TV Review: Mad Men – Season 7 Episode 6 “The Strategy” (USA, 2014)

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What an episode! The Strategy stands up against some of the finest episodes of the entire series and will likely be looked back upon a defining moment of season 7. A whole lot happened in this one, by Mad Men standards of ‘a lot’, and much of focused on Don and Peggy.

Always the most fascinating male/female relationship of the show, Peggy has seemingly had it in for Don since his return to the office. Yet this is likely just her hitting out at ‘a man’, rather than at Don specifically. Hitting out due to frustrations in her personal, work and love life. And these frustrations were brought to the fore in one of the show’s most touching and human moments.

Before this though; the supporting players. Pete finally comes home to see Tammy and Trudy. Always the lesser-Draper, Pete’s life has finally become that which he thought he always wanted. He’s got company power, a new gorgeous lady and a family he can drop in on when he feels fit. Yet as Don himself realised years earlier, these dreams are only beautiful on the surface. His wife, Trudy, ignores him (with right!), his daughter doesn’t know him, and the woe this causes him causes fractures in his new relationship. He goes from happily joining the mile high club to having Bonnie walk away from him in a matter of days. Peggy’s struggles in this episode (and it is everyone’s struggles that make the final third of the episode so wonderful) are mainly work related, at least on the surface. Unable to nail the work for Burger Shack, it’s revealed that the beautiful family life she’s trying to pitch (and sell to) is exactly what she’s missing.

And the Draper second marriage is dead. This is time of death. Don may want to delay it by eating a beautiful breakfast and take his wife shopping (because of course it’s capitalist that can solve the problem eh Don?), but he must know deep down. Megan packing up her things, taking her fondue pot and planning to return to LA is it. Neither of them wants to admit it, but they both know in their cores that their relationship is done.

The beauty of these three parallel downward heading story lines is the conclusion to them. These episodes mirror the overall tone of this seasons so far- hell- the last dozen episodes going back into season six. This has been a dark stretch of TV. And then finally, we’re given a reprieve.

Don and Peggy’s drinking/working scene was a masterpiece. From their heartfelt confessions of fears of inadequacy to their own work mistakes, this was the scene the two needed to have. Peggy has always been the most essential woman in Don’s life. This marks the third beat in their relationship. From when she tried to make a move on him in the very first episode, to when she left the agency and took a bit of Don with her, this was the moment it was building to. When they finally agree on copy (and what copy!), it’s the exhalation of a lifetime. It’s corny, and like the ad, it’s meant to be. Take the Sinatra on the radio when Peggy and Don finally come up with their idea. I Did It My Way pipes into their room, “You think that’s a coincidence” Don says. No, obviously not. This is all part of Weiner’s master plan.

The seasons, as they’ve gone on, have copped flak from time to time for being too on the nose, or laying on the metaphor too heavily – for spoon feeding the audience. I’ve long held the belief that this is meant to tie in to the 1960s themselves. The time for subtlety is gone – subtext became text. Protests became more violent and overt- a folk song wasn’t enough anymore. In telling us rather than showing us, Mad Men is actually showing us more than ever.

Whether the conclusion to this episode was a reprise from the depression or a sign of nicer tones to come, it was what we needed. And entirely a brilliantly calculated move from Weiner and Co. The happiness the three feel at the end of the episode, pure American happiness in a fast food restaurant, mimics the reality extrapolated from Don & Peggy’s ad. From the overly saccharine colours to the textbook cliché “you have some sauce on your face” “oh this side?” teehee moments, this ending was sappy soap-opera perfection. The artificial became the reality, if only for a moment, just to show how damn well the team work together. Pete score the accounts and Peggy and Don nail the creative. This might seem on the nose, and it is, again- this is entirely Weiner’s game. “Does that family exist anywhere?” Peggy asked Don earlier in the episode- it might not, but they can sure try to create it.

Loose End Observations:

  • Bob Benson is back! So lovely to see him, and it speaks to the episode’s strengths that he and Joan’s moment, wonderful as it was, was overshadowed.
  • Peggy and Don working together; is there a better dynamic on TV right now? I would gladly watch a spinoff of the two of them just drafting copy and drinking.
  • Lovely to see Alison Brie back as well. Trudy’s role has become increasingly small as the story has gone on, but it was great to see her back at all.
  • The final image of those three loners, whose family lives are just not where they wanted them to be, enjoying a meal was beautiful. There was a powerful soap opera level of catharsis to derive from that.
  • Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

    Mad Men airs Mondays, 4:35pm (repeated 8:35pm) on showcase

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