Mad Men, Season Seven, Episode Eleven: Time & Life

Mad Men cover

by Linda Beail and Lilly Goren

Like so much else that has transpired during the final episodes of Mad Men, tonight’s episode, Time & Life, takes the plot twist that had worked so well at the end of the third season—in Shut the Door. Have a Seat as the partners essentially stole the advertising agency from their British corporate overlords (Putnum, Powell & Lowe) over the holiday weekend—and re-created a much less successful version of the same idea.  Not only is Sterling Cooper losing its offices in the Time Life Building, but their executives are discovering that the passage of time changes many things in life.  What worked in the past now seems tired and doomed to failure.

The episode (which, in a nice twist, is directed by Jared Harris, the actor who played late office administrator Lane Pryce who hung himself in the office in the fifth season) finds the partners who are still at Sterling Cooper having cold water thrown on their face by McCann-Erickson, their new corporate owners. Sterling Cooper, the subsidiary of McCann-Erickson, made the partners a lot of money in a deal to keep Don employed and to squeeze Jim Cutler out of running the agency. It all seemed too good to be true, and it was. McCann has every intention of absorbing Sterling Cooper—or at least the bits and pieces that it wants, and probably shedding the parts that it doesn’t want—like Joan and Dawn. Peggy doesn’t want to go to McCann, Stan doesn’t know what to do. Roger doesn’t want to go to McCann, and Don has never wanted to work there. Ted is just happy not to be in California and not to be in the driver’s seat any more. But Joan senses the real pitfalls for her in this new twist to the deal.

The main narrative arc in Time & Life is the attempt to essentially make the case to keep Sterling Cooper & Partners an independent subsidiary of McCann, as had been promised to Roger Sterling when he initially struck the deal. In all likelihood, McCann had been planning this absorption from the initial deal but Roger, as had been noted by Bert Cooper just before he died, was never enough of a leader; he often couldn’t see beyond his more selfish and immediate desires. Cooper had him pegged fairly accurately, even if Roger was disappointed by the assessment. And Roger, like Don and Pete, thinks they can persuade McCann. McCann isn’t interested in being persuaded—they have the money and the power and they make a nominal pitch to the SCP partners that they have died and gone to advertising heaven. Alas, the partners look like they are at a funeral but decidedly not going to heaven. The striking final shot of the scene, with the five partners from SCP, is an inverse of the memorable visual in the season five finale (The Phantom) of the partners standing in the empty space they are renting and going to build out as their new advertising agency expands. Then, they were standing, looking out the windows on the limitless horizon, with their backs to the camera as the audience shared the view over their shoulders at the future beyond.  Now the partners are sitting down at the conference table, looking downcast and depressed as they face the camera. They’ve been lowered and we are compelled to look directly at their disappointment and stunned failure.

What we have been watching since the second half of the final season started is the attempts by most of the main characters to do the same things that they have done in the past, that have succeeded, but meeting with failure instead of the anticipated success. Don and Pete have this conversation, in New Business, as they are driving to the golf course, about starting anew and Pete wonders how many times one can start again and succeed. We have seen Don, in the past few episodes, trying to work the same Don Draper magic (on Di, on Peggy, on Ted, on Sally, etc.), and failing. Mathis explained to him that Don had long succeeded because he was handsome, but at some point it just wouldn’t work any more. Now we see it fail more than succeed.   In Time & Life, Don is even prevented from finishing his pitch in the McCann meeting. Roger and Pete won’t let him try to persuade Ken Cosgrove; it won’t make a difference. The Draper charm isn’t working any more, but then neither is anyone else’s charm. Even California, Don’s perennial answer of where to go for a fresh start – “it’s a gold rush out there” – fails to deliver, as it is no longer the golden place where dreams can come true.

In another dimension of this same narrative, Pete Campbell and Trudy try to make a face-to-face pitch on behalf of their daughter Tammy to Greenwich Country Day School, which seems opposed to admitting her to kindergarten. Apparently Mr. MacDonald, the headmaster at the school, had ancestors who were killed by ancestors of Pete’s based on an order given by King George III during the Revolutionary period. What we have learned about Pete, over the years, is that his aristocratic heritage has protected him, his position, and his family. Bert gave Don and Roger a lecture in season one about how they couldn’t fire Pete Campbell because of who his mother was. Campbell was hired because of his name, his position, and his connections—in many ways the opposite of Don. Trudy tells the real estate agent about the Dykemans when they are trying to find an appropriate apartment in Manhattan much earlier in the series. In Time & Life, it is exactly who Pete is and whom his family was that had soured Greenwich Country Day School on him and his daughter Tammy. The headmaster even encourages Trudy to be thankful that she can marry again and shed the last name “Campbell” before Pete lunges at him and punches him in the mouth.

Later in the episode, after the failure of the McCann meeting, Don and Roger find themselves, side by side at the bar, drunk and disheveled. Roger notes the end of his name—through the demise of his company and the fact that his only child is his daughter, Margaret, who has already shed his name.  Roger also reveals to Don, again an inversion of the scene between Don and Roger in Shut the Door. Have a Seat, that he is going home to his new paramour, Marie Calvert, Megan’s mother. In season three, Roger had revealed to Don that Betty was seeing Henry Francis. Once again Roger is revealing personal information that involves Don to Don.  After Roger leaves the bar, Don goes into the night in quest of Di. But finds instead, in her dingy apartment, two gay men. The scene of Don coming through the dark hallway calls back to the very first episodes of Mad Men, when Don would turn up at Midge’s apartment in the Village late in the evening, looking for her to welcome him into her bed without questions or demands. He seemed to have hoped to recreate that with Di, but she has fled, leaving her furniture but no forwarding address or phone number. Don is at a loss.

Just like the men, the women in this episode all grapple with time and change as well.  Trudy complains to Pete that she has no friends out in Greenwich because, as a divorcee, the husbands of other women won’t leave her alone.  However, she notes wistfully that “in ten years, everyone will leave me alone.”  While Pete protests that she’s ageless, Trudy shakes her head, knowing her social/sexual value has an expiration date. Joan is realizing that her hard-earned partnership will be worth nothing after the move to McCann.  Jim Hobart mentions accounts for each of the other partners at their meeting (Buick, Ortho-Pharmaceutical, Nabisco, Coca-Cola), but to Joan he is conspicuously silent.  As she says to Pete later, “We both know they are never going to take me seriously over there.” Given her horrendous meeting with Peggy and the McCann boys over Topaz pantyhose, we have every reason to believe her fears are well founded.  The move from the Time Life Building will erase the gains she’s made in earning both respect and accounts, turning back the clock on her career progress.

Peggy, who shares no scene with Don in this episode, is also concerned about the move to McCann, but mostly because she doesn’t want to work at a giant corporate agency. She warms to the idea more than Joan does because the headhunter she meets with indicates that she needs to get some of the experience that a big firm like McCann will give her, and her salary will increase substantially by working at McCann. Peggy’s outlook about the McCann absorption, in some distinction to those all around her, is more positive—she sees opportunity where the older partners, even Pete (who divulges the information to her as they sit, in his office, their clothes singing to each other through the blue painting behind them), see mostly despair.

Interestingly, while some sense of loyalty or previous intimacy leads Pete to tell Peggy the secret of McCann’s takeover, Peggy’s sense of connection or trust leads her to tell Stan of the upcoming change.  The secret from Pete looks back at the past, but in Peggy’s divulging it to Stan, are we perhaps looking forward?

Peggy and Stan’s discussion of the takeover is interrupted by the child actor in her office stapling her thumb, and the ensuing yelling match between Peggy and the child’s mother over appropriate caretaking.    Later, Peggy and Stan argue about the incident.  Stan misunderstands Peggy’s emotions, thinking she is angry and regretful at not having children, but urges her to look at all she’s accomplished in her career.  Peggy tells him he doesn’t understand at all, and shouldn’t judge.  He says his own mother wasn’t that great, and Peggy protests:  “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.”  Stan has the dawning realization that Peggy is talking about herself.  It’s a poignant scene, not rushed by either actor, and so much is communicated in the silences.  When Stan finally asks her what she did, Peggy replies simply that she’s “here” and he’s with a family somewhere.  She doesn’t know where the baby is, “but not because I don’t care.  I don’t know because you’re not supposed to know.  Or you can’t go on with your life.”   Once again, the themes of self-reinvention and how much one is trapped by (or can escape) the past emerge, but with the reflection on gender difference and expectations adding another twist.

It’s worth noting that during Peggy and Stan’s conversation, Acker Blick’s instrumental “Stranger on the Shore” begins playing.  This is the third time the show has used this music: first in episode 2.13, Meditations in an Emergency, when an already-pregnant Betty Draper has sex with a stranger in a Manhattan bar, and again in episode 6.11, Favors, when Don has a drink in bar with Dr. Arnold Rosen, whose wife Don is having a secret affair with.   The scene is this current episode is also harking back to illicit sex (between Peggy and Pete, which resulted in the baby given up for adoption).  But this time, a secret is being revealed, and to someone who perhaps will be trustworthy.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t know that,” Stan responds gently to Peggy’s story.  Peggy braces herself, takes a drink and stands to leave, telling him there’s lots he doesn’t know about lots of people.  But he stands too, and stops her, making it personal rather than general.  His apology isn’t for judging others; it’s for not knowing something so essential about her, a person he respects and cares about.  The end of the episode shows them on the phones in their offices, staying on the line just to keep each other company, as Peggy discloses that she’s going to work for McCann and inviting him to come along.

In contrast to the previous three episodes, the final scene of Time & Life at least leaves Don surrounded by others, but in the process of being pushed out of his advertising agency. All of the Sterling Cooper employees are gathered, as Don and Roger announce the move to McCann.  But as Don tries to make a pitch to the employees at Sterling Cooper that “this is the beginning of something, not the end,” no one is listening.  The murmurs of the crowd grow louder, and Don looks bewildered as the secretaries begin milling down the stairs, not even pretending to hear his authoritative voice.  Time is passing, life is changing, and roles are shifting.  Strategies that worked in the past no longer succeed, and the voice that moved clients and commanded respect is literally drowned out – while back in their locked offices, Peggy and Stan’s shared silence connects them.

–Linda Beail and Lilly Goren are co-editors of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America, Bloomsbury Publishers, March 2015.

“I just root for the underdog”: Mad Men, Season 7, Episode 10 – The Forecast: Nostalgia, Generations and the Future

Mad Men cover

by Linda Beail and Lilly Goren

Last night’s episode was a fascinating and perhaps hopeful narrative – even with Glen Bishop shipping off to war. The episode focused on imagining one’s future, and high-lighted conflicts among and between generations. Don is Sally’s father, but he is also acting as the parent mediating between Pete and Peggy as they continue to clash over the Peter Pan/Tinkerbell account. Betty is operating as Sally’s mother, instructing her about the trip that Sally is about to take through the United States. But the tables turn, as Sally is critiquing both Don and Betty for their egoism and self-centeredness. Betty and Sally clash over the Vietnam War—another generational conflict, even if it is a predictable one. Glen Bishop is trying to move into Betty’s generation—he always has, and joining the Army is how he is going to do this in 1970. Supporting the war and choosing to enlist is entre he sees into Betty’s realm. Glen wants to be the kind of hero who went to World War II—protecting the country, being brave. Glen’s step-dad is so proud of his stepson’s choice to join up. But Glen’s decision turns out not simply to be about becoming the man he thinks Betty knows he can be; he has flunked out of college, and enlists before he can be drafted.  He is out of options, and is trying to make the best of a desperate situation.  Even his pass at Betty “was going to be the good thing that came out of all this.”  The forecast for his future in heading to Vietnam in 1970 may be grim, but with his own dreams shattered he attempts to at least grasp at the daydream of Betty, or some moral (not just sitting home getting stoned) or patriotic rationale for what his wartime experience might mean, before he ships out.

The younger generation keeps putting the older generation in an uncomfortable situation—from Sally’s friend Sarah who keeps flirting with Don, to Glen’s pass at Betty, to the reality of Joan’s motherhood that Richard initially can’t accept. Joan’s articulation and performance of feminism, only at that moment becoming a real option for women like her (and Peggy), is encapsulated in her explanation to Richard that she works not because she has mouths to feed (though she actually does), but because “I just finally got the job I always wanted.”  This trajectory of increased possibilities is highlighted and reemphasized by Don’s questioning of Peggy, and then of Sally and her friends, about what they want to do in the future. These queries get real answers of the kind that were only starting to be normalized—even Don’s admonition to Sally that she has a pretty face, but that she should be more than that is a breaking from the past, indicating that she should choose options beyond what her mother chose to do (as even Betty is now opting for a possible career with her return to graduate school).

The “forecast” of the episode’s title is perhaps most straightforwardly the “nice Gettysburg Address type speech” that Roger asks Don to write about the future of the agency for a McCann executive retreat.  Don spends much of the episode thinking about how to imagine the agency’s future, and asking colleagues like Ted and Peggy for their ideas.  When they both give him answers about landing bigger accounts or becoming famous for coining a catchphrase, he presses them further.  Peggy responds that she’d like to create something of lasting value, Don laughs bemusedly, “In advertising?”  Peggy responds that this conversation is supposed to be about her job, not the meaning of life, and Don queries, “So you think those things are unrelated?”  His question indicates how much purpose is bound up in work for these characters – what else is there? – and perhaps both his hope and his cynicism that anything of lasting value can be created.

Don is also moving toward a different future by selling the penthouse apartment he shared with Megan during their marriage.  His real estate agent, Melanie, bears a striking resemblance to his first wife, Betty.  Her voice, as she snaps at a still-sleeping Don to wake up and get out before potential buyers arrive and nags him about replacing his stained carpet, sounds very much like Betty’s pitch and inflection.  Her short blond hair is teased and flipped up on the ends in the same hairdo that we see on Betty throughout the episode, and their style of dress is similar.  Most tellingly, two of the shots of the opening conversation between Don and Melanie are created by not showing her directly, but as reflected in a mirror as she speaks to Don; she is a reflection of his first wife, and from the distance the mirror creates, posed with her hand on her hip as Betty often does, the call back is unmistakable.  After two episodes of the dark-haired Diana reminding us of Don’s relationships with Megan, Midge Daniels, Rachel Menken, Sylvia Rosen, and even perhaps the young whore from his childhood, now we have the circling back to his marriage to Betty.  Is there any possibility of a new forecast for Don’s relationships?  Or is he destined to keep looping back around through his past?  One not-so-hopeful indication is Don’s response to the tag line for Tinkerbell Cookies:  “Love again?”  He dismisses it as a concept with little value:  “Kids won’t get it and adults won’t hear it.”  How true, in this show, that children do not understand or receive the love they so desperately want, and that adults can’t sense or accept it when it might be offered, as they are so often isolated or at cross purposes.

The apartment itself “reeks of failure,” its emptiness an indication that a sad, lonely person lives there.  Don tells Melanie not to blame him if she can’t sell it.  Its emptiness is just an opportunity for imagination.  In true Don Draper fashion, he tells her to make up a good story for potential buyers, with “a little glamour, a little hope.”  She quashes his vision – of both the apartment, and of himself – by saying she isn’t a magician.  People are looking with eyes wide open at a place, and a man, who “got divorced, spilled wine on the carpet and didn’t care enough to replace it.  Even for himself.”  This view of Don, so different than the version of the story he tells himself, is reiterated at work in his conversation with Mathis, who has insulted a client and gotten kicked off the account.  After taking Don’s advice to brazen it out with humor and charm, rather than apologizing, he is fired.  Don tells him he should take responsibility for his failure and that he has no character, but Mathis stuns him into speechless reflection when he accuses Don of being the one with no character.  “You’re just handsome.  Stop kidding yourself.”  Whether from his real estate agent, his employee, or his daughter who accuses him of oozing all over everyone whenever someone pays him the slightest attention, even if it’s one of her underage friends, Don keeps getting shown a picture of himself that isn’t flattering.  The prognostication is grim.

The episode puts Joan in some parallel comparison with Don, as she heads off to California and mistakes a stranger for a potential employee while interviewing candidates for the L.A. office. But the man, Richard Burghoff, is intrigued by Joan and charms her into going to dinner and then to bed with him.  Joan treats the encounter like a one-night stand—again, in parallel to Don—but Richard shows up in New York and wants to see her again.  It’s lovely to see Joan falling for someone who seems to truly appreciate her.  However, Richard is a newly divorced and recently retired real estate developer who is relishing being “free as a bird” to do things he put off earlier in life.  When Joan tells him she has a four-year-old son, he reacts angrily:  “This is not how I saw things.  I have a plan, which is no plans!”  His forecast for his future is one without those kinds of responsibilities.  Joan, too, is struggling with the weight of balancing her career, her romance, and her mothering.  When her babysitter arrives late the next morning, Joan yells, “You’re ruining my life!”  Though she seems to be screaming at the babysitter, she’s looking right at Kevin in the nanny’s arms.  Given that Richard has broken it off with her because of her son, her resentment and confusion seem to be actually directed at her little boy.  But Joan and Richard’s story seems to end on a hopeful note:

Richard shows up at her office with flowers to apologize and ask to try again, in an interesting reflection of both Bob Benson’s proposal to her and her opening up of Kevin’s life to Roger Sterling when Roger comes to Thanksgiving dinner.  Richard admits he wants to be part of both her life and her son’s, despite how it might be different than the relationship he anticipated:  “I don’t want to be rigid.  It makes you old.”  Open to flexibility, change, and unexpected opportunities, Richard breaks free of his previous demands and assumptions.  The shot of the two of them agreeing to continue their relationship (without Joan being forced to choose between her son and her lover) shows them both in the same frame, neither in the foreground or background but from the side, smiling straight into one another’s eyes: symbolically equal partners.

Unlike last week, when Don was adrift in the midst of his empty apartment, this week’s episode closes with him outside his penthouse apartment, looking again towards the future, and searching again for a new home. Dick Whitman was taken from his home on the night of his birth, and Don has never seemed to feel grounded, to be at home, yet he has often been looking for that place. He should listen to Peggy’s selling of Burger Chef, and see just whom his family is, even if it is unconventional and not stationed within a structure known as a home.  This shot of Don framed by his closed apartment doorway can been seen in contrast to the open door final frame from season 4, episode 7, The Suitcase, when Don/Dick also had to start anew without what he had before, without Anna Draper, since she had died in the course of the episode. He was then burdened with his excessive drinking, and his unmarried life, and his struggle to create his own future. He spends the entire episode here trying to create the idea for the future of the agency but also thinking about his own future. He has no love interest at the moment, he will need to find a new abode and since he has no furniture, he will again have to recreate his home. Each of the three “end of an era” episodes this spring have ended with shots of Don alone – in the diner, in his empty living room, and now moved out into the hallway of his former home, with the door firmly closed in his face as new owners sign the paperwork.

In yet another call back to episodes early in the series,

this episode has Don lying on his office couch, speaking into Dictaphone.  The scene is filmed from the ceiling, directly above him, so he looks almost like he is floating as he intones the opening of the Gettysburg Address. “Four score and seven years ago. We know where we’ve been, we know where we are.  Let’s assume that it’s good.  (Sighs) But it’s got to get better.  It’s supposed to get better.”  His musing echoes his earlier conversation with Ted when he asks, “What’s the future going to bring?  It’s good as it is, but is there a scenario in which it’s better?”  These queries pull us back to American political history.  The Gettysburg address is acknowledged to be a rhetorical refounding of the country by Lincoln, at a time of great division.  Certainly the narrative about Glen Bishop moving from opposition to the Vietnam War to participating in it echoes the divisions of the Civil War – a country divided against itself in so many ways, in the 1860s and 1960s.  The Gettysburg Address also makes redemptive meaning out of the past and its violence, and sets the country on a path toward hopeful progress and reconciliation, though the promises of Gettysburg may be seen as unfulfilled by the following century of continued racial violence, injustice and exclusion and regional factionalism.  Don “assumes” that where the agency (and the country) have been is good—and his own “rags to riches” embodiment of that assumption is pointedly articulated at dinner with Sally and her friends.  After all, Mad Men has been about the rise of America as a superpower, the peace and consumer prosperity of the post-WWII world as it moves into the 1960s.  Yet the show has also shown us the cracks, fissures and unfulfilled people and promises of that era, with Sally’s and Mathis’ critiques of Don highlighting his failings, the attractive surface that covers over many faults.  So perhaps we cannot rely on knowledge that the past and present are “good,” even if we assume it, just as we may think about the political dilemmas of our own time with ambivalence.  Insisting “it’s got to get better.  It’s supposed to get better,” Don echoes our own classically liberal insistence on progress and faith in the future.  But if this show has communicated anything, it is that our own nostalgia or even perception of the past may be flawed, and that the future is not disconnected from our past identities and actions.  The future may be better, as it perhaps will be for Joan and Richard, or for Sally, or even (we may hope) for Vietnam-bound Glen to come back safely.  But the future is fragile, and precarious, and can often reflect back to us our past, or be hindered by our inability to imagine anything greater than bigger accounts or a new slogan.

–Linda Beail and Lilly Goren are co-editors of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America, Bloomsbury Publishers, March 2015.

Featured New Scholarship: Gender and Political Psychology

By Meredith Conroy

As you may have seen announced this month from around the web, the current issue of Politics, Groups and Identities is a special issue, featuring scholarship on gender and political psychology. You can presently access the current issue for free, and we encourage you to do so. The special issue features seven original articles that look at political ideology and the gender gap, sex differences in intergroup anxiety related to political deliberation, political incorporation differences between latinas and latino men, sex differences in attitudes about race, Affirmative Action and voting for women, sources and effects of feminine stereotypes, and the explicit role of attitudes about women in voting for women. From this issue, I decided to feature the article “Who Stereotypes Female Candidates? Identifying Individual Differences in Feminine Stereotype Reliance,” by Nichole M. Bauer.

Subfield: Gender and Politics

Research Question: What individual level characteristics affect whether a voter relies on feminine stereotypes to evaluate women running for political office? The scholarship on the role of feminine stereotypes on women’s electoral chances is immense. More and more, the view is that public attitudes about women are changing, and that stereotypes about women as being better suited to the home are family life, have gone the way of the cassette tape (or the dodo). Yet one need only log on to Facebook, in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she is running for president, to recognize that stereotypes about women in politics persist and abound, usually to the detriment of politically ambitious women. In her article, Bauer suggests that its neither that the public has overcome stereotype reliance, or still relies on stereotypes time and time again, but instead it is more likely that certain individuals rely on stereotypes about women, while others do not. Bauer’s goal, then, is to identify the variables that lead some individuals to rely on stereotypes. Her main independent variables are attention to politics, and party identification, strength of partisanship, and voter sex. Her main dependent variable is a measure of feminine stereotyping, which asks respondents to place a candidate on a scale ranging from zero to seven on  measure of (1) strong-weak, (2) harsh-lenient, (3) hard-soft, (4) cold-warm, and (5) distant-caring, where the former is a more masculine assessment of the candidate and the latter is a more feminine assessment of the candidate.

Method: Bauer uses a survey experimental design to assess the degree to which differences in individual characteristics influences the degree to which individuals rely on feminine stereotypes. Respondents were asked to consider a female and a male for a congressional seat, who were otherwise identical.

Findings: Bauer finds that those voters who are less attentive to the news, more politically knowledgeable, non-partisan, or weak partisans, and men are more likely to rely on feminine stereotypes. Furthermore, those who do rely on stereotypes are less supportive of female candidates. Bauer’s recognition that stereotype reliance varies from individual to individual is an important one. In this article she does an excellent job of identifying some of the sources of stereotype reliance. As she notes, the seemingly contradictory findings re: attention to news, and political knowledge, are confounding. Furthermore, subsequent research may seek to identify the mechanisms underlying those variables identified as contributing to feminine stereotype reliance.

Mad Men, Season 7, Episode 9: New Business: Punishments and New Beginnings

Mad Men cover

by Linda Beail and Lilly Goren

As an audience, we have become used to Don Draper/Dick Whitman punishing himself. We have seen it over the course of quite a few seasons. Last night’s episode is about punishment—and while Don is punished by others, he does not punish himself. Thematically, we hear and even see how divorce is a form of punishment, especially by wives. Roger makes cutting remarks early in the episode, about Jane, his second wife, who cost him so much to divorce because she wanted to punish him. Pete, who has also recently experienced divorce, says the same thing—that divorce is a form of punishment. This episode is also about “New Business,” as the title indicates. Lots of things start: Don and Diana’s dating relationship, a new photographer named Pima working on an account for Peggy, life after their marriage for Don and Megan (who comes to New York to retrieve the last of her things from Don’s apartment), Betty going back to school for a graduate degree in psychology, an attempt to get a new agent and revitalize her career for Megan. But as Pete says in the car as he complains about his punishing divorce and lack of a date for client dinners to Don: “ You think you’re going to begin your life over and do it right. But what if you never get past the beginning again?” All Don can do is sigh, “Keep your eyes on the road.” Life is zooming past, perhaps not allowing him to start over and get it right.

Don has had a lot of new beginnings: life after Dick Whitman, marriage after Betty with Megan, a resurrection of his career after being put on leave. But the “new business” of this episode is not a rebirth. These beginnings are transactional in nature, and as Pete observes, sometimes you don’t get the opportunity to start over and do it right. Don is left wondering if he might be stuck back at the beginning again—though, at the same time, we had learned in season five, from Dr. Faye Miller, that Don often only likes the beginnings of things. The episode opens with Don making milkshakes for his sons in Betty and Henry Francis’ kitchen. When they return from an evening out and it’s time for Don to end his evening with his children, he pauses in the doorway. Henry and Betty are already engaged in ordinary banter with the children, as Henry remarks that he’ll make a milkshake of his own. Don blinks, seeming to realize all at once that he has given up his place in this family, but home life goes on; the “new business” of making a family is happening, but without Don in the picture. He is shut out, back at the beginning, having to start over – but can he?

Marie Calvet, Megan Draper’s mother, is punishing her philandering husband by taking up with Roger, while trying to make sure that Don is punished (even if Megan won’t do it herself) by taking all of his furniture and cleaning out his apartment of all his possessions. Megan’s sister, who we discern to be quite Catholic and positions herself as superior to her sister because she is a mother, is also punishing of Megan—noting that Megan’s situation is a failure. Megan herself doesn’t view it that way until after she catches her mother and Roger in the aftermath of their illicit liaison at Don’s apartment. After seeing both their willingness to use each other, and her mother’s effort to give Megan all Don’s possessions because that’s what she deserves after Don “ruined” her, Megan seems to change and enter into this new business of exacting revenge and satisfaction. She castigates Don, accepts a large sum of money from him (in addition to keeping his furniture), and even praises her mother for leaving her father for an assignation with Roger: “She’s been unhappy for years. At least she finally did something about it.” Roger’s attraction to Marie Calvet, it should be noted, has to do with business – of revenge against Don and of commodities. “Bring cash!” Marie hisses to Roger when she summons him to Don’s empty apartment. She needs to pay the movers for filling up their truck; she pays Roger back in sexual favors.

Pima, the new and avant-garde photographer Peggy hires for a shoot, makes a sexual play for Stan and then later, for Peggy as well. Under the guise of creative acumen and erotic desire, Pima attempts to secure further employment. Peggy is the first to come out from under her thrall, noting that Pima was less about art, and more about advertising – the business of commodifying desire, not consummating it.

Harry Crane also tries to use sex as a commodity and to punish Don—by swooping in, and saving Megan, but Megan turns down his attempt to get her on the proverbial casting couch. Harry then goes to Don and, trying to save himself before Don hears anything from Megan, goes on to try to punish Megan for not accepting his advances. Harry explains that Megan is crazy and hysterical and should never have quit her job on the soap opera in New York and moved to L.A. Don mostly ignores Harry, except for the final remark about Megan’s choice to quit and move to L.A. – of course Harry does not know that Megan quit the soap opera because she and Don were going to move to California together. Don seems to recognize he has potentially undermined Megan’s career, recalling Roger’s earlier ironic comments about Jane, but understanding the reality of the situation for Megan.

In an effort to no longer fight with Megan and abide by his commitment to provide her with the life she deserves, sitting at the lawyer’s office, Don writes a check for one million dollars and passes it to Megan. Her reaction is in keeping with what we know about Don Draper, “I know this is not real, nothing about you is.” This second marriage ends with echoes of the same accusations and disillusionment on his wife’s part as his first marriage did. Don is trying to do the right thing—but is stuck beginning again, and can only offer cash to Megan to start the business of rebuilding her life.

Megan is angry at Harry and angry at Don, and spitefully tells him that he is an “aging, sloppy, selfish liar.” Don seems aware of this critique and might even think it is true, but this is not an episode where he punishes himself. Megan’s accusation raises the question, though, if Don can ever change for the better.

There is also call back to the final episode of season one, The Wheel, in the midst of the growing intimacy between Don and Diana. It is from Don’s most famous pitch, to Kodak, and his explaining what nostalgia means as he narrates the function of Kodak’s slide wheel to take us back home again, in our emotions and memories. Di notes that she has a feeling, a pain in her chest—Don asks her if it is a twinge, almost word for word the beginning of his pitch to Kodak. We learn later, from Di, that it was that feeling that made her decide she could not continue with Don, she had briefly felt something beyond the tragedy of losing her daughter to the flu and abandoning her other daughter. She could not allow herself to feel emotions that weren’t punishing her, or making her feel guilty. She lives in a small, dingy room, which calls back to the rooms that we see in Don’s flashbacks to his life in the whorehouse, with reddish wallpaper and the omnipresent and somewhat ornate bed in the midst of the room. Unlike the promise of the “The Wheel” to use that twinge to take us back to the place we long to go, though, Diana resists that circling back to begin again. She refuses the feelings she has with Don, feelings that push her forward out of numbness and grief, ending her relationship with him before it can get past its beginning.

The final scene of the episode is Don, standing in sunken center of he empty living room, adrift in the middle of his apartment. No furniture, no lovers, no wives, no booze. His life and his apartment are empty, ready for a new beginning. But can he start over and do it right? Or is it too late for rebirth – and merely time to keep his eyes on the road as his life passes by, and begin the transactions again?

Linda Beail and Lilly Goren are co-editors of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America, Bloomsbury Publishers, March 2015.