After last week’s “Mad Men” stumbled a bit by grappling with a major
historical event, “For Immediate Release” rebounded in high style to
deliver the season’s most thrilling, entertaining and finest hour yet.
Opening with the possibility of SCDP going public and ending with a
merger between SCDP and Ted Chaough’s CGC — yes, folks, Peggy and Don are
co-workers again — this was a hour packed with bombshells (Pete catches
his stepfather at a whorehouse!), explosions (Joan’s fury over Don
dumping the Jaguar account) and killer one-liners (did we mention Julia
Ormond’s return as Megan’s mother?).
There was so much hot-blooded ad agency action, Don didn’t even have time to reflect on how miserable he is … on the inside.
[Note: In the spirit of showrunner Matthew Weiner declaring
that this season is about Dr. Arnold Rosen telling Don, “People will do
anything to alleviate their anxiety,” we’re tracking the happiness of key
characters week by week.]
The “Mad Men” happiness index, week five:
1) Don (last week, #8): From the very start, “Mad Men” has been a show driven by Don Draper’s unhappiness, but if there’s one thing that consistently makes him happy it’s the thrill of a great creative pitch. And Don is totally in his happy place for almost all of “For Immediate Release.” From the relief he feels at telling Herb from Jaguar to screw off to the revived sexual relationship he enjoys with Megan (while Sylvia is otherwise occupied by her son, visiting from college) to the news that Roger has landed them an opportunity to make a play for a top secret new car from General Motors.
The only stumbling block in Don’s unusual gleeful week comes when Ted Chaough convinces Don that a little agency has no chance with GM — they simply need the manpower of a bigger firm. (“I should just let Chevy buy my brain and put it in a jar,” he says in frustration.) But Don’s pretty pleased about the solution: merge one smaller agency (SCDP) with another (CGC) and create a true New York power player. Was that what Ted wanted all along? Right now it doesn’t really matter, Don’s on top of the world.
2) Roger (last week, #1): Roger is still cruising right through what was starting to look like a midlife crisis. He’s sleeping with pretty stewardess Daisy McCluskey (Danielle Panabaker) and charms her into giving him important business information (and doing a little travel-related sabotage when it’s helpful). After Don loses the Jaguar account in a fit of self-important fury, Roger bounds right in — as if on cue — to revive the entire team with the news about GM. Whatever the name of this new combined firm is, let’s hope Roger still gets top billing.
3) Cooper (unranked last week): We don’t see a lot of Bert Cooper — he’s one step away from being a partner emeritus — but he’s involved in a bit of the wheeling and dealing this week, teaming up with Joan and Pete to work out the details of taking SCDP public and making all of the partners a boatload of money. That doesn’t work out as planned, but Cooper gets a momentary thrill from the news that the public offering could pay the partners $11 a share. Sadly, Pete Campbell doesn’t stock brandy or spirits of elderflower in his office, so Bert’s week isn’t all roses.
4) Ted (unranked last week): Ted gets some bad news (one of his business partners — Frank Gleason, played by Craig Anton — has cancer), some good news (the merger) and some confusing news (kissing Peggy is probably the opening to a whole new dilemma for nice guy Ted), but overall comes out ahead in what was the strongest episode yet for a character we may well be seeing a lot more of in the future. (After this episode it’s even more notable that Kevin Rahm — who plays Ted — was promoted to the show’s opening credits this season.)
5) Peggy (last week, #2): Oh, Peggy, no! After speculating last week that Ted would make a play for Peggy, it turns out that Peggy is the one more interested in Ted — or at least interested in entertaining the possibility. While Ted mostly has business on his mind, his stray kiss with Peggy in his office gives her everything she isn’t seeing from Abe: a strong, decisive, dependable man who values her work. We know this road is paved with nothing but heartbreak, but it seems highly likely Peggy picks the path anyway.
6) Megan (last week, #6): Megan is holding steady on the happiness index, still not entirely her usual optimistic self. She’s seeing signs of life in her marriage, but as she shares with her mother she’s still concerned about Don’s distance. Marie tries to reassure her it’s just Don adjusting to Megan’s new celebrity status. Unfortunately, Marie only meets Dr. Rosen and not Sylvia.
7) Marie (unranked last week): Any opportunity to have Julia Ormond return to “Mad Men” is a welcome one, it’s just too bad for Marie she got saddled with Herb and his tiresome wife Peaches (Sarah Aldrich, great in a thankless role). But what’s bad for Marie is great for the audience, as both that dinner scene and Marie’s testy exchange with Roger on the phone (“You dragged me out and made me sit with that disgusting man and his disgusting wife. She’s the apple that goes in the pig’s mouth!” were excellent laugh-out-loud scenes.
8) Trudy (unranked last week): Apparently Pete has been on his best behavior in the month since we saw him lonely and miserable at the end of “The Flood” (Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 and Mother’s Day — referenced several times in “For Immediate Release” — was May 12 of that year). Trudy has “taken note of [his] efforts.” But all of that disappears down the drain when Trudy’s father, Tom Vogel (Joe O’Connor), pulls his business from SCDP. Pete saw Tom in a brothel, but instead of embarrassment Tom just felt anger toward Pete for cheating on Trudy. When Pete tries to explain what happened to Trudy (in typically frantic and angry Pete Campbell fashion), she refuses to believe him and tells him their marriage is over for good.
9) Joan (last week, #3): It’s a rough week for Joan, who sees her future as a partner take a roller coaster ride driven by men who put their egos first, often at the expense of business. Instead of feeling relief at Don’s friction with Herb causing Jaguar to leave the firm, she feels betrayed… and powerless. “Honestly Don, if I could deal with him, you could deal with him. And what now? I went through all of that for nothing?” she yells at Don in front of Roger, Pete and Ken. “Just once I would like to hear you use the word we. Because we’re all rooting for you from the sidelines, hoping that you’ll decide whatever you think is right for our lives.” She has a point, but it’s probably lost on Don.
10) Pete (last week, #10): It’s one kick in the pants after another for Pete this week. He goes from the highs of thinking he’ll make a mint from taking SCDP public and possibly reconcile with Trudy, to watching Don lose Jaguar, discovering his father-in-law is pulling his accounts, and possibly alienating himself from Trudy for good. And he doesn’t even know one of the worst parts yet: Peggy is on her way back to the office.
Falling off the index: Bobby, Betty and obnoxious Harry all sat this week out, while Ginsberg just had the single scene during the meeting in Don’s office.