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Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Mad Men, For Immediate Release

Season 6, Episode 6
Grade: A-
Verdict: Starting fairly disjointedly, this episode of Mad Men was well on its way to being the second straight meandering story of the season; that is until the half-way point came in and all the disparate plot threads added together to a jaw-dropper of a finale that changes the status quo of SCDP irrevocably and will definitely leave fans talking.

This week's Mad Men was an episode that began in an extremely dour fashion, with Ted Chaough (Peggy's nice-guy boss) learning that one of his partner's is dying of cancer. We then find out that Don has to go suck up to the Jaguar head-honcho that Joan had to sleep with only to see SCDP lose the account due to Don's pride. Vick's Chemical then pulls up stakes with the company because of a stroke of bad luck on Pete's part, and then finally before Don and Roger take the pitch of a lifetime to Chevy they learn that once again they're small fish in a very big pond. This was a tough hour for this set of characters and it seemed as though its end would equate alot of misery that came before it, yet when I least expected it, a semi-miracle occurs. I'm a big proponent of when a show knocks me on my heels and the concluding moments of the episode definitely did that very thing. When Ted and Don are sitting together at the bar and discussing their respective Chevy Pitches, I immediately feared that Ted would steal the pitch or some other great disaster would befall Don, I even zoned out a bit and I missed whatever they initially agreed to. It wasn't until the scene with Peggy walking into Ted's office asking how the meeting went, and Don's off-screen voice saying "we got it" is when it all clicked into place for me.

The SCDP-CGC merger is certainly the big shock of this episode and will have reverberations throughout the rest of the season, but moreover it was an interesting move by Don who had been cut out of the "public offering" meetings that Pete, Joan and Bert were holding. The company as it currently stood was going to sell for around .11 cents a share, adding up to a huge payday for Joan, Pete and everyone else. Don's fiery dinner conversation with the Jaguar dealership owner basically halts the breaks on that momentum without Don ever even knowing about the possibilities of what is occurring behind closed doors at his company. Don eventually finds out the next morning, when Pete is on fire about him jettisoning Jaguar, only for Roger to come in with his news about Chevy which soothes the tension on Don's side but for Pete and Joan the resentment is through the roof. It's strange, generally Don Draper, despite all his caddish ways, is looked at as our hero throughout the series (mainly because we spend the most amount of time with him), but here he's treated like someone to be despised. Joan, whose gave up her body (albeit willingly) to secure the Jaguar account is in tears as she feels like it's all for nothing, or rather "all for Don" and there's no "we" in his consideration process. Pete compares him to Tarzan, swinging from vine to vine, and knowing Don like we do, that's a fairly apt comparison. The message gets driven home even deeper when we get a look at the shock on Peggy's face and she realizes that Don is going to be her boss again. When she returns to her office to write the press release, she has to close the door and catch her breath. Despite the growth in stature she will achieve in the merger, you can read on her face that returning to being under Don's wing doesn't mean the same thing that it seems to mean to Don. Peggy will be returning to the same people she used to work with, the same office, the exact same bosses, but just more of them. There may be additional money, but there's always more to life than that. This may have been the worst light we've ever had shone on Don, counting the torrid affairs and all.

"For Immediate Release" was another great episode for Pete, where I learned fairly quickly that my prediction of his returning to his home was becoming true sooner than I had imagined. It was surprising to see Trudy not immediately kick Pete out considering the very awkward conversation they had held one episode prior, but Pete was easily worming his way back into his marriage, until fate strangely intervened. When Pete sees his father in law walking out of the room of the same brothel he and Bob were frequenting, the awkwardness between them is cold sweat-worthy. Pete's dilemma is "what do I do now?", when he runs it past Ken Cosgrove, the advice given to him is the concept of mutually assured destruction, fitting for that tumultuous era of history. Unfortunately, Pete is the bad-luck version of Don Draper: when he attempts to throw his weight around, he falls down stairs, when he tries to sleep with another man's wife, she turns out to be crazy, and when he assumes that there's no harm to be found between he and Trudy's father's bumping into each other, mutually assured destruction goes out the window when you're dealing with a man's child. After Tom pulls Vicks' account with SCDP, Pete goes to meet with him and tells Pete that he needs to do the right thing. The assumption therein being, Pete is going to divorce Trudy to save the account, instead Pete vindictively drops the bomb on Trudy about her father's own infidelities. Pete may have been in a no-win situation at that point, but he was going to go down swinging, and effectively swung the final nail into the coffin in his marriage. Once again, when things don't go according to plan for Pete, it usually leads to a meltdown, but it makes him my favorite character in the show, save for Roger.

Mad Men this season has been generally wonderful so far, as has been the case since Season 4 onward, but there's been a feeling that the show is slightly overstuffed each episode. What with having plot threads to keep up with for Don, Pete, Roger, Joan, Ginsberg, Dawn, Betty and Henry, along with entirely different settings for Megan and Peggy. There's just a sense that we were approaching a real lack of cohesion. This may still be true for Betty and Megan's storylines, I particularly find anything to do with Megan's acting career uninteresting and the trevails for Don's latest marriage are a bore thus far, but with this status quo change, an entire strand becomes intertwined with the major events of the series. Peggy, Tom, and the entire CGC team will now be moving into the SCDP offices, and my chief complaint of the earliest episodes, that Peggy has been given nothing to do all season, has finally be addressed, I hope at least. This infusion of new performers into the regular rotation should keep the intrigue of the remaining episodes quite high. I'm especially interested in the dynamic between Don and Ted, they seem to actually click well together, but will that translate into the working environment? And Harry Hamlin's Jim Cutler is another wild card, he's apparently the Roger of CGC according to Peggy and I still wonder if his wolfish stares at Megan from two weeks ago will come back into some kind of interaction between the two. Maybe not, but Mad Men is the kind of series that you think it's easy to guess what's coming, and they completely shock you. 

I enjoy watching Mad Men, it makes me think fairly deeply about television characters in a way that most series never approach for me, but this may be the first time where I'm desperate to watch the next episode and must know what happens next. I look forward to finding out what the new firm name will be, I get the feeling that poor old Lane's name may find it's way to the floor.

Also, Peggy and Abe have a terribly rude awakening coming for them in November. The times, they are a changing indeed.

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