“Time & Life” is not just an immensely satisfying Peggy episode, but also one that does well with that father she mentions but doesn’t specify for Stan. Pete has been missed over the past few episodes, and although some find him a hard man to root for, he tries to help pave some roads. He comes to Trudy’s aid at a meeting with the head of an academy that Tammy was denied entrance, sucker punches said head in the face after the reason turns out to be a pithy ancestral family feud with the Campbells, and then his scoundrel tone disappears when he defends his ex-wife, calling her “ageless.” Pete is determined to give both his wife and daughter a future they want, even if he isn’t a large part of it.
As for the A plot, Mad Men wouldn’t be the show with its sterling reputation if it went down a predictable road. Don has saved the company with big speeches in the past, but he can barely get past the first few moments of his pitch before McCann head Jim Hobart (H. Richard Greene) shuts the door on his campaign and tells Don to have a seat. “I shouldn’t have to sell you on this,” he tells the partners. “Stop struggling. You won.” The folks at Sterling Cooper are too stunned to speak, the uncertainty of what’s to come lingering in the air. (In a sly wink to another past episode, the blank stares of the five characters are a twist on one of the closing shots of season five, of the partners staring out the window, their backs to the camera, awaiting a new floor with excitement.)
In fact, once Don fails to reach the deadline (or, the time of the episode’s title), what’s left is a collection of lovely two-person scenes. Besides the aforementioned chat between Peggy and Stan, Pete gets to mend a bit of a sour bond with Joan, reassuring her that she will not be hung out to dry at McCann. (Remember, this is the same man who condescended to Joan and approved her prostitution to a dealer’s association head in “The Other Woman.”) Roger and Don shoot the breeze over a few drinks before the former lays an awkward confession on the table: he is still seeing Megan’s mother, Marie. “I guess I should have asked your permission,” he quips.
“This is the beginning of something, not the end,” Don tells his staff to reassure them of a smooth transition. His words don’t land with the same influence as they used to, as nobody is in the mood to start over. If there is any issue with the episode, it’s a small one. The sound mix in the final scene, where the staffers ruminate angrily over what’s to come, seemed off. None of the talking was distinct enough and the smooth scope of the sound didn’t really match the testy atmosphere of the room. A shame, given the beautiful void of the final shot, a lovely extension of last week’s zoom out. Even though Mad Men‘s landing is a bit shaky this week, the uncertainty of the office’s future is a terrific cliffhanger. The good news is that with two exceptional episodes in a row, the certainty of a strong series finale in the future becomes even greater.