Mad Men Season 7 Episode 6 recap

Mad Men Art
Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap.

Episode title: “The Strategy.” Ostensibly, this calls to mind the strategy for Burger Chef, but I think it also refers to Bob Benson and Joan, McCann/Roger, Cutler and Phillip Morris, and ultimately Don.

I don’t know when the episode takes place, but maybe early to mid-summer based on Bonnie coveting the air conditioning and Don saying he’d be back in California at the end of July and it not seeming too far away. Let’s say mid to late June? (That said, Oh! Calcutta! the theater revue Bonnie and Pete were going to go to didn’t debut until June 17, so maybe it’s later in June?

One of the major themes of the episode was sexism, how women are treated, etc. The first scene, when Peggy was doing market research, she couldn’t get anything from the woman because the woman needed to beat her husband home. Picking up fast food was an issue because the woman was already supposed to cook.
“Bad enough I’m not making dinner.” Don was going to take Megan shopping and Pete told Bonnie he wanted her “shopping all day and screwing all night.” I don’t know why the writers would have both of them say it.
“Who gives mom’s permission? Dads.” The entire pitch of Burger Chef originally was couched in the idea that it needed to be OK for moms/families to eat there instead of a home cooked meal. Then, once they have a pitch everyone’s happy with (for the time being), Pete wants Don to do the pitch. “Don will give authority, you’ll give emotion.” While Peggy is, “Every bit as good as any woman in this business,” she’s not good enough to close the deal? On the pitch, Lou is happy to perpetuate the status quo, like a fucking chump. “It’s nice to see family happiness again.” Peggy is good enough at her job to know that while the pitch is acceptable, it’s not the best they can do.

Another storyline on the theme of a woman’s role is Bob Benson proposing to Joan. They have a great relationship, and it hasn’t been entirely clear (especially because he hasn’t been on this season) he was grooming her to be his beard. Joan reveals she knew all along Bob was into men. “Bob, put that away.” He was shocked she didn’t accept the proposal based on the fact he was offering her more than anyone else (his words). In his mind, a woman needed a husband. “I want love, and I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement.” Joan tenderly suggests Bob deserves that, too. “America needs engineers.” The smarmy Chevy VP who laid it on thick with Joan turns out to be gay and calls Bob Benson to bail him out when he gets arrested for it. I don’t know how he knew Bob Benson was gay, and I don’t know why I can’t just call him Bob or Benson, but Bob Benson. In exchange for bailing him out, the exec tells Bob SCP is going to lose Chevy, and Bob Benson will be hired at Buick.

Bonnie and Pete join the Mile High Club, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” I can’t quite understand what Bonnie saw in Pete, and Pete is clearly still tied up in Trudy. Rather, Pete doesn’t like something not going his way, and Trudy not sticking with him, despite his terrible husbandness, is Pete not getting his way. “I don’t like you in New York.” It’s true, California Pete is happy. This episode follows a series long habit of lulling the audience into sympathy for Pete for a few episodes before making him out to be a royal asshole in one episode. Getting Don to pitch instead of Peggy, being a jerk to Trudy, and then a jerk to Bonnie was asshole Pete in all his glory. Bonnie seemed interested things with Pete being more serious, but that’s not where his head was at.

“You really got to keep an eye on him.” Ken Cosgrove doesn’t disappoint.
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Let it not be said Lou Avery’s Tiki bar went unmentioned in this recap.
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Bonnie and Megan flying home on the same flight.
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“Say what you will, but he’s very loyal.” So I guess Harry Crane finally got what he wanted. I should have more to say about this.
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I suppose Bonnie reminds me of what Betty would be like if she was less of a child and more responsible.
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Roger in the steam room with a rival exec. I was unclear if he was trying to hire Roger or Don or buy SCP. Roger seems to figure out what he wanted at the end of the episode, so that’s good. I love it when a plan comes together. Cutler’s ploy to bring in a cigarette company to force out Don is fairly savvy, but Don has a strategy? “Stop thinking about Don and start thinking about the company.”

Which leaves us with Don. Megan visits and, I must have missed an episode somewhere, I’ve never, ever understood why Peggy likes her so much. She always has and it seems very out of character to me. “I didn’t know he was married.” Oh, Marcia, are you trying to get him in trouble? Speaking of trouble, Bonnie went right to Don’s office. What was that about? Not sure I can describe this well, but remember when Pete called Bonnie to tell her to go to the show without him, and then the next scene was the phone ringing at Don’s? Didn’t you think that was going to be Bonnie on the phone? In any case, Don wakes up and wistfully sees Megan out on the balcony. (There’s that balcony again! Watch, the series is going to end and nothing will have happened on that balcony.) At another point, he’s watching her pack up her things, making her move to the West Coast more official, more permanent. Don was also looking at the newspaper from the day after JFK was killed. It was uncovered during Megan’s packing, but I’m not quite sure what the allusion was. Maybe everything’s falling apart.

At the beginning of the episode, Don’s being the good team member, supporting Peggy even when Pete puts him on the spot. Peggy’s still mad at him, and eventually I’ll re-watch last season to remember why. It’s obvious why Lou doesn’t want him in that meeting. There’s a reckoning coming, Lou, just be aware. When Don finds out he’s supposed to do the pitch, he celebrates like a kid, pumping his fist. He’s doing the work like Freddy told him to, and it’s starting to pay off. He also puts a bug in Peggy’s ear that there may be another way to do the pitch, which ruins her weekend. (Peggy tells him to mention the tag at the end of the pitch like he just thought of it. “Do I do that?” I realized just now that line reminded me of the character Jon Hamm played on 30 Rock who is oblivious to how good looking he is.) On Saturday morning, she smokes a cigarette and calls Stan from Stan’s office. Later on, she’s drinking in Lou’s office where Don finds her. “It’s poisoned because you expressed yourself!” Peggy said she never would have done that, but Don explains the not knowing, being OK with not knowing, is how to get where he got. She asks him to, “Tell me what your saves the day plan is.” She’s finally willing to forgive him and they have a pretty serious conversation. In discussing the strategy, it turns out the family they were trying to portray, the one who eats dinner together etc, doesn’t exist. “Does this family exist anymore?” Don can’t remember if his family with Betty was ever like that. “The hell do I know about being a mom?” Is there ever going to be any more acknowledgement Peggy gave her baby up, or did she block it out completely?

Somewhat unsolicited, Don tells Peggy, “I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t worry about you,” which leads to Don frankly telling Peggy his fears, “That I never did anything and I don’t have anyone.” He says it so matter of factily, it’s clear Don and Peggy are close again, and if that didn’t seal it, dancing to I Did it My Way seals the deal. This feels like Don giving up on Megan. This feels like Don hitting bottom (even though not really). Peggy and Don hit on a new strategy, making it OK to go to Burger Chef, focusing more on the restaurant than on the family. Don did the work, and now he’s repaired his relationship with Peggy. The end is nigh, Lou avery.

The last scene was interesting in that it was a visualization of Peggy’s strategy. No matter who is at the table, from outside it looks like family. Don, Pete, Peggy living the commercial. My wife commented Burger Chefs looked very 1950s (“1955 was a good year.” ahem), out of place at the end of the 60s. Pulling on that a little bit, the original strategy was out of place for the middle of 1969. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between the two decades and advertising strategies.

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 6 recap

Would you sell your dog for $1000?

From February 2006, Tom Chiarella goes out into the world with $1000 and tries to buy your laptop, your wedding ring, your wallet, your dog. He’s hardly ever successful, I think because people think he is crazy.

Most of them would look up from their drinks or their food, and I found that I could tell right away whether they were even going to think about it. The ones who were tended to look past me first, over my shoulder, looking to see if I had a partner, I guess, or if there was a camera involved. They’d always ask me to repeat what I just said. And as I did, I could see them slip their hands down to their thighs and begin the process of weighing the offer.

Would you sell your dog for $1000?

George Washington’s whiskey

Two years after its first batch of whiskey was distilled, George Washington’s distillery was the biggest in the country. The distillery was mismanaged by Washington’s nephew and destroyed in a fire in 1814. A project to rebuild the distillery began in 1997, and in 2007, the distillery was rebuilt. They distill twice a year and sell extremely limited releases to the public.

Washington was, at first, hesitant to jump into a new business venture—after all, at 65 years old, he had wanted to spend his retired years in relative peace, but after hearing Anderson’s proposal, as well as corresponding with a friend who was involved in the rum business, Washington acquiesced. That winter, Anderson began distilling in the estate’s cooperage, using just two stills (pots used for distillation). The first distilling was so successful that Washington approved plans for construction of a full-fledged distillery, complete with five stills. The distillery finished construction in 1798, and by 1799, it was the largest whiskey distillery in the country. That year, the distillery produced 11,000 gallons of clear, un-aged whiskey, which Washington sold for a total of $1,800 ($120,000 by today’s standards).

More on the process and the whiskey in the Washington Post.

George Washington’s whiskey

West Wing oral history

The Hollywood Reporter has an oral history of the West Wing. It is long. Long long.

AARON SORKIN: I didn’t really know anything about television beyond watching a lot of it, and my plan was to come up with an idea for a new play or movie, but my agent wanted me to meet with John Wells, and I said, “Sure.” The night before the meeting, there were some friends over at my house, and at some point [Akiva Goldsman and I] slipped downstairs to sneak a cigarette. Kivi knew about the meeting and said, “Hey, you know what would make a good series? That.” He was pointing at the poster for The American President. “But this time you’d focus on the staffers.” I told him I wasn’t going to be doing a series and that I was meeting with John to meet John — I wanted to hear stories about China Beach and ER, and I especially wanted to hear about his years as stage manager for A Chorus Line. The next day I showed up for the lunch, and John was flanked by executives from Warner Bros. and agents from CAA. John got down to business and said, “What do you want to do?” And instead of saying, “I’m sorry, there’s been a misunderstanding. I don’t have anything to pitch,” I said, “I’d like to do a series about staffers at the White House.” And John said, “We’ve got a deal.”

And here’s a long profile of Sports Night, West Wing, and a fake oral history of Studio 60.

West Wing oral history

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 5 recap

Mad Men Art
Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap.

Episode title: “Runaways” – The Stephanie and Sally/Bobby stories seem to fit.
Date of episode: The only clue I could pick up was a reference to Eiesnhower’s funeral which was on 3/31/1969. But… We knew last week’s episode was after April 18th, so, not super helpful.

This was my favorite episode of this short half season. A lot happened, and there was a vintage Don power pitch.

Despite a two year contract, Lou’s got his dreams of comic stardom, despite his comic being a rip off of Beatle Bailey. The gang finds his drafts, and, since they don’t respect him, they… are disrespectful. “You know who had a ridiculous dream and people laughed at him?” “You?” Some on the team think Lou wanted them to see the comic. It’s possible. The relationship between Don and Lou is toxic. Lou is so threatened by Don, he doesn’t take kindly to any of Don’s attempts at making the best of it. Don really does seem to be trying, but Lou is too insecure to do his part. “I’m not taking management advice from Don Draper.”

Anna Draper’s niece calls Don from the shadow of the Capitol Records building, pregnant, with nowhere to go. Don wants to help and sends her to Megan’s to wait for him. Initially, Megan is happy to help, calling to mind how good she is with Don’s kids. Then there’s a big change when Stephanie says she know’s all Don’s secrets. “I know all of his secrets.” “But you don’t know him very well.” It’s possible there was an underlying tone to Don and Stephanie’s call, and when Megan told Don she didn’t stay, Megan made a comment about how “she got to the money quickly” (did I make this up?). This didn’t seem to surprise Don at all. That said, I didn’t really feel like Stephanie was only after money. Also, was Stephanie’s headband was another reference to Sharon Tate, or are the Mad Men/Manson Murder conspirarists crazy?

Don and Megan seem to be better than before, don’t they? When Don calls her, Megan is happy to hear from him, and she happily agrees to help out his beautiful, pregnant niece. This, before jealously freaking out and paying her off to leave. As mentioned in the paragraph above, Megan appears to flip out when she realizes Stephanie knows Don’s secrets, too. I know Megan knew some/all of the Don/Dick Whitman story, but I don’t remember if we knew how much she knew. And I can’t remember if we knew she had Anna’s ring. Megan bringing her friend into the bed struck me as trying to do something, anything to keep/make Don happy. Was this Don’s first threesome? Doubt it.

“Things are falling apart here, too.” Betty is bored and cranky, like a tiny baby. Henry remains too good for her and trapped. Driving all over the state to take care of Sally because her and Betty can’t be within a foot of each other is stepdad of the year material. The fight this time around seems to be about Betty thinking Henry thinking Betty is stupid because she doesn’t quite understand how to be political. The company line was Nixon was looking for a way to get out of Vietnam, but maybe that hadn’t filtered down to the base yet. In any case, Bobby has “a stomach all the time” and remains the sweetest kid. “It’s a nose job, not an abortion.” Betty’s comments about Sally’s injury did sound like she was referencing an illicit abortion. Sally remains pretty disdainful of Betty, essentially saying she’s nothing without her beauty. “Where would mom be without her perfect nose?” It’s possible Betty is showing a shred of maternal concern, misguided as it is: If Sally’s not beautiful, she won’t have any options. Sally doesn’t buy it. Henry’s stuck in the middle. “I’m tired of everyone telling me to shut up. I’m not stupid.” “Let me check the sterno.” One thing I forgot to mention, did you notice how no one bothered to tell Don about Sally’s nose?

“It’s just a computer!” In Greek mythology, Cassandra had the gift of prophecy, but the curse of never being believed. “What am I, Cassandra?” Ginsberg is having a mental breakdown and he’s focusing on the computer as the main driver. The computer is making him gay. Or something. I don’t know, right now, if this was just Ginsberg being Ginsberg, or if there’s deeper meaning to him going crazy. We’ve all seen Seven, so we knew there’d be something in the box we didn’t want to see. Because cutting his own nipple was telegraphed, this wasn’t on the level of British executive getting his toe cut off with a riding lawn mower, but it was still pretty cray. I also liked the subtle hint that Peggy’s Saturday night plans consist of watching tv with her young upstairs neighbor, Julio.

Which leaves us only with Don. He’s doing the work Freddy told him to do, instead of walking out on Lou, postponing his trip. Peggy is still lording it over him, for some reason, which maybe I’ll have to rematch last season to remember out why. Once he finally shows up in LA, who should he meet but Harry Crane (whose name I’ve probably spelled 15 different ways in these recaps.) Harry’s tune toward Don has changed somewhat since last season, and as Don gets Harry drunk, and flatters him, he finds out Lou and Jim are pursuing a tobacco client… for some reason. What’s unclear is how they’d plan to get rid of Don if they did land the business. You might recall Don’s “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” ad in the NY Times. The Philip Morris team certainly does. Somehow, after landing in NY on Sunday, Don finds out about Jim and Lou’s Monday morning breakfast at the Algonquin. It took me a second time watching that scene through to realize why I liked it so much: It’s the first of Don’t great pitches we’ve seen this season. The pitches have gotten more and more scarce over the last couple years, so when we get a good one… In any case, he was pitching himself this time around, and I think he was successful. Either SCP won’t get the business, and he’ll be fine, or they will get the business and Philip Morris will insist on him being a part of the team. It infuriates Lou and Jim because they know that, too, and part of this gambit was bringing on new business which would force Don out.

Credit music: Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line by Waylon Jennings

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 5 recap

Marie Noe’s babies

In the 60s, a Philadelphia family became famous for losing all 10 of their children almost immediately after the babies came home from the hospital. I was surprised by the end of the story, maybe because of how it was written or because I am naive. In any case, this one takes a long time to get through, and it’s not easy. The author turned over their investigation notes to the police who reopened their case. See here conclusion.

The Noe files are remarkably rich, with personal details going back over 50 years. The material is often excruciatingly personal, including many facts the Noes could not possibly know themselves. What their relatives, friends and neighbors really thought about them. What their doctors really thought about them. There are also autopsy reports on most of the children, but they raise more questions than they answer. The early ones carry definitive causes of death that any competent pediatric pathologist would now consider unlikely, if not impossible. Most of the later autopsies simply list the cause of death as “undetermined.” But as Dapena points out, “When an adult suffocates a baby by doing this” — putting her hand over her own mouth to demonstrate — “the autopsy shows nothing, zero.”

Marie Noe’s babies