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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”

AMC

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 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 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 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.

Mad Men Recap Season 4, Episode 6, “Waldorf Stories”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “Waldorf Stories”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “Waldorf Stories”

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the proverbial self-made man. He transformed himself from penniless farm kid Dick Whitman into successful Manhattan adman Don Draper. He ostensibly rose to the top by means of his pure creative genius. Well, that, and a whole lot of lying. And also Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) drinking problem.

In this week’s Mad Men episode, “Waldorf Stories” (written by Brett Johnson and Matthew Weiner, and directed by Scott Hornbacher), the story of Don’s arrival in the advertising world is revealed through flashback, and, as it turns out, it’s not at all the sort of grand event worthy of Don Draper’s name. Rather, after shamelessly trying to get Roger to look at his portfolio, Don gets Roger embarrassingly drunk (before noon), and somehow manages to weasel a job offer out of the situation (which Roger doesn’t remember the next day; who knows, maybe Don made it up).

Mad Men Recap Season 4, Episode 4, “The Rejected”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 4, Episode 4, “The Rejected”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 4, Episode 4, “The Rejected”

The early going of Mad Men’s fourth season has given us a whole lot of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his nonstop cycle of disintegration and reinvention. Which is largely expected, of course, but it’s nonetheless refreshing that this week’s episode, “The Rejected” (written by Keith Huff and Matthew Weiner, and directed by John Slattery) finally gives us a chance to catch up with Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss).

While the primary focus of the series has always been about plunging into the depths of Don Draper’s character, Pete and Peggy have given us a glimpse into characters who began the series young and undefined, largely unaware of who they were themselves. The two have changed more than anyone, and after “The Rejected” it has become increasingly difficult to remember Peggy as the non-descript, largely repressed Catholic girl working Don’s desk, or Pete as the entry-level accounts man hired for his family name, and who could barely open his mouth in a meeting with the big boys without making a fool of himself.

Mad Men Recap Season 3, Episode 12, “The Grown-Ups”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “The Grown-Ups”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “The Grown-Ups”

AMC’s Mad Men is nothing if not thematically well organized, and typically, writing about an episode consists of picking out the throughline and explicating how it brings together all the disparate plot elements. Typically, though, that throughline exists in the subtext, which makes “The Grown-Ups”, written by Brett Johnson and Matthew Weiner and directed by Barbet Schroeder, both a deliberate change of pace and a difficult episode to write about. Well, that, or an exceedingly easy one: hey everyone, this episode’s about the Kennedy assassination!

Mad Men Recap Season 3, Episode 9, "Wee Small Hours"

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Mad Men Recap: Season 3, Episode 9, “Wee Small Hours”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 3, Episode 9, “Wee Small Hours”

My grandfather always said that nothing good happens after midnight. (This isn’t a How I Met Your Mother riff either; he actually did always say that.) If the morning is for productivity and the afternoon is for wondering why you didn’t sleep as much as you should have last night and the night is for winding down and relaxing with loved ones, the wee small hours are the time when the world crackles with possibility and when questionable judgment reigns. There are reasons we sleep during these hours. I, myself, like to go out walking at 3 in the morning, see whose lights are still on, watch my town sleep, but it’s worth bearing my grandfather’s advice in mind: “Nothing good happens after midnight. Even if you’re not doing anything, people will think you are.” Indeed.

Much of “Wee Small Hours,” written by Dahvi Waller and series creator and mastermind Matthew Weiner and directed by Scott Hornbacher, takes place in the titular hours between midnight and 6 a.m., but the many other moments that don’t take place when everyone else is in bed still have that woozy feeling that anything could happen and that what happens will be, invariably, bad. This season of Mad Men has perhaps over-relied on dream sequences, but there’s only one in this episode—where Betty (January Jones) imagines herself sprawled on her new couch while a lover’s patient hands slowly unwrap the clothes from her body. Instead, it’s the rest of the episode that feels like a dream. Everyone’s a little overtired, and there’s a sense that the story is going to turn around a corner and meet a monster just waiting to devour everyone. Except, in this case, the monsters are powerful men who hold out and hold out and hold out until they get what they want, and they jerk around some of our characters in the process.

Mad Men Recap Season 3, Episode 2, “Love Among the Ruins”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Love Among the Ruins”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Love Among the Ruins”

In its own way, Bye, Bye Birdie, both the Charles Strouse and Lee Adams stage musical and the George Sidney film of the material, is an uneasy attempt to bridge a divide that was already becoming apparent in the late ’50s and early ’60s. It’s simultaneously an attempt to understand a coming eruption. Also, it’s a goofy comedy musical that seems like it’s trying to understand what the matter is with kids today but ultimately ends up siding with their parents. It’s like someone made a musical of the comic strip Zits. There’s nothing as mean-spirited about the work as I’m making it sound, since it’s basically just a lighthearted, gentle look at the sorts of teen frenzies over rock stars that were becoming well-known in the late ’50s, but there is at least an undercurrent of uncertainty to it. When Paul Lynde sings “What’s the Matter with Kids Today?” in the movie version, it’s a joke, yes, but there’s also a vague sense of unease, a sense that things may never again be the same. Kennedy’s in the White House, rock ’n’ roll is here to stay, and there’s a growing sense that youth is driving the conversation now instead of following it. Plus, you’ve got Ann Margaret, sensual and seductive but also somehow innocent (at least in this film). Maybe to our modern eyes, it’s possible to see how corny it all is, but at the time of its release, she must have seemed intoxicating.