If “The Forecast” was about looking towards the future for the characters that populate Mad Men, then “Time & Life” acts as a follow-up that shows the future smacking them in the face, and not the way they wanted it to. The head partners of SCP gather together to strategize how they can wrestle away from the McCann firm oversight and branch out on their own, but this isn’t a pitch meeting that Don and the others can “carousel” their way out of. Yet, despite facing defeat on multiple fronts, these people can still find some solace in the company of others, even those whose relationships bent and/or broke some time ago, and also see themselves reliving glimmers of past history left forgotten over time.
Although Peggy is left only on the fringe of the A-plot concerning the McCann absorption of SCP, her side-story with the children brings forth similar experiences that the others go through. A tenacious encounter with one of the parents reawakens Peggy’s memories of the child she put up for adoption way back pre-season two, and she unexpectedly feels twinges of empathy for the flustered mother that just berated her for the daughter’s stapler injury. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time in years that Peggy’s child has been brought up, and also the first time that anyone besides Pete (the father) or Don heard about him. She confides to Stan the aching story of how she gave him up to another family in a scene that shows how the strength of their friendship is just as potent as the ones that are typically in the show’s forefront.
On a connected note, Peggy shares a moment with Pete earlier on, which is preceded by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it beat where Pete sees Peggy working with the children and undoubtedly recalls their son that almost was. While always the little weasel of the Mad Men world, Pete actually finds himself with in multiple standout scenes of humanity. One of these comes from Joan, which is unexpected since her and Pete have rarely shared screen time alone together, but his central story of the episode concerns a tentative partnership with Trudy to make sure their daughter gets into the school they want. Even though it’s doubtful that their marriage is about to hit the restart button, there’s little glimmers of the happiness and teamwork they once shared, a faint portrait of the bond that was lost over time but remains somewhere within them.
However, the characters find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to their impending fate at McCann Ericson even as they get the band together to make moves of their own. During the eventual meeting where the firm’s future is set, which concludes with an image of the partners staring their end head-on (in contrast to the season five finale’s image of the partners looking outwards to a hopeful future), their efforts are almost immediately shut down. But their reactions to the number of powerful clients at McCann seem to indicate that they are secretly enticed by possibilities offered there; the half-smile twinge in their faces reveal a tantalizing appetite for the bigger fish outside of SCP.
But not everyone is quite as accepting of the news of the absorption. The partners hold a meeting with every employee at SCP to officially break the news before the rumors became too strong, and once they do they can’t hold the floor anymore. Everyone’s voices consume the area as the partners try to hold order to no avail, and as with every previous episode of this half-season it ends with the camera pulling back to reveal the wider empty space as the employees make their way down the staircase. The difference is that those previous similar concluding shots were fixated on just Don in his isolation, and now he stands with Joan, Roger, Pete, and Ted as the SCP floor clears out except for them. The pillars of the existence they life and breathe are beginning to crack before them, leaving a feeling of portent as they stand before the forthcoming end. Indeed, Pete admits to Peggy that he has “never worked anywhere else” in his life, and the uncertainty of what comes next hangs over all of Sterling Cooper & Partners.
EPISODE RATING: 10/10