May 19, 2018
Mad Men: Is THAT All There Is?
The final season of Mad Men returns! Joan’s boobs get in the way of business, Peggy keeps her boobs under wraps because she really likes the guy, and Don’s a total boob but gets laid anyway. Pretty much business as usual.
Previously on Mad Men: Don got fired, then crawled his way back. Another bigger company bought 51% of Sterling Cooper so who knows what it’s even called. Nobody’s in California anymore, and the buyout made all the partners rich—even Joannie with her lousy 5%. Also Meghan’s really gone, so all you Meghan haters can relax until she gets killed in the Manson-like slaughter predicted last season.
Let’s start with a big ol’ tease to the tune of Miss Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is? A leggy model in a fur coat and maybe nothing underneath is saying, “I’ve never worn mink before.” Don tells her it’s chinchilla. Also she doesn’t need to talk, just “show me how you feel.” Is he looking for a new secretary? Or is he now taking hooker-breaks in his office? Nope, it’s an audition, and though he sounds smooth and seductive as he puts his cigarette out in his iconic Greek diner coffee cup, he’s not even alone in the room. The usual band of idiots is sitting on the couch, and there’s even a secretary by the door. Just like they’ll have a female nurse in the room if the male doctor is looking at your lady parts.
Later, in an episode that seems more impressionistic than linear, Don and three model types are in a diner. Roger—now sporting a very silly mustache—comes back from the restroom, joking about the roaches, by which he means cockroaches and not a period reference to the last possible tokes of what we used to call a joint in dem dere days.
Everyone’s in formal evening wear. How did they wind up in this dive? It’s never explained, but Don is telling stories of his impoverished youth in a “boarding house,” by which he means bordello. Roger shouts over to the waitress, calling her Mildred Pierce—an old-timey movie reference even for then because Roger is an old-timer. The waitress is reading a book that she places in her apron pocket. Roger, eyeing the book, asks her if she’s read John dos Passos, and then because all that LSD has made him aware that he is an asshole, he leaves her a $100 tip.
Stumbling back to his apartment alone, Don calls an answering service for his messages. It’s ladies, ladies and ladies. He even flirts with the operator because he is a total man-ho. The last message is from a stewardess so he calls her over for a last-minute layover. And somehow the weird part is, none of this seems like fun.
Joan and Peggy—two powerful womyn—meet with Topaz pantyhose to tell them disaster is looming in the form of L’eggs, the cut-rate pantyhose in the egg-shaped containers now being sold not only in drug stores but supermarkets. The Topaz people aren’t being very helpful, so Joan goes to Don, who, being a genius, immediately says, “Macy’s,” meaning Joan should talk to Sterling Cooper’s new corporate overlords who have the department store accounts and see what they can do about getting Topaz into department stores.
Eyepatch Kenny is having dinner with the wife and her parents. Dad, who was a big shot at Dow, is retiring. After dinner, Mrs. Eyepatch Kenny tells her husband he should leave his job and they should buy a farm and he should write something sweet and sad. “You gave them your eye. Don’t give them the rest of your life.” But the thing about advertizing on this show is it’s like the mob. When you think you’re out, they pull you back in, and Eyepatch Kenny doesn’t feel ready to make the move. He’s expecting a raise.
Then we see Don continuing the auditions, only it’s Rachel Menkin, the Jewess he almost left Betty for, who’s wearing the fur. She looks at him and says, “I’m supposed to tell you, you missed your flight.” But it’s only a dream. Given this is the same apartment where he had that dream about killing a woman and hiding her under the bed, he might consider moving. At work, he decides to have Meredith—the spacey receptionist who is now his secretary—call Rachel Katz (her married name) at Menkin’s department store because he’s thinking maybe they could sell Topaz and/or maybe he just wants desperately to see her again so he can mess up her life because that is another thing Don is a genius at.
Team Joan and Peggy have an awful meeting with three assholes from their corporate overlords about the Topaz account. They are mesmerized by Joan’s mammaries, but also apparently so frightened by their power that they turn into gross idiots. Peggy tries to keep things on topic, but it’s unclear what if anything is accomplished. Afterward, in the elevator, Joan says, “I want to burn this place down.” Peggy, instead of saying, “Right on, sister,” suggests that maybe it has to do with how Joan dresses—and also reminds Joan that she is filthy rich and doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to.
Turns out giving an eye for the team wasn’t enough. Eyepatch Kenny gets fired because years ago he briefly worked for the new corporate overlords and then came back to some iteration of Sterling Cooper with the Birdseye account and these guys hold a grudge. But there’ll be a generous severance package if he plays nice and hands all his accounts over to Pete.
Meredith tells Don that she set up a meeting with Mr. Rosenthal of Menkin’s on account of Mrs. Katz stepped down months ago and passed away last week. Don is more than stunned at the news and really should be calling a real estate broker about his haunted apartment. Or maybe it’s Don who’s haunted?
Don returns to the divy diner. The waitress is there again. She’s a dark-haired woman, who maybe reminded him of Rachel, hence the dream. “I think I know you,” he tells her.
She tells him, “You don’t need a line. I know why you’re here, and it’s not for a cup of coffee.” Then she takes a “break,” and they go into an alley where they do it standing up, which is how Joan got pregnant by Roger that time when her husband was in Vietnam. They’re back inside before his coffee is cold. He asks when she’s done there, and she tells him, “You got your hundred dollars worth. You can go.”
The next day at work, Don sees Kenny, who’s just sitting in the hallway with a crazy look in his one remaining eye. Kenny tells him he got fired, and Don’s immediate response is that he’ll talk to the corporate overlords. Kenny says no; he wants to live the life not lived. “Now I just have to figure out how to drag myself through these doors.” They really are all in purgatory, aren’t they?
Joan gets a call from one of the assholes but tells her secretary to tell him she isn’t there, and then, because unlike Don she’s not an alcoholic or a sex addict, she goes shopping for some fancy designer duds that still emphasize her curvaliscious body. Calling back to a few seasons ago when the young doctor’s wife left advertizing and wound up working in a department store, the salesclerk says, “Didn’t you used to work here? You can probably still get the discount.”
“I think you have me confused with someone else,” the powerful ad executive tells her.
Don makes a shiva call at the Katz’s. Having lived in New York a long time, he knows to bring cake. Hopefully it wasn’t a babka he mugged an old lady to get. Rachel’s sister Barbara recognizes his name and tells him, “I don’t know what you’re looking for here. She lived the life she wanted to live.” He looks inside, sees the family, including the two bereft children. He leaves.
Peggy, meantime, is out on a date with some guy that some guy at work set her up with. There is Italian food and too much wine, and then a plan to run off to Paris for the weekend, which they would have done but Peggy couldn’t find her passport.
But she doesn’t want to sleep with Stevie on their first date because this could really be something, so she sends him out into the night even though this is Fun City circa 1970 and you can hear gunfire and sirens. It also looks like he has a couple of job interviews coming up in different places, and it’s not clear when that next date will be even if he’s isn’t mugged and killed before he gets home.
By the time she gets to work, she’s hungover and feels like a complete idiot, especially when the underling who set them up says something about it in front of Stan Rizzo, who has grown even more facial hair and still seems as stoned as ever, and why the hell is he in advertising, and why the hell aren’t he and Peggy a couple?
Pete and Mustache Roger are making Irish jokes about McCann because you can’t make Jewish jokes or show up at parties in blackface anymore. Ken comes in to announce he won’t be needing that severance package since he’s taking a new job at Dow as head of advertising, and he’s not planning to fire them but will be a supreme pain in their butt. Which still doesn’t sound like as much fun as living on a farm and writing a great novel, does it?
Don gets ready to leave work, although it’s not clear what if anything he actually does anymore other than leer at models. Meredith reminds him that first thing Monday morning he has that meeting she set up with Rosenthal at Menkin’s. He stops by the diner again. The dark-haired waitress is there, and she tells him, “I don’t know why you’re here, but that’s not going to happen again.”
He tells her about dreaming of Rachel and then finding out the next day she died. She wisely tells him that when people die, we mix things up. Maybe it wasn’t the night before that he dreamt about her. Maybe he dreamt about her all the time. She tells him the next time he comes back, he better bring a date. He tells her he just wants to sit there in this not-so-clean but well lit place, and why not? He clearly doesn’t have anywhere else to go.
Is that all there is? No, that wasn’t a question. It’s the song playing again. And Jesus Christmas, it’s not like I want a happy ending, but it would be nice if maybe next week we were left with a little bit of hope for at least one of these people.