Sunday, May 3, 2015

Going Mad: "Time & Life"

"We don't know lots of things about lots of people."

It's true - we make judgements about others all of the time even though we have absolutely no idea what exactly is the story behind every human life. This statement was brought on by Peggy reflecting on a confrontation she had with a mother who had brought her child into SC&P to help with an ad campaign.

Not knowing the truth behind people could be the mantra for Mad Men as a whole, but when Peggy said this she was referring to her  life and, in particular, one of her own secrets.

That's right, after lots of speculation, long time fans were finally given the official details of what happened to Peggy's baby. It was done in a subtle and classy way, but was still shocking, since most had assumed the issue would never come up again. The past was the past. But this is an event that was crucial to Peggy's life, so I'm glad she was finally given some extra time to talk about what had happened.

In fact, every episode this season has found characters contemplating change and generally thinking about their life, past and present. Obviously, "Time & Life" continued on that same path. Along with Peggy's confession, people were shacking up with old girlfriends, meeting up with ex-wives, and all of the workers at SC&P were faced with a life altering decision that was made for them, instead of by them.

Really it's all there in the title - life is all about time. We only have a fixed amount of minutes, months, or years on earth and for the characters on Mad Men, their lives are about to go off in, what was for many of them, an unexpected direction. We've got ourselves another double meaning here too, because SC&P is located in the Time-Life Building. Besides the name, the building itself becomes quite the focal point of the entire episode.

An old friend, Ken Cosgrove, was brought back, probably for the last time. Anyone who is really keeping tabs should have known that this meant something bad was going to happen.  Remember, most importantly, he wears an eye-patch, and secondly, he was the one let go from SC&P in the season premiere. On his last day at SC&P he basically laid down a "plague on both your houses!" decree, claiming he was going to make their lives miserable.

As he is now one of their clients, Pete and Don had a dinner meeting with Ken to discuss plans for a campaign. Even though he was getting wined and dined, Ken hated everything Pete was saying until Don showed up. Yep, just like many people who watch this show, Ken was outright spiteful towards Pete.

At this point he was just another difficult client, as he said he would be, but Ken became very important later when some bad news came calling to SC&P.

Igniting more memories of the past, Joan and Roger sat together in his office to receive this bad news. McCann Erickson - the company that recently became the majority owner of SC&P - wants to shut down their office, so all members of SC&P (or those who don't get fired) will be absorbed into McCann's building.

It's the end of an era for our friends in the advertising world, but I personally can't see why they were so shocked. Why have two separate companies when you could just merge them together and become a mega company that rules the world?

Either way it is sad to see something these characters worked so hard to build crumble beneath them. I guess nothing lasts forever. However, it shows that Don and the gang are well respected in the industry and are desired employees at the biggest ad agency in the country. 

Well, Don, Roger, Pete, and Joan don't see it this way, and began trying to brainstorm a scheme that would save their butts. Ted didn't have that much stake in SC&P and sounded actually quite excited to go work for McCann. Oh Ted, that kind of hurt your credibility. But still, he's a pilot, so he's pretty great.

Don got to thinking about the West Coast office. Let's put it this way, Lou is a lucky SOB. Earlier in the episode he had called Don simply to say, "Enjoy the rest of your miserable life!" That sounds so sweet, it should be on a postcard. Lou said that he was moving to Tokyo, because the people who made Speed Racer wanted to make his blasted comic into a cartoon.

With Lou gone (can we all say, finally!) there is no one manning the office in California. Don had a light bulb moment - maybe they should try to convince McCann to let SC&P operate from the west? It turns out that the merger would cause the company to lose accounts, since McCann has clients that would conflict with some of SC&P's (think Coke and Pepsi - they probably don't have the same marketing team). By keeping SC&P open, they wouldn't lose any money.

The team got to work trying to get commitments from several of their clients, so that they could make their pitch to McCann. Here is where Ken came back into play.

Ken represents a large account (Dow Chemical) and they need to cement as much revenue as they can to impress McCann. Dollar signs do speak louder than words.

Roger and Pete met up with Ken to try to convince him to stay with SC&P if they move west. Just as he had foretold in Roger's office earlier in the season, Ken finally got his chance to really stick it to 'em. I don't think I've ever seen anyone say "no" with such pleasure. Without thinking about it, Ken looked at Roger and Pete, and simply turned them down with a smile. Then, pleased with himself, just got up and walked out of the room.

Even without DOW Chemical, they decided to push on and try to convince McCann to keep SC&P separate. At the meeting with the head of McCann, Jim Hobart, Don was in full ad man mode. The whole gang looked excited - they really thought this was a sure fire win for them.

And then Hobart cut off Don mid sentence during his pitch. Cue that cliche sound of a needle scratching a record. And add a "Whaaaa?" No one cuts off Don Draper.

They are going forward with the merger, no exceptions will be considered. Don was flabbergasted, as was everyone else in the room, aside from Hobart, who knows that he rules the world. Quite well done, in a ingeniously framed shot, all of the partners looked like the exact mirror opposite to when they gathered together for the first time in what was their new office. One scene signaled the beginning, the other, an end.

This whole time the partners at SC&P seemed to really only be worried about themselves. But what about the rest of the people that keep the company running? Rumors start buzzing around the office. Most surprising of all, it is Pete, of all people, who finally went to tell someone else about the company's dilemma. Pete recognized that Peggy certainly had the right to know what was going on.

These two have quite the mixed up past, but at least things over the years have loosened up to the point where they can be friendly. [For a fabulous recap of this scene and some fascinating investigation into what all the costumes could represent in this episode, check out Tom and Lorenzo.]

We haven't had much insight into Pete's life lately, so it was actually nice to see some more focus on him, even if he has been rather loathsome through most of the series.

Pete and Trudy were brought back together for the sake of their daughter's education. Tammy wasn't accepted into the private school that Pete's family has always gone to. Or sorta always gone to? Pete didn't even go there, but that's beside the point.

They had a meeting with the head master of the school. Pete and Trudy put on their most winning smiles and it still didn't do them any good. It turns out that Tammy didn't score well on the "Draw Man" test. To me, this sounded like some sophisticated upper class way to evaluate children. There must be lots of extreme tests and puzzles. That is not the case however - the test is actually exactly what it sounds like. Give a kid a piece of paper and ask him/her to draw a man (or person - I'm happy to see it is referred in this way now-a-days).

Tammy didn't draw enough body parts, so her score was low, but at least she remembered to draw a mustache. Unlike other people at SC&P, Pete is sans mustache, so he was instantly taken aback, inferring that Trudy is involved with a man who is rockin' a 'stache. Is that you Roger Sterling?

Ultimately, the headmaster just had it out for Pete and poor Tammy had to suffer. The end of the meeting almost turned into a brawl when the headmaster revealed that for centuries his family has feuded with the Campbell's (Pete's family). What a bizarre detail. Another case of the past effecting the present.

I never cared much about Pete and Trudy ending up back together. She rightfully divorced him after-all. In a scene back at her house, that all changed. Trudy seemed lost and alone. Plus, those two kids just seem right together. If Pete does a little groveling and produces some sort of grand gesture, I will accept her taking him back. He does seem to have changed for the better. Maybe he realized time is ticking away.

Another quasi-couple, which in this case is an office duo, are brought together by a child. Peggy and Stan, trying to hire some kids to help with an ad, had grouped them in a room with some toys. Looking uncomfortable and unsure what to do, Peggy authoritatively told them to play. It wasn't until goofy Stan stepped in, that the kids began to horse around.

Whenever Peggy is around children - most recently, that boy who she let watch TV in her apartment - we as an audience can't help but think about Peggy's enigmatic baby situation. She herself always seems to be thinking the same thing, making her act more awkward, instead of just being relaxed. But hey, not everyone is comfortable with kids, and that's okay too.

As mentioned earlier, one of these kids is left behind at the SC&P's office. Her mother was coming back, but no one knew when. Peggy and Stan ended up having to look after her. Being the "childless crazy adults" that they are, they didn't see the harm in a child playing with a stapler. And as luck would have it, the girl staples her finger, perfectly timed with her mother showing back up and making them look negligent.

The mother is furious, even though it's just a little staple. Peggy instantly judges this woman, who is all dolled up, just like the mom in Now & Then who is cruising around town looking like Nancy Sinatra. This agitation boils over into a big argument between the two, leading to the woman grabbing her daughter and storming out of the room.

This episode found  Peggy coming to several realizations about different parts of her life. After Pete told her about the company merger, Peggy decided to think about her future employment. Maybe she could find some place better than McCann and choose her own destiny. So, she asked for advice from a headhunter. She is great, who wouldn't want her as part of their team? The guy giving her career advice said that working for McCann is her best option.  Peggy seemed to think, so that's it? Is this everything I've been working for? Her dream of becoming the first female creative head at SC&P won't happen, but maybe it will at McCann.

Then she was finally faced with a situation where she couldn't avoid the topic of her child anymore. After the fight with that mother, Peggy was sitting in her office with Stan. She told him that it wasn't fair of her to automatically think that woman was a bad mother, because we never really know everything about other people's lives. Stan made - what he didn't know would be - an ill-timed joke that maybe he has some illegitimate child out there. Which lead to this great comment by Peggy:

"“But you don’t understand your mother! Maybe she was very young and followed her heart and got in trouble, and no one should have to make a mistake just like a man does and not be able to move on. She should be able to live the rest of her life just like a man does. Maybe you do what you thought was the best thing.”

With a dramatic pause, and a little curious eye from Stan, Peggy admitted she had given a boy up for adoption. Plus, she doesn't know where he is, because otherwise she would never be able to get on with her own life.

It's conversations like these that are really making me sad about Mad Men ending. There is no other show expressing these realities for women in such a matter of fact way. They happen, so let's talk about it. Also, after seeing Stan's sweet and caring response to Peggy's tough admission, how can they not be destined to be together?

The "little" people at SC&P are tackling some deep issues, but the partners were still off in la la land, commiserating like millionaires do, about their failed pitch over drinks. Joan and Pete left together and have a meaningful conversation in a taxi. Joan, rightfully so, is unsure that she will maintain the same level of respect at McCann. Pete on the other hand is very calm about the whole venture. This is really the episode where Pete tried his damnedest to be redeemed for past transgression. And you know what, it's really working.

Roger and Don, stayed at the bar and after awhile were looking a mess. You always know characters on this show are drunk because of their hair. "Business" means a slicked back look, but "intoxicated" means hair looking disheveled. Now that they're loosened up, they seemed to be accepting of this new business change. Right before Roger left to go meet up with Marie (aka Megan's mom/Don's ex mother in law), he grabbed hold of Don's face and said, "You are okay."

That endearment holds a lot of meaning to Don's life, because it has seemed that this is what he has been searching for - being okay. And still, he staggered off to find Diana, who left him a message, but now seemed to have disappeared again. Her apartment is even now rented by two men. Don, move on, buddy. You are not going to be okay if you keep digging around for people who are not interested.

Now that the partners were a little more at ease about their jobs, there is still the question of telling the rest of the office the truth.

Meredith had a major cow man, and if that usually meek woman was pissed about all the secrecy and rumors, just imagine how everyone else was feeling. The partners gathered everyone together to make the announcement about the merger to their employees and hopefully ease their minds.

But before Roger or Don could even finish speaking, everyone around them were already jabbering amongst themselves and began walking away looking annoyed and shaking their heads. Many of them were obviously concerned that they would still have jobs, something the main dudes didn't have to worry about.

Don, Roger, Pete, Ted, and Joan may have been the head of the company, but now they're just another voice lost in all the noise. Won't working for a big corporation be grand?

Until next time.

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