Episode 708: The Trinity: Blood, Death, and Coffee, Tea, or Me?

  • by April 7, 2015
madblogThough we would like it to be, "Mad Men" is not really about advertising. Instead, it’s about the death of the American Dream, using advertising as the come-hither window through which to watch the wreckage.

In “Severance,” the brilliant but at times frustratingly slow and disassociative eighth episode of the seventh and final (half) season, "MM" creator Matt Weiner goes deep with his usual mad obsessions: identity, otherness, and death.

For Weiner, there’s no business like “Is-That-All-There-Is-Ness.” (As sung by Peggy Lee, the tune was heard three times in the episode. But given the uber-existential question it poses, it should be the show’s theme song.)

And we keep going back to that same dark well, with many of the themes of this episode repeating from the first season, and even the first episode.



We will return shortly to the death parade, but first, some general housekeeping. The chronology seems to have moved seven months from the moon landing of July, 1969 to April of 1970. Gone is the youthful dream and activism of the 1960s; the country is moving into the disillusionment of the wide-tied, polyester-ish, Watergate-plagued 1970s.

Meanwhile, money is always a leitmotif of the show. In the last episode, we saw the barefoot, rich-as-Croesus partner Bert Cooper singing to an audience of Don that “The Best Things in Life are Free.” And even with the buyout, the partners (perhaps with the exception of Roger) hardly seem ecstatic about their windfalls. Mostly, others are counting their millions for them.

In response to Ken’s question, Pete complains that he might have to buy a building. After a horrible business meeting with three sexist pigs from McCann, Sterling, Cooper and Partners' father company, Peggy turns on Joan, and spits out “You’re filthy rich,” almost as if it’s a curse.


The biggest political news, which Don caught one morning while sleeping in his clothing on top of his bedspread (more on that later) is that President Nixon has announced his reversal of his de-escalation in Vietnam (how’s that for obfuscation of language?) and a fresh invasion of Cambodia.

Yup, a lot of the episode has to do, aptly enough, with de-escalation (Ken's firing, for one) and re-escalation. Don’s return to an impossibly chaotic sex life requires a pre-Siri answering service and constant office naps. On the advertising front, he seems to have gone back to his old creative director self in the pilot episode. The fur coat opening, complete with a casting couch of leering execs, seems like we are back in time.

As Don auditions one young, leggy model after another, he smokes and holds the definitive New York City blue-and-white paper Greek diner coffee cup. The design has Greek-style columns and the phrase “We are happy to serve you” in faux-Cyrillic lettering. This cleverly suggests “The Wheel,” the episode in which Don explains that in Greek, "nostalgia" literally means "the pain from an old wound... a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone…. It's not called the wheel, it's called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels -- around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”

madblogHe stamps his cigarette out in the cup, and it sizzles. 

Just where was Don, the “whorechild," when he was loved? Trying to find that place seems to require some sort of fugue state in which he's acting out sexually, powered by shame, guilt, and anger.

I hate Fugue State Don.

Unfortunately, we got a lot of him in this episode, through a dream he had about his old girlfriend Rachel, and especially in the hallucinogenic scenes shot in the Nighthawkesque diner (right out of the lonely, urban scene in the Hopper painting) with the dark-haired waitress.

Don seems to mix up sex with stains. Weiner could not have known that the episode would run on Easter Sunday, but there was a big trinity throughout. As Ted said, referring to the number the Wilkinson execs wound up choosing for their ad, it was about three women. Don and Roger were accompanied by three blowzy women in the original diner scene. Other women from Don's past were resurrected to perhaps add up to a trinity of brunettes, or even more.

After the diner, Don goes home to an empty apartment and decides to check in on the women he can tap, like hot- and cold-running water. He chooses the stewardess, who seems very “Coffee, Tea, or Me?” in her immediate availability.

She accidentally spills red wine on the white carpet near his bed. The blood-like stain, which he immediately covers up with the “comforter,” is a key scene and metaphor. He’s not willing to face any of the stains of the past and wants to dispose of them quickly, like the way he tosses Meagan’s earring. He literally fucks over it. And he obviously still holds on to some Madonna/whore hangups; but in his unique case, his mother was indeed a madonna and a whore.


Blood is used in religious rituals. As it turns out, Rachel Menken Katz dies of leukemia, cancer of the blood.

The shiva scene was sheer brilliance. "Mad Men" is all about smoke and mirrors, and when Jews mourn the dead, they cover the mirrors. The focus is not on superficial externals, but rather on the internal worth of the dead. “Look in the mirror,” Don tells the fur model in the first scene. “What do you see?”

There were lots of death symbols knock knock knocking when Don pays a sympathy call -- not the least of which was when Dr. Katz had to go knock on neighbors’ doors to muscle up a minyan (ten Jewish men to do the mourner’s prayer).

Rachel’s sister says bluntly, “No, he can’t. He isn’t Jewish” in front of Don, who offers himself up. He's ever the outsider -- even though he brings cake and says he’s lived in New York a long time.

And that brings us to the quintessential New York diner, which Don kept returning to, like a moth to a dying, isolated flame. Some production people I know said that the diner set looked pathetically cheap. But the lighting seemed to recreate the old ochre walls and jade green tiles of the painting, also showing Don’s disassociative state when he keeps going back to the waitress, who seems so familiar to him, and asking, “Don’t I know you?”

She looks like an amalgam of Don’s mother, the prostitute, the working girl who gave him the Hershey bar for going through her John’s pockets, and Midge, the junkie artist. That’s three, plus all the sad dark-haired mistresses that our hero done wrong. Was he hallucinating? Generally, waitresses in the 1970s did not read John Dos Passos (who wrote about Depression-era America.) Or feel that they had to prostitute themselves in a back alley as a payback for a tip.

madblogThe fact that the waitress’s name was “Di” was a bit heavy-handed.

I have so much more to analyze: Ken, the eye-patch guy, going from fiction writer/Hathaway Man to a crazed Dr. Strangelove, riding the bomb, all for spite. After he’s “severed” he feels like he has died, and lost everything. He sits in a phone booth, and says he barely has the strength to “drag myself through those doors.”

And he resurrects himself to become the “client from hell.”

I didn’t even get to discuss Peggy, and whether she, who couldn’t find her passport (she gave at the office) and Don, who was told in the dream that he missed his flight, will end up together. Maybe. 

But first, remember when Pete’s dad died in a plane crash, and his family was so cold and distant that he didn’t know what he should do? ''Go home and be with the family,'' Don told him. ''That's what people do.''

If only he could take his own advice. Or find the place where he is loved.

26 comments about "Episode 708: The Trinity: Blood, Death, and Coffee, Tea, or Me? ".
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  1. George Parker from Parker Consultants, April 7, 2015 at 6:34 p.m.

    Holy sh*t... I'm glad I don't watch it. Sounds like the "Blood Eagle" episode of "Vikings."

    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  2. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC, April 7, 2015 at 6:38 p.m.

    Thanks, Barbara. Love your perspectives. Thought the episode was slow too. Wanted more.  I wonder if:

    • Anyone is going to start their own agency in the next six episodes?

    • Ken (Dow Chemicals, is that a good thing?) who was down and out is now really in the driver's seat with the power to fire Pete, Roger et al?

    • Don is going to snap out of it? 

    • Is Peggy or Joan going to snap out of it? 

    Plus I wonder if anyone is watching the final episode of this season for either "House of Cards" (done) and for "Better Call Saul" (done)? It's a good, no make that great time for TV binge and non binge watching. 

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 7, 2015 at 7:50 p.m.

    Rachael's sister also said to Don when he introduced himself, that she knew who he was with a look and a tone of distain. Not because he wasn't Jewish was she so off putting to him, but that she also knew when she asked "How's the family?" that he was married with children at the time with her sister. She had to smack him in the face. Wanted to smack Pete in the face. 

    I do predict Peggy is not going to Paris. He is not coming back. But she wants to be married more than being happy. The treatment of women who are married, not only in the biz, vs women who are not is totally different. Married women including those who were married are treated with more respect. They were wanted. Single woman are not so wanted or needed, especially what does a single woman know of the world if they don't have kids. They don't understand anything. Peggy and Joan can't be friends. 

    Don will be a lonely old man. Nothing is going to make up for his childhood pains. Parts of him can't feel and never will. He had to kill them.

  4. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, April 7, 2015 at 8:23 p.m.

    I couldn't resist binge watch the past season's episodes on AMC, trying to reconnect with the characters.  The new episode seemed anticlimactic, filled with bits and pieces to contemplate and debate, yet the characters all seemed to have regressed to something like they were when we first met them.  Character development is a disappointment.  This isn't Shakespeare or O'Neill.

  5. Nancie Martin from Tell My Story, April 7, 2015 at 8:25 p.m.


    Paula saying "Parts of him can't feel and never will. He had to kill them" made me think of that other New York madman Robert Durst confessing, "Of course I killed them all." Don is a handsome, talented psychopath, and, as the opening credits predict, due for a fall.

  6. Barbara Lippert from, April 7, 2015 at 8:26 p.m.

    The waitress somberly unties her apron to go through the act,and then returns, grimly putting the apron back on. I think it was supposed to show that Don is still tied to the apron strings-- of a ghost! 

    also, did people actually say (Blank) from hell then? Didn't that become a thing in the late 1980s? 

  7. Barbara Lippert from, April 7, 2015 at 8:31 p.m.

    One more thing: Ken Cosgrove's father-in-law's Pop Tarts line was hysterical. The former Dow executive, who made napalm and deadly chemicals, is now "cooking" himself a breakfast made of chemicals!

  8. Sharon O'Connell from Green Topaz Productions, April 7, 2015 at 8:42 p.m.

    Great post, Barbara. As much fun as watching the episode, I'm sorry and hate admitting that I missed Season 1 of MM - always getting there's a reference I don't t. Only thing I see a little differently is that I do think waitresses in the 70s could be reading ... JDP or just about anything. 

  9. Barbara Lippert from, April 7, 2015 at 8:48 p.m.

    Thanks, Sharon. Yes, she could have been reading JDP. But she clearly had a Depression-era, "they shoot horses, don't they?" grim vibe.The whole thing was unreal- uncanny-- in the true sense.

  10. Carri Bugbee from Big Deal Digital, April 7, 2015 at 8:58 p.m.

    I think the lack of character development is precisely the point. They all keep living the same lives over and over. The scenery changes. Barely. Their titles change. Slightly. But their jobs and relationships and behaviors are interchangeable—essentially unchanging.

    The main characters are stuck with each other. Kind of like Sartre's "No Exit" with a slightly bigger cast. 

  11. Patrick Scullin from Ames Scullin O'Haire, inc., April 7, 2015 at 9:48 p.m.

    Great summation and insights, as always. The episode baited so many hooks, it'll be interesting to see what we catch as it wraps up. Oh, that hurts to think about.


    the end is near... Woe is all of us.

  12. Barbara Lippert from, April 7, 2015 at 9:58 p.m.

    One line that made me cringe. Johnny Mathis (very funny) invited Peggy to go out to dinner "with my wife and I."

    Do you think Weiner does not know the correct usage is "with my wife and me?"

  13. david marks from self, April 7, 2015 at 10:27 p.m.

    This is a brilliant piece, Barbara Lippert, and that's all I will say here.

  14. Mary Rygiel from Media Relief, Inc., April 7, 2015 at 10:29 p.m.

    Re: opening scene of Don sizing up women in fur coats...didn't Don meet Betty at a fur salon?  She was modeling coats and he was doing the ads or selling ads.

  15. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, April 7, 2015 at 11:15 p.m.

    I'm glad you brought up the waitress. She has been bugging me for two days. I also saw in her, reflections of the whorehouse upbringing, and trying to escape it, as Don has been trying to do for 10 years (or 7 seasons).

    While Ken's revenge setup is fantastic, I see that as a sideline to what will happen to the partners and to Peggy. She has as much of herself to reconcile as Don does, with her forgotten past and problems building an alliance (if not a friendship) with Joan. I still have hope for them both.

    I wish Joan would take another meeting with the McCann boys, in her office, and have them sit in really low, uncomfortable chairs.


    (and look, we can format comments!)

  16. Barbara Lippert from, April 7, 2015 at 11:15 p.m.

    Mary-- yes, Betty was modeling coats and he was a fur salesman when they met. and he also met Roger at the fur store when he came in to buy a coat for Joan. 

  17. Mark Thomas from Self Employed, April 8, 2015 at 12:05 a.m.

    The best things in life are free ...

    Except i have to look up my password to comment. But ask Ruth. I love technology

    Anyway my take

    --Don's face in the doorway at the Shiva was the essence of the show

    Can he come in or must he be pushed out? Like his whole life balanced like a dradle spinning in time for seconds but feels longer. 

    His face of total distraught. As in what have I done? I am ready to throw up. 

    That was the show 



  18. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, April 8, 2015 at 12:10 a.m.

    I was perplexed by Peggy's date being put off when she suggested he call the waiter over after he was given the wrong entree.  I can't imagine anyone passively eating what they hadn't ordered - and this guy is a lawyer?  Perhaps it was meant to show how Peggy is the grown up in a man's world, playing Mommy by giving him her entree. 

  19. Mark Paul from Mark Paul, April 8, 2015 at 1:01 a.m.

    The scenes with the diner waitress reminded me of Redford's encounters with another diner waitress in The Sting. She of course was under contract to kill him.

    Ken's revenge plan looks good to him now, when he hasn't quite absorbed the idea of living in Midland, Michigan. I've been there. Grim scene, Bix.

    Another death theme, for me at least, was the Nixon clip. A few days later demonstrating students were killed at Kent State. The scene at my campus (also Weiner's alma mater, though he was there later) was worthy of MM. The Dead played outside the following weekend. They arrived late, and in the meantime various politicos commandeered the mic. One SDS-type mis-timed his psychedelic dose, so the standard cant of the day slowly segued into a discourse on the functions of the body. 

  20. Barbara Lippert from, April 8, 2015 at 1:13 a.m.

    Rob-- yes, that was odd that he accepted the veal. And then when Peggy said, "I love veal!" I thought she said, "I love you!"  I'm not sure the character will reappear. It was a lesson about having a home life. 



    Ha, Mark. You went to Wesleyan? 

    Ad people were really into Ken's move. But the war is ramping up, he's selling napalm. Winning! 

    It was interesting that that Pete was kind to him and encouraged him to write an "adventure story." 

  21. Yale Hollander from Writer/Blogger, April 8, 2015 at 9:48 a.m.

    This episode also included another connection between the celestial and the morbid - Don bedding the TWA stewardess right before learning of Rachel Mencken's death. Looking back at past death episodes, there's a lot of interplay between death and that which exists above our heads. To wit:

    Don's half-brother Adam hanged himself (death from above)

    Lane Pryce hanged himself, another death from above, and remarkable because his first suicide attempt (in the basement garage of his apartment building) failed.

    Pete's father died in a plane crash. Pete's mother was lost at sea following a fall from a cruise ship.

    Ida Blankenship was eulogized as "an astronaut."

    Bert Cooper died shortly after the first moon landing.

    Don's relationship with Connie Hilton perished over a disagreement regarding promoting a hotel on the moon.

    Put all of these connections together and stir in the show's opening which features a falling man and one would think we're headed toward a finale where Don makes a fatal leap, but I'm not so sure. Keeping in mind that this is a show inspired by the advertising industry, it's entirely possible the final product is not going to be what we were led to believe it would be by what we've seen on television.

  22. Maddy Mud from McMarketing, April 8, 2015 at 12:56 p.m.

    Did anyone feel in the early part of the episode re: Ken, they were setting him up to be the final shot of the series, as he closes the book on something he wrote called "Tales of the Mad, Mad Men"?

  23. Barbara Lippert from, April 8, 2015 at 1:15 p.m.

    Oh, wow, Maddy Mud! I did not notice that. It was odd that he was missing for most of the first part of the final season, and his story got so much time in this one. He was choosing evil. Could be!

  24. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet, April 8, 2015 at 5:06 p.m.

    I think the acceptance of his meal signals that Peggy's date is a one-week wonder. In the words of innumerable Borscht Belt comics, "I'm here all week, try the veal!"

  25. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 8, 2015 at 10:40 p.m.

    Barbara, you and all of the commentor fan base are so fantastic. The threads I miss even when I fully pay attention. Matthew Weiner is amazing.

  26. Claudia Reilly from none, April 9, 2015 at 8:38 p.m.

    What a brilliant column.  I love watching "Mad Men," but half the fun of the show is reading your brilliant discussions about it.  Your analysis is so rich, witty, and totally gripping.

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