade his corporate parents to let SCP emigrate to the West Coast. But in mid-pitch, Hobart calls him off. There will be no “Carousel” pitch that awes agency and client folk alike, no new tagline thought of on the fly to revive a cigarette brand, or even a Hershey pitch that for sheer shock value, was worth witnessing. Don is simply asked to sit back down, while Jim Hobart tells him and his partners how it’s going to be. An advertising dowry of $18 million in billings means literally nothing to McCann—they bill that as an agency before lunch.
Here we have the final reckoning and acknowledgement of what SCP really is—a mid-tier advertising agency that services second-tier brands, albeit very well and with an upstart type of panache, but in a pre-Internet age simply doesn’t have the critical mass or market muscle to do much more than take what the big firms may not even care about. Think of the client roster- Frontier Airlines, not United or American; Topaz, not L’eggs; Secor Laxatives, not Ex-Lax. The firm’s one dalliance with a major consumer company, General Motors, netted no major car brand and lost Ken Cosgrove one of his eyes in the process. It also created the monstrous mystery that was and is Bob Benson. It’s clear that Hobart was buying talent, not an agency or even the agency’s clients. And now, it’s time to collect.
While this episode focused on the agency’s future, there were two intertwined personal subplots with great resonance. One was Peggy’s admission to Stan that she had given birth a boy years before, and the other being Pete’s alliance with Trudy over their daughter’s rejection at a posh private school attended by generations of Campbells.
The Peggy-Stan relationship continues to intrigue, and is now as close to a mature male-female friendship that the show has to offer. The impetus for Peggy’s confession is the neglectful behavior of a stage mother, who has left her daughter at the agency for the day on an audition, without much thought about when she would pick her up to take her home. Peggy’s disgusted by her carelessness, but when Stan expresses his doubts about her suitability for motherhood, Peggy comes to her defense, putting herself in her shoes and demonstrating empathy for her plight. Stan’s surprise is nothing compared to the shock he experiences a few minutes later when Peggy reveals her secret.
Meanwhile, Pete and Trudy commiserate with each other after being unsuccessful with the school headmaster in changing the verdict on daughter Tammy, who evidently has rejected the Campbell daughter because of some centuries-old blood feud between his family—the MacDonald’s—and the Campbell’s. It’s a descent into a bit of farce for a show that doesn’t tend to engage in much of it, and it just seemed a bit forced–it served primarily as an excuse for Pete to once again take a punch at someone and for Trudy to come to his defense. After that episode, the estranged couple seem to remember what it was that brought them together in the first place. If there are two people who appear to be made for each other in the series, it is Pete and Trudy. Both are seemingly out of options and perhaps the best choice they can make at this point is each other.
The most stunning moment of the show is in the final scene, when we witness just how far Don has fallen in the eyes of those who may not have liked him, but were always a bit awestruck by his talent, charisma and good looks. As Don tries to rescue a flailing Roger during the all-hands meeting to announce SCP’s integration into the parent company, people simply tune him out and walk away. Like Jim Hobart, the bemused employees of SCP are not going to let Don swing into his pitch. The world around him has been inoculated against Don Draper’s powers of persuasion. There’s only three episodes left for him to find the antidote.
Harlan R. Teller