Every episode of the final stretch of “Mad Men” has taken something away from Don Draper (Jon Hamm) – his wife, his apartment, etc. However, the AMC series’ viewers have seen him lose those things before and find a way to recover. Episode 11, “Time & Life,” though, took away his agency and that might be the catalyst that drives the show towards the conclusion many fans and critics have been begging for over the past few weeks.
As the episode began, Roger (John Slattery) learned that McCann-Erickson was absorbing SCDP, moving them out of the Time & Life building and stripping them of their independence. The partners got together and came up with a plan to pitch a west coast SCDP to service clients in conflict with McCann’s business, hoping to jump on a California life raft. Don and co. have been here before – the Season 3 finale, “Shut the Door and Have a Seat” – so there was some cautious optimism amongst the group that they could save themselves once again (even the music cue as the partners hatched their scheme seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek call back to that Season 3 finale).
However, fighting to reinvent the future once again meant confronting the past and not every wound has healed. Roger and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) failed to secure Dow Chemical for their coup thanks to Ken Cosgrove’s (Aaron Stanton) vindictive grudge. Meanwhile, Pete and Trudy (Allison Brie) cannot get their daughter into a Greenwich prep school due to a hundred year old grudge between Pete’s family and the family of the headmaster, proving there is no statute of limitations on the past.
The best scene of the episode, though, came when Peggy was reminded of her former sins. After a blow-up with the mother of a child actor auditioning for a commercial, Peggy had a candid heart to heart with Stan (Jay R. Ferguson), in which she admitted to him that she had given away her own kid years ago. The confession was accompanied by a rousing attack on the gender hypocrisy of the era.
"No one should have to make a mistake just like a man does and not be able to move on,” Peggy told Stan. “She should be able to live the rest of her life just like a man does."
Peggy is right, of course, but that does not make the decision any less of a weight on her conscious. Stan – who is now single apparently – does his best to comfort Peggy and the show seems to be flirting with the idea of a romance between the two creatives. Time will tell if the seasons-long tension amounts to a tangible relationship.
Another interesting moment came when Peggy met with a job recruiter – after Pete curiously tips Peggy off about the McCann situation. Peggy, too, wanted to maintain her independence, but the consultant made it clear that McCann was her best career move.
Don got the same treatment from the McCann execs themselves. Jim Hobart (H. Richard Greene) did not even let Don finish his California proposal, stopping the stirring pitch dead in its tracks. He told the partners that McCann would be rolling out the red carpet for them, promising them cushy advertising dream jobs – Don’s eyes lit up when Hobart whispered Coca-Cola.
Hobart claims the SCDP heads have “gone to advertising heaven,” but going to heaven requires dying first and Don has certainly lost something here. The ad man perhaps has not lost just his advertsising agency, but his personal agency – his identity – as well. He can no longer talk anyone into anything. He can no longer reinvent himself – or his future – on a whim.
Going to McCann may be good business, but that has never been what drives Don and that became clear when he announced the absorption to the company at large. Attempting to inspire his employees about a promising tomorrow, the younger, hungrier generation instead tuned him out, fearful for their jobs – and perhaps even their souls – at McCann.
“This is the beginning of something. Not the end,” Don pleads to deaf ears.
Don does not seem so sure about that, just as Pete was less than convincing in the car with Joan telling her that things are happening the way they are supposed to work out. The old guard may finally recognize the futility in reinvention and fighting for survival, but is that maturity or surrender? Where do they go from here? Those are the question the final three episodes will have to answer.
In the unpredictable timeline of “Mad Men,” it is unclear whether the end of SCDP – set for 30 days after the events of episode 11 – will coincide with the end of the show or if episode 12 will pick up with life at McCann. However, the show certainly has shifted into gear for the homestretch with, perhaps, the strongest episode of the series’ last leg to date.
What did you think of “Time & Life?” Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.