MAD MEN, SEASON SIX/EPISODE 6: HALFWAY THERE

by Claire Moshenberg on May 11, 2013

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Guys, remember when we all really liked Mad Men?

At least this episode wasn’t another beautifully dressed sleeping pill.

Shut the Door, Have a Seat: “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” is the finale from Season Three, when SCDP rises from the ashes of Sterling Cooper. A lot of references and similarities to “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” appear throughout this week’s episode,”For Immediate Release,” starting at the beginning when Roger greets Don with, “Shut the door.” Then there’s the bouncy something-is-about-to-HAPPEN! ’60s music (particularly during the scene when both companies meet in the Chevy lobby), the scheming between unlikely allies, the rapidly repaired relationships (this time Don and Peggy, previously Don and Roger), the rocky feeling throughout the episode as everything falls apart just to come back together again because of the sheer focused power of Don Draper. “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” is even referenced in the ending, when Don mentions that the last time he asked Peggy to join his new company, he did it wrong. Another nod is the inclusion of Vicks after more than a season, and the sad parallels when it comes to Pete and Trudy. In “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” Trudy helps Pete get her father’s business so he can become a partner in the new firm. In “For Immediate Release,” Trudy doesn’t care that the loss of Vicks has meant the loss of a major new step for the company and for their finances, and refuses to help him get her father’s business back.

The Trouble with Joan: So far we’ve seen Joan three times this season, and each time her story line has been inextricably linked to her night with the Jaguar executive. A year later and that still comes up every single time anyone speaks to her? Really? Here’s a character facing a myriad of fascinating challenges in her home and professional life, yet all we’re offered is a view of her with a scarlet A to match that scarlet hair. Last we saw her, Joan was transitioning into a partner, grappling with single parenthood, and handling the fallout from an unexpected divorce to an all-wrong husband. And in the midst of that, yes, she slept with the guy from Jaguar as a means to secure the Jaguar account for SCDP and thereby a partnership for herself.

The disgust and outrage directed towards Joan by critics and fans in reaction to that episode exhausted me. It was the early ’60s. She’d been at the company for over a decade with no foreseeable promotion, she doesn’t have a father or a husband at a time when such men were far more important to a single woman’s financial situation, she has a baby, and most professional doors are closed to her. She found an avenue to procure some financial and professional security for herself and her small family. Of course she slept with him — this isn’t a shocking moral offense; it’s a no-brainer. And at this point, it’s one of the least interesting parts of her character, even though it’s given the most attention.

What happened with her divorce? Is her mother going to live there forever? Is she lonely? Does she want to get married again, like her first-season, marriage-hungry former self? Does she want to embrace the age and indulge in more antics like her fast times at the French soundtracked club? Can we see full-picture Joan and not a supposedly tainted slice of her story, please?

Also: It is a reprehensible and ridiculous setup that Don’s season of severe depression is cured by getting rid of the Jaguar exec and making Joan “300 pounds lighter.” Because Don’s such a sensitive guy? Because of his notorious respect for women? Because the only thing holding him back from working hard, being creative, and having sex with his wife instead of his neighbor was an awful thing that didn’t happen to him? I’m glad they had Joan tell him off instead of treating him like a hero, but the series of enormous payoffs and the complete personality makeover that came his way after her righteous diatribe cancels that out.

…Really?!: Hey guys! Look, a brief appearance by a person of color! And as usual, it’s ridiculous to the point of open racism, with the black woman in question treated like a punch line: a prostitute Pete finds sleeping with his father-in-law, whose weight and skin color are used as repeated points of humor and outrage, to crack up Ken Cosgrove and horrify Trudy Campbell.

The Good, The Bad, and The Peggy: Peggy’s flawed mentor/mentee relationship with Don has always felt uncomfortably authentic. In the beginning, it helped both of them. Then her labor continued to help him, and her success and upward mobility waned because of the attention she paid to his approval instead of her own career trajectory. Stepping away from a position — one where the years could not erase the memory of earnest secretary Peggy who just wants to help out — was a decision that offered her the potential to be a power player instead of a bright-eyed golden child.

It’s been a tough season to watch, much less stay awake for. But the last five minutes of this episode reminded me of what I used to love about Mad Men: those sharp, well-acted, authentic moments.

Don doesn’t gracefully handle breaking the news to Peggy about the merger. Don “didn’t do it right before,” and he didn’t do it right here, either. He doesn’t lay out any benefits for Peggy, doesn’t tell her what her position will be, doesn’t offer her a share in the company or a staff or power — just gives her a twinkly, paternal smile and tells her how great it will be. Peggy doesn’t get a satisfying, dramatic moment. Peggy knows, as she says, that she “just bought an apartment” and that there’s not much she can do here. Even though she’s been done with working for Don for quite some time, she wasn’t consulted and she can’t bail. She has to sit at that desk and tell us all what the date and year is, finally. No one behaves in a way that’s terribly fun for the viewer. (No hug? No feisty “give me part of the company” speech? No impassioned Don speech? Remember when he went to her apartment in “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”? Or when she quit? Can’t we do a touching moment trilogy?) Everyone behaves badly or dejectedly, and unlike most of this season, it feels true to their characters and satisfying — which is, frankly, unlike the merger itself. It is a story line that kept me riveted, but that ultimately felt like a cheap ploy to bring Peggy back over to SCDP so there wouldn’t be two different sets of office dramas to follow.

Quick hits:

  • Hey — I know that (according to him) everyone says he’s so nice and Peggy calls him an optimist and “We’re going to build a wing in Sloan Kettering!” . . . but we do all remember that season where Ted was a character and that character was a total dick, right?
  • Are they just writing their own soft-core porn spoof into the show now? See: Peggy and Ted’s slow jam fantasy make-out scene, Megan Draper’s magical blowjob.
  • Mad Men has an introducing-too-many-new-characters problem, but one character who’s earned my unadulterated love is Marie, resident Canadian badass. The rest of this season would be so much more fun if we just erased Don’s various story lines, and replaced them with scenes of her bad-mouthing people in French.

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Claire Moshenberg is a San Francisco-based author, activist, and new-media consultant. She is co-proprietor of the web site Charm City Jukebox and a contributing editor of The Spleen.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Babs May 11, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I am not finding Joan’s season six story line problematic, and it hasn’t all been tied to her tryst with Herb. This past episode was more about the IPO, until Don fired Jaguar. Plus, a few episodes ago the focus was the visit from her childhood friend, which had nothing to do with Jaguar. As for her divorce, presumably it’s done. As for her mother living there forever, who else could take care of her baby? It makes sense. Her mother’s single, too. And unlike a nanny her mother’s available 24/7. Plus, Don didn’t fire Herb over Joan, he seemed prepared to stomach that. Don fired him because Herb was trying to micromanage creative, and thereby questioning Don’s work.

As for race, I thought Dawn not being in “For Immediate Release” was more bizarre than Pete’s father-in-law’s booty call girl.

I agree that on too many new characters. Headache!

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