Mad Men recap: Don Wants to Be Chairman of the Board
Don and Peggy slow dance over Burger Chef, while Bob Benson returns with a proposal
Don and Peggy slow-danced to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and their professional reconciliation was the most heart-warming of numerous Mad Men reunions during “The Strategy” — the penultimate episode of the first half of the show’s final season. Their slightly tipsy embrace, with her head on his shoulder and him nuzzling her hair as Sinatra crooned lyrics practically invented for Don Draper, was a TV moment that launched a thousand tweets. This was the third — and final? — beat of a personal story that started with season 2’s “The New Girl” and continued with season 4’s “The Suitcase.” Don and Peggy, Peggy and Don: a complicated relationship built upon authority and emotion that has evolved, broken down, and supposedly turned itself inside out. But maybe not so much.
What brings them back together, basically, is what Lou Avery hoped would rid SC&P of Don once and for all: Burger Chef. After weeks of research, driving around the Midwest with Mathis and interviewing unenthusiastic Burger Chef customers, Peggy thinks she has a solid campaign pitch. Pete’s flown in for the preliminary presentation — bringing sunkissed Bonnie Whiteside along — and he’s eager to have Don in the room, too. Lou wasn’t expecting to see Don (ever again), and expresses as much when Don sheepishly walks into the meeting: “Did you need something, Don?” But Pete clearly thinks Don is still essential. And as good as the concept is, he wants Don to lead the presentation when it’s officially pitched to Burger Chef. Because, you know, Don’s a man.
Pete says as much later when Peggy is invited into Lou’s office for a good ol’ fashioned boys club ambush. Pete wants Don’s “authority” wrapped around Peggy’s “emotion.” Peggy’s not pleased with the idea at all, but the deck’s been stacked against her. Even the L.A. corpse of Ted is behind Pete’s idea — though good work, Peg, everyone agrees, you’re “as good as any woman in this business.”
In other news, Lou Avery has a wife who’s “a real card.” Even Hitler had a lover, folks.
Speaking of frustrated sociopaths, Bob Benson is back! Admit it: you let out a little shriek of joy when Bob popped up in the show’s opening teaser after being off-screen all season. Bob returns to New York with Chevy executives in tow, and they check in with eye-patched Ken Cosgrove on their tour of the office (which elicits the show’s only mention of the gay-whispering IBM 360). Free peanuts to the writer who had Ken say this of his rambunctious toddler: “You really got to keep an eye on him.”
Bob’s not all business, however. He’s keen to spend Sunday with Joan and her family, even more so after Chevy’s Bill Hartley (The Wedding Singer‘s Matthew Glave) playfully flirts with Joan, and Joan giggles girlishly in response. No doubt she would make a valuable asset on your arm as you scale the corporate ladder, Double-B.
But Benson gets a phone call late-late that night — and it’s not great, Bob. The happily married Hartley had been beaten after trying to fellate an undercover police officer, and needs to be bailed out. “I called you because I knew you could keep this to yourself,” says Harley, hinting that he suspects Bob understands and shares his double life as a closeted gay man. “I am not of your stripe,” Bob snaps back. In the back of the cab, Hartley proceeds to share the news that Chevy is bringing their account in-house — a blow to SC&P, but a possible promotion for Bob. Buick is going to come calling for him, meaning he’s moving up again in the world, and all he needs is a queen to share his reign in Detroit.
Eventually, Peggy is resigned to including Don in her presentation, and she tells him the news. Then he lights a long-fused bomb: “I was just noodling around with seeing the whole thing from the kids’ perspective. … I don’t know, just a thought.” It explodes later that night, as Peggy tries to sleep. She’s not worried that Don is going to hijack the presentation; she’s worried that her idea is crap. Don — intentionally? — planted a sliver of doubt, and it’s splintering her psyche. The fact that Lou gave the pitch his endorsement, with “It’s nice to see family happiness again,” only underscores her self-doubt, and she has the weekend to let it fester.
NEXT: New York is the best of times, the worst of times
Don’s weekend, on the other hand, is completely fun-filled, with Megan in town. While Peggy is stewing in the office, smoking cigarettes, swilling wine, and probing Stan to see if he also doubts the Burger Chef campaign, Don is making love, cooking dinner, and seeing scandalous Swedish films like I Am Curious (Yellow). From Don’s point of view, it’s the best time they’ve spent together in months — but then, they’re back on his turf. He misses the Megan Draper that he knows from New York, not necessarily the Megan that now lives in Los Angeles. But there are still major cracks in the relationship, cracks that might be beyond repair. Look no further than Megan’s face when she pops in on Don at the office, and the older secretary Marsha says to her after being introduced, “I didn’t know he was married.” Later, as the weekend winds down, Megan rifles through the closets to look for stuff to bring to L.A. Did she really come to New York to see Don? Or is she itching to leave once she gets her stuff so that she can get back to her real life in L.A.? She says she’s eager to spend time with Don again soon, but not in New York or L.A. She wants him on neutral ground, where perhaps she can see better whether that have anything left worth fighting for.
Pete has his own New York reunion, one that is bound to bring him down low. Remember, Pete’s become a new man in Los Angeles. Not only is he more successful than he was in New York, but the town and the climate agree with him. With blonde Bonnie at his side, he’s mile-high-club happy, living a life he never thought possible. But with the Burger Chef meeting, it’s time he finally popped up to Connecticut to reconnect with Trudy and his daughter. Nothing goes well. His daughter is afraid of him. Trudy infuriates him by intentionally having plans in order to avoid him during his parental visit, and when she finally returns home, she finds him sauced and filled with indignant hypocrisy. “I don’t like you carrying on like this,” he says, assuming she was on a date. “It’s immoral!”
Meanwhile, he allows Trudy to ruin his weekend of sex and shopping with Bonnie — who had to see Oh, Calcutta! without him. Feeling neglected, Bonnie decides “I don’t like you in New York.” Girl, nobody liked Pete in New York. She flies home alone (if you don’t count Megan sitting a few rows back).
Bob’s Sunday sit-down with Joan begins delightfully, with flowers for her mother, Gail, and a construction toy set for little Kevin. But later, when they’re alone, he gets down to business… and proposes. She isn’t sure how to respond when she first sees the engagement ring that Bob clearly just purchased, likely only after learning that he has Buick on the hook. “My face doesn’t please you?” he asks with his most eager-puppy grin. “I don’t believe it.”
But Joan’s hesitancy isn’t linked to indecision; it’s simply her thinking how to best explain her answer. In the end, blunt honesty is the best approach. “You don’t want this, Bob,” she says. “You shouldn’t be with a woman.”
Well, you know the old saying: “If at first your proposal is rejected by a woman who thinks you’re gay, point out her flaws and ask again.” Bob reminds Joan that she’s old and living with her mother. “I am offering you more than anybody else ever will,” he says.
“No, you’re not, Bob,” Joan answers. “Because I want love, and I’d rather die hoping that it happens than make some arrangement. And you should to.”
Despite Joan’s heroic paean to true love, “The Strategy” was a rough episode for women, a rude Not-so-fast, ladies for the characters who are presumed to inherit the Mad Men universe. The men are extremely dismissive, undermining Peggy at work and continually insisting that their favorite ladies go shopping — because what else could they possibly want to do? Pete wants Bonnie to shop all day and screw all night, so she’s not completely one-dimensional in his mind. Don’s plans for Megan are pretty similar. When Don and Peggy brainstorm new Burger Chef’s ads, Don’s hardly enlightened. “What’s her profession?” he sniffs dismissively when Peggy suggests a working-mom approach for the commercial. Besides, he goes on to suggest, mothers who work “are too sad for an ad.”
NEXT: Peggy runs home to Daddy
No wonder Peggy’s own perceptions and opinions are so fragile. She’s suffocating beneath these prejudices. Over the weekend, she lashes out at Don on the phone, telling him that her Burger Chef idea is “poisoned because you expressed [your doubts].” Don’s opinions clearly mean more to her than her own, even when his profile is at its nadir. And on Monday, when Don arrives at the office, she sarcastically demands that he save the day. Except that she’s not being sarcastic at all. She’s desperate for his help, and wants his secret. “Show me how you think,” she demands bitterly. “Do it out loud.”
Don fixes them both a drink — another violation of his office probation — and demonstrates why he’s Don Draper: “You can’t tell people what they want. It has to be what you want,” he says. Easier said than done, for some people. Presented with that challenge, and marinading in alcohol, Peggy devises a new campaign that might be best described in the 2000s as the Olive Garden, with its emphasis on “whoever you were sitting with was family.” Don challenged Peggy to tell people what she wanted, and Matthew Weiner and writer Semi Challas (also of season 5’s “The Other Woman”) gave her some early watered-down version version of “When You’re Here, You’re Family.” Is this a creative breakthough or a tragic flaw?
Just then, Sinatra’s 1969 hit, which became the Chairman of the Board’s signature anthem, begins to play. Don and Peggy had shared some intimate personal feelings: Don’s worry about being alone and having never done anything, Peggy’s unhappiness at being 30 and single. “I looked in the window of so many station-wagons [during our Burger Chef research],” says Peggy. “What did I do wrong?”
“I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t worry about you,” Don reassures her.
There’s only one thing left to do, and Don guides Peggy off the sofa and into a slow dance as Sinatra sings about regret and facing the final curtain. For less than an instant, I thought this might lead to a kiss, but this isn’t romantic. It’s a father/daughter wedding dance. Don seems slightly unnerved when Peggys rests her head on his chest. Is he trying to calibrate his own emotions to the paternal role he’s assumed? Or is he having misgivings about possibly manipulating Peggy? I’m honestly not sure. The song “My Way” is such an expression of defiance (“I did what I had to do / And saw it through without exemption”), and Sinatra in 1969, after Elvis and the Beatles had stolen his mojo, was very much at the same stage as Don is professionally. And he came back with a vengeance.
In the episode’s final scene, Peggy and Don meet Pete at a Burger Chef, where they pitch
their her idea for the Family advertising concept. “She’s doing it the way she wants to do it,” Don tells Pete. Here, in contrast to the unrepentant lyrics of “My Way,” the cameras seems to paint the trio as one happy family, with Pete playing the role of goofy kid with a smudge of food on his lip. This is what Peggy wants to sell. But it doesn’t feel like a Don Draper Joint.
Just Spitballin’ Here
– Oh, the profanity! Mad Men has dropped in the occasional bad word before, but I don’t recall there every being so many as last night — including three sh–s and a bleeped f-bomb. It’s 10 p.m. cable drama, so no harm, no foul — but it certainly seems as if Weiner is making the final season on his terms, when it comes to language.
– Do we have to worry about Bonnie and Don next time he’s in California? Despite Pete’s claims that she turns it on for everyone, she clearly goes out of her way to see Don at the New York office. Now that she may have soured on New York Pete, I fear she could feel free to pursue Don just out of spite.
– At the New York Athletic Club sauna, Jim Hobart plants the seed for Roger and Don’s exit from SC&P. Later, Roger pieces together the puzzle that McCann Erickson fears losing Buick, and Hobart might be interested in absorbing some top executive talent. Can we agree that with Philip Morris on the agenda, Don’s days as SC&P are numbered — or will his theatrics at last week’s meeting make a big difference?
– In the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Ken Cosgrove isn’t set to reign just yet, but did you also notice Stan’s bedroom poster of Israeli military hero Moshe Dayan?
– Harry Crane is now a partner. And Don Draper gave his blessing publicly. “Say what you will, but he’s very loyal,” says Don, one week after his revealing night out with SC&P’s top computer and TV honcho. This is another indication to me that Don is planning to undermine the entire agency. The episode’s title, “The Strategy,” could have less to do with Peggy’s Burger Chef plan and more to do with Don’s gameplan for redemption. Hell hath no fury like an aging white man scorned.
– The post-credits preview are typically inscrutable, but at least they’re non-sequitur clips from the next episode. For next week’s mid-season finale, however, Weiner went the extra yard and only included old clips to keep everything top secret. I’m still sticking to my guns on the moon landing playing a major role.