Good to see these two working together again. Jon Hamm is Don Draper and John Slattery is Roger Sterling. Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC
**Disclaimer: This is a guest recap. Your loyal Mad Men re-capper, Pat, is seeing Bruce Springsteen live tonight. My name is Isis. I watch way too much TV and was way too excited to write this recap. Please feel free to post your Mad Men conspiracy theories in the comments and I will happily join in on the speculatin’.**
“The Strategy” begins with a station wagon in the Burger Chef parking lot. We’re somewhere in suburbia. Peggy and Mathis approach the driver’s side and bribe the hurried housewife at the wheel into taking their poll. Peggy asks if the woman’s husband would ever be the one to pick up dinner. "Oh he wouldn't do that,” she responds, itching to go home before someone from the PTA group spots her. “It's bad enough that I'm not making dinner."
Pete and his #independentwoman divorcee girlfriend Bonnie are mid-flight to New York. Amid discussions of Beatles concerts and the loafers Bonnie plans to buy him on 5th Avenue, she expresses her concern over Pete and Trudy's delayed divorce. "Meet me in the restroom in 60 seconds," Bonnie whispers, hand on Pete’s crotch. "I've always wanted to do that,” Pete responds. Oh, California Pete. First the tan, now this. Live it up, Peter.
Our first glimpse of Don is in his apartment. Preparing for a visitor, he’s tidying up. Judging by the stacks of books, notebooks and typewriters, he’s ever the workaholic.
Meanwhile, we get a peek into Joan’s morning. Her mom is still living with her and Kevin, and nagging about her eating habits to boot. Before heading off to work, Joanie turns off the TV and asks that they go outside for once. Poor Kevin.
Bonnie walks into Don’s office to say hello (she doesn’t know anyone else) and Pete’s not far behind. "I hate to say it but I knew where to find you,” he tells Don as he walks into the site of Lane Price’s suicide. “I like what you've done with the place."
Christina Hendricks plays Joan Harris, who is looking like she went to the salon and said, " I wanna get down with the brown" on this episode of "Mad Men." Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC
The big Burger Chef meeting is nigh and project head Peggy is presenting the campaign to Lou and Pete. Much to Peggy and Lou’s dismay, Pete’s invited Don to join the trial run meeting. "Our job is to turn Burger Chef into a special treat served with love,” explains Peggy.
Unfortunately, as Peggy learned while polling mothers who buy burgers and fries for their broods at Burger Chef, there’s a special breed of shame that plagues these housewives when they forgo cooking each and every single meal from scratch. “We need to address how to give homemakers permission,” explains Peggy. “Well, who gives moms permission? Dads," Lou responds. Oh Lou. Lou, Lou, Lou. You remain the worst.
So Peggy launches into her pitch, a TV spot featuring a picture perfect family picking up and then having a picture perfect Burger Chef meal at home. Don’t worry though, 1969 housewife, Sterling Cooper & Partners is giving you permission to scarf down those burgers and fries shame-free. Dad’s at Burger Chef with you! He says it’s okay for you to make this decision, moms of America. You’re not alone, assures the tagline: "Aren't you glad everyone loves Burger Chef as much as you do?"
Of course boring old Lou eats this boring old pitch right up. “"It's nice to see family happiness again,” he comments. When Pete asks Don what he thinks, both he and Peggy immediately regress nine years and wait with baited breath for his approval. Don sort of bestows it, choosing his words wisely to say that it’s exactly what the client was looking for (*not* that it’s particularly brilliant). ‘Good enough,’ thinks everyone. When Lou’s in charge, good enough is what you get. Had Don been head creative, good enough would never pass as good enough.
Roger, as usual, is not at the office. We find him in a steam room, approached by a McCann Erickson exec. Word on the street is SC&P is courting Philip Morris, he says. He wonders if Don Draper’s employment will sour that deal. He insinuates that perhaps some mutually beneficial business dealings (and/or personnel exchanges?) are a possibility. Roger brushes him off: “The New York Athletic Club frowns upon people making advances in their steam room.” Oh, Rog and his yuks.
Back to the office. Pete is drinking rum in Lou’s office and he thinks it’s very, very funny. “I'm drinking rum,” he tells Peggy as she walks in. “Do you want some? That bar. It's hysterical."
Pete, Peggy and Lou are touching base when Pete suggests to Peggy that Don be the one to present her creative to Burger Chef. Don’t worry, though, he explains. It’s totally up to you. Clearly taken aback, Peggy questions him. Pete suggests she still present with him, but only to portray the role of the mother. "He'll bring authority, you'll bring emotion,” he explains. Peggy fires back, astutely, "I have authority. Don has emotion.”
Also, Ted’s on the phone from California, backing Pete and Lou’s “suggestion” to Peggy. Ever the cool head, Peggy says she’ll do whatever’s best for the account. “You know that she’s every bit as good as any woman in this business,” exclaims Pete. Oh, gee. What a compliment, Pete. Peggy cheerfully exits the meeting and as she shuts the door behind her the smile she’s put on melts away. She’s made it very far in the past nine years. But at what cost? And who are these men to make her feel lesser than? Pete, her professional equal and father to her child (currently nine years old, somewhere out there)? Ted, cheater, heartbreaker and emotional manipulator? Lou, the tired, stodgy embodiment of patriarchy itself?
Anyway, Bob Benson’s back from Detroit this episode and he’s giving the Chevy guys a tour of the office. Joan and Bob make plans to spend the day together on Sunday.
Peggy drops by Don’s office and tells him that she thinks he should give the presentation. Don will do it, but he’s not buying that it’s her idea. "Hit the tag like you just thought of it,” she coaches. “Do I do that?” he asks. “Yes you do." Don suggests Peggy revisit the Burger Chef creative from the kid’s perspective rather than the mom’s. Peggy says she’ll consider it as she leaves. Alone again, Don does a little happy dance.
Peggy runs into Megan in the hallway. It’s strange to think that Megan used to work there, at one point as Don’s secretary. When Peggy introduces Megan to Don’s current secretary, Marsha, she responds “I didn't know he was married." Megan is not amused.
Peggy shows Megan her office. Megan compliments Peggy’s digs and suggest that perhaps on day she’ll be in Don’s. Peggy then has to explain that Don’s no longer in the corner office. Megan clearly did not know this. Awkward.
Stan stops by and the group talks about dear Ginzo. Stan says he’s visited him. Peggy won’t go. I’d love to see her visit him and give him a pep talk given that she herself was institutionalized in a mental ward after giving her baby up for adoption. Except maybe she should shy away from the “pretend it didn’t happen” kind of advice Don gave her back in the day and go for something a little more constructive.
Megan surprises Don. Megan and Don go to lunch. Peggy takes her frustrations about the quality of the Burger Chef campaign out on Stan. Stan is confused.
Elisabeth Moss stars as Peggy, who has had a kind of rough season for the first six episodes of "Mad Men" this year. Credit: AMC
Roger runs into Cutler who tells him to "Stop thinking about Don and start thinking about the company.” Cutler is waging a “secret war” against Don and for control of the company and Roger calls him out on it.
And suddenly we’re with Bob Benson picking up Bill, a Chevy VP from jail for “trying to fellate an undercover officer.” The guard releasing him is a huge jerk who suggests Bob “take him to a headshrinker” before calling them ladies.
On the drive home Bill tells Bob that Chevy is going to drop SC&P in favor of in-house work. It’s not all bad news, though. There’s a possibility that GM is interested in Sterling Cooper’s services plus Buick is supposedly offering Bob a job. Bill also tells Bob that his wife “understands” his sexuality. This gets Bob thinking.
Peggy is sitting in bed in her pajamas rifling through folders, furrowing her brow and throwing papers on the ground.
Pete heads out to the suburbs to see his daughter. She doesn’t seem to know who he is. "Hello, sweetie. It's daddy, sweetheart," he has to explain. Verna, Trudy’s maid explains that Mrs. Campbell is out for the day.
Meanwhile, Don and Megan are having some serious awkwardness at home. It seems that these two are never on the same page. It’s always one of them trying painfully hard to get the attention of the other who is wholly disinterested. This week, Megan’s the latter and Don’s the former. Megan’s in town to pack up the rest of her things to bring with her to California and Don’s feeling a little anxious about it. “We are going to eat this delicious breakfast and then I’m going to take you shopping,” he says as he hugs her from behind. Megan agrees but doesn’t seem very excited about it. Pete also told Bonnie that he was going to take her shopping. These ad men seem to think that you can throw money at relationships to fix them.
Peggy continues to unload her creative frustrations on Stan. She’s at the office alone on a Saturday and decides to call him. He mistakes her for his girlfriend then quickly tells her that her work is great and to forget about it. “We both know there’s a better idea,” protests Peggy. “There’s always a better idea,” he counters.
Pete comes home from a day with his daughter and Verna to find that Trudy is still out. He phones Bonnie at the hotel to inform her that he’ll be staying with his daughter and tells her to go to the Broadway show on her own.
Peggy then calls Don and tells him that his suggestion to try the ad from the kid’s perspective was no good. She blames him for her self doubt. "Why are you undermining me? Now it’s tainted. It’s poisoned because you expressed yourself.”
Trudy comes home and Pete is incredibly jealous that she’s dating. "You’ve seen your daughter for the year, don't you have a plane to catch?" she asks. Pete attempts to shame Trudy for seeing other men (can you say hypocrite?) to which she simply responds, “You’re not a part of this family anymore.” Burn. Pete shoves his beer bottle in a cake that’s sitting on the kitchen counter and storms out. It seems he hasn’t matured since the chicken-out-the-window incident.
It’s Sunday now, and time for Bob and Joan’s visit. Bob is greeted at the door by Joan’s mother, whom he presents with a bouquet of flowers. Kevin is excited to see him. Bob gives Kevin an Erector Set. “America needs engineers.” They then embark on a day that begins with pancakes and ends with an ice cream sundae. That day sounds perfect.
Megan is packing her belongings up and Don is freaking out. He tells her he can bring some of her things to her when he visits but she gets uncomfortable and says they should meet somewhere else “where there’s nothing else going on.” Don catches a glimpse of an old newspaper with a headline about RFK’s assassination on the cover. Not a great omen.
Meanwhile, Pete’s girlfriend is very angry at him for ditching her all week. She’s dripping in shopping bags and very unhappy. “I don’t like you in New York,” she says. He responds, “Yeah, well then you don’t like me.”
Don shows up to help Peggy out and she wants to know how he thinks. “Do it out loud,” she demands. Naturally, he pours them drinks. “Whenever I’m unsure about an idea, first I abuse the people whose help I need, then I take a nap." Peggy’s been emulating Don more than she knows. They decide to start from scratch.
Joan and Bob are sipping adult beverages and winding down the night when Bob suddenly ruins everything with a marriage proposal. When she turns him down Bob begs. “My face doesn’t please you?” Oh, Bob. Joan knows he’s gay and tells him he shouldn’t be with a woman. He argues that it would be convenient for both of them—for him because when he takes the job at Buick they’ll expect a “certain kind of man” (yes he lets the Chevy news slip too) and for her because, well, she’s a sad sack spinster according to society. Joanie then gets real wise on him, explaining "I want love and I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement. And you should too.”
Perhaps Bob will find himself at the Stonewall Inn this summer? The riots happened in June 1969 after all...
The Don and Peggy dynamic of yore is back and better than ever in the last fifteen minutes of “The Strategy.” The former mentor and mentee discuss the “happy family” strategy for Burger Chef, and find themselves questioning where they fit into this ideal and whether it even exists at all anymore. “Are there people that eat dinner and smile at each other?” asks Peggy.
Peggy is unsure about her life choices and confesses to Don that she just turned thirty. Thus ensues what may be my favorite bit of dialogue all season:
Peggy: “What the hell do I know about being a mom? I just turned 30, Don.”
Don: “S--. When?”
Peggy: “A couple weeks ago. Now I’m one of those women lying about their age. I hate them.”
Don: "I worry about a lot of things, but I don't worry about you.”
Peggy: "What do you have to worry about?”
Don: “That I never did anything. That I don’t have anyone.
Peggy: I was in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania. I looked in the window of so many station wagons. What did I do wrong?”
Don: * Hands her a tissue.* "You’re doing great."
Peggy: “"What if there was a place, where you could break bread, and anyone who was sitting there was your family?" *Cries.*
Then, timed just perfectly, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” plays on the radio and Don asks Peggy to dance. It’s an incredibly touching moment between two hard headed and driven nonconformists. Peggy leans her head on Don’s chest. Don softly kisses her on the head. This is a very special and storied relationship, and just when both are at their loneliest, they find strength and support in one another.
We then see Megan and Bonnie, seated separately on the same flight back to Los Angeles. The camera pans across the aisle from one to the other and then lingers on a black curtain closing in the background. With all of the plane imagery and symbolism this season (promo photos, promo tagline “It’s All Up In The Air,” countless scenes set on planes) I can’t help but wonder if there will in fact be a plane crash. Or a plane account landed by someone?
Back at the office the partners learn that Chevy has jumped ship. Joan knew and Roger’s upset she didn’t tell her. The team panics and somehow Don’s loyal pal and Roger’s nemesis Harry Crane is named partner. Took them long enough. Roger thinks McCann is worried that Sterling Cooper plans on stealing Buick from them.
Finally, we’re in a Burger Chef. Don, Peggy and Pete sit down to eat. Peggy wants to shoot the ad in the restaurant. Pete begins to question her ideas but Don steps in to defend her. “She’s doing it the way she wants to do it. You want it right or not?” he asks. Peggy smiles. Pete bites into his burger and Don points at the ketchup on his chin. Peggy reaches across and hands him a napkin. The laugh and smile. The camera pans out and reveals a scene full of families, all eating at Burger Chef.
Peggy, Pete and Don. They’re all flawed, lonely, and have either lost their families or never had one in the first place. Over the past nine years though, their relationships have evolved into something strong and special. It’s as if Peggy and Pete were Don’s children...who had a child together. So many ups, downs, secrets and joys shared between these three. It really is quite remarkable to see them breaking bread, smiling at each other. Like one of those families.