“New Business,” the second of the final seven episodes of “Mad Men,” picked up right where the pseudo-surrealism of “Severance” left off. Don (Jon Hamm) was standing in a kitchen alongside Betty (January Jones) and their kids with viewers wondering what – and when – they were seeing. That was just the beginning as episode 9 of the AMC show’s home stretch continued a somber trip down memory lane for the soul-searching ad man. New business? Yeah, right.
The biggest surprise of the episode was the return of the mysterious waitress, Diana (Elizabeth Reaser), from the midseason premiere. A lonely Don came calling for her again this episode, hoping to move beyond the weird one-night stand of the previous week and forge something more real with the vaguely familiar stranger.
Don’s motives soon become clear. He is in the middle of finalizing his divorce from Megan (Jessica Paré) and is desperately hoping Diana is the next one – the right one. He tells her, “You’re not the first thing to come along; I’m ready,” but the episode was a parade of reminders – Megan’s coats in the closet, running into Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) in the elevator – that the fling is just a rehashing of his past mistakes. Don, though, cannot see it.
Diana got a backstory in “New Business,” as viewers learned that she had left her husband and oldest daughter behind after her youngest had died. Like Don, she is a person yearning to escape her past. But unlike Don, she is not interested in forgetting it ever happened. When she confesses her dark secret, she asks him if he wants to know why she abandoned her family. He doesn’t. That’s the problem.
“When I was with you, I forgot about her,” Diana tells him, breaking things off. “I don’t ever want to do that.”
Don is desperate to forget, willing to write a million-dollar check to Megan to close the door on that chapter of his past – just as he once wrote a check to his brother to close the door on his own abandoned family. However, his rushing into things with Diana feels very much like he is willing to start the same chapter over again.
Apparently, Don is not alone. Plenty of other characters are repeating mistakes as well. Roger (John Slattery) hooked up with Megan’s mother, Marie (Julia Ormond), again. And Harry Crane (Rich Somner) made an indecent proposal to Megan – in a thematic echo of his crude description of her “Zou Bisou Bisou” performance from Season 5 – teasing her with jump-starting her acting career.
Speaking of Megan, her family drama – her mother’s condescension about her divorce and subsequent affair with Roger – was the weak spot in an otherwise strong episode. Here “Mad Men” committed its own characters’ big sin – retreading the same ground. Nothing new came out of Megan’s battles with her sister or mother, and the storyline felt like a contrived device to maintain Megan’s status as a principal character.
On the other hand, seeing Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson) get a chance to shine – taking on his insecurities in the form of an intimidating visual artist hired to shoot one of his ads – was a great treat. “Mad Men” seems to be using each of its final episodes to give its more minor characters a mini-finale of their own – last week it was Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Stanton). With the major characters’ storylines featuring so much familiar ground, highlighting some of SCDP’s other faces is a welcome bit of relief.
Still, the episode began and ended with Don. In the beginning, he – and the viewers – caught a glimpse of what his home life could have been had things worked out with Betty. When he goes to leave he turns, disheartened, to see Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) in his place. At the end of the episode, Don stands in his apartment, now starkly empty after Megan moved out the last of her things. Here fans saw what Don’s choices have earned him – a whole lot of nothing.
Earlier in the episode, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), going through his own life changes, asks Don, “what if you never get past the beginning again?” With only five episodes left, Don is going to have to find a way to answer that question.
What did you think of “New Business?” Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.