Mad Men: Season 6, Episode 6–For Immediate Release

“Just once, I’d like to hear you use the word ‘we’. Because we’re all rooting from the sidelines, hoping that you’ll decide whatever you think is right for our lives.”

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After last week’s thoughtful tussle with history, it was back to business with a vengeance for this week’s Mad Men. With Matthew Weiner scripting solo for the first time since the season premiere, this week saw the fortunes of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce on some kind of insane rollercoaster, as Big Decisions were made by sub-cliques among the partners who surely should have checked with the others before making them. As ever, it turned out to be (by a very lucky combination of circumstances), Don and Roger who came up smelling of roses, while the ever-unlucky Pete Campbell saw his stock both at work and at home go plunging.

The ep opened with a seemingly secret cabal of Bert, Joan and Pete discussing plans to take the company public. Things, it seemed, were going well; and as Pete pointed out to Joan, each partner would effectively be holding more than a million dollars of stock. It did, however, seem odd that they were making this Big Decision without consulting Don and Roger – a choice that would come back to bite them time and again throughout the episode.

Indeed, if this week had a theme, it was that a lack of communication can be everyone’s downfall. Roger, for his part, was taking advantage of his latest squeeze’s position as hostess at a first class airline lounge to get information about potential clients that might be travelling. It was a good scheme, and less mercenary than some of Roger’s – at least the delectable Daisy was under no illusions about her uses to him.

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Trouble was, Roger hadn’t bothered telling anyone what he was up to either. As it turned out, this was a problem for Don, who was already stuck with the vexation of Megan’s French-Canadian mother Marie visiting for Mother’s Day. Roger had summoned Don to a dinner with the slimy Herb Rennet of Jaguar, to smooth over their awkward relationship without the drag factor of the unctuous Pete Campbell. To help matters along, he suggested the dinner be “stuffed with spouses”. Roger’s a sharp cookie, but he seems not to have noticed that no social occasion involving Don Draper ever goes smoothly.

In a bind, Don suggested Marie join them, and eager to… ‘re-acquaint’ herself with Roger, she happily agreed. The trouble was that Roger, in the event, didn’t turn up. He was busy acting on intel from Daisy, and schmoozing a blubbery exec from Detroit in the first class lounge of Northwest Orient.

That didn’t go down well with Marie, nor with the oily Herb. While she demolished drink after drink, his vacuous wife prattled on about puppies while Marie insulted her in French. Megan managed to keep the deception of what her mother was actually saying rather well – and it’s an amusing coincidence that this was also a running gag in Game of Thrones for the last few weeks.

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As ever then, dinner was firmly on course for disaster, and the food hadn’t even turned up yet. It got even worse when the ladies went to “powder their noses”, and Don got down to business with Herb. He’s never forgiven the slimy car salesman for making Joan prostitute herself to get the account, and now Herb was trying to sidle in on the creative end with one of his own people. That did it for Don, and he told Herb exactly where he could stick the Jaguar account. As he commented to the speechless Herb, “I’ve never felt better in my life”.

Unfortunately, Don’s solo decision that SCDP could live without the Jaguar account was the worst possible news for the proposed flotation, prompting a wave of fury from Joan in particular. She knew how important the account was, particularly to the agency’s stock value; and losing it meant that what she’d had to do to get it now felt worthless. “If I could work with him,” she fumed, “why couldn’t you?”

Don’s bacon was saved by the fortuitous arrival of Roger, mug from a freshly done deal at the airport lounge. The plump exec he’d been schmoozing was from Chevrolet, and SCDP now had a chance at the account for their top secret new project car.

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Even when the agency got the Jaguar account, Don had been restless at the idea that they should be advertising a niche British luxury car with a less than ‘sterling’ reliability record; what he’d wanted, he said at the time, was Chevrolet. The mass market auto that half the country drove would be a far bigger moneyspinner, and properly announce that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce were a force to be reckoned with.

And now he and Roger were off to Detroit to secure that very account. It looked like SCDP’s fortunes had gone up with the flotation prospect, then rapidly down with the loss of the Jaguar account, then instantly back up with the chance of bagging Chevy. But the seesaw wasn’t finished yet, as Roger and Don, waiting in the first class lounge, heard rumours from the other ad men present that they’d just lost one of their other most prestigious accounts – Vicks Chemical, manufacturers of cold remedies.

As it turned out, this was a case where Pete’s usual hard luck collided with the fortunes of everyone else in the company. Visiting a colourful Manhattan ‘party house’ (ie brothel), he’d chanced on seeing his father in law finishing an assignation with “the biggest, blackest prostitute you ever saw”.

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Trouble was, Trudy’s dad Tom Vogel is also a senior exec at Vicks, and the reason SCDP got the account in the first place. Ken Cosgrove was quick to reassure Pete that, given how much they both had to lose, Tom would likely never make anything of their mutually witnessed indiscretions. As he put it, it was Mutually Assured Destruction. Unfortunately for Pete, he was dead wrong. Tom didn’t give a fig for his own potential destruction now he’d seen just what kind of a man his ‘princess’ had married.

So he’d pulled the account, and when the fuming Pete barged into his office, told him to break off the marriage to his daughter. Of course, he wasn’t aware that Pete and Trudy’s marriage was already on the rocks, holding together only for the sake of Trudy’s cherished respectable appearance. Looks like it’s really over this time though, and Pete can’t even have the satisfaction of his earlier jibes to Trudy about how he was soon to become very rich. Seeing him stewing in his own resentment was guilty fun, and reminded us of just how good Vincent Kartheiser is in the part. He’s even started combing his hair way, way back this year to emphasise Pete’s receding hairline.

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Poor old Pete – he can’t even manage to angrily storm down the stairs to chew out Don without landing on his ass.

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With the loss of both Jaguar and Vicks, everything hinged on Roger and Don securing the Chevy account. It was looking hopeful until Don, as ever parked at the hotel bar in the early hours, chanced to run into his arch rival – Ted Chaough. Ted’s reaction was no more welcoming; “Damn it!” was his first response on seeing Don.

Both realised, particularly after the similar situation with Heinz ketchup a couple of weeks ago, that if both their smallish agencies had been invited alongside the big ones, they were unlikely to secure the account. They’d only been brought in to pilfer their creative ideas, which would then be handed over to the bigger fish with the greater resources.

So it looked like SCDP was firmly on a down trajectory. As, it seemed, was Ted’s company Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. Mirroring the fortunes of SCDP, they’d just lost their own niche auto account – Alfa Romeo – and Ted’s senior creative partner had disclosed that he had pancreatic cancer.

And it was at this point, seemingly joking, that Don remarked how much better their chances would be if they pooled their resources – black and white pawns fighting together. Ted, though, took it seriously – as I’m sure was Don’s intention, making it seem like the idea was every bit his rival’s as much as his own. So the stage was set for the biggest upheaval since the partners jumped ship from the original Sterling Cooper to set up SCDP. Don, with Roger’s cagey approval, had singlehandedly made the Big Decision to merge SCDP with Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. And it worked – they got the Chevy account.

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Heaven knows what the rest of the partners will make of this next week. Doubtless Pete will be furious at the influx of new blood, Bert will probably quietly approve, and Joan – who knows if she’s forgiven Don for his misplaced chivalry yet? Peggy, meanwhile, was visibly nonplussed to find Don in Ted’s office, and find that, in effect, she’s now back working at the company she left last year. Earlier, she’d commented on Abe’s optimism about the gentrification of their new neighbourhood – “I don’t like change. I want things to stay exactly as they are,” a frequent lament of the characters in this show. Now, her biggest change – leaving SCDP to further her career – has just been reversed.

Where’s Bob Benson?

SCDP’s mystery man was much in evidence this week, and he now seems to be acting as Pete’s PA. The smile never left his face even as he hovered around the many shouty disagreements of the partners, or even when he diplomatically accompanied Pete to the ‘party house’.

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As yet though, we still have very little idea of who this seemingly genial, likeable figure is, or why he’s being made so significant. Perhaps he’s the personification of Death?

Historical Events

Far fewer after last week’s veritable torrent of them. Abe remarked on the forthcoming election, expressing approval that Lyndon Johnson was out of the race. It would be a McCarthy win, he stated, or “at worst” a Kennedy win. Peggy’s memo, typed at the end of the episode, gave the date as May 17, 1968 – Bobby Kennedy has less than a month to live.

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Arthur Rosen popped by Don’s apartment, and on meeting Marie, enquired whether it was a good idea for his son to visit Paris right now. Given that she lives in Montreal, she may not be best placed to respond, but certainly the streets of Paris were, at that point, a hotbed of civil unrest. Student strikes and occupations had spiralled into a general strike so massive it nearly toppled the De Gaulle government. As ever, the French government responded with violent police action, and De Gaulle found himself fleeing to Germany for safety.

On automotive matters, Cutler, Gleason and Chaough certainly chose the wrong time to ditch Alfa Romeo. As was noted at their partners’ meeting, sales of Alfa Spiders were at that point going through the roof, thanks to the car’s prominent appearance in a little movie called The Graduate.

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And that top secret Chevy that Don and everyone else seemed so impressed by (“it’s the first car designed by a computer!”) was the XP-887, later to be known to the world as the Chevy Vega. Despite Don’s admiration, it was neither ground breaking nor any more than middlingly successful. It certainly didn’t shake the automotive world the way the Mustang did, whatever the partners at SCDP might think.

Dedicated Followers of Fashion

With the business-oriented plotlines, there were fewer than usual eye-burningly hideous fashions on display – most of the characters were in restrained office wear. Nonetheless, Bert Cooper, ever the anti-fashionista, favoured us with the appearance of a fairly nasty Argyle sweater:

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While Roger’s new girlfriend Daisy not only has that funky airline uniform in the picture above, she also has some funky orange underwear:

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And Megan seemed to have plundered another movie’s costume store for dinner; after last week’s James Bond look, this week she was Cleopatra:

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Given that Mad Men ostensibly centres on the actual company of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, it’s still fairly rare for the business itself to take centre stage. This week was all about the business, and managed to be thrilling while its central plot points were about stock market flotation, accounts and mergers. That’s no mean feat for me, as boardroom drama tends to bore me (unless it’s the kind you get in Robocop). Here, though, it was built around the complex, subtle sturm und drang of these brilliantly drawn characters, and compulsively watchable.