Is that all there is?
I guess we can call that song, made famous by songstress Peggy Lee, the theme song of the Seasonal Premiere entitled Severance and the first of the seven final episodes of Mad Men. To be honest – that was the very question I was asking at the first commercial break – at the twenty-minute mark. Is that all there is…
Yeah, it was quite dull, and just before the break, with Peggy and Joan pitching their parent company, McCann Erickson to place their client’s pantyhose in the Marshall Field Department Stores. Only it didn’t go very well at all. The guys were clowns and made off-color and snide remarks at Peggy and Joan because they could. Joan’s boobs? Really? Now?
It lead to a tiff between Peggy and Joan.
The episode centered around four characters – Don, Peggy, Joan, and Ken. And really nothing happened except Peggy had a date, Joan went shopping, Kenny got fired then became head of advertising at Dow Corning, making him the client which meant Peggy, Don, Pete, Joan, Roger and the whole gang were now working for him at worst, or toiling on his behalf at best. Ken went from a fired staff member to The Client From Hell, as it were.
But of course, like all episodes of Mad Men – that was just the surface. As usual there was more much more beneath the surface. As well as the surface being subject to interpretation as well. Don was all about looking backward as if he knows that someday soon – like in the season finale, he’s a good bet to take a header off a building. Or walk off the Santa Monica pier. Death followed him like a shadow through out this entire episode.
A tale from his youth involved an uncle who was nearly electrocuted. Why would Don tell this tale to Roger and the three girls they were having coffee with?
When Don got home he had a quickie affair with a girl who had called his service. Don despite two marriages (and the divorces attached) is still unable to resist a roll in the hay with a disposable stranger. Which we saw reprised later in the episode when Don had a standup quickie with a coffee shop waitress in an alley.
He thought she reminded him of someone.
Meanwhile, back at the office, Don’s secretary had more speaking lines than either Pete or Roger. Don’s morning consisted of dropping his coat, and hat, and briefcase at his secretary’s desk, accepting the coffee she offered him, and saying Wake me up in an hour….Yeah, is that all there is…?
After initially declining the opportunity to have a blind date with a co-worker’s brother-in-law, Peggy changed her mind. So there they are, having an Italian dinner, and guess what – the dude says the right things – and before you can say, I love veal, which can be heard as I love you, Peggy plays the I’ve had too much wine, and I may say just anything – Peggy, yes that Peggy – suggests that they fly off to romantic Paris right then and there. Of course she can’t find her passport – so the trip never gets off the ground for now. But it was nice to see Peggy do something away from her norms; to a show a willingness to do something unexpected, and to take a chance. But, the jury is out on if it will still happen – but it was nice to see Peggy rebound from her tiff with Joan.
Don gets a shock when Meredith told him that per Don’s suggestion, she tried to contact Rachel Menken – only to find out that Rachel had died quite recently. Don shows up the residence where Rachel’s family is sitting shiva. Rachel’s sister is not the least bit pleased to see Don, nor does she make him feel welcome. Don probably doesn’t realize it, but this was him reaching for a family – which is something he lacks now, and something he’s always lacked – except for the more happy days with Betty and the kids.
I’m asking if Don is a suicide candidate – and this scene – can only add to Don’s isolation. But there’s more of that to come. Don returns to the coffee shop. I’m thinking he doesn’t want coffee as much as we wants solace or at minimum conversation with Di the waitress. On Don’s menu, there was the thought of a possible repeat sexual encounter.
But Di was having none of it. See you later, she says – and the next time you come in here, you’d better bring a date. Don leaves forlorn and alone.
Joan goes on a shopping spree. Why? Because she can afford nearly anything she wants, and to escape the sexism of the ad business, and below the surface – Joan cannot forget what she had to do to reach this pinnacle – a partnership in a firm whose sole purpose is to convince some people that they need something, and at the same time, the industry chews people up and discards them like watermelon seeds. Joan feels soiled as well as tarnished – so a few baubles from the world of fashion are just what she needs right then.
Speaking of discards – there’s Kenny Cosgrove. After giving his father-in-law a set of golf clubs for his retirement, Ken and his wife square off about their future. It is plain, and has always been, that Ken isn’t a real ad man, or in the show’s parlance – a Mad man. He’d like to write, but can’t simply quit. His wife suggests otherwise. She is after all from a wealthy family. Ken hears from Pete that his million as a partner is not really a million. Pete suggests he’ll have to buy an apartment house to create a write-off against his windfall. But then I’ll have to be a landlord, cries Pete. Of course that remark elicits zero sympathy. Poor Pete – a land-lord, oh how the mighty have fallen.
Ken is called in to Roger’s office – and he’s fired. But this is Mad Men. There’s always an unexpected card about to be turned over. Sure enough – within days, or minutes in show real-time, Ken returns to announce that’s become the client from hell. Dow Corning has named Ken Cosgrove as Director of Advertising.
So now Ken is the client, and the de facto persona of He Who Must be Obeyed. This happened so fast and was so quick, that Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, and the writer of this episode – may have wasted a prime bullet of surprise.
So to close this out, let’s circle back to Don. Don who sees dead people. Don whose reality and his fantasy life seem to cross paths when Don isn’t day dreaming and with increasing regularity the lined between reality and fantasy continues to blur. Don – who’s particular job did not seem to include any work – other than auditioning models. Don – a guy on a perpetual chase for new skirts to bed.
You know that Peggy Lee’s voice crooning Is That All There Is – appeared three times in this single episode. It is a sad song – and basically is a fair representation of Mad Men. A sad show about people we shouldn’t care about but do. A show whose main character is an anti-hero named Don Draper who the more we see of him, the more complex he becomes, all at the same time as showing his lack of substance. Yes – as the song goes – Is that all there is?