9.5

Mad Men Review: "Time & Life"

TV Reviews Mad Men
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<i>Mad Men</i> Review: "Time & Life"

“What’s in a name?”

These are not words we’d necessarily expect to hear coming from Don Draper, a man whose new name was the key to an entirely new existence, a man who was willing to cut his own brother out of his life to protect the moniker. A name is everything to Don; it’s identity, something he’s worked most of his adult life to build from scratch. He’s spent an entire career telling clients and consumers why names matter; why Lucky Strike means anything different than Marlboro or Commander; why when a name like Caldicott Farms gets tainted, it’s time to move on to a new one.

He’s not the only one, either. Names are extremely important throughout the entire Mad Men universe, as we’re reminded when Pete and Trudy’s daughter Tammy is denied entry into a private school based on a 300-year-old beef between the Campbells and the family of the man in charge of admissions. So it makes sense that when the partners find out in “Time & Life” that McCann-Erickson plans to dissolve and absorb the agency, they’re going to fight as hard as they can to preserve the Sterling Cooper name.

After receiving the news that Lou Avery’s quitting to move to Japan and produce his Scout’s Honor cartoon, Don has the bright idea to secure any clients that would be a conflict with McCann—Sunkist, Burger Chef, Dow Chemical—and move the agency to California to operate out of the now-empty, modest space they have there as Sterling Cooper West. It’s a clever move, reminiscent of when he convinced the partners to quit to escape their British ownership and start their own agency at the end of season three. Of course, we think, He couldn’t write that Gettysburg address last week because he had nothing to fight for, but now that his back’s against the wall, it’s Draper time.

But for the first time in a long time, Don is handed a professional failure and we have an ending in sight for Mad Men. He and the rest of the partners aren’t used to losing, so when their plan hits its first bump—Ken flat-out refuses to take Dow to Sterling Cooper West—they press on, and after Trudy reminds Pete that “you never take no for an answer,” he calls up Secor Laxatives and convinces them to come aboard, ensuring that the hypothetical agency has enough billings to be profitable out west, just in time for Don and Roger to crack a laxative joke (“were they difficult to move?”) on the way to their meeting with McCann. They’re so lighthearted and confident. They’ve got this. What a time to be alive. But no—before Don can even get into the meat of his pitch, he’s interrupted and asked to sit down, and Jim Hobart tells them it’s done. “You passed the test,” he says. “You are dying and going to advertising heaven.” They don’t have much say in the matter—all of the partners are under contract for four more years—and they sort of alternate between looking stunned and slowly warming to the idea as Jim rattles off some of their big-name clients (the look on Don’s face when Jim says “Coca-Cola” says it all). Things are really coming to an end for Sterling Cooper, as the image of the partners all seated across from Jim Hobart reminds us by calling back to an earlier image from the end of season five:

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Take away Bert and add Ted, and they’re even in the same order. The only difference is that in that empty office, they’re gazing outward, looking toward the future, with a little space between them, and here they’re huddled around the same table, working towards a singular goal, staring back at what they’ve now come to realize is the end of the line.

Interestingly, it’s when we lose the Sterling Cooper name that we’re reminded of the close connections between these characters. When Pete first learns the news, he takes Peggy into his office to give her a secret heads-up in case she wants to start job-hunting, but also to vent and express his fears about working for a different company. “I’ve never worked anywhere else,” he says, and like a mom reassuring her kid that he’ll make plenty of new friends on the first day of school, she tells him he’ll be great. Peggy gives Stan the same courtesy heads-up and, after a rough day of working with child actors, she tells him about the baby she had and gave up for adoption nine years ago. The partners go out for drinks after their fateful meeting with Jim Hobart, but they ignore his suggestion to “pop some champagne” and instead knock back a few beers. (Seriously, when was the last time we saw Don ditch his usual old-fashioned for a brewski?) Joan distributes hugs before she leaves for her date with Richard, and it looks like any animosity between her and Don leftover from last season is now gone. “We went down swinging,” she tells him. Before he takes off, Roger grabs Don’s face, tells him “you’re okay” and plants a kiss on his cheek.

In fact, whether or not they actually believe it, that optimism is echoed throughout the episode. “Whatever happens is supposed to happen,” says Pete. “Everything is going to be okay,” Peggy tells Stan when she reveals her decision to go to McCann. “This is the beginning of something, not the end,” Don insists to the buzzing office after the news doesn’t go over so well. They don’t seem to be listening, but what he says makes sense, at least for him. What’s in a name? Everything, but Don of all people knows that you can’t always stick with the one you’re given, and the McCann name will give him access to new heights—overall, a positive for someone who, as Roger notes, is “always reaching.”

Stray Observations:
—Pete and Peggy’s mutual understanding/friendship/whatever you want to call it is one of the most underrated aspects of the show. Any scene these two share is fantastic.
—This episode was directed by Jared Harris (who played Lane Pryce), so in a way, this former partner was also present and a part of the end of Sterling Cooper.
—I love that Pete’s inability to swear results in him saying “poop” in a business meeting.
— “I don’t care how bad it is, it’s not that bad.”
—Great week for Stan/Peggy ‘shippers. Now that Elaine’s out of the picture, is it possible these two can take things to the next level?
— “Boldness is always rewarded.”
—Is the revelation that Ted is dating an old college girlfriend in New York the only resolution to his thing with Peggy we’re going to get? It seems like these two have both moved on.
—It has been too long since we’ve had a really great Pete episode, but this one did not disappoint.
—Of course Pete’s ancestors murdered a family while they were sleeping because the king ordered them to. Of course they did.
— “Greenwich, Connecticut is built on divorce money!”
— “How do I describe California in a way that doesn’t make them jealous?” Oh Don. Your California dream is officially dead for the next four years.
— “You can’t punch everyone.”
— “The city’s become a toilet.”
—It’s possible this will be the last time we see Trudy, and if so, I’m glad she and Pete seem to be in a good place with each other, finally.
—Peggy’s comeback to the stage mom who was mad that her daughter stapled her finger under her watch was fantastic: “You shouldn’t have abandoned a child in a midtown office building.”
—Diana’s gone, hopefully for good. With only three episodes left, we can’t be wasting any more time on her.
—Roger also had a pretty good zinger for Don after an incredulous Don was skeptical about his relationship with Marie: “When I married my secretary, you were hard on me, and then you went and did the same thing.”
—If Mad Men took place in present times, that last phone conversation between Peggy and Stan would have taken place entirely via Gchat.