It’s those who aren’t stagnating in their success, people like Pete, and newbie Bob Benson, who still have the drive to get ahead, regardless of whether anyone thinks they’re sexy, cool, or anything worth imitating. Benson, without even doing anything particularly malicious, is already inches from taking Pete’s title as “Biggest Little Shit on Television”, because he knows how to get ahead: with a free coffee in hand, and a plastic smile that keeps you from telling anyone your boss pays for sex. He’s already sucked up to Pete enough to tag along with him to a local cathouse (one much more psychedelic and colourful than the one we saw last season), which is the kind of dirt that, if spun right, can easily get a guy a few rungs up the corporate ladder.
But, this is Pete were talking about, so of course his undoing would be entirely his own fault. A chance crossing of paths with his father in-law at the bordello would, at first, appear to be a moment in each man’s life that never happened, seeing as neither would jump at the chance of explaining why they saw the other in a den of inequity (“It’s mutually assured destruction,” Ken nicely sums up), but Mr. Vogel strikes anyway, attacking Pete where it stills matters: the office. Pete futilely retaliates, by telling Trudy of her father’s infidelities (his emphasis on it being a black woman Vogel slept with erases whatever good will Pete’s call for respect generated last week), but Trudy shoots him right back, and it looks like Mr. Vogel will soon be losing a son, as well as an agency to represent Vicks.
Things going from bad to worse for SCDP only raises the stakes for Don’s pitch to Chevy, but come on, it’s Don we’re talking about. He’s going to nail it, right? Again, the answer is a big noooope, because as Ted points out during a fateful meeting in the hotel bar before game day, mid-tier companies like CGC, and SCDP are glorified think tanks: their first class creative will just get co-opted by another firm with a bigger checkbook. It looks like the Heinz debacle all over again. “Here lies SCDP, the little company with big ideas,” says Don, raising a glass to a fellow brother in the fraternity of failure, as the two pitch the epitaphs for their respective companies. But desperation has always been Don’s greatest motivator, and he suggests the bold move of merging SCDP and CGC into a unified front, so long as it can win the account. Don knows he can’t take Chevy on his own, but perhaps this “we” concept Joan has been going on about is the trick to finally moving both companies into the big leagues, while looking out for everyone’s interests.
He’s mostly right: SCDP-CGC (they’re rebranding) does ride home with Chevy, and it looks like the office will soon need another floor -complete with stairwell for Pete to pratfall down. Things are looking up for everybody…except poor, poor Peggy. The episode saves its cruel twist until the final minutes, revealing her position of authority at CGC as the blood sacrifice needed to bind the two rival companies to a lasting peace. In a way, she’s at fault for her own setback; if she hadn’t taken the initiative on the Heinz account, Don wouldn’t have seen the potential benefit of getting into bed with CGC. At least this time, Peggy will get to name the unexpected child she’s conceived in the office.
“I don’t like change. I want everything to stay the way it was,” Peggy tells Abe earlier in the episode, unaware of how much more deeply she’ll soon be feeling the sentiment. Abe is more optimistic, believing things are, in fact, getting better, and she should know. Even ignoring her meteoric rise out of the secretary pool, if Peggy hadn’t built up the courage to leave SCDP, she wouldn’t have gotten as far ahead in her career as she already is. Abe might have point…but then again, he also thinks that Kennedy getting elected instead of McCarthy is the worst-case scenario of the moment.
After five episodes chockablock with morbidity, reflection, and anxiety, “For Immediate Release” gets the lead out big time, shaking up the still fresh status quo in a number of ways. Is this the start of a new phase for Mad Men? Almost certainly not, or at least, not right away. Huge, life-changing events never have their eventual effects, and impacts made clear in signed triplicate. Peggy thought she had escaped the cynicism of SCDP, but now she’s getting pulled right back into it. The new chapter in her life has lost its header, and become an extension of the old one. Life and history rarely give you the convenience of a clear start or stop point, save for one. Maybe that’s why the characters on Mad Men are so death obsessed: it’s the one thing they know they can expect.
- Stray Thoughts
-I might have been the last person watching the show to clue into Ted’s salivating over Peggy the last couple weeks, and in an episode with lots of movement, Peggy actually showing some interest back is worthy of mention. I’m not sure Mad Men has ever done a mini-fantasy sequence like the one where she’s imagining Abe as the much more dapper Ted, but his copy of “Something” by Ralph Waldo Emerson sold the bit.
-Megan continues to flit around on the edges, which could become problematic soon. The Draper-Calvert marriage is almost certainly toast, so checking in on her rise to mild fame feels like a waste of minutes better devoted to the action happening at the office.
-Then again, losing Megan might also mean less Julie Ormond as Marie, who’s a delight, despite being the kind of ice queen that would give Betty a chill. She’s a wonderful foil for Roger, so I can’t help but hope those two crazy kids get together, however improbable.
-Looking back, roughly half this review was just taking great lines from the episode. It’s not my fault this week was so damn quotable. A meagre few others include: “So we’ll just maintain every part of this marriage except the one that matters?”; “there’s poop on the stairs again.”; “i’m tired of rockets, that’s all”;“darling, you have confounded everyone’s expectations.”; “really, for a man your size?”; “working a slide rule”; “No, taking him to pick out a car.”;“This business is rigged.”