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Mad Men Recap Season 7, Episode 12, "Lost Horizon"

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 12, “Lost Horizon”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 12, “Lost Horizon”

“Lost Horizon,” last night’s episode of Mad Men, is all about life as a series of entrances and exits, and it aptly opens with Don (Jon Hamm) waltzing into his new office at McCann. Before he even sits down for his morning coffee, he’s summoned to meet with Jim Hobart (H. Richard Greene) and Ferg Donnelly (Paul Johansson), and he’s greeted as if he were a king looking over a newly conquered kingdom. When Hobart sheepishly asks Don to introduce himself as a McCann employee, a request to which the ad man suavely obliges, the McCann head reacts as if Don were Marilyn Monroe singing him “Happy Birthday.” And yet when Hamm’s “white whale”—a Moby Dick reference with some rather dark implications—arrives at a meeting wherein Miller considers introducing a “diet beer” into the marketplace, he finds that he’s just one of a slew of creative directors who have been brought in to listen to the pitch. No matter what song and dance the head honchos sold him on, he’s just a cog in the machine, and this realization sets him off on a road trip. The alternatively liberating and devastating fall-outs of these sort of realizations by a handful of characters are part and parcel of what makes “Lost Horizon” feel so distinctly galvanic among Mad Men’s final episodes.

Mad Men Recap Season 7, Episode 11, "Time & Life"

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 11, “Time & Life”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 11, “Time & Life”

“Time & Life” opens with Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) getting gleefully teased by Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), now the head of marketing for Dow Chemical, who denies Pete the easy approval of their mutual business for the sheer pleasure of watching him squirm. Once Don (Jon Hamm) enters, however, Ken quickly buttons up and agrees to SC&P’s plans for Dow. In essence, Ken’s unyielding dislike for Pete is simply outmatched by his idolization of Don, and last night’s episode catches Ken, along with several other characters, trying to move beyond intimate grudges in the dubious hopes of brighter skies ahead. Indeed, the dark truth at the center of “Time & Life” is that business is always personal, inseparable from the emotional baggage and mercurial philosophies each party brings to the table, to say nothing of the dreams, both failed and realized, that people naturally build into their careers.

Mad Men Recap Season 7, Episode 9, "New Business"

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 9, “New Business”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 9, “New Business”

Before one can start new business, one must settle old business, and this is of primary import in last night’s episode of Mad Men. As Megan (Jessica Paré) returns to collect her belongings from Don (Jon Hamm), a number of ghosts get stirred up for more than one member of SC&P, and the episode hinges on what is the appropriate price for forgiveness and making amends with the past, or if there even is a price. In one of the more ghastly scenes, Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), in essence, attempts to rectify Megan’s marriage to Don and bungled career by offering her a good agent, but only if she’ll sleep with him. Just as Megan is trying to start anew, Harry is trying to reclaim an old crush, in the most crude way possible, and the episode makes a point of showing an array of ways the past infiltrates people and seduces them away from the present or, often enough, reason.

Mad Men Recap Season 7, Episode 8, "Severance"

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 8, “Severance”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 8, “Severance”

The key exchange in “Severance,” the midseason premiere of the final season of Mad Men, occurs between Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), not long after Sterling (John Slattery) fires Ken for being too close to Dow Chemical. Earlier in the episode, Ken gifts his father-in-law, Ed Baxter (Ray Wise), a new set of golf clubs, which he will likely never really enjoy due to the anxiousness of feeling useless and old, of not bringing home the bacon. When Ken speaks to Don about writing a novel and “the life not lived,” however, it’s the sound of a man who seemingly doesn’t care about such feelings, a man who’s comfortable with the comfortable life he was handed. In contrast, Don’s deeply unsatisfied with the life he’s taken, to say nothing of how he’s maintained that life, and “Severance” brings the full ache of that regret to bear.

Mad Men Recap Season 7, Episode 7, "Waterloo"

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 7, “Waterloo”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 7, “Waterloo”

As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon, the partners of SC&P seemed to be making their own small steps and giant leaps throughout “Waterloo,” the bittersweet mid-season finale of Mad Men. And in many of these dramatic gestures and concessions, a major point of contention involved just how big of a jump certain characters were making, such as Jim Cutler’s (Harry Hamlin) decision to send a letter meant to fire Don (Jon Hamm) from the company. For Cutler, Don’s dog-and-pony show for Philip Morris was a cut-and-dry contractual breach, and he uses this reasoning to justify forging the partners’ signatures on the letter. This arguably minor deceit says quite a lot about Cutler’s character, and showrunner Matthew Weiner and company make a point of echoing his flippantly opportunistic nature twice over before the episode concludes.

Mad Men Recap Season 7, Episode 4, "The Monolith"

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 4, “The Monolith”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 4, “The Monolith”

Though Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) return to SC&P in “The Monolith” certainly stirs the pot, his presence (purposefully) feels challenged by the introduction of the company’s new computer system, installed right where the copywriters work in the lounge. In fact, the key exchange of the episode involves Don, Harry Crane (Richard Sommer), and Lloyd (Robert Baker), the man who comes to install the gargantuan IBM unit. At one point, Harry assures that the taking over of the creative lounge for the computer isn’t symbolic of them jettisoning the creative department, to which Don retorts that they haven’t symbolically evicted them, but rather literally kicked them out.

Mad Men Recap Season 7, Episode 2, "A Day’s Work"

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 2, “A Day’s Work”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 2, “A Day’s Work”

The day in question in “A Day’s Work” is Valentine’s Day, and showrunner Matthew Weiner and company crafted an episode riddled with allusions to business as a love affair. When Don (Jon Hamm) is caught taking a meeting with a big shot by a headhunter for a rival agency, he quips that he’s just “looking for love.” And back at SC&P, Don’s relationship to the company is compared to that of an ex-wife of Jim (Harry Hamlin), who’s still having trouble finding footing in his relationship with Roger (John Slattery). And when Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) is in the midst of undressing peppy realtor Bonnie (Jessy Schram), the dirty talk takes the form of something like contract arbitration.

This feeling of emotional disputes being handled like salary negotiations is most potently felt when Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) allows the flowers on Shirley’s (Sola Bamis) desk to become the inanimate agitator for her still-raw feelings for Ted (Kevin Rahm). The episode continues to return to Peggy to see how long her unfortunate presumption reverberates in her, and she shows deeper shades of confusion, insolence, uncertainty, and shame as the day goes on. It’s one of the most assured, self-contained storylines the series has conjured thus far, made complete by its aftershocks felt in a secretary shuffle managed by Joan (Christina Hendricks), who also, in a quick bit, has the intentions behind her flowers mistaken.

Mad Men Recap Season 7, Episode 1, "Time Zones"

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 1, “Time Zones”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 1, “Time Zones”

Late into “Time Zones,” the first episode of Mad Men’s final season, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is literally stuck in a holding pattern, flying above the East Coast alongside a talkative widow, played by Neve Campbell. She offers him a ride home with a wink and he pointedly responds that he has to get back to work. It’s the same line he lays on Megan (Jessica Paré), his wife, when she insists they have a few more hours of time together in Los Angeles before he has to catch his flight back to New York. It’s a seemingly throwaway line, but it’s the way Hamm delivers it that reveals the sinking desperation and boredom that Don is stewing in. The fact that he’s reintroduced via Spencer Davis Group’s strutting “I’m a Man” is telling: “Well, if I had my choice of matter/I would rather be with cats/All engrossed in mental chatter/Movin’ where our minds are at.”

Mad Men and the Empty Surreal

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<em>Mad Men</em> and the Empty Surreal
<em>Mad Men</em> and the Empty Surreal

So far, season six of Mad Men has been as sharply styled as we’ve come to expect from the series. As it makes its way through the ’60s, however, it feels ever more like a parade of red herrings. Each episode is an hour-long trance, seducing with crisp colors and sleek period details, offering clues that always lead nowhere. For the two-hour season premiere, it feels like the writers were playing a game of exquisite corpse, pulling “Betty,” “St. Marks’ Place,” and “goulash” out of fishbowls labeled “character,” “location,” and “prop,” then tasking themselves with making a scene out of their selections. These character/location/prop stagings have always permeated the series. For example: “Peggy,” “soundstage,” “Honda motorcycle”; “Sally,” “American Museum of Natural History,” “underpants.” It’s easy to imagine the writers creating scenes with almost any of the other characters in the same locations interacting with the same props; a Roger (John Slattery)/museum/underpants scene is, in the world of Mad Men, quite conceivable. There’s been lots of other randomness throughout the years: Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) doing the Charleston in 1963, Joan (Christina Hendricks) playing the accordion, Don (Jon Hamm) wearing a Jai Alai glove. Because the show’s characters are so fully realized, the discordant locations and props are all the more surprising and superficially interesting. What can you do with a character? Have them act out of character; drop them somewhere unexpected. Furthermore, the opportunities for prop gags in Mad Men are endless, focusing as it does on postwar advertising.

Mad Men Recap Season 4, Episode 13, “Tomorrowland”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 4, Episode 13, “Tomorrowland”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 4, Episode 13, “Tomorrowland”

Given that the third season of Mad Men came, with much fanfare, to an apparently ’game-changing’ conclusion, all eyes were on last week’s season four finale, “Tomorrowland” (written by Jonathan Igla and Matthew Weiner, and directed by Matthew Weiner), to one-up its predecessor. The episode turned out to be a much lower-profile affair; it confounded expectations by being shockingly not shocking. Fan predictions had ranged from the outright demise of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to Don (Jon Hamm) saving the firm at the eleventh hour by landing Disney as a client. Instead, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Ken (Aaron Staton) work to keep the company chugging along by signing a significant but relatively small-time pantyhose company as a client, and Don proposes to his secretary Megan (Jessica Paré).

Season three’s finale was exciting because it was the dissolution of the two institutions Mad Men had long centered on (Sterling Cooper and the Draper marriage), and the beginning of something new. We came into season four with endless expectations, not quite knowing what turns the show would take, but demanding that they be groundbreaking. When we were introduced in the season premiere to the new, modish, brightly saturated set, it was clear that things had changed, and excitement was bubbling.