Previously on Mad Men, ‘Severance’
I had high hopes for the episode when it began with Don and his two sons making chocolate milkshakes at the Francis residence. I’ve always been heavily invested in the story of Don and his children, and though he and Betty would never have worked out romantically, their on-screen chemistry is some of the best. Don and Betty seem to have made some strides in their relationship; at least they can talk to one another without arguing. For a moment, they almost seem like the perfect family unit, until Henry arrives and throws off the balance. On his way out, Don looks back at the four of them and the look on his face tells me that he may have finally come to terms with the fact that this kind of life just wasn’t meant for him.
Seeing Megan kept me in good spirits about the hour. Her story could well have been over when she and Don decided to separate, but I’m happy to get a bit more from her. Though the two had seemed to part on an amicable note, it’s obvious that the relationship has deteriorated. Their divorce hasn’t been finalized and Megan has to keep calling Don for her “allowance.” This time she needs $500 for the movers she’ll be sending to collect the last of her belongings from their New York apartment. When Don makes a lame excuse about his finances being all tied up since the agency’s sale, Megan reminds him that he was a millionaire when they met.
Megan’s mother and sister have come to New York to help with her move but they end up being more trouble than anything. When Megan has to leave for a lunch meeting with Harry, her sister is unhappy about being left to do all the dirty work and storms out. Possibly a reflection of her feelings about her own marriage, Megan’s mother is very bitter about her daughter’s divorce. Left in charge of the movers, Marie orders them to take most, if not all, of the furniture from the apartment. She believes it’s the least of what Megan deserves. When Marie can’t afford to pay the movers, she tries to contact Don, but finds Roger instead. Roger just can’t resist that French kiss; he comes to Marie’s rescue and pays the movers.
During their lunch meeting, Harry gets the wrong idea from Megan and proposes that they share an afternoon in a hotel room together. Megan is polite about not being interested in him sexually, but I’m not sure why she’s surprised that someone as repulsive as Harry would try to take advantage of her. After being rejected, he doubles down on his gross behavior and implies that she’s probably not getting any work because she won’t put out. Harry truly takes it too far when he tries to cover his ass in telling Don that Megan is unstable and was saying “crazy things” at their lunch. When Megan arrives back at Don’s apartment, she’s shocked by the disappearance of all the furniture and furious to find her mother and Roger just as their putting their clothes back on.
Don and Megan meet at a lawyer’s office and at this point, Megan has had enough bullshit for a lifetime. She had planned on staying silent but couldn’t resist telling Don how much he’s ruined her life. How she gave up everything to be with him because she believed in him. Now she knows better that he’s just an “aging, sloppy, selfish liar.” Don does what he knows best and throws money at the problem; he cuts her a check for $1 million. Megan gives back Anna’s ring and leaves, a whole lot richer.
Back at their hotel, Megan’s sister is beside herself with the news that their mother has ripped up her plane ticket and run off with Roger. She blames Megan for “poisoning” their mother with New York City. Perhaps feeling better than ever with that million-dollar check in her pocket, Megan says she knows how unhappy Marie was for so long and that it’s good she finally did something about it.
Part of the reason Don wanted to finally settle things with Megan – and coincidentally one of the major reasons that this episode really let me down – was because of Diana, the waitress from the diner. While I’m not opposed to new characters being introduced in a final season, I do feel that too much time was spent on this woman, who is essentially a place holder for any and all of Don’s past relationships. (Betty excluded.) For an episode entitled ‘New Business’, a lot of this material sure felt old.
Don has tracked Diana down to a new job and though she’s hesitant at first, she ends up visiting his apartment for something a little warmer than back alley sex. To the writer’s credit, Diana’s character did evolve into something more than just a one-night-stand with a face. The next morning, she wanders into Sally’s bedroom and we learn that she is tormented by the death of her own daughter. Her loss is awful, but she’s just another broken woman to add to Don’s list. In a scene that was clearly meant to ensure the audience understood Diana’s purpose, Sylvia, Arnold, Don, and Diana ride the elevator together. Diana can tell immediately that there was something between Sylvia and Don. At least she’s a little less naïve than most.
Don brings the news of his divorce settlement to Diana. He’s never been so honest as when he admits that she’s not the first woman – or the second, or the third, or the twentieth – who came around after his separation. He doesn’t see her as a rebound and he’s ready to start fresh with someone again. Diana isn’t interested in anything more however; when she’s with Don she forgets about her daughter and she never wants to do so again. Don arrives home to his empty apartment, a not so subtle nod to the fact that his life is truly hollow. Though I think that if we were to look in the children’s bedrooms, their things would remain intact, symbolizing the only part of Don’s life with any real meaning.
Much to Stan’s dismay, Peggy has hired photographer Pima Ryan to work on a commercial for vermouth. Stan himself is a photographer and feels Peggy has overlooked him for the job. When he meets Pima on the set, he’s intentionally rude towards her but she is unaffected. Though Peggy apologizes for Stan, Pima recognizes that “he hates himself.” Peggy argues that Stan has too big an ego for self-hatred, but I’m pretty sure those two traits can (and do) coexist. Pima later approaches Stan and can instantly read him; he’s dying for her opinion on his work.
Stan brings in some new pieces, photos that his girlfriend Elaine offered to pose for, and Pima checks them out in the darkroom. She’s not very impressed with his photo,s but she is interested in seeing more of Stan. Pima also makes a move on Peggy, but she’s not as easily persuaded. Peggy later realizes, after Stan brags about their darkroom rendezvous, that Pima was just trying to get extra work. “She’s a hustler.” What a strange storyline to spend the sixth-to-last episode ever on! What the hell, Matthew Weiner? As much as I love Stan and that wild beard he has, this was just a waste of time.
Not much from Pete again this week, though he was his typical greasy self when discussing divorce with Don. His greatest concern was how to handle client dinners without a spouse. Stay classy, Pete.
Betty planning to get a masters degree in psychology is a character development to celebrate. After feeling so ashamed for having to see a therapist in the earlier seasons, to using Sally’s “problems” as a guise to keep seeing a children’s counselor, it feels very earned for this woman to take back control of her life and figure out what she’s passionate about.
With only five episodes left in the series, I’m getting nervous. There’s been very little seen of the characters, relationships, and stories that I feel need to be explored and resolved. For example, where the hell is Sally? She has grown so much over the past 7 years; it would be such a letdown to not get any closure on her character. Or what about Peggy and Don? They need some serious screen time together before it’s all said and done.