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'Mad Men' recap 7x11: 'Time & Life'

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MAY 04, 2015

As always, spoilers abound.

On the bright side, Mad Men is now several months into 1970, and no one’s said the word “groovy” yet. On the not-so-bright side, episode 11 has us bid farewell to SC&P for once and for all: The agency is gone, dissolved into McCann-Erickson in a move that feels at once inevitable and outrageous. “Time & Life” is the best episode of “Mad Men” we have had so far, so let’s dive right in.

To mix idioms, the news of SC&P’s dissolution falls somewhere between waiting for the other shoe to drop and a total sucker punch. Ever since the deal between SC&P and McCann was worked out in the first half of season seven, it seemed inevitable that McCann would one day absorb SC&P entirely. The partners, it seems, didn’t realize that day would come so soon. Neither did we, the audience, having been left half-placated and half-perplexed by episodes eight through 10.

The entire acquisition is a debacle from start to finish. Roger learns about the dissolution prematurely when he finds out that SC&P has lost the lease to its offices in the Time-Life Building (hello, episode title). The partners quickly work to secure some sizeable accounts, knowing these accounts (and the profits they yield) will have to be dropped because of conflicts if the acquisition takes place. The group hopes that it can convince McCann to let it relocate to the California office with these accounts, preserving its autonomy and some profit along the way. This, you may recall, is the exact sort of maneuvering that took place at the end of season three, when Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was formed as a way to avoid a buyout by McCann-Erickson back in 1963. This time, at a meeting with McCann big shots Jim Hobart and Ferg Donnelly, the partners present their compromise, only to be denied. “Stop struggling — you won,” Hobart says. Except for SC&P, acquisition by a big corporate agency isn’t a victory. It’s a surrender.

In the interpersonal sphere, this week’s storylines are just as rich as the business dealings. Unlike earlier episodes, episode 11 is so strong in part because it addresses the relationships we’ve been watching over the course of seven seasons and 10 narrative years. There’s the glory of watching Ken, now working for Dow Chemical, jerk Pete around in business meetings. There are moments of tenderness between Pete and his ex-wife, Trudy (even if that tenderness requires a 300-year-old family feud and punching a school principal in the face to resurface). We get glimpses of Joan and Roger together, though each is busy with a new sweetheart (Joan is still seeing Richard, and Roger — gasp — is still seeing Megan’s mother, Marie). Then, there’s Peggy. Peggy and Stan are working with a gaggle of children for a casting, and, through a series of events involving a rogue staple and an angry stage mother, Peggy and Stan have a conversation in which she reveals that she put a child up for adoption almost a decade earlier. The conversation is so strongly written and exceptionally acted that it warrants no further spoiling. Suffice it to say, it’s one of the only times we see (or, rather, are told) how Peggy has come to terms with the situation ever since she told Pete, the child’s father, about her decision in season two. Finally some long-awaited closure, just as everything else comes crashing down.

“This is the beginning of something — not the end,” Don offers weakly to the dispersing, disgruntled crowd after the partners announce the acquisition. For all of Don’s talk of endings and beginnings, we should know by now that this is how “Mad Men’s” world ends: not with bang, but with a merger and whimper.

Honorable mentions:

  • Poor Joan. As far as accounts go, she was sidelined twice: first, when the roster of accounts to be siphoned away to Sterling Cooper West failed to include Avon (her pride and glory) and, second, when upon rejecting the idea of Sterling Cooper West entirely, Jim Hobart tried to appease the partners with the promise of a slew of desirable accounts: Buick for Roger, a pharmaceutical for Ted, Nabisco for Pete, Coca Cola for Don … and nothing for Joan, whose future at McCann (four-year contract aside) is anything but certain.
  • “Mad Men’s” cinematography is exceedingly skillful, if not fairly predictable (lots of midshots and close-ups). That’s why the two wide shots to which we are treated in this episode are such a delight. First, there’s the shot that ends the meeting scene between the partners and Jim Hobart: We see Ted, Pete, Don, Roger and Joan in one frame at one side of the boardroom table, sitting stern-faced with the knowledge that SC&P is really and truly dead and gone. The second wide shot ends the episode: The five partners announce the news of the acquisition, and the office erupts around them. Even Don’s half-hearted attempts at oration don’t calm the crowd. We zoom out on the five partners, standing alone in the office that they worked so hard to build. Will we even return to this office again? Only time — which is to say next week’s episode — will tell.

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MAY 06, 2015