“The Strategy” offers a nice shift back to what makes Mad Men accepted by all that enjoy this series. While last week’s episode, “The Runaways,” did its best to jump in some different directions, while still utilizing key elements of the series, this week finds us solely in New York, watching almost all of the members of SC&P, handling business. There is some checking in at home here and there, what with Pete and Megan visiting New York and stopping by their former homes, and while those stories deal with relationships that have run their course, watching the mending of one of this show’s key relationships provided a neat balance that made me smile. We also had the triumphant return of Bob Benson!
Let’s start there. Bob Benson became something of a sensation last season, as far as Mad Men-obsessed internet users were concerned, as his genuine qualities and enthusiasm that James Wolk brought to the role seemed to apparently throw most audiences way off their game in regards to the universe that Don and the gang exist in. By the end of last season we knew more or less all we really needed to know about Bob, but having him back for an episode (and potentially more) not only has us checking in with his character, but allows us to dive right back into his storyline and be less concerned with potential secret motives. Bob is basically as nice on the inside as he is on the surface, but he is not above understanding what he believes he needs to make it in the business world, which is part of why the nicest character in this episode is left in something of a sad state.
Bob’s private life is his own, but based on the news he receives, having someone like Joan and her son as a representation of what he believes makes for a respectful man in the eyes of big companies could help him. It is upsetting that Bob has to attempt something like proposing to Joan in order to make that kind of mindset turn into a reality, especially because of how interesting that relationship (along with the way Roger is connected) has been. It also speaks to the nature of the relationship we know Bob to have with Joan (which has plenty of nuance, as opposed to outright details) that makes it understandable of why Joan rejects the offer. Of course, while we wait to see what is next for Bob Benson, given Sterling’s ‘aha’ moment that he had towards the end of this episode, we are pushed towards knowing more of what is happening with SC&P.
With not many hours left in this first half of the final season of Mad Men, figuring out the endgame of the actual firm has proven to be fairly interesting, what with Don’s position evolution, the presence of a (possibly deadly) computer, and now the further ascension of Harry Crane. With the news that Chevy is going to split from SC&P, despite opening the door to future business, it means that the company has to continue fighting for bigger fish. With the rather brazen moves seen by Don (continuing to get his groove back) and efforts that seem to serve as a way of minor battles from within (Cutler vs. Sterling, etc.), I can only hope that me not seeing Burger Chef in current real times is not any indication of where things are ultimately going.
For Peter, things seem to be ultimately going down in many ways, despite the way he tries to conduct himself. Visiting New York and bringing Bonnie along seemed like a fine way for Peter to announce how much success he has found in his move to the west, but it ultimately led to us seeing the amazing way Matthew Weiner, Vincent Kartheiser, and the writers continue to make Campbell both annoyingly hypocritical and sympathetic at the same time. For all the effort he tries to put into his work, we still have a man that has been stripped of the ‘perfect’ family life and does not have the cool confidence of a Don Draper to mask it out of sight from others.
Getting to Don, there is both good and bad things to glean from what went on for Don the working man this week, though it seems like Don is not quite getting the hint on the latter. Megan’s arrival is nice for Don, as he is on his best behavior and says all that he can to make Megan feel homesick for a place she clearly does not feel she needs to return to. Don briefly reflects on the year 1965 late in this episode, acknowledging it as the year he got married. Now, in 1969, he continues to fight for this marriage that has little to no life left in it. Megan is certainly making that clear, even if she is not entirely convinced of this fact, because who really wants to haul an entire fondu pot back to LA simply because it might tie the room together?
With that said, while the light may be dimming for Don’s marriage, a new light may be shining on his relationship with Peggy. While the two have been at odds for what seems like a while now, even continuing through a good portion of this episode, we finally have these two coming around and working as a true unit again. As an audience, we know how well these two work together and know each other, in terms of some of the deeper moments they have shared, which does not include sexual tension (a rarity for the key relationships on this show). Keeping them at odds with each other is the kind of thing that is required, when dealing with a show that spans several seasons. Putting them back on some sort of track only makes sense, as we draw to the close of the series.
With Pete strongly advising Peggy to have Don give the presentation she delivered expertly, it then becomes a battle for how to make the pitch better as well as keep Peggy’s own voice involved in the conversation. After pushing Don away, which is fairly stubborn on her part, we get to see these two come together and hash things out, and that is capped off with a dance. In this time, Don offers the kind of advice that is fitting of Don and Peggy shows that she is willing to still learn, even with the tables having turned, with regards to positions of power.
The final moments of this episode see Pete sitting down at Burger Chef to hear out the new ideas from Peggy and Don. Obviously deliberate is the framing of these three between two families, reflecting the concept of the ad, along with what these characters are essentially lacking, in terms of what makes the ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ family. The thing is, these three are their own sort of family and while I cannot actually remember the last time these three have been out on their own, together, they are three major elements of this series and, differences aside, they all belong together in a weird way. There is also plenty of humor to see in Don and Peggy looking like a mother and father to their (balding) son Pete, who gets ketchup on his face.
There is a level of uncertainty in regards to where this first half of the season is going, but I like that. “The Strategy” provides pretty much everything I want in an episode of Mad Men, which is one that involves a good portion of the main characters, deals with the office politics, but allows us to think about these key relationships that have formed and evolved between various colleagues. Adding the spark of energy that comes from a Bob Benson or the always wonderful one-liners from Roger Sterling only sells the show even more. We will see where things go from here and we’ll likely find out who is going to be driving home in a Buick in of these upcoming episodes, but for now, it is nice to see Peggy and Don stop dancing around each other and now dancing together again.
Any Other Business?
- Don staring at a newspaper featuring Kennedy’s assassination on the front page gave me plenty to think about, but I still am curious where it came from. Was it being used to wrap up Megan’s stuff? I unfortunately haven’t had the pleasure of revisiting the episode to take a closer look.
- Ginsberg watch: things are not good, based on Stan’s update.
- Speaking of Stan, he has been a consistently fun presence this season, whether it’s in the office or dealing with Peggy separately, over the phone. – “Hi baby yourself.”
- Trudy Campbell returns this week and she reminds Pete of who has the control.
- I know Cutler vs. Sterling will never amount to anything as wild as Pryce vs. Campbell, but I will always entertain the thought.
- “Kind of lackluster” “That’s the tray liner” – Shut up Harry.
- “Did you need something Don?” – Shut up Lou.
- “You really gotta keep an eye one him” – Oh Ken Cosgrove
- Last thing, I did feel bad for Pete not even being able to get a hello from his daughter. His sport coat was so fun and colorful too…