“Severance” was a terrific episode of Mad Men, although if it had any problem, it was with the character Diana, a lovelorn, lonesome waitress that Don meets in a diner who often seemed to be an obtuse way to reiterate the episode’s themes. Don is thinking about death and languishing in his own state of wandering confusion, so of course he finds solace in a woman whose name can be shortened to Di and who seems even more restless than him. The character felt like one that would only appear in one episode, although when she appeared in the early minutes of “New Business,” perhaps it was too harsh to judge her so quickly. Diana continues to be a mirror for the show’s protagonist, albeit in more complex ways than initially perceived.
“New Business” is a rather strange episode of Mad Men. With the exception of the subplot with Diana and perhaps the red wine spill from Don’s stewardess floozy, virtually none of the stories or moments from the half-season premiere had much bearing on this week’s hour. Last week featured a lot of Ken Cosgrove and a potential romance for Peggy. Ken is absent this hour though, while Peggy’s picky new beau gets no mention.
At first, it felt like a disjointed hour of television. (That kind of makes sense considering that Michael Uppendahl, who also helmed the absurd, frantic “The Crash” from season six, directed the episode.) On a second reflection, its episodic feel is common for shows nearing the end of their run. Instead of continuing with large story arcs, Mad Men wants to wrap up a lot of smaller stories without leaving too much ambiguous. (Well, that’s how it is now – who knows what Weiner and company have in store for the finale May 17?)
For an episode with the name “New Business,” there is very little time spent dealing with agency meetings, office politics and pitch sessions. If we take it that Don’s pleasure counts as part of his business, then the title refers to his shift in romantic affections. Diana is the new girl, one who attracted Don through her mystery qualities weeks before. “It’s so strange to see somebody I know,” she tells him after bumping into him at a new restaurant. That line foreshadows just how much in him she also sees in herself. As she later explains, she is away from her family and abandoned her daughter. Don is in the same boat, feeling marooned in his island of an apartment where much of it does not belong to him and without much contact to the people most important to him. (There has been awfully little of Don and Peggy together these past two weeks…)
In the episode’s best scene, Diana gapes at Sally’s room before walking in and slouching as she sits on the bed. In a room Don never enters, she talks about the home she left behind. Her younger daughter died of the flu, and even though Don puts his hand on her shoulder, she shivers it away. She thought she was a lot like the man she just slept with, but she doesn’t get the chance to walk by a child’s bedroom every day. With frigid movement and a 50-yard stare, Reaser gives an aching dramatic turn. She feels lost, but she wants Don to be as lost as her.
Don will feel more like an island when his apartment is bare, and although the last shot of the episode was not a surprise, the sting of Megan’s distance unsettled him more than expected. Giving some of her best work on the show – and getting the juicy final season wrap-up subplot of the week, a la Ken in “Severance” – was Jessica Paré. Megan wants to grab her things from the apartment and get the hell out of New York. She gripes about the “allowance” Don sends her at the start and is routinely reminded of the pomp and lack of circumstance afforded to those in the ad game.