Leave it to “Mad Men” to air an episode called “New Business” as we teeter our way past the halfway point of the show’s final season.
Teetering is also how we find our characters in episode nine: Don is caught between the end of a marriage and the beginning of a relationship, Megan is trapped between a failed marriage and a standstill career, and inexplicably, Diana, the diner waitress we met last week is back and on the brink of becoming a major secondary character.
For an episode concerned with new business, this week certainly does a good job of wrapping up the old. First up, Megan and Don finalize their divorce proceedings (he writes her a check for a million dollars and she gives him back her ring — a ring that, you might recall, once belonged to Anna, the real Mrs. Draper). Megan flies to New York for the proceedings and is joined by her mother and sister, who help her move the last of her things out of Don’s apartment. As unpleasant as the circumstances are, it’s a delight to get what is probably our last glimpse of Megan’s family dynamics, rounded out by melodramatic mother Marie (who takes the opportunity to pick up her affair with Roger where it left off in season five) and a dour, crucifix-wearing sister named Marie-France who does little more than sob and moan her sorrows in French (another reminder: Megan’s family is from Montreal).
Meanwhile, in the office, we have no sight of Joan or Ted or any real advertising work this week. Instead, the focus is on Peggy and Stan and a vermouth account, which would be unremarkable except for the introduction of photographer Pima Ryan, who Peggy hires to work on a commercial. Ryan is our first real glimpse of sartorial androgyny since season four’s Joyce. A streak of gray punctuates Pima’s dark bob and she favors pants, ties and vests — she also favors of seducing her coworkers. Peggy resists Pima’s advances but Stan does not, which makes for an interesting conversation between the pair, who seem to have their own unfinished romantic business to attend to — though it’s not clear if either Peggy or Stan knows it.
Romantic entanglements, failed or otherwise, comprise the bulk of the episode. There’s Betty and Henry, Megan and Don, Marie and Roger, Roger and Pete musing about their own failed marriages, Harry’s slimy attempts to seduce Megan when she meets with him to discuss finding a new agent and the introduction of Stan’s girlfriend, a nurse named Elaine. Most importantly, there’s Diana, the waitress from last week who Don tracks down at the beginning of this episode. She left the diner and is now working as a waitress at a restaurant, where Don finds her and tells her that he’s going to eat dinner with her — even if it’s only for five minutes at a time. At this point, Don’s persistence, which was never charming to begin with, is almost entirely inappropriate. It’s a relief when Diana reciprocates his interest and the pair begin their dalliance, which, speaking of old business, includes a run-in with Arnold and Sylvia Rosen (Don’s lover of choice during his season six downward spiral) in Don’s apartment elevator.
Diana, we learn, has come to New York from Racine, Wisconsin. Like Don, she’s a rural transplant and, like Don, she’s dealing with some pretty tragic baggage to the tune of one divorce after 12 years of marriage, one daughter dead of influenza and another left behind in Wisconsin. It is clear that Diana is punishing herself for abandoning her daughter and it is clear that Don and Diana are intended to mirror one another to an almost eery extent. What is less clear is where this relationship will lead and what either of these people — equal parts irresistible and inscrutable — have to offer each other.
At the end of the episode Don returns to his apartment and finds it completely empty. The reason is innocuous enough (Megan’s mother paid the moving service to take the furniture as a final, vengeful parting gesture), but the symbolism is foreboding. Here is our protagonist, a man alone returning to an empty home. It seems that, at this moment, Don’s life, like his home, is very empty indeed.
- Meredith talks to Harry about his time in Los Angeles and says she couldn’t sleep with the thought of the Manson family running loose — a cheeky nod to the abundance of Manson-oriented fan theories that implicated Don and Megan in the 1969 Sharon Tate murder.
- Costume designer Janie Bryant must be having a blast with the characters’ wardrobes this season. Last episode, Stan was wearing jeans in the office (an unthinkable choice only a few seasons prior). This episode, standouts include Megan’s ample blue eyeshadow, Meredith’s day-glo orange minidress and entirely too much polyester for all involved.
- The aforementioned conspiracy theorists would do well to scrutinize the choice of closing song, “C’est Si Bon,” an airy number about the bliss of love’s early days. Is it a nod to Megan, who speaks French? Sinister foreshadowing of Don and Diana’s double-the-trouble soul connection? An ultimately meaningless choice for a television show that confronts the futility of personal agency in an uncaring universe? We may never know
Contact Sarah Adler at [email protected].