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Severance Review

by Slewo

“The End of an Era”, it’s a fitting title for these final episodes of Mad Men and this return episode shows why it has always been a show to be admired. The return episode immediately thrusts viewers back into the world of Sterling Cooper, and reminding us that the end times are slowly dawning upon them. Something that Mad Men has done extraordinarily well is remind us of the weight of history, it has never suffered from reinvention as many other shows have, and is thoroughly the vision of show creator Matthew Weiner. Coming out on Easter Sunday was perfect timing for a show that has always been interested in death and rebirth, both literal, and metaphorical. The show’s weight of history leads us to the end of all things: death, as well as the continual rebirth that being an ad man demands.

With regards to the episode itself, it doesn’t waste time getting us invested in the status quo of Sterling Cooper after its integration into McCann-Erickson, or for that matter the melancholy plunge of Don Draper after the fracture of his marriage, and of course the rest of the SC crew. Don as per usual handles change poorly, while he is back in the healthy embrace of his beloved agency and open about his past now, he’s shown once again indulging his worst vices: alcohol and women in order to soothe that pain. The episode also returns us to the introspection that has long been a part of the series, and in the final set of episodes it’s a fitting time now that the show has entered the 70’s and left the decade it has been defined by. And in that period of change, everyone in Sterling Cooper has been taking stock of who they are, and where they could’ve gone.

For Don, that takes the shape of seeing Rachel Menken late of season 1 and his first major flame in the series on the faces of other women. Don had almost ran off with her at the end of the first season, had she not seen that he was a desperate man about to commit a horrible mistake, and when he finds out she died it sets him in another long road down. The episode shares parallels with a number of episodes in the series, the one that most immediately comes to mind in this case is The Suitcase, which had a similar scene of Don seeing Anna Draper as a ghost before finding out about her death. While people have complained about times about Don not really changing, that’s a bit unfair when part of the thesis of the series up to this point has been about change, especially when ads are all about spinning together a new story out of yarn. The life not lived has been an important aspect of stories in the world of Mad Men. Don conjured one up for himself after Dick Whitman died, he was a completely different and free person around Anna Draper, and he’s attempted to continue to recreate that in the series. His curiosity at what happened to Rachel after she’d rejected him is a natural one, and his grief is real as well. However, the episode showed that her life didn’t hit pause after Don left it, she led a full life with a family and children.

Alternate scenarios play a big role through the episode. Peggy considers one after an eventful first date in possibly sleeping with a man and going to Paris with him, but ends up calling it off while unable to find her passport. While she initially brushes it off as something that was under the influence, her romantic getaway and possibly only vacation was ruined by her passport being left behind at her job. The carrot of a life not defined by her time at Sterling Cooper is as always a melancholy one for Peggy.

Ken has a similar moment of staring at the abyss. Kenneth’s story has mainly taken place in the background or subplots, and is one that has fascinated me for a long time. Kenneth has been presented from time to time as Pete’s counterpart and his opposite. Married, with child, successful, and moreover is happy with all those things. The fly in the ointment in this instance though has been his desire to write his novels, while initially told by his bosses at SC to stop; he continued to do it in secret. Here he ends up being fired for leaving McCann-Erickson in an earlier season. Don upon finding out assures Kenneth he’ll fix it, for him this is a worst case scenario as someone who’s life is controlled and defined by his job, Ken sees it as an opportunity to break free, spend more time with his wife, write his novel, and not give his remaining eye to Sterling Cooper. The episode ends with Ken, instead of beginning that novel, taking a job as head of Advertising at Dow Chemical, and therefore holding power over Sterling Cooper and McCann-Erickson.

What permeates Ken’s story is what goes through the others in the series: an inability to fully break free with the past. While lip service has been given to change and so many attempts made, they all end up for naught. We’ve seen everyone from the beginning of the decade and beyond, people have been married, people have died, but people have also remained the same. Mad Men is a series about change, but it’s also a series where people have reinforced long breeding negative behavior that’s come to define them as well. From Don’s second marriage, to Pete and Ted’s move to California, Peggy’s distancing attempts from Don, and Joan’s ascension to partner. Many changes have been made, but they lead to the same final place, death the ultimate equalizer. What Don, Peggy, and Ken saw were roads that they could have taken, but still reinforced their inability to break free from what held them back. The episode itself is a masterful look at the show’s past, present, and future. There are people who break free of gravity like Rachel Menken that led full lives, even dying young, but not alone. Then there are people like Don and Peggy who will always remain in shackles to the bitter end.

4.5 out of 5 mustaches

About soshillinois (294 Articles)
What's there to say about me? Well I'm an avid fan of comics, video games, tv shows, and movies alike. I love to read, consume, and discuss information of all kinds. My writing is all a part of who I am.
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