We all know how Don Draper feels about nostalgia. The show has already hinted at his famous Carousel pitch once this season, and on the surface, there’s a lot that could make “The Strategy” seem like a regression: the Sinatra, the yearning for simpler times, the abandonment of Peggy’s female-centric Burger Chef idea in favor of a more traditional one. But there was plenty of forward motion at play this week as well, particularly with Joan.
“The Strategy” was, ultimately, about the plans we make and when it’s time to give them up and just improvise. The most obvious example here was Peggy, who came up with a strong Burger Chef strategy about a busy mother. She was sent into a spiral of self-doubt after Pete requested that Don deliver her pitch, and the latter casually bounced a different idea off of her. She second-guesses herself, and she’s unable to “live in that space, in the not-knowing” as Don puts it. Eventually she’s inspired after she and her former mentor are able to finally put their differences behind them and bond over their shared fears that “I never did anything and that I don’t have anyone,” dancing to the obvious-but-perfect “My Way.” The idea she finally settles on is that Burger Chef is a place where people can go to break bread, escape the TV for a few precious moments, where whoever you’re sitting with is family.
Don’s smile says it all when Peggy bounces that last bit about family off of him, partly because family is something he cares about now that his heart’s exploded and he’s capable of love. The idea that blood relation isn’t always what makes a family is an appealing reminder that he does have someone. We don’t get to choose our coworkers, just like we don’t get to choose our relatives, but when you’re around someone eight hours a day for years, working toward a shared goal and, yes, probably sharing more than a few meals, a certain connection forms. The Peggy-Don bond is much deeper than that, but as that final scene with the pair of them and Pete eating at Burger Chef illustrates, everyone at Sterling Cooper is part of a larger work family. Some of that comes from the sheer amount of time spent together, but it’s also because they’re all cut from the same cloth, full of insatiable ambition. In many cases they’ve alienated their real families, so Sterling Cooper becomes a surrogate of sorts.
That seems to be the case with Pete in particular this week, as his relationship with Bonnie is put to its first real test during their stay in New York. The family he freed himself of for sunny California is, unsurprisingly, pretty much lost to him—his daughter Tammy doesn’t seem to recognize him and certainly isn’t excited to see him, and Trudy uses his visit as an opportunity to flaunt the fact that she’s dating again—and when he falls back in with his Sterling Cooper family, Bonnie’s upset, claiming “I don’t like you in New York.” “Then you don’t like me,” Pete responds, and Bonnie winds up on a plane back to California alone.
But while the Sterling Cooper family chows down on burgers and yearns for 1955, it’s Joan who pushes us closer to the future. A single working mother may still be “too sad for an ad” in 1969, but it’s the life Joan leads, and she’s not ashamed to live it. Bob Benson finally made his return from Detroit, and he had an eventful week that culminated with him offering Joan an out from single motherhood by proposing to her. After one of the Chevy execs is caught trying to fellate an undercover cop, he tells Bob that Chevy is going to move the XP in-house (meaning SC&P will lose the account) but that there’s a job waiting for him at Buick. He tells Joan, but only after she tells him to put the ring away. Bob offers her security, a father for her son, but he can’t give her what she really wants, and while “get married, have babies, become a housewife” may have been Joan’s original plan, she abandoned it long ago and has been playing it by ear since kicking Greg to the curb. She’s a career woman, and she knows now that she deserves it all: the job, the family, someone who will love her and treat her right. “I want love, and I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement,” she tells Bob.
The Chevy news gets back to the office, and Cutler’s solution is to go public with the computer and make Harry a partner. Roger’s opposed because he’s opposed to pretty much anything suggested by Cutler, and Joan’s furious because she’s hated Harry ever since he made that “my achievements happened in broad daylight” comment. Roger realizes McCann is worried about losing Buick, and all signs point to him tossing the Chevy plan out the window and pursuing Buick as a way to save the agency from Cutler’s rule. The office is a family, but it wouldn’t be Sterling Cooper if it wasn’t a dysfunctional one.
— I was glad to see that Joan has apparently known about Bob’s sexuality for a while and wasn’t being strung along. I wonder if he told her, or if she figured it out for herself.
— “Don will give authority, you will give emotion.” “I have authority, and Don has emotion.” Wow, way to summarize this entire season, Peggy.
— Megan’s visit just illustrated the ever-widening gap between her and Don, as she’s slowly moving more and more of her stuff out to California.
— “We both know there’s a better idea.” “There’s always a better idea.”
— “I know your debutante maneuvers.”
— What was with the Kennedy assassination paper? Was it foreshadowing Don and Peggy’s nostalgia trip, a little reminder of the Camelot that was lost this decade? Or is it a dark omen of what’s to come?
— “First I abuse the people whose help I need, then I take a nap.” Oh Draper. At least you’re self-aware?
— More fire imagery this week with Bob Benson flicking that lighter on and off.