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'Mad Men' recap: Out with a whimper

June 11, 2012|By Meredith Blake

In the final scene, we discover that Megan has landed – or, more accurately, been given – the part in the Butler commercial. Don gives her a good-luck kiss, then walks off into the darkness as a swarm of hair and makeup people touch her up. It harkens back to “Shoot,” the early episode in which Don arranges for Betty to model for a Pepsi commercial as a way of cheering her up. This time around, though, Don isn’t merely indulging his wife, he’s giving her career a vital boost. Don has given Megan what she wants, but in so doing he has somehow fatally, instantly changed their relationship. He wanders into a bar where he’s propositioned by a pair of beautiful women. He raises his eyebrows suggestively, and the credits roll: The old, philandering Don Draper is back. The problem here is the mismatch between the import of the scene – clearly, we’re meant to believe the Draper union is doomed –and its actual emotional impact. At the end of the day, Megan has gotten a part in a cheesy shoe commercial. Surely marriages have endured more critical challenges than this.

Pete has never been particularly likable, but his narcissism and selfishness reached new heights this season, culminating in an afternoon tryst with Beth Dawes just hours before she undergoes shock treatment. (So romantic!) To be blunt, I’ve been rather bored by Pete’s domestic discord this season, mostly because it’s such an obvious replay of Don’s marriage to Betty (the only difference: Pete lacks Don’s charm, good looks, and occasional fits of conscience). His affair with Beth is worse than creepy — it’s tedious. He claims the whole thing has made him realize that his family is “just some temporary bandage on a permanent wound.”

It’s meant to be revelatory, but at this point there’s nothing groundbreaking about marital ennui on “Mad Men.” Last week, Vulture ran a piece about the exceedingly high divorce rate on this show, and I am starting to think all the marital misery isn’t just historically inaccurate, it’s also creatively limiting.  Wouldn’t it be more interesting if someone were actually happy for once? I also find it hard to believe that Trudy would be convinced by Pete’s tale of crashing the car into a ditch, or that she’d agree to let him have an apartment in the city. Trudy is nobody’s fool.

Everyone’s marriage might be floundering, but hey, at least Sterling Cooper Draper (Pryce?) is doing well. At the partners’ meeting, Joan announces that the agency has had its best quarter ever. It’s a surprise to the partners, not to mention the audience, since it perpetually seems as if the agency is on the brink of ruin. But then the marketplace is a fickle thing, and a few months of robust business surely can make the difference. The boom means SCDP can finally expand to that elusive second floor, and in another terrific shot, we see the partners in silhouette in their empty but expansive new offices, contemplating what lies ahead. The question hanging over this moment, and the season in general – so vividly relayed in last week’s episode – is whether it’s all worth it.

Stray thoughts:

— Obviously the best thing about this episode was the reappearance of Peggy, who runs into Don at the movies.  These two have always been cut from the same cloth, and now they’re professional equals. “Add me to your call list,” Peggy says. Something tells me Don will.

— Peggy’s only been in her new job for a few months, but her wardrobe has already changed for the better. Check out the red power suit!

— During her run-in with Don, Peggy pointedly mentions Megan twice. What does it all mean?

— Leave it to Harry Crane to use Lane’s death as an excuse to complain about his office.

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Follow Meredith Blake on Twitter @MeredithBlake

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