Commentary

Episode 706: The Strategy, Or Design For Living

madblog“The Strategy,” the second-to-last episode for this half season (gulp), opens with Peggy standing in a Burger Chef parking lot. She’s invading the window of a station wagon in an attempt to extract nuggets of research wisdom from an annoyed, harried mom and her hungry kids.

It ends with Peggy seated inside the Burger Chef, talking, eating, laughing, and enjoying the ease and warmth of her office family.

This was a fantastic episode,  all about growth, vulnerability, and being able to strip yourself down enough to tell the truth. It was also about having the vision to figure out the right questions to ask -- which Peggy did not do in her market research.  Those include “Who’s your real family?” and even “What is a home?”

While the episode left me with a sweet and fluid sense of human possibility, the main issues it raises -- of how to find a balance between the demands of family and work, and how to make a marriage and family work -- are not only still with us, but even more complicated.

And with the firing of Jill Abramson last week at the New York Times, and the idea of a new kind of “glass cliff” emerging for women leaders, it would seem that women's struggles will be never-ending.

Still, there may be a strategy to deal with those issues. During their breakthrough session in the office on Sunday, when Don once again becomes Peggy’s support and mentor, he offers an existential answer: “The job is living in the not-knowing.”

Weiner seems to believe in forcing his viewers to live in the “not-knowing.”  He strung us along until we got to this episode, so beautifully directed by Phil Abraham that it seemed to defy time and space.

The ending, with its unexpected, heart-stopping dance that Don and Peggy do to “My Way,” (easily one of the best scenes ever in the show's entire run) followed by a tracking shot of this new kind of family, is luminous.

madblogAnd though I hate to harsh all of our mellows, let me just stay that the next and final episode for this half-season is called “Waterloo.”

So let’s just bathe in the beauty-osity while we can.

“It’s nice to see family happiness again,” the ever-Jurassic Lou says, about Peggy’s initial Burger Chef presentation, based on the standard ad fantasy about Mom, Dad, Junior and Kitten. Obviously, Lou is working off the old paradigm. But that set off the whole premise of the episode, of questioning exactly what is a family, and for that matter, what is happiness?

I loved Don and Peggy's mutual expressions of vulnerabilities. Peggy admits she's now 30 and lying about it, Don admits he worries “Have I done anything? Do I have anyone?" Which surprised me, and is a real switch from Peggy’s line from an earlier season, when she says to Don in exasperation, “You have so much.”

His relationship with Megan is indeed up in the air. (And that was a “fall” she was wearing on her visit to the office, providing the longer hair.) At the office, the second Mrs. Draper finds out that Peggy’s secretary didn’t even know Don was married. And Megan gets a much more animated reception from old “Love Beads” Stan than she does from Don.

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Her visit made me recall that offhand but dazzling riff that she and Don effortlessly executed for Miracle Whip, which was as full of chemistry as the product itself.  Then Megan refused to work in advertising, and Don had to try it with Peggy -- and that same riff was so ultra-awkward it was like watching teeth rot. (By the way, did Megan’s teeth get bigger?)

By the end of her visit, Megan seems more interested in finding her fondue pot than having a true resolution with Don. In her search, Megan’s domestic life is literally out of the closet. Don picks up the New York Times from the day of Kennedy’s assassination. I guess his memory of that event is also linked to breaking up with Betty, which happened shortly afterward. The assassination headline could also augur the death notice of Don and Megan's marriage.

Meanwhile, Don has reestablished a magnetic partnership with Peggy. They’ve been through a lot together, and have literally saved each other’s lives.

And their talk of 1955, 1965 and 1969 is inspired, and meant to explain the difference between Peggy's first attempt at the ad and her later revision and questioning of the whole concept of family, given all the social, sexual, and political tumult of the 1960s.

In the first ad, echoing 1955, Dad is driving. Then 1965: "Does this family even exist anymore?" And then Peggy’s final tag line, fraught with resonant meaning:  "What if there was a place without TV, where you could break bread, and whoever you are with was family?"

madblogThis goes too for Bob Benson, who aptly brings an erector set to Joan’s apartment, with which to engineer his perfect fake family to impersonate a proper GM executive.

Joan, known to make bad bargains in the past, speaks from her heart.  She tells him he should have it his way.

And on a much more surface-to-actual advertising note, there was much cleverness in having Don and Peggy dance to the Chairman of the Board’s even-then slightly hokey “My Way.” 

Burger King famously used “Have it Your Way,” and is (sort of sadly) readapting it now.

And by 1970, McDonald’s had started its first national ad campaign ever, with the timeless, iconic line written by DDB’s Keith Reinhard: “You Deserve a Break Today.” That was a result of the same conclusions that Peggy came  to: that people a) were worried about cleanliness (the original ad showed countermen singing while swabbing the entire store); and b) that people needed “permission” to buy fast food.

Responding to Peggy’s original work, tiki-bar Lou says, “the husband gives the wife permission.” 

madblogAnd the whole idea of Pete treating his ambitious girlfriend like dirt (like her feet), while not giving Trudy permission to divorce and date, just shows his awful misogyny and hypocrisy -- all based, of course, on his obvious longing for a true family. Then he takes Peggy’s autonomy and permission away, telling her to do the “emotion” in the Burger Chef presentation as the mom, and giving the authority to Don (Dad.) It doesn’t occur to anyone that Peggy has no idea how to be a mom, while buried deep in her is the reality that she gave her (and Pete’s) child away.

“My Way” includes that line about “The final curtain.” And that scene showing both Bonnie (nee Bonita) and Megan leaving on a jet plane pretty much spells it out when the stewardess actively pulls the curtain on their section: Those relationships are toast.

I read Don and Peggy’s slow dance as a lovely  father/daughter bit. Others see it as the possibility of a new romantic pairing.

I can’t bear that next week is the (fake) ending for another 10 months, when we’ll get the (real) final seven episodes.

The final pullback, showing the new happy threesome eating at Burger Chef, was full of light and air. But it also suggested the much-criticized cut-to-black ending of "The Sopranos." They, too, were a happy family of sorts, filled with secrets, popping onion rings.

Both Don and Peggy have come a long way from the low point of the season, when Peggy was down on her knees in frustration and Don was contemplating death on the balcony. Both seem to have chosen the path of redemption. Could there be more progress ahead when we reach our “Waterloo”?

I’m not sure I can live in the “not-knowing.”  Damn you, Weiner!

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27 comments about "Episode 706: The Strategy, Or Design For Living".
  1. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC , May 20, 2014 at 7:33 p.m.
    Glad you brought up the references to Burger King and "Have it your way." Does Don always have it his way? Peggy surely doesn't. Pete usually does but screws it up. From experience, the best agency experiences (working in agencies) and the best work environments (working as a client) are when you are treated as "part of the family," by co-workers or the client. That is when the years fly by, working, and when the stories keep coming. It will be a long wait after next Sunday. Thanks for everything and the great input, Barbara.
  2. Sandy Pochapin from Renewal by Andersen , May 20, 2014 at 7:43 p.m.
    I'm so glad you made that comment about Megan's teeth -- I was wondering what was going on with her mouth, she didn't look as good as she usually does, although I liked the fall. I always love reading your recap, Barbara -- you have great perspective.
  3. Bob Batchelor from Thiel College , May 20, 2014 at 7:46 p.m.
    Great overview, as always, Ms. Lippert! I remember eating at Burger Chef as a kid in the early 1970s in W. PA. I vaguely recall the fixin's bar and that the buns were always a bit soggy (kind of gross, now that I think about it). Later it became Hardee's. One of the overlooked points of this mini-season seems to be the postmodern vibe creeping in, particularly as "traditional" roles are evolving. The PM mindset really came through in "The Runaways" and "The Monolith." For example, the postmodern scale ran from Betty's outburst at the dinner party to Ginsberg's detached nipple and CA threesomes. The "family" that is re/established in "The Strategy" seems to me a kind of postmodern family, perhaps the only type that can survive such a tumultuous era. The "THINK" plastered on the IBM meant to instill a kind of conformity, but instead led to a breakdown of traditionalism embodied in the new computer and its slogan. Sad about the mini-finale...but excited to read your assessment next week!
  4. Sally Edelstein from Sally Edelstein Design , May 20, 2014 at 7:51 p.m.
    Don's quick glance at a saved NY Times newspaper headline of JFKs assassination was a small moment in the episode, but poignant. The New Frontier years of Camelot came to a crashing halt and turned out to be just one more fairy tale. It wasn't long before the spell was broken and we realized not everyone would live happily ever after, despite what advertising told us. By 1969 the 1950's nuclear family detonated along with our notion of marriage and motherhood, and Peggy, Don and Pete seem to be processing that in their own distinct way. http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2014/05/20/nuclear-family-meltdown/
  5. Gloria Valenti gerak from Media Planning & Placement , May 20, 2014 at 8:02 p.m.
    After watching on Sunday, my husband put the headline and the divorce together. We watched the last episode from season 3. After the President had been killed, there was the wedding. Betty saw Henry at the wedding and Don kissed her, she said she felt nothing. She didn't file for divorce until well after that time. The final scene shows Betty, baby Gene, and Henry on a plane and the other 2 kids with with Carla. Who does that - who leaves their kids for 6 weeks? This was the best episode of this season! I'll miss you Barbara Lippert!!
  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , May 20, 2014 at 8:08 p.m.
    Another great moment was when Peggy asked Don to let her in on his process. And he said, "you abuse the people who can help you, and then take a nap." Which was knowing and funny. Peggy smiled and said "Done." Except that people didn't say "done" then, or did they? I first started noticing it as a form of speech in the 90s.
  7. Kate Berg from Collective Bias , May 20, 2014 at 8:43 p.m.
    BL they did not say "done" back then I'm sure but they're taking a page from the wonderful Downton Abbey writers and filtering in modern language to inject a sense of time travel into the proceedings. OK, that analysis was brought to you by my sad self who reads BL's fabulously thrilling and erudite blog each week and slaps my forehead silly wondering why I didn't see thus and so ...and I enjoy it so. Thanks Barbara.
  8. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , May 20, 2014 at 9:53 p.m.
    Another great analysis, thanks for the insights on the plane, and the connection to the newspaper. I missed that. One spot I didn't like was when Don pumped his fist after sowing doubt with Peggy. I don't recall Don ever doing that, and it seemed so unlike him. When he does manipulate, he is always so cool about it, and his expressions are wonderfully understated. Tension is certainly building towards something, and it makes me nervous. I still don't trust Bert Cooper.
  9. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , May 20, 2014 at 10:01 p.m.
    You could of course write a 5,000 word column for each episode, but the picture of Bob Benson with his buddy from Chevy in the cab reminded me of that whole story line, and how things have changed since Sal was on the show. That part of the story probably happened weeks before the real life Stonewall riots. So much they could cover, but even touching on that scene is so important.
  10. Royelen lee Boykie from Mad Men Musings , May 20, 2014 at 10:32 p.m.
    One of the best moments in any episode - in my mind - is the transition from Don's kiss on Peggy's head to the airplane and the closing curtain and on to the conference room and the Soprano like final scene in the "diner." Wow. Incredible. The question I have is the dance a healing moment for the animus and anima? Can things get better? Or is the upcoming Waterloo a new low for them? (They are the same person, right?)
  11. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , May 20, 2014 at 11:09 p.m.
    Is Peggy aware of any kind of life outside of her small world of New York and it's immediate boroughs ? Don's Burger King perspective of the desire is coming from the kids has proven to be the better way and he knows it. And the way this episode ends, anything from any one or more sources can upset the tender balance.
  12. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq , May 21, 2014 at 12:05 a.m.
    Damn Barbara Lippert, how do you do it? Your recaps are up in the clouds above the rest ... like that plane of doomed relationships. I had a feeling of cold dread when that stewardess literally pulled the curtain on Megan, and Pete's squeeze. If there hadn't already been a plane crash on MM I'd have thought that plane was going down. Agree that the final shot echoed Weiner's former show The Sopranos' last scene. The long long crane pull away also reminded me of the one in the Season 5 season ender, after which Don was asked, "Are you alone?" A fear he just expressed to Peggy. And lo and behold Don is not alone, and neither are Peggy or Pete (who share the same fears). You maybe throw in a Harry Crane and Roger, and you got yourself a new agency. Btw I predict a big storyline for Ted Chaough next week. Something has got to happen with him when nothing did this half-season. I hope next week's episode reminds me more of the ABBA song than of Napoleon's battle, but we'll find out!
  13. Joel Rubinson from Rubinson Partners, Inc. , May 21, 2014 at 9:28 a.m.
    I just love the wisdom in this show. The evolution of don's relationship with Peggy from Mentor to exploiter to underling to mentor again, and how he reinvented his feelings about all that is really great. some day, as we get older, many find themselves in a position of working for someone they mentored or hired and these scenes and feelings hit home.
  14. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC , May 21, 2014 at 5:56 p.m.
    If you want to discuss Megan's teeth, then let's talk Pete's hair. It's looking odd, getting weird. Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) said he spends more than an hour or two in make-up. At the Paley MadMen event Pete mentioned that Matthew wanted his hair receding...but it looks to be unnatural now or this episode.
  15. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , May 21, 2014 at 8:57 p.m.
    Yes, they really are shaving the hell out of Pete's head. Very Hitler Youth. This ep felt very elegiac, like it could have been the last. So what do we think is going to happen next week, during, aaaaargh, "Waterloo?" Who's going down?
  16. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , May 21, 2014 at 9:09 p.m.
    The best moment in this episode, of course, was Don and Peggy working late, almost as good as a much earlier episode from years back when they also worked late. There was something real about both scenes that recalled for me the best moments I remember in what can be a very weird business, namely the moments when all the inconsequential consequentials go home for the night and people who know what they are doing actually try to show to themselves that they truly know what they are doing. On the burger ad scene, interesting to me also since I pitched Burger King twice unsuccessfully in the 70s and the 90s and both times I heard the same script from the BK people. BBDO had the account in the years Mad Men are in now, but had not gotten to Have It Your Way yet; the campaign they started in 1968 was The Burgers Are Bigger At Burger King, more product focused than the later consumer-focused Have It Your Way work. The McDonald's " break today" stuff was a genuine breakout campaign as the products (burgers, fries, shakes,service) were of diminished importance, not usual for the time. And the kind of seemingly dumb research Peggy was doing might even have been the kind that contributed to it. (YA KNOW, AMC, does those footnotes for some movies....might be interesting if they did those annotations for reruns of Mad Men.)
  17. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , May 22, 2014 at 8:47 a.m.
    While I still think Bert Cooper is the wolf in the fold (Godfather ref, of course), I'm very concerned that Roger may be going down this week. I'm not sure why, but the whole Bob Benson, Chevy, Philip Morris and McCann affair might tar him. I hope not, because his mojo is funnier than Don's.
  18. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet , May 22, 2014 at 9:42 a.m.
    "Waterloo" should be fairly simple to predict. You just have to ask yourself, who has recently returned from exile, and which forces have joined together to defeat him/her? Of course, being "Mad Men," the Waterloo theme will cross-over into multiple story lines. Naturally, Don is "returning from exile," and we all know the main forces gathered to defeat him. But Pete has also returned, and one could argue that Peggy has returned from the exile that was her career without Don/with Lou. Roger has been in a sort of self-imposed exile, and we all know Cutler wants him out. So, Don, Peggy, Pete, Roger (and possibly Ted, who exiled himself to Los Angeles) are about to be "defeated." Or perhaps, to only appear to be defeated, as they finally form their own agency. And perhaps as a backdrop to all of this, the Waterloo of another Kennedy: Chappaquiddick.
  19. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , May 22, 2014 at 10:07 a.m.
    Thanks, Bob! You put the oo in Waterloo!
  20. Gary Johns from B3 , May 22, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.
    With Don's wife's free-spirited attraction to the hirsute, free-loving hippy crowd in California, I am waiting for a reference to the Tate-Labianca Murders.
  21. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , May 22, 2014 at 11:33 p.m.
    a) Maybe the last episode will be titled Waterlou. Lou has been milked enough and maybe his future dramatic possibilities are limited: we have already seen the full range of his stupidity b) Chappaquiddick wasn't Kennedy's Waterloo, more Kopechne's c) Seems the last episode has to leave several characters in suspense, most probably Betty, Peggy, and Joan.
  22. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet , May 23, 2014 at 9:34 a.m.
    @Gary Johns We've been talking about that since Megan moved into her (Benedict Canyon?) place. Well, some having been talking about it for far longer. Anyway, at one point I thought Megan might be drawn into The Family, although it seems Roger's daughter is the more likely character for that honor. (BTW, are you THE Gary Johns? I worked under Tom Gabriel at Milici Valenti in the mid/late '80s.)
  23. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , May 23, 2014 at 10:48 a.m.
    If you look at the general writing of the series, while historical events happen around them, and the characters react to them, they are not truly part of the events. Since there were no victims named Megan Draper in the whole Manson mess, it's fair to assume she won't be killed, at least by them. It may affect her decision and even prompt a move back to NY (I think Don would insist on this).
  24. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet , May 23, 2014 at 10:54 a.m.
    Yup. My thoughts exactly. Megan won't be a victim of the Manson family because she wasn't a victim of the Manson family.
  25. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , May 23, 2014 at 4:08 p.m.
    But I think this episode made pretty clear that Don and Megan play house when together, but it's always, "hello, I must be going." Megan really doesn't want to move to NY and Don really isn't into moving to LA. Plus, it seems he's just not that into her.He's into the fantasy of having a pregnant wife on the balcony, but that would be disastrous, no?
  26. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , May 23, 2014 at 8:56 p.m.
    I dunno, I think the hysteria around the Manson murders, along with what I believe to be Megan's still reliance on guidance (from someone or anyone) might drive her to move back to NY. Now, I love this show and am forgiving of some slips in time frame, but if a character says, "I'm just not that into you," I will be upset.
  27. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq , May 25, 2014 at 11:13 p.m.
    OK I'm feeling pretty good about my predictions right now!