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.
Let it not be said Lou Avery’s Tiki bar went unmentioned in this recap.
Bonnie and Megan flying home on the same flight.
“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.
I suppose Bonnie reminds me of what Betty would be like if she was less of a child and more responsible.
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.