There you are, Mad Men.
Just when I thought that maybe the first half of the AMC drama’s final season was going to be little more than a navel-gazing exercise, we get an episode that has all of the elements of great Mad Mens past: Pete acting like a bratty child, and Trudy having none of it; Don and Peggy in a room, doing what they do best; the partners arguing in the conference room, with at least one of them stomping out in protest; and an incredibly wrongheaded proposal.
Plus, Bob Benson! Cute kids! The absence of Betty’s suck-a-lemon face!
It’s not “The Suitcase,” but it’s not bad. Let’s review the highlights of the very good “The Strategy.”
CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE | Peggy’s team has come up with a Burger Chef campaign that everyone seems to like; it centers on a harried mom meeting up with her husband at the fast-food joint and sharing a family meal with their kids. “Our job is to turn Burger Chef into a special treat, served with love,” she says, buoyed by everyone’s enthusiasm for the work. Pete, who’s visiting from California, asks Don what he thinks, and it’s awkward for a moment before Draper backs Pegs. Go team!
However, Pete also thinks that Sterling Cooper & Partners has a better chance of landing the account if Don does the heavy lifting during the presentation. “Don will give authority, and you will give emotion,” Pete says, and I don’t think it’s possible for him to be any more patronizing than he is as he assures her that the ultimate decision about who’ll pitch is in her hands. Peggy caves, to Pete’s delight. “You know that she’s every bit as good as any woman in this business!” he chortles. (Apparently, I was wrong.)
When Peggy breaks the news to Don, he uses the opportunity to say that maybe the ad should be told from the kids’ point of view. Pegs decides that’s a terrible idea – but after much lost sleep and weekend hours at the office, she knows that the campaign they have isn’t as kickass as it should be. She calls Don at home – “Why are you undermining me?” – and he leaves a visiting Megan to come in and help Peggy rework what they’ve done. “You really want to help me? Show me how you think,” she tells her mentor. So over drinks in Lou’s office, they start from scratch.
SHALL WE DANCE? | Don and Peggy, brainstorming in a room? Yes, please! As they talk, Peggy wonders whether the smiling nuclear family in their ad even exists anymore, which snowballs into her confessing that she’s been lying about her age (she turned 30 a few weeks back) and that she wonders “What did I do wrong?” when she sees women her age with husbands and kids. Don, who’s in an exceptional mood for most of the episode, reassures her, “You’re doing great” and hands her his handkerchief to dry her tears.
The emotional outburst had a positive side effect: Peggy had a great new idea for the campaign. And as the radio plays Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” Don holds out his hand, asking her to dance. So the pair slowly sway together in Lou’s office, her head resting on his chest, him kissing her head, all of those terrible things they’ve said to/thrown at each other fading (until the next time they tick each other off) as Ol’ Blue Eyes croons.
This is not the Don we’ve seen all season, but I don’t even care, because I need Peggy to have a win, damnit! And it seems her new Burger Chef strategy is even better – or, at least, more realistic — than the original, as we learn when she gathers Don and Pete at one of the chain’s shops. “Every table here is the family table,” she says, announcing her intention to shoot the ad in an actual BC restaurant. Pete grumbles a little but acquiesces, they all eat dinner, and the camera slowly pulls out on the dysfunctional, non-traditional family enjoying a meal together.
IN WHICH TRUDY RULES (AGAIN) | Too bad Pete’s actual family life isn’t quite as warm and fuzzy. He brings Bonnie to New York for his week-long work trip, but the most attention she gets from him comes in the airplane bathroom on the flight in. (Your Mile High Club card should arrive in five to seven business days, Mr. Campbell.)
The rest of the time, Pete’s preoccupied either with work, creeping out his daughter (who doesn’t seem to know who he is) and slut-shaming Trudy for daring to go on a date. “I don’t like you carrying on like this. It’s immoral. You have a child,” he sneers, surprising her (and shoving in an impressive amount of hypocrisy) at the Cos Cob home they used to share. Trudy tells him to quit that noise; though they’re not divorced yet, they soon will be, and “You’re not part of this family anymore.” #TeamTrudyAllTheWay
We later see Bonnie heading back to California – solo – on the same plane as Megan. (Here’s your 10-second recap of Megan’s New York visit: She’s happier out West, he’s happier in Manhattan. And scene!)
WHAT ABOUT BOB? | Not gonna lie: Bob Benson’s SC&P visit played a big part in my satisfaction with this week’s episode. He arrives with a few Chevy execs, one of whom calls him in the middle of the night after being arrested for propositioning an undercover New York City cop. The exec (played by the hardworking Matthew Glave, who will always be The Wedding Singer‘s Glenn Guglia to me) knows that Bob, too, prefers the company of men, and he wonders, “How did you live in this city? So much temptation.” “It was hard,” Benson says, no doubt thinking of Pete’s manly sideburns. The most important upshot of their late night conversation: Chevy is going to leave SC&P, and Bob’s going to be offered a job at Buick.
The next time we see Mr. Benson, he’s arriving at Joan’s. (Side note: Please compare the way Kevin responds to Bob and the way Tammy responds to Pete. Kids aren’t dumb.) “I see a day that starts with pancakes and ends with an ice cream sundae!” Bob cheerily announces. Oh Bob, if I didn’t already love you, that sentence would’ve sealed the deal.
At the end of the evening, after Joan’s mom and son have gone to bed, Bob pulls out a ring and proposes to the flabbergasted redhead, then kisses her. “Put that away,” she says gently… and then “You don’t want this” a tad bit more forcefully… and then when it seems like only the blunt truth will do, “Bob, you shouldn’t be with a woman.”
He all but asks her to be his lawfully wedded beard when he tells her about Chevy’s imminent flight and how Buick expects their employees to be a certain kind of men (read: not gay). He brings up her advancing age and how she’s not likely to get a better offer – really, it’s not quite as harsh as I’m making it sound here – which cements her decision. “I want love, and I’d rather die hoping it happens than make some arrangement.” Yet another reason you’re one of my favorites, Red.
Now it’s your turn. Were you pleased to see Bob back at SC&P? Did you like the Don-Peggy stuff as much as I did? Do you think Harry deserves to be a partner? Sound off in the comments!