Mad Men Thread: Is That All There Is?


I was hoping the second part of Mad Men season 7 would be a mini-season of 8 episodes but we’ll have to be satisfied with a mini-mini-season of 6. Damn you, Matthew Weiner, you’re taking that David Chase disciple thing too far. On the other hand, better Peggy Lee than Journey…

Things have moved along at SC & P, which has become an independent subsidiary of advertising monolith, McCann, Erickson. The sale has left lingering tensions between the partners and other core characters and it pops up in scenes between Peggy and Joan and Pete and Deadeye Ken Cosgrove. R is for resentment, especially from Ken who is in for a royal screwing in this episode but we’ll get to that a bit later.

Don has divorced Megan and has reverted to his natural state as a feral bachelor. The rub is that while Don wants to cat around, he doesn’t like living alone. In short, he wants to have a wife to cheat on.

I’ll make some random and discursive comments about Severance after the break, but first one of my favorite images from the episode:


Deadeye’s Severance: Ken Cosgrove is one of my favorite MM supporting characters. We haven’t heard much about his secret literary life  as Ben Hargrove or Dave Algonquin in recent seasons but it returns with a vengeance in this episode.

Deadeye is at a career/life crossroads worthy of Robert Johnson. His father in law is retiring from Dow Chemical, which inspires his wife Cynthia to encourage Ken to chuck advertising and “buy a farm” and write the Great American Novel she’s sure he has in him. Ken is a lucky man: not many wives encourage their husbands to walk away from a fat paycheck but she is, of course, something of an heiress, even if she looks nothing like Olivia DeHavilland and he’s too damn blonde to be Monty Clift…

Initially, Deadeye is inclined to go for it, until, that is, he’s shit-McCanned by Roger and his Fu Manchu mustache at the behest of their new parent company. It seems that Kenny was an asshole when he worked for McCann and made the odd anti-Irish remark. Roger fires him even as he says that they “put the Mick in McCann.”

Instead of becoming the next Hemingway. Deadeye chooses the path of revenge and signs on with Dow as their advertising honcho. His plan is to be the pickiest client since tobacco creep Lee Garner Jr. and make Pete and Roger’s lives a living hell.

Peggy and Joan’s Excellent Adventure: The dynamic distaff duo are knee deep in pantyhose and sexism. Hanes has just introduced their highly successful, low priced L’eggs brand, which is undercutting SC&P’s client Topaz. What’s a poor girl to do? They sell the goons at McCann on a new approach for their client but endure a series of lewd, crude and downright icky comments during a meeting. The days of genteel sexism are long gone by 1970.

Joan bites her tongue but gets into it with the Pegster after the meeting. She unsheathes her claws and implies that Peggy has never been the target of lewd comments before. Wrong. The Pegster suggests a change in wardrobe, which sends Joan not reeling but shopping.

The Best Blind Date Ever: I don’t know about you BUT I am vehemently opposed to matchmaking and never indulge in setting people up. I am the anti-yenta. The Pegster’s junior colleague, Mathis, is, however, made of sterner stuff. It’s probably due to a lifetime of Johnny Mathis jokes. Anyway, Peggy is set up with the crooner namesake’s  lawyer brother-in-law and it goes so well that a tipsy Pegster suggests they go to Paris. Ooh la la and zou bisou bisou. Peggy can’t find her passport, which delays the trip, but this could be the start of something big; much to Stan’s door closing, smirking delight.

Heavyhanded Symbolism Watch: Don’s entire story line is loaded with the sort of symbolism that Matthew Weiner lives for. He dreams about Rachel Menken Katz, his season-1 flame. The next day, he learns that she has died. He’s goes off on Don Draper’s version of a vision quest. In other words, he starts tomcatting/hounding around with an attractive brunette waitress/call girl known as-get ready-Di. She bears a striking resemblance to a string of past Double D conquests:  neighbor Sylvia Rosen, Suzanne Ferrell the school teacher, Rachel the department store heiress and, yes, ex-wife number 2 Megan Calvet. Zou bisou, bisou…

The Di in the diner story is a walk down the heavy handed side of the street. She’s reading John Dos Passos, which is rather unlikely since the communist turned wingnut writer was neither  fashionable nor widely read in 1970. But nobody ever accused Weiner and company of subtlety and he’s discussed Dos Passos’ influence on him in the past. It’s sort of a cul de sac in Severance but the Rachel Katz story is not.

We met Rachel way back in season-1 and Don claimed that he wanted to leave Betty for her. He thought that Rachel *might* be the answer to what he was looking for but instead of running away with Don, she ran away from him.  Wise choice. Don stops by Rachel’s wake and is dispatched by her sister after a brief interrogation. At the risk of sounding like Bono, Don still doesn’t know what he’s looking for and I doubt that he ever will.

The episode closes with Don seated at the counter of Di’s Diner, looking wistful and lonely. It evokes Edward Hopper’s great painting Nighthawks. Hopper was the patron saint of lonely urban dwellers, much like Frank Sinatra or Matthew Weiner for that matter.

In the end, Severance is one of those Mad Men episodes that sets the table for the upcoming main course. It’s typically how Weiner starts off every season even a mini one. The meatiest part of the episode was Ken Cosgrove’s story. It gave him a brauvura exit from the series. I hope Weiner moves his bullseye from Deadeye to Sally, Jim Cutler, Betty and some of the other characters missing from Severance.

Finally, Severance continues Mad Men’s tradition of using music to reinforce the theme of a given episode. Is That All There Is? was the great Jazz chanteuse Peggy Lee’s last hit song. It was written by the songwriting team of Lieber and Stoller but sounded more like Brecht and Weil with its cynical and disillusioned lyrics and oom-pah Germanic beat.  The song was inspired by a Thomas Mann story so maybe Di should have Manned up and passed on Dos Passos. Anyway, the tune fits the spirit of the times and Don’s exploding toaster story quite nicely. “If that’s all there is my friends, then keep on dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball if that’s all there is.”

I’ll give Miss Peggy Lee the last word: