It seems that as we delve deeper into the late 60s, and deeper into this season of Mad Men, there’s a level of self-awareness the show has taken with it. This has led to some interesting developments in style and in plot. “For Immediate Release” covered the themes of defeats and tentative victories, which raise the stakes for various characters; however, I did have some problems with the way some of this stuff was shown. Again, it seems like stylistically because Mad Men is aware of itself as setting the style and tone of the 60s, the show has taken on this burden to an almost campy interpretation. But for now, let’s study character to character developments.
We open with Pete, who is actually involved in private meetings with Cooper and Joan to get SCDP a public offering. They meet with a banker in private in Pete’s office over what appears to be the weekend. After seeing Pete’s little defeats as of late, it seems he’s on the rise again – involved in an important (yet also top secret, like Project K) development for SCDP, and then in bed with Trudy, making it appear as a level of truce has come into their marriage. Cooper even praises Pete for the work he actually has brought to the company – helping SCDP land Jaguar, and getting his father-in-law and Vicks to bring in business. When Pete decides to celebrate the public offering, however, things turn sour rather quickly – he drags (oddly) Bob Benson with him to a whorehouse and finds his father-in-law leaving a room with a very busty black woman. Pete’s panic hereafter is totally warranted – he tries to comfort himself after talking to Ken that the two would mutually ignore it to avoid self-destruction, but of course his father-in-law sabotages this by pulling his business out of SCDP, concurrently with Pete giving up on the public offering. Pete also discovers, after a surprise phone call from Jaguar, that he was left out of a dinner meeting that determined Jaguar’s fate with SCDP. The two most important clients Pete brought in are suddenly washed away, leaving Pete definitely emasculated. How does Pete Campbell deal with defeat? By playing dirty, and snivelly, as his usual self. While he is helpless in the coming decision for a merger to land Chevy, he decides to come between Trudy and her father by revealing to her that he encountered him in a whorehouse. Instead of healing his defeats, Pete somehow has worsened them. I’d say this is a pretty fair metaphor for how things have naturally turned out for Pete over the years, in their own way.
As a small repercussion of everything with Pete, and everything to be discussed with Don, we also see a sense of Joan’s impending victory turned into a real defeat. There’s been tension over how the relationship with Jaguar has been since Joan bedded the local rep, Herb. It was very clear that this was a delicate way to secure a client, and Don tried to resist furthering this relation between Joan and Herb by showing general resistence to Herb’s ideas. The idea of how Joan earned her partnership has been a sensitive topic, especially after Harry brought it up in a very jerkish, selfish way. So naturally, when Don thought he did the chivalrous thing by getting rid of Jaguar’s business, Joan’s reaction was taut and heartbreaking. It seems that more people are aware of Joan’s involvement with Jaguar (I mean, Ken was in the room – she was speaking rather openly, even if subtly, about the terms) and she reveals something about Don that is true in all aspects of his life: that Don only thinks of himself, and needs everyone waiting on him and applauding him from the sidelines. That she achieved Jaguar, and her partnership, in vein is still yet to be fully explored, but I’m sure this will weigh on her in the coming episodes, as I’m sure it will weigh on Cooper and Roger (and hopefully Don) as this crazy merger actually happens.
What should have been a victory for Peggy turns into a slow-burning defeat, and a new internal conflict. We see Peggy for the first time in the episode entering the new home she bought with Abe – she succumbed to his desire to live on the West Side in what looks to be a rather undesirable building – they still have to fix things up, and Abe is trying to fix the electric wiring in the apartment. There’s loud music and, literally, poop on the stoop, as Peggy doesn’t fail to point out. She finally has that moment with Ted – the one they’ve definitely built up to all season – where they kiss in an acknowledgement of their attraction to one another. This is where my first protestation of the new style comes in: when Peggy fantasizes about Ted at home, after declaring to Abe she’d rather nothing have changed (definitely revealing of Peggy’s inner psyche!), there’s a cheesy 60s music sting, and an even cheesier acting out of the fantasy. Now, on the idea of things being the way they were, Peggy seems to have said that with her foot in her mouth: she’s the first to discover, at her agency anyway, that SCDP and CGC are merging. Here, Peggy’s acting is impeccable – there’s a steely, yet clearly perplexed, look on her face as she looks at Don and Ted in the room. They comfort her with the thought that she will be chief copywriter in the merger, and she only responds with, “I just bought an apartment” – it seems this reaction is coming from a place where she fears that, in the merger, she won’t be as successful or potentially make as much money as her recent success has brought. Even though Ted and Don tell her to write the release announcing the merger describing the company she wants to be at, we know that there will be tension with Peggy and the rest of the SCDP crowd, especially in light of things that have happened. I think at this moment she’s aware that what was once can no longer be.
Roger seems to be (keyword here: SEEMS) in higher spirits – he’s bedding a flight attendant with the ulterior motive of securing an account with Chevy, which is based out of Detroit. We first see him bed her on Mother’s Day – pretty significant, as his mother recently died. He, of course, uses this to garner sympathy from the girl and get one last lay. He sets Don up for that dreaded Jaguar final dinner, then runs off to meet with the account head at Chevy and get some inside scoop. It’s nice to see Roger in a more fearless turn, since he even tells Pete that they can go public once they secure Chevy – he announces that he has secret info from Chevy just as the company finds out about losing Jaguar. What starts at first as his victory here may show itself to be a tiny defeat – he was not part of Don’s deal with Ted to merge, though Roger plays it smooth when they meet at Chevy’s offices. Roger also “loses” an opportunity with Megan’s mother, because he’s dallying with the flight attendant and Chevy. Though Roger ultimately enjoys the good, there’s still something to be said of the sting of Mother’s Day, and the later rejection from Megan’s mother. Maybe some therapy sessions are in store?
And then, of course, there’s Don. He’s hosting Megan and her mother for Mother’s Day, to which Don has little reaction to. Arnie comes in through the trash room door to ask Megan for wrapping paper for mother’s day – thankfully, this is the only sign of Sylvia we see, is through discussing her. Don has little to contribute – probably uncomfortable/uncaring of the idea of Sylvia as a mother? When Roger announces he is to have dinner with Jaguar, Don brings along Megan and her mother. Here, we get a moment of awareness from Megan that she gets that she’s disconnected from Don. Of course, her mother seems to be giving false comfort in advice that may not work in the long run. Anyway, they blunder through the dinner, with Megan’s mother comically insulting Herb’s wife in French. When the ladies leave for the bathroom, the bomb is dropped – Don plays a stubborn smooth by turning down Jaguar and walking away in disgust. What he interprets as a moral victory turns sour, of course, with Pete and Joan’s reactions of disapproval. When Don flies out to Detroit, even Don acknowledges a small moment of defeat – he sits at the bar alone, and Ted finds him, where they lament being small companies competing against the big dogs to win over Chevy. Don and Ted are clearly both very powerful and charismatic guys, but with different outlooks, yet they come together in what seems to be a great solution at the time – they decide, with no other partners present, to merge. Now, we see prior to this meeting that Ted is worried about honoring the partners, especially when one of them announces he has cancer. Ted is initially in a state of defeat about his own company in general. This merger brings them success for one client, but how will their differing dynamics play against each other for their individual clients? Don has that confident sneer as he announces to Peggy, almost like he’s telling her she can’t succeed without him. But will this prove to be so?
And, some odds and ends:
-Bob Benson again appears as this strange, out of place character. Way too smiley to just be in a whorehouse waiting on Pete. Is he that desperate to be “one of them”? Although, it was funnily awkward how he was trying to signal to Pete he got him coffee while Pete’s talking to Ken.
-I liked Cooper trying to ask for a drink in Pete’s office. That was very cute. It’s hard not to see Cooper as a cute old man.
-So sure, Megan’s mother’s advice of not dressing like Don’s wife worked now – and he seemed rather into Megan after achieving that “moral” victory over Jaguar. Will Megan be able to keep this up and keep Don out of Sylvia’s bed for long?
-Don’s last interaction with Arnie in the episode in the elevator is also a display of defeat. What’s striking is the change of roles – it’s Arnie usually with the words of wisdom, where instead he throws in the towel after announcing he couldn’t save a kid and his transplant donor. Arnie is calling bullshit now – for his own life – and Don comes back with “you make your own opportunities.” Will this elevator talk change the course of their friendship, with Don feeling on the rise of his confidence while Arnie is feeling down? I wonder if this will bring Arnie closer to revealing what’s going on behind his closed doors?
Again, some interesting developments in this episode that greatly change the stakes for everyone in the Mad Men universe. The time for change seems to have come, but what will it mean for everyone? Hopefully more on that next week, and hopefully with less cheesy music!