Review by Slewo
Well we’re only several episodes from the end, and that sense of finality is now becoming reality within the show. While there’s been a lot of talk by Matthew Weiner about how these final episodes would have what essentially amount to definitive endings for the characters, it’s a whole different thing to see all of this appear on screen. Threats that have been averted in the past, things that almost happen have finally begun happening with alarming speed to the staff of what used to be SC&P, and they simply cannot stop the tides of change from rushing through and everyone attempts to cope with that change in their own way.
If this episode hadn’t aired in May, I would’ve called it the Halloween episode. There’s a funeral, visits from the dead, haunting from our past, and further uncertainty about the future. It’s no coincidence that the two people hiding inside the corpse of the Sterling Cooper office: Peggy and Roger are both easily the most defined by the agency’s existence and therefore most affected by its loss. The scenes themselves are pretty hilarious: Elizabeth Moss and John Slattery never got much screen time together, so it’s fitting that at the end of the agency that their lives were held together by, they get to finally have a long overdue conversation. The fears that they have about moving forward into an agency as large as McCann-Erickson are not dissimilar. For Peggy, while increasingly dissatisfied with her position is still a large fish in the pond with a good deal of freedom, whereas at a larger agency she wouldn’t possess that same freedom, and in fact would be in danger of being demoted as Joan discovers to her own peril. For Roger his own nightmare is of Jim Hobart’s “going to advertising heaven” slogan being literal. As an owner of his own company, he’s free to act as he pleases in order to perform at a job he enjoys, but in an already brimming pool he’s simply the old goat who’s being kept around till he dies.
The funereal tone of those scenes early on emphasizes all that. As the lights flicker shut, as the people disappear, and Peggy sits alone in the office, the episode briefly takes on the tone of a ghost story complete with creepy piano music. While it is played more for a gag than anything else, it’s certainly not coincidental, their fears are realistic as this episode depicts. However, retreating into the past is also not much better of a solution. Whatever fears either of them may have, the inevitable will happen either way, and they can either choose to run from it as Don did or walk into the office without fear as Peggy did at the end of the episode. That being said, Peggy’s own story is paralleled in the worst way possible.
When Joan and Peggy were first introduced they were complete opposites, both in personality and in power. Joan was the outgoing office manager at the top of the pyramid of the female personnel of Sterling Cooper, while Peggy was a meek receptionist starting out. The situation however is in some ways reversed. While Joan is still above Peggy, their fortunes have most definitely changed. One of the things that has made Mad Men utterly enjoyable as well as refreshing over the years is its honest portrayal of an era that is so heavily romanticized. So it’s unflinching depiction of Joan’s new situation at McCann-Erickson helps to illuminate just why Peggy and Roger have such fears, and moreover the idea of just how little change there can still be in society. While there has been clear advancement: namely Joan and Peggy having leadership positions, or having black employees, it’s still difficult to be treated equally as a woman.
While Peggy has had her fair share of lousy male relationships, Joan drew the shorter end of the stick between her husband Greg, Roger, and her current flame. While those relationships had their fair share of problems, she still held an inordinate amount of power as the office manager of Sterling Cooper and later as a partner, but that only worked in the context of a family owned company of small size. In a company the size of McCann-Erickson, it’s simply an inevitability that someone will end up at bottom, and for a country still undergoing segregation and the women’s liberation movement, it isn’t surprising Joan would be dismissed. That she attempted to fight back and lost is simply the sad inevitability the situation would end at.
Conversely, while Don simply disappears, and does earn the ire of Jim Hobart and his superiors, he’s still given a great deal more leeway than Joan who simply asks for the right to be treated the same as her male counterparts. Unfortunately, the sexism of the 60’s is still very much alive in the early 70’s. The decision to punish Joan for her vocal rebuffs by forcing her out at half of what she’s worth is no surprise at all. ‘
As for Don himself, he’s been shown to be increasingly dissatisfied with advertising. And in a life that’s slowly rendered him increasingly unneeded as a father, as a husband, and even in his own job when there are a dozen other men in his same position: Don Draper is no longer a necessity in life. The possibility of Dick Whitman simply disappearing one more time grows larger and larger as a theory, whether as a red herring, or as reality has yet to be revealed.
5 out 5 Creepy Pianos