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'Mad Men' Recap: Everyone Crafts a Version of “The Strategy”




Peggy does it her way in "The Strategy"

In the sixth episode, of the first leg, of its final season; Mad Men is full of strategizing and teeming with teasers for possible end-of-storyline scenarios.

As tempting as it consistently is to preordain Mad Men as a show that is essentially about Don Draper, episodes like this one seem to beckon our focus away from the studly ad man in crisis. “The Strategy” opens with John Mathis and Peggy Olson at Burger Chef doing some field research, interviewing families (customers). Their strategy, still in formation, seems to be misguided. One mom explains, in very self-deprecating fashion, that she goes to Burger Chef “too much.” She also notes that she goes there mostly because “it's close to [her] house.” Peggy—looking for an angle and flabbergasted that this woman can't even say something vaguely positive about the place she's eating—asks if her husband ever picks up Burger Chef for the family. “Oh no, it's bad enough that I'm not making dinner,” she replies. Peggy has uncovered just a taste of guilt that goes along with the changing structures, schedules and rituals of American families. And she knows that the strategy for this type of thing, should be anything but straightforward. We’ll talk more on Peggy and Burger Chef later.

Pete Campbell brings his hot new dish Bonnie, the sassy and confident real estate agent he's been seeing in LA, to NY while he's there to take meetings on the Burger Chef account and see his daughter Tammy. On the plane, the two have a discussion that reveals Bonnie's serious interest in Pete and her serious distaste for the fact that he and Trudy are still officially married. When he tries to talk her down, goading her by saying “I thought you were never going to get married again,” she strategically changes the subject. “Meet me in the restroom in 60 seconds,” she slyly says. And, predictably, the strategy works.

While things have, on the surface, seemed to be going swimmingly for Pete this season—in this episode we see the shoddy foundation upon which his California house of dream is built. His daughter Tammy barely knows him, and he gets petty with Trudy for being out when he's there, calling it immoral. Pete tries to exercise control over a situation that is beyond him and a family that is no longer his own. As a result of the shitty time Pete has with Trudy and Tammy, he's grumpy with Bonnie and she ends up heading home.

In other romantic news, Megan seems ever more distant from Don, even as she visits him in New York in this episode. Ostensibly packing some summer clothes, Megan seems to be taking a great deal of her things, and Don, who is really trying hard to remind himself to rejoice in his wife, notices. Megan plays his questions off and continues to seem disinterested, even discouraging Don from heading back to Cali for a visit—a strategy that may mean she's got some sort of secret.

The two main storylines in this week's episode revolve around Joan (and Bob Benson) and Peggy (and Don). Joan gets a visit at home from Benson, who's in town for some Chevy related meeting. Initially seeming like a welcomed relief for Joan from her tedious mother, Bob quickly proves to be working a strategy of his own. After relating to Joanie that SC&P is going to lose its work with Chevy (but possibly gain some with Buick), the evidently homosexual Benson proposes to Joan. His strategy makes sense in context. Earlier in the episode, he had to pick up one of the Chevy guys from jail, after he was arrested for offering oral sex to an undercover police officer. Badly beaten, the man takes solace in the fact that his wife understands his lifestyle. It seems that Benson's strategy is to follow suit by wedding Joan. She rebuffs him and he, in true selfish-asshole fashion, proceeds to explain to her how no one else will ever offer her what he can. Joan sets him straight though, remarking that she's not interested in some pragmatic arrangement, but in the love that he would never be able to offer her.

Meanwhile, Peggy is struggling with Don. But that's not quite it. Peggy thinks she's is struggling with Don, but Don has given up struggling with her. He is as supportive of her, at this point, as anyone at SC&P. So who are Peggy's real enemies? Well, it's complicated.

For his part, Pete seems to keep insisting on Don's involvement with the Burger Chef account. After having demanded previously that Don work on the account with Peggy, in this episode Pete brings Don into a meeting that is supposed to be Peggy's thing. Naturally, Don is asked for advice and eventually ends up being designated, by Pete, Lou and Ted (ugghhh), as the one who will give the pitch to Burger Chef.

Peggy goes into freak-out mode, understandably shaken up by being so undercut, but also obsessed with the idea that their strategy for Burger Chef—which is focused on convenience for moms—is not good enough. We get the idea here, that she's just longing to come up with a great idea that Don has nothing to do with. Finally, in a scene that begins as if it might be a blow-out between Peggy and Don, the two end up reaching a moment of mutual satori. Don walks Peggy through a brainstorming process after she insists that he show her how he thinks. The tension between the two instantly disappears when Don explains his strategy to her: "I abuse the people whose help I need, and then I take a nap." Peggy realizes that she is becoming more and more like Don, but she also begins to see him as a true ally once again. As “My Way” plays, Don and Peggy share an unexpected and innocent slow dance, the tenderness of which will no doubt breed speculation of a fairy tale romance brewing between the two. But, given Matthew Weiner's penchant for pessimism, I don't see that is a very likely scenario.

Peggy lands on a brilliant strategy wherein Burger Chef is seen as a place where everyone is family, a place where people are united by their common enjoyment of eating out in a casual setting. This idea, which seems to provide a way to strike back at some of the mother’s guilt over not cooking, also bleakly hints at a world in which our actual families are replaced by the representational families that are marketed to us. At any rate, the episode ends with an oddly happy glow, as Don, Pete and Peggy eat at a pristine Burger Chef and the camera pans out. For these three, there seems to be a sense that, after lifetimes of searching, home is drawing near.

Most cryptic Don Draper one liner: “I never did anything and don't have anyone.”

Most dickish thing said to/about Peggy (and there were a lot, again): “You know that she's every bit as good as any woman in this business.” -Pete Campbell


Be sure to check back next Monday for a recap of Season 7, Episode 7: the last episode until next year.





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