Mad Men Review by Henry Tran

Mad Men 7.06: The Strategy

Mad Men 7.06: The Strategy

Written By:
Semi Chellas
Directed By:
Phil Abraham

"The Strategy" stops and shows the roots of this show. It's there that the truth of the whole enterprise is revealed: The advertising business is built on selling products to as many consumers as possible, and yet, that means those responsible for the media are left alone with fractured personal lives. Peggy says a key line to Don during their late night powwow over the Burger Chef ad. Does the notion of a nuclear family, one where the mother is slaving away at home to make dinner for her husband and two children, still exist in this day and age?

If this was still the 1950's, then that would be the ideal sort of demographic. A decade and a half has shifted perspectives, though Peggy and Don are hardly representative of the sorts of people the ad's direction should appeal to. The notion of the "ideal family" and how far away from that ideal the characters are these days floats as a recurring theme in the episode. It's a melancholy one, though it ends on a nice up note that implies that hope is coming.

There is near-constant coverage of Peggy in this episode. Indeed, it's jarring to see that she's conducting field research for the Burger Chef ad, just to get some idea to work its way into her head. When it's presented at the firm, the idea of the fast food restaurant substituting for a busy mother is all over the place and a tad convoluted.

One of Burger Chef's actual taglines in the 1970's was to "please your whole family" so I think the writers were looking for a way to work that from the ground up. It doesn't work at first, and Peggy knows it. Don is being pushed in her face to work on the campaign (first by Lou, then by Pete, who is returning to the New York office from LA) so if anything, she wants to try Don's methodology for making the ad campaign the best she can. It's not a heavy hitter that the firm depends on, but it's her baby so she's got to make it great.

The show has provided five prior episodes of a building animosity between Peggy and Don so it looked like this would be a continuation of that path here. Instead, they go a different way by making Don passive and accomodating to Peggy's wishes. They still clash at times (so much so that it scares Megan when she's cooking dinner for Don), but there's more a feeling of the mentor (Don) shepherding the student (Peggy) through the creative process. And Peggy has no one else to turn to about this. They're all occupied by something else. It leads to the overnight session that could only be done with the two of them.

The sequence that runs near the end of the episode felt like a sequel of sorts to season four's "The Suitcase" in its intimacy and style. Despite all of the animus between them over the years, the truth is that Peggy and Don are only able to drop all of their shields whenever they're alone with each other. It recalls all of their shared history over the course of the series. Peggy is trying to get into the mindset of the overworked housewife, a lifestyle she has roundly rejected for a long time now. She has had a baby, but that was in secret, and being a woman on the corporate ladder has left her alone, without many of the things that have defined women from that era.

Don has been married twice (three times if you count the "marriage" to Anna) and had his share of female conquests through the series, with three kids, yet it's telling that he's really been closest with Peggy the whole time. He's not the ideal demographic to be sold Burger Chef either. He's there, alone, deep into the work that won't save him. But when they share that dance to Frank Sinatra's "My Way", an old-time-sounding ballad that is in direct contrast to the rock and roll dominating the decade, it lifts the both of them in ways that others cannot. With the moon landing set to end this half season in the next episode, it seems that they have gone through the darkness to arrive at the brightest dawn.

Megan arrives in New York, yet she still looks and acts in a manner that feels alien to Don. Both she and Bonnie (who also visits Pete in New York) leave the place without their men in tow; The message being that they belong on the West Coast while their other halves are strictly set on the East Coast. It's telling that the episode end on Pete, Don, and Peggy sitting in the diner like a hypothetical family. They're happier in this particular place, away from their outside lives. Trudy has told Pete in no uncertain terms that their marriage is over. His own daughter treats him as a stranger. They only have each other, and maybe that's enough to get all of them through the day. It may look sad to any outsider, but it's fitting once you know their inter-twined histories.

It's as close to genuine as they can get, which is harder to say about the lives led by a character like Bob Benson. He makes his return here, only to seemingly leave wreckage in his every wake. The agency loses Chevy, leading to his acceptance of an offer from Buick, which seems to be the impetus for his sudden proposal to Joan. While Bob does account for the practicalities of the marriage, Joan is able to swiftly snuff out the artificiality of the arrangement. There's no feeling to the proposal, and that coupled with her apparent realization of his closeted homosexuality, it all but dies before even getting started. Bob thinks he's giving her what she needs, never getting close to what she wants. Her life isn't the ideal for a woman her age, but it's what she wants right now. She, like Peggy's direction with the ad, is content with doing things her own way.

Our Grade:
The Good:
  • Don and Peggy's reconciliation
  • Don continues to learn from his mistakes
The Bad:
  • The forces continue to align against Don
  • The agency's future is tenuous at best

Henry Tran is a regular contributor of review for Critical Myth; The Critical Myth Show is heard here on VOG Network's radio feed Monday, Wednesday & Friday. You can follow him on twitter at @HenYay

Mad Men by - 5/21/2014 7:46 AM226 views

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