Nothing could be more a signal to the end of an era that cutting back and forth between the corporate monster labyrinth of McCann to the gutted, beloved SC&P. This episode highlights the bleak aftermath of SC&P being finally absorbed, where the horizon is really now lost. The future couldn’t have been less clear, less hopeful, devoid of the dreams and achievemetns SC&P was made of, and our four beloved OG characters really had to face the loss this week.
In an odd coupled pairing, we see Roger and Peggy both confront their fears and disappointments together in the remains of SC&P, where they both had opportunity to rise like they never will again once they enter the gray, gross walls of McCann. Peggy is immediately undermined in the midst of the move – treated like another secretary, and McCann purposefully stalled getting her a proper office, possibly as a sign that they probably will not acknowledge her higher status or position (this is, of course, proven with the scenes with Joan). Why should they put that much effort into her if she isn’t a secretary, or a partner they’re obligated to serve up with the ruse of an office and status? Peggy, in a total act of not letting go and not letting them win, decides to set up camp at SC&P until her office is properly set up. Even when her secretary brings her flowers at home, she barks, “Don’t they know I’m a copy supervisor?” It’s the last grasps she has on the power she earned. You really recognize in these scenes here, with Roger once Peggy figures out he’s stalling as well, how truly progressive SC&P was, how forward-thinking Cooper’s vision was, how they embraced the different. Roger and Peggy choose to be haunted by this hopeful past by hanging around in the bowels of the office, Roger playing the organ cheerfully, and convincing Peggy to toast to the end of SC&P and ride around in roller skates, in this almost childlike wonder and bliss. SC&P allowed our crew to be dreamers, and allowed people to reach a potential they couldn’t in the outside world. Roger, too, was losing himself to his own selfish whatever until Cooper, wisely before his death, stung him with the truth that Roger may never be a real leader. Roger took that to heart and made the move to protect Don (partnering with McCann really was a move to protect DON, if you think about it), but ultimately failed to be a protecting leader for all of SC&P, and he knows it. Though they both ultimately walk through the dark halls of McCann by the end of the episode with their heads held high, they know that the veneer is the best they can do to deal, for now. Peggy struts in head on, but with sunglasses and a cigarette dangling from her lip, with the totally NSFW painting from Cooper (again, hanging onto a ghost of the past) – it’s almost as though she’s reinventing herself within the walls, to try to shake things up, and keep her status. I guess we’ll see what comes of her next week, although it seems clear based on Joan’s experience what Peggy’s fate COULD be.
Joan was smart enough to see the writing on the wall during their last partners meeting in Hobart’s office – everyone had amazing accounts assigned to them… except for her. While they still give Joan control over her old SC&P accounts, they undermine her ownership of them. Perhaps it’s really a ploy to squash them, since everyone seems clearly bothered and doesn’t care about her status as a former partner, as someone who can handle an account. The office female culture seems pretty clear that the women have to stick together, but women of the same ilk. Two female copywriters try to get in on Joan’s good side as soon as she gets in, perhaps in hopes that she can actually have some power. This scene is great, because in so little time you completely understand the bureaucratic machine they’ve just entered, as one of the copywriters describes the process of requesting her to be on her account. Of course, Joan defends Peggy and says Peggy will copywrite those accounts. The women still invite Joan to be part of this “ladies’ club,” and you can kind of tell that women have a particular place in this workplace. Joan has to do an account call with one of her chauvinistic bullies of episodes past, who botches the call with his insensitivity and disrespect of the work Joan has put in. Her solution – go to Ferg, who’s one of the top dogs – only highlights worse treatment to women, as Ferg makes an opportunity of getting Joan to travel with him alone. Joan’s already submitted to power with her sexual prowess, but never again. The scene where she fights back Hobart on how she’s been treated is great, though you clearly can tell she’s the underdog against the awful, almighty, and powerful. It’s the most activist we’ve ever seen Joan, and it’s upsetting to watch her rally the fight against a dog too big for her to conquer. She gets offered to be bought out, but for $.50 on the dollar. And, sadly, she relents, with a sympathetic Roger breaking the news to her once he’s finally succumbed to the powers that be. Joan has the ultimate loss – we know this job fulfills her more than anything, and being just a mother (even with the money to support her family) isn’t enough. What a tragic way to say goodbye to Joan, if this is her sign-off.
And then, there’s Don.
If the opening sequence never felt like it quite had meaning, his episode finally made this connection. Don’s fallen from grace before, but never like this. Twice Don is found looking out the window, he even taps it, as though to confirm he’s totally trapped, and can’t escape this identity, this future he no longer has control over. The second time we see him gaze out in wonder, as a plan flies by the Empire State, two streams of clouds tailing behind it. Don has always been, at heart, an escapist. You can understand why, but he’s definitely not one to completely confront his problems. It’s like a lot of who he made himself to be has been stripped away. He lost Anna Draper, lost Megan, who threw back at him the ring of Anna Draper, and now the last person left who brought him up to who he has become, Cooper, is gone, too. Don is haunted by these people of the past – his secretary hands him an envelope that was brought over from SC&P that contained Anna Draper’s ring, and in Don’s car ride to run away yet again, he has a conversation with Cooper. Don doesn’t fit into this world in McCann where he’s just one of many. It’s fitting that the characters who fare well fit in – Pete, who can still feel important and go about his business, Ted, who just wants to be one of the workers, and Harry Crane, who just wants the work to get bigger and bigger. Don is such a self-made man, and there’s a pang of pain when Hobart makes Don introduce his “new self” to him in his office: I’m Don Draper of McCann Erikson.
There’s something about this, and sitting at what he thought would be a creative meeting for beer, that tell him this isn’t where he’s meant to be. He’s not the guy commanding attention at the front. He’s not being his full potential. He’s not really Don Draper in this environment. It’s like McCann is trying to re-invent this fake persona Don’s fit his life into.
Before officially running away, though, we also get a little goodbye from Betty, too. You could argue this is a last ditch effort for Don to grasp at something real in his life, especially since he was expected to drop off Sally back at school for the year. Betty is sitting alone at the kitchen, reading Freud of all things, and announces she, too, is going back to school. Betty is also, in these changing times, reinventing herself, re-finding her purpose that she’s wanted to have for a while. (Good for her, really) Even Don recognizes this and gives her his vote of confidence. But of course, Betty reveals Sally has gone off to school already with a friend – “She comes and goes as she pleases.” Gee, she really is the daughter of Don. With nothing left to stick around for – the boys are conveniently gone, too – Don drives off, doesn’t even wait for them to come home. And, instead of going to New York, he heads west, ostensibly to find the mysterious, humbled waitress who has taken his heart.
He heads to Wisconsin to look for her, and, in a real Don Draper move, assumes the identity (having wisely snagged a business card) of the Research guy at the meeting he walked out on. He, of course, fails to find her, having waltzed into the house she walked out on (maybe they both are really perfect for each other because they both are escapists of tough pasts) and Diana’s ex sees right through the bullshit and threatens Don, saying he isn’t the only one who’s been looking for Diana.
And again, without purpose, Don continues driving, happening upon another wanderer on the road, a very Bob Dylan-looking guy who’s off to Minnesota. What better option than to keep driving away?
Don clearly saw that the absorption into McCann was the end, and has been trying to clear out and find a way out since. Remember – he even suggested moving out to LA, to start over. Who Don Draper was is what SC&P built him up to be. Arguably, you can say Don Draper ends with the end of SC&P, and now Don needs to find a new purpose. Is he still the ad man? Or is he just the vagabond wandering in until he’s no longer folded in the scene? Joan is no longer the woman she was while in McCann, so she left, too, begrudgingly. Will Roger and Peggy rise above this challenge of an identity lost? Will we even find out? These characters have been asked to reinvent themselves in the midst of the changing times (changing for the worse, perhaps) It feels like the end of the series will really be about how will they respond.