It isn’t serendipitous that Jared Harris directed “Time & Life,” the latest episode of Mad Men. As you may already know, Harris played Lane Pryce from Season 3 to Season 5, the warm charismatic foreigner who falls in love with New York City and ultimately commits suicide. The moment Pryce finally entered into Mad Men’s family (as well as ours) and was no longer “the Other” was when he helped orchestrate the firing of his partners in order to form the new agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. He became an honorary American at that time because his name was on the wall. Unwilling to go down with the ship, thanks in part to Don’s persuasion, Pryce screwed up the deal between the British agency Putnam, Powell & Lowe and McCann Erickson. While “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” is undoubtedly a fan favorite, it’s level of profundity pales in comparison to perhaps the greatest Mad Men episode of all, “The Suitcase.” So it was indeed a sad moment when Weiner wrote him off the show by tying a noose around his neck. “Shut the Door” is like a feel-good movie where the heroes triumph in the face of adversity. Bert, Roger, and Don were independent again and, for the second time, Don dodged McCann’s bullet. Unfortunately this time around, history couldn’t repeat itself. SC&P has died. Who better to direct the death of the agency than Harris himself?
We are four episodes into the final season and it is more than evident that Matthew Weiner is bookending past events. Much to the dismay of fans, who have been overly critical and guilty of misreading, the first three episodes have been depressing as hell thanks to Don’s downtrodden life. Old flames make a return. Don contemplates existentialism. Weiner is essentially cleansing Don of all his sins. Yet, despite it being a plot heavy and somewhat uplifting episode, Weiner really hammers the final nail into Don’s coffin.
Roger begins the day by finding out that Dawn forgot to pay the lease to their office. Back to old habits, Roger yells for Joan as if we were back in Season 1, which prompts Joan to retort, “Don’t do that.” Joan quickly learns that someone at McCann gave the Time-Life Building a notice on the lease. And in a cute moment between Roger and Joan, just like the good ol’ days, they both mischievously listen to the phone as they are being told that SC&P is being swallowed whole by McCann. What stung most was that it was McCann’s plan from day one. Roger got bamboozled and you can see the immense guilt in his eyes. Perhaps due to age or wisdom, everybody except Pete seems ready to give up. But after Lou Avery calls up Don and yells, “Enjoy the rest of your miserable life,” Don dusts off the gloves and fights. Unlike “Shut the Door,” their survival this time is not dependent on stealing back clients but ensuring they all keep their accounts by clearing out any conflicting accounts. They could set up in their moderate office in California.
But before Don could work his magic on Jim Hobart, Hobart stops him and assures them that it’s done. There have been many great memorable boardroom scenes in cinema, such as in The Godfather Parts 1 and 2, and this one belongs in that company. Hobart tells them that they have just died and gone to advertising heaven by getting five of the most coveted jobs in advertising. It is quite a compliment as Hobart reminds them, “I don’t have to sell you on this.” But if there is a Devil in the world of advertising, I’m pretty sure it’s this guy. Hobart looks at Roger and gives him Buick. Ted gets Ortho Pharmaceutical. Pete inherits Nabisco. And as Don slowly looks up at Hobart as if he already knows the answer, Hobart knights Don with Coca-Cola. And if you don’t remember in Season 1, Coca-Cola was what Hobart used to entice Don into joining McCann by setting Betty up as a Coca-Cola model. McCann has finally gotten their man and won.
While this seems like a huge promotion for the partners, they will also be losing something more important: autonomy. Joan, who wasn’t endowed with any account from Hobart, must now work with those sleazy men in the grey flannel suits we saw in “Severance.” Everyone ultimately got what they wanted in their careers. The only downside is that they couldn’t get it on their own terms. Even Peggy reaps the benefit as her headhunter tells her that by taking the job in McCann, her salary will grow four times as much in three years. Nevertheless, another part of Don has just died.
But I am going to end this review by highlighting the best part of this episode. While the company is dissolved, we see other relationships solidify into hope. We see Pete and Trudy working together again to get Tammy into the school that have been attended by many Campbells before them. However, thanks to a family squabble that occurred more 300 years ago, Tammy does not get admitted and Pete finally delivers a punch instead of receiving one. There’s a possibility they can both reconcile and become a happy family again.
Meanwhile, Peggy is reminded again of the boy she gave up in Season 1. After failing to get the non-actor kids to naturally play with the toys in front of them, Stan jumps in and loosens up the environment but not before he tells Peggy, “You hate kids.” Later, one of the little girls accidentally staples her finger with a staple, leading to an argument between Peggy and the girl’s mother. However, as soon as Stan steps in and takes a couple of jabs at this irresponsible mother, Peggy jumps in and defends her. Stan’s right. He can’t even be on her side. Peggy tells Stan that she could just be type of mother who followed her heart and got into trouble. Of course, Peggy is really talking about herself as she tells someone, for the first time, about the child she gave up. Stan apologizes and later decides to follow Peggy into McCann. Peggy and Stan’s relationship has caused a flurry on Twitter as fans are begging for them to end up together. However, I love that they are simply husband and wife in the workplace. After all, as mentioned by Roger, both he and Don married their secretaries. Their work wives morphed into personal ones and look how well that turned out.
With each ensuing episode, as Don’s façade slowly peels away, I am more hopeful that their lives are heading in the right direction. As Pete says, “For the first time, I feel like whatever happens is supposed to happen.” And it isn’t because they are getting bigger accounts and more wealth. It’s because there is a sense of finality in this stage of their lives. What’s next? And then? Roger seems legitimately content with Marie Calvet. Joan is with Bruce Greenwood. I mean, Richard Burghoff. Pete still has a chance to make amends with Trudy. Peggy and Stan’s work marriage will continue at McCann. To a certain extent, Jared Harris has exorcised Pryce’s demons by directing such a memorable episode. The only question mark is Don. I see change Don changing, and I sincerely hope Weiner gives him a proper send off with the final three episodes.