Mad Men, Season 6

Where Do You Go for Immediate Release?
Talking television.
May 6 2013 2:01 PM

Mad Men, Season 6

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Everyone's looking for immediate release.

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Michael Yarish/AMC

Paul, Hanna,

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

What got into Bert Cooper? Did someone spike his spirits of elderflower? He seemed newly authoritative, wheeling and dealing, pushing for that $11 per share IPO. Nowadays, private equity firms woo businesses ripe for takeover by suggesting that their founders might want to “take some chips off the table.” Bert seemed eager to cash out. But with his flair for negotiation, maybe it’s not quite time to retire yet?

Roger, too, appeared to have a little more bounce in his boots, now that he’s buffed them with that dead guy’s shoeshine kit. He’s bedding stewardesses in orange underpants, he’s trolling airport lounges for leads, he’s writing lists on cocktail napkins… I was happy to see him toss aside those musty copies of his memoir, Sterling’s Gold, when he grabbed his flight bag and set off for JFK. Perhaps he’s resolved to stop living in the past.

Yes, things are looking up for lots of senior-level white guys. Above all, Don, whose mojo is back in a major way. When last we saw our antihero, he was indulging a late-night existential snit, staring woundedly out at the city from his apartment balcony. All it takes is some smarmy gamesmanship from Jaguar Herb—he suggests that a kid who prints up flyers on a car lot should look over Don’s creative work—and Don’s dander is up again. Something snapped at that table. He sat down to dinner as the Don Draper of Season 6 (making nice, hating life) and stood up the Don of Season 1 (eminently swaggy). “Never felt better in my life,” he says to Megan as they leave the entire Jaguar account in their rear view mirror.

Impetuous decisions are to Don as spinach is to Popeye. Now he’s ripping off his wife’s clothes, tearing into his work, even smiling a little. And the episode’s title—“For Immediate Release”—hints at all the impulsivity going down on everyone’s part. Ted kisses Peggy full on the lips. Ted and Don execute a corporate merger over a couple of drinks in an empty Detroit bar. Pete’s father-in-law “presses the button” on mutually assured destruction by hypocritically punishing Pete for his whorehouse shenanigans. (A whorehouse being, of course, where men go for immediate release.)

But as the guys at the top swing “from vine to vine,” as Pete puts it, the folks down below on the forest floor are far less sanguine. Joan is furious that Don would scuttle the Jaguar account after she nigh sacrificed her soul to obtain it. Did you hear the sad jangle of her charm bracelet as she banged it in frustration against her hip? Peggy’s response to the destabilizing merger news is to warily mention that she just bought real estate. She’s talking to Abe about American societal flux when she says, “I don’t like change, I want everything to stay the way it was,” but she might as well have been talking about her job.

What did you guys make of Peggy’s real and fantasy smooches with Ted? It seemed she’d turned a corner with Abe last week after he mentioned wanting children. But she just can’t stop thinking about kind, married Ted. Is it Abe’s general incompetence that’s turning her off? Is Ted a proxy for her unresolved, inchoate feelings about her previous boss? How unsettling for her, then, when she put on her makeup, waltzed into Ted’s office, and found Don waiting there to cock-block her.

I noted that Peggy’s vision of Ted in bed—soundtracked by wistful, chromatic harmonica—involved him reading a hardbound edition of Something by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Unless I’m mistaken, this title is not in fact among Emerson’s oeuvre. It was a sight gag worthy of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, but also suggested something about the Emersonian value of self-reliance.* (Don certainly turned up the knob on his individualistic tendencies this week, insisting to Dr. Rosen that “You make your own opportunities.” Though the nascent merger of SCDP and CGC suggested it can be useful to rely on teamwork sometimes.)

I liked the overall energy, the jazzy vibe of the episode. I think we all enjoy Mad Men more when Don is on his game and crushing life. We’ve got a whopper of a new account to pursue. A merger that might spice up the office with new personalities—including Harry Hamlin! Could this “Roger Sterling with bad breath” become Joan’s office husband? (One commenter has suggested that Hamlin, an absurdly handsome TV heartthrob during his time on LA Law, was in some ways the Jon Hamm of his day.)

But there are ominous notes in the air, as well. We skipped from April to May with this episode—next comes June, and the RFK assassination. I’d also like to point out that Bob Benson continues to creepily hang at the edges of the action, offering coffee, trying to pick up Pete’s whorehouse tab. In the scene where Pete and Don fight, you see Bob’s legs in the background as he eavesdrops from the office stairway. Something’s up with this guy. He is bad news.

And by the way, that Chevy everyone’s preparing to pitch? The XP-887 becomes the Vega, as you note, Paul—and not the Camaro, as some commenters believe. The Vega will turn out to be among “the most notoriously awful cars ever built.” Detroit tried to reinvent itself with a compact, but as Don Draper knows, self-reinvention can be a mixed bag. (To give our commenters some credit: Jonas Wilkerson points out that Don’s creative concepts keep hiding the product. No Heinz bottle, no Royal Hawaiian hotel, and now no car. He’s selling absence.)

Finally, did you hear Megan suggest that Don could “jump from the balcony”? She meant like a superhero. But that balcony is feeling more and more like the proverbial Chekhovian first-act gun. People keep walking up to the edge of it, staring out. I sense Matt Weiner working up to using it for something more than just atmosphere creation. You can never watch Mad Men without seeing the falling man of its opening credits.

The future is something you haven’t thought of yet,

Seth

Correction, May 6, 2013: This entry originally misspelled the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy team as "Zucker-Abrams-Zucker." (Return.)