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MAD MEN 7x06:
Love among the ruins

May 19, 2014 - Ray Eckenrode

Episode title: “The Strategy” (This is the third of six episodes so far to be titled with a “the,” that’s halfway to Season 4’s six episodes.)

Significance: A direct reference to the cat-and-mouse game Don and Peggy play with the Burger Chef TV pitch that somehow morphs into a powerful elegy for the death of the nuclear family (if it ever really existed).

Time passages: The episode takes place in late June of 1969. Don’s next scheduled visit to California will come in July, which is likely where this mini season will end.

Episode essay I:
In an episode that seemed so disjointed in its first 30 minutes (and that’s happened enough this season to start thinking it just might be intentional) during a season that’s been so packed with detail and nuance, all it took was a Frank Sinatra ballad and a slow dance to remind us how great “Mad Men” can be at its greatest, how it can make us stare at our TVs and just say... “Wow.”
Played out amid the ruins of so many family dreams but ending somehow on a note of hope, “The Strategy” made a case for a place among the great “Mad Men” episodes with meditations on why and how those dreams constantly die and are reborn.
We saw Don watching his 1969 marriage disintegrate while reminiscing about the wonder of his 1955 marriage.
We saw Pete angrily realizing (again) everything he’d lost in New York and how the glimmer of California (and a California girl) could never replace it.
We saw Joan embrace the humiliation of Bob Benson’s “old maid” proposal and move confidently into a future of uncertainty, with a mother, a child, a partnership and not much else.
And poor Bob, the closeted chameleon, displaying once again a knack for being at the right place at the right time in the business world, even though he has absolutely nowhere to go in his private life.
The only happy families we saw in “The Strategy” were the one Lou Avery envisioned in the initial version of the Burger Chef pitch, one which doesn’t really exist, and the weird and wonderful one we saw in the episode’s final shot, Don, Peggy and Pete, co-workers by circumstance, not quite friends, but bound somehow closer, perhaps as Don told Peggy, bound by “living in the not knowing.”

Quick hits:
+ Obviously there’s a lot more behind why Peggy won’t visit Ginsberg than just what was in that box last week.
+ When we saw the episode summary that Pete would visit an “exclusive club,” we though for sure a visit to the Playboy Mansion was in store. But Hugh Hefner didn’t buy his L.A. digs until 1971 and, of course, Pete was ticketed for the Mile High Club instead.
+ We’ve seen some puzzlement about Don reading the 1963 Kennedy assassination paper in 1969, but it would seem Megan found the paper while searching for her things and left it for Don to see when he woke up. It was just another reminder what a signpost day that was for not only the “Mad Men” characters, but our country.

Historical notes:
+ Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” was released in June of 1969 on an album of the same name. The lyrics were written by Paul Anka. It would spend 75 weeks in the Top 40
+ “Oh! Calcutta!,” the revue-style sex farce opened Off Broadway on June 17, 1969. Pete and Bonnie saw one of its first performances.
+ Not to be outdone on the risque front, Don and Megan saw “I Am Curious (Yellow),” the graphic Swedish film that both angered and awed American audiences in 1969.

Brand names: The beer Pete planted in his daughter’s birthday cake was a Rheingold, while Bob Benson went to FAO Schwarz for the erector set for Kevin. Of course, we also got a mention of McDonald’s, perhaps emerging as the iconic brand of the 70’s.

Sweet tweet: From @Cartwright: “Stan - a beard. Joan - not a beard.”

Lines of the night:
+ “It’s nice to see family happiness again.” –Sweet Lou Avery
+ “I’m not of your stripe.” –Closeted Bob Benson
+ “You know she’s as good as any woman in the business.” –Pete Campbell
+ “There’s always a better idea.” –Stan Rizzo
+ “I miss my things.” –Megan Draper
+ “I don’t like you in New York.” –Bonnie Whiteside
+ “My face doesn’t please you?” –Uncloseted Bob Benson
+ “Bob, you shouldn’t be with a woman.” –Joan Harris
+ “Does this family even exist anymore?” –Peggy Olson

Next week: Episode 7x07 is titled “Waterloo.” The summary: Don is troubled by a letter; Peggy may seek a new future on a risky venture; Roger receives a phone call; Pete and Cutler butt heads.

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Still struggling to find her place in a man's world, Peggy reunites with her mentor for a moment of clarity in "The Strategy."


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