Mad Men Season 7 begins with Freddy Rumsen pitching an ad for Accutron watches, providing lots of detail and looking directly into the camera. As he completes his pitch, we see that he’s in a room with Peggy, and she’s listening to judge the ad quality. Sound bites include “Is that Swiss? “ and “This watch makes you interesting.” The tagline is: “It’s not a time piece, it’s a conversation piece.” Blown away by his presentation, Peggy tells him he knocked it out of the park, but she insults him by saying she didn’t expect it. Freddy counters that there’s a nice way to say what she’s saying, and what she said is not it. Peggy hardly responds to this gentle confrontation, but instead immediately changes the tagline to something less memorable and, pleased with herself, insults Freddy one more time when he wants another cup of coffee before he leaves: “You really put the ‘free’ in freelancer, don’t you?” Later in the show, she presents Freddy’s pitch at work only to have it panned by her new boss, Draper replacement Lou, who seems to have a tin ear for engaging slogans.
At the very end of the program, we see Freddy again when he meets Don in Don’s New York apartment, and we realize the twist: the Accutron ad is Don’s idea, and Freddy has been collaborating with Don in a freelance partnership. Like Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Don has been writing beautiful things but allowing Freddy to present and get credit for them, and together they’ve been getting significant interest from more than one large ad agency. Don, who’s still receiving paychecks from Sterling Cooper, believes he has a job waiting for him and that it’s just a matter of time until he’ll be called back to the office. In his mentoring mode, Freddy breaks it to Don that – based upon Freddy’s own experience – Don might never get that call and should think about moving on. Another thing Don and Freddy share is their alcoholism and perhaps their desire to stop drinking, if indeed Don has made that decision by the end of the episode.
A side note on their meeting is that Don’s sliding glass doors to the balcony don’t close properly, and it’s cold outside. Don offers Freddy a sweater, which he refuses, and they sit in Don’s cold living room during their meeting.
Don’s story begins on his arrival at the airport in Los Angeles, freshening up in the men’s room before striding out to meet beautifully dressed Megan in her hot convertible sports car. After a slow-motion fantasy greeting of these two beautiful people, they drive off to an elegant restaurant to meet Megan’s agent, who flatters her and announces some great acting opportunity for her. The agent, who gives signals of being gay and constantly refers to Megan condescendingly as a “girl,” assures Don that Megan is safe with him, and assures Megan that she’s got a bright future with him – although this could well be smoke and mirrors. After their luncheon, Don and Megan drive to Megan’s house in the Canyon. Don says he likes the place but complains about the sound of the howling animals and the remoteness of the location. Megan talks excitedly about her next house in Los Angeles, which she says will have a pool – but then she quickly backtracks and says “our house, I mean.”
We learn early on that Don has fooled Megan into believing he’s working at the Los Angeles office of Sterling Cooper over the weekend . Clearly he hasn’t told her he was put out to pasture by the company. Instead of going to the office, Don meets with Pete at a restaurant where they have sandwiches. Pete, who looks happy and calm, tells Don about the frustrations he experienced during the holidays when he spent time with his in-laws, and explains that as soon as he got away from the in-laws, he felt fine again. Pete also tells Don about how sour and unhappy Ted seems, despite the beautiful weather and the orange grove they visited. Pete is excited about everything from the fresh oranges and the great weather to the fabulous sandwiches they were eating, as well as apparently the plaid pants and golf shirt we see him wearing. He also reports that he is succeeding in getting new accounts out there. With a glass-half-full attitude, Pete tells of living in the “tar pits” where, although the city is flat and ugly and the air is brown, he loves the vibrations. Don tells Pete he looks like a hippie. Pete later takes Don to his apartment to show him around, and a beautiful young real estate woman named Bonnie Whiteside knocks on the door, enters, and makes a pitch to Don about the real estate deals she could get him. Pete, who seems cozy with Bonnie, says, “Don’t get excited Don, she turns it on for everyone.”
Later Megan prepares coq au vin for Don, but instead of being appreciative, he asks her if she saved any wine or did the chicken drink it all? Later, two men come to Megan’s door and deliver a large television console that Don has ordered for her, which irritates Megan because she lives near poor people so thinks it would be unsafe or insensitive, and also feels it will jinx her. She demands to know why Don surprised her like that, and Don tries to dismiss her feelings by expressing his own frustration, saying he didn’t know giving an expensive gift would be a problem. Megan says they don’t have enough time for an argument, so she tries to stuff her feelings but becomes more distant from Don because of it. At some point she warns, “Don honey, please don’t flick any cigarettes off the balcony. Everyone says they can tell where the fire starts.” Eventually when they try to make love, negative feelings come up for her and she says she feels nervous about everything. The next morning, she’s sad and frustrated that Don has to leave that night.
When Don flies back to New York that night, he sits next to a beautiful middle-aged woman and strikes up a conversation with her. The woman speaks of her late husband, who died the year before at age 49 of alcoholism, and of her quest to fulfill his wish to spread his ashes in a preferred spot. Her story is a wake-up call to Don. Confronted with the thought that he too could die young of alcoholism, he seems by the time they reach New York City to decide to quit drinking. Earlier in the flight, Don makes moves towards the woman and tells her he’s a bad husband, but she resists him by closing her eyes. Just before landing in New York, she invites him to stay with her, but he resists her by saying he has to go to work – and it turns out that he does, with Freddy. After the meeting with Freddy, Don sits and listens to President Nixon give a speech on TV and then heads out to the balcony in his underwear and bathrobe. There he sits, looking chilled and more importantly spooked – maybe by the notion that he might not be asked to return to Sterling Cooper after all; the idea that if he doesn’t stop drinking, he might drink himself to death; and the fact that his marriage is hanging on by a thread.
Peggy’s story begins when she listens to Freddy present the Accutron ad. At the office she spends a lot of energy at work trying to convince Lou that it’s a great ad idea, but he just doesn’t get it. Lou insults her very bluntly, saying he doesn’t care how she feels and he’s immune to her charms.
Ted, who’s been out at the California branch office of Sterling Cooper, returns to New York over the same weekend and visits the office. As Ted stands in the kitchen of the New York office, Peggy walks in and is startled. Stan is also there (on Saturday) and observes the tension between Peggy and Ted. After some awkward conversation, Ted walks out. Later, Peggy sees Ted embrace Moira, his longtime secretary, and she feels bad and angry about that.
We also learn that Peggy is now a landlord, and a woman in her building who doesn’t speak much English has been flushing sanitary products down the toilet and clogging it. The woman sends her son to knock on Peggy’s door and tell her to fix the toilet, and Peggy and the boy have a yelling match. Peggy is quite offensive to this boy, revealing once again that she doesn’t understand anything about or care about the needs of children. Eventually she calls on her sister to have her brother-in-law come and fix the toilet, and he later does.
At work Peggy tries to remain professional, but that night at home after her brother-in-law leaves, having dealt with so many frustrations all day long, she breaks down and cries behind closed doors.
Roger Sterling, meanwhile, is not spending much time at the office. Instead, we see him in what looks like a fancy hotel room, waking up after a night of group sex and drugs with young people still sleeping around him. He gets a phone call from his daughter, Margaret, who wants to meet him for Sunday brunch. He accepts, shows up late, wants to get drunk, and spends the time competing with Margaret instead of listening to her. She says she forgives him, and he says he forgives her (although he never explains this). Margaret and Roger talk past each other and there is no real communication or emotional connection, although Margaret does her best. Later, we see Roger returning to his hotel room very drunk and getting into bed with a young woman who’s lying next to a man about her own age. The woman calls Roger “mean” and Roger, unaffected by the name-calling, lies down and stares at the ceiling.
Both Ken and Joan are working hard to get business for the company. Ken, who still has a patch over his blind eye, spends a lot of time bossing, yelling, and complaining. He also tells Joan about not wanting to position himself as an equal to a client contact, Charles Butler, because it will reduce his stature on the account. Therefore, he wants Joan to go and meet with him instead, and she consents.
When Joan arrives at the restaurant for the meeting, Charles Butler refuses politely to do business with her, telling her he’s thinking of recommending that his shoe company drop Sterling Cooper and bring their advertising in-house. Joan asks him to put off making that recommendation for at least a few days, and he agrees. He excuses himself to leave before their meal is even ordered, and Joan responds by ordering alcohol. Later, Joan visits a university professor and tries to learn enough to give Charles Butler a technical argument. The professor wonders what she could do for him in return for his educational assistance, and she lets him know she is strictly business. The professor then pretends he wasn’t coming on to her, and tells her he doesn’t know if she can understand what he’s about to say. Joan challenges him, and it turns out she understands perfectly well what he’s talking about in terms of fees vs. commissions. From there she apparently gets more information from him. She later gets a chance to talk to Charles Butler on the phone and explains to him that if he does advertising in-house, he’ll be competing against Sterling Cooper and won’t do well in the competition. Charles then begs Joan to help him save face at his company, and she comes up with a solution for him. Joan keeps a professional appearance but obviously undergoes a lot of negative feelings in this episode.
Eventually Joan returns to Ken’s office, and he accuses her of sneaking into his office uninvited, as he found one of her earrings that she had accidentally left there. She tells Ken that they’re going to lose the Butler footwear account, it’s just a matter of time. But Ken disregards her prediction, saying he’s heard that line from other account men and it’s just an excuse.
The music at the end of the episode is a powerful rendition of “Keep Me Hanging On,” with the central lyrics: “Set me free, why don’t you babe? Get out ‘my life, why don’t you babe? You don’t really love me, you just keep me hanging on.”
A major theme in this episode is frustration, and the many different ways people handle it.
· After Don talks with Freddy towards the end of the episode, he listens to President Richard Nixon give a famous speech on television. The speech contains these lines about America’s high level of frustration in 1969: “We find ourselves rich in goods but ragged in spirit” and “We are caught in war, wanting peace.” These lines and others from Nixon’s speech express clearly the mood of frustration that permeates the country and this episode.
· The song at the end of the episode applies to Don’s frustration at being kept hanging on by Sterling Cooper. It’s unclear whether Freddy’s warning to Don is warranted, but Don seems to worry that it is. Don handles this frustration by facing it alone and presumably considering his options for action.
· More generally, Don has been frustrated since the end of Season 6 at not having an office to go to, even if he thinks he’ll be back at Sterling Cooper soon. He handles this frustration by taking action, creating his own independent work team with Freddy and pitching ads with renewed creativity.
· Don is also frustrated at being unable to close the sliding doors leading from his living room to his balcony when it’s cold outside.
· Megan is frustrated when she cooks a fancy dinner for Don and he doesn’t seem to appreciate it, and when Don has a large television console delivered to her house when she doesn’t want it there. She handles her frustration by speaking out about things that bother her, but also by holding in her anger to some extent, which then affects her ability to enjoy him.
· Pete tells Don about his frustrations over the holidays at having to visit the in-laws, and how he solved that problem by getting away from them and sitting by himself at a restaurant counter, which immediately made him feel fine again.
· Pete also tells Don about how sour Ted seems, which we can interpret as Ted’s frustration at not being able to have Peggy in his life, even though it was his decision to break off the relationship. Ted responds to his frustration by working harder, thereby failing to enjoy even the simple things in life like beautiful weather and a fresh-picked orange.
· Peggy keeps “banging her head against the wall” trying to show Lou the quality of the Accutron ad she brought in, but her frustration builds as Lou seems incapable of getting it. She handles this frustration by being persistent (even though everyone else can see it’s a lost cause) and later by crying.
· Lou is frustrated that Peggy keeps talking after he continually tries to shut her up.
· Peggy’s coworker creatives are all frustrated at watching Peggy buck the hierarchy and being unable to talk some sense into her.
· Peggy is frustrated at work because none of her coworkers seem to care enough about the company, and most are willing to do as they’re told and take the pay they’re given even though their creative talents aren’t being respected or utilized.
· The creative team’s reaction of apathy to their frustration at being overruled creatively by a creative dolt (Lou) is echoed when someone speaks about the Chevy account in Detroit, saying that they’re being paid to do nothing, and shrugging their shoulders about it.
· Peggy as a landlady is frustrated with the Latina tenant who continues to flush her sanitary supplies down the toilet and clog it; adding to her frustration, she can’t understand the woman’s words very well. Also, she doesn’t do plumbing work herself so is frustrated at having a problem she can’t fix. She handles these frustrations reactively, yelling at the young boy who comes to her door to demand Peggy’s help on behalf of his frustrated mother, and then turning around and demanding that her sister send her brother-in-law to take care of the plumbing problem for her.
· Peggy’s biggest frustration is seeing Ted, watching him hug Moira, and not being able to have the love relationship she wants with him – or any other love relationship for that matter. She handles this frustration by holding her feelings in, closing the curtain at the office to avoid looking at Ted relate to Moira, and trying to look professional at work, but then collapsing in tears when she’s home alone.
· Freddy is frustrated when he delivers a stellar ad and then is insulted by Peggy when she says she didn’t expect it. He’s even more frustrated when Peggy decides to change his (Don’s) brilliant tagline to something less dramatic. He handles his frustration first by speaking up tactfully, and later by shrugging his shoulders and going for another cup of coffee before he leaves, something he can get.
· Dawn is frustrated when she enters Lou’s office and Lou says, “Who do we have here? Gladys Night and the Pips?” She handles this insult by keeping her emotions to herself and leaving the room, but she must be frustrated that she’s not being taken seriously as a business woman and is being seen mostly for her race.
· Stan keeps trying to tell Peggy what’s true about her life, providing the “voice of reason,” and he becomes increasingly frustrated when Peggy just won’t listen to him. He eventually gives up in this episode, but it seems he may keep trying in the future to help her wise up. It’s interesting how much attention he pays to Peggy’s emotional life, for no immediate reward.
· Ken is frustrated with his job and the fact that he has no assistant and much too much work to do, along with too many interruptions. His reaction is bitterness, anger, complaining, ranting, and lashing out. He tries to confide in Joan to presumably engage her sympathy and possibly to get her to find him an assistant, although he offends her in the process.
· Ken is also frustrated at having to set a meeting with Charles Butler of the footwear company, because he sees that such a meeting would reduce his business status in the eyes of others.
· When Ken sends Joan to meet with Charles Butler instead, Charles is frustrated at being stood up by Ken. He handles his frustration by rejecting the idea of doing business with Joan, a mere woman.
· Ken is frustrated when he discovers Joan’s earring in his office and realizes she’s been in there when she wasn’t supposed to be. He handles his frustration by confronting Joan with anger and demanding that she stay out.
· Joan is frustrated at being dismissed by Charles Butler and not being taken seriously as a business woman. She handles her frustration by thinking on her feet during her phone conversations with Charles and by meeting with a university professor at a business school to strategize and develop credible argumentation to meet Charles’ objections.
· Eventually, Joan’s strategy works, which frustrates Charles, who responds by begging Joan to help him get out of the embarrassing spot he suddenly finds himself in.
· The university professor suggests to Joan at their meeting that she might give him something in return for his assistance with her business problem. When Joan hears this, she’s frustrated at once again not being taken seriously as a business woman. In response, she looks him in the eye and says he’ll get money in return (and not sex).
· The professor is frustrated at Joan’s rebuff, and handles his frustration by thinking on his feet and coming up with a new story about what he meant to suggest.
· Roger Sterling is frustrated by his life to the point that he’s drinking way too much and having group sex with people who don’t care about him personally, who he doesn’t care about, and who appear to be taking his money.
· Margaret is frustrated because she wants to have a positive relationship with her father, but Roger doesn’t care to accept her forgiveness, make amends, or even admit he’s done anything wrong.
· Roger is frustrated that Margaret keeps forgiving him for things he doesn’t agree happened. He’s also frustrated because he can’t control Margaret and make her admire him the way she did when she was a little girl, the way he feels entitled to control her and to be admired.
Appearances vs. realities are also prominent in this episode. For example:
· Don and Megan start out at the airport looking like movie stars and a very sexy couple, but in reality, their sex life is beginning to suffer as they become engaged in their separate bi-coastal lives and struggle for who’s in charge in the relationship.
· Peggy looks professional and in control of herself at work; however, in reality her emotions go out of control when she allows herself to feel them at home.
· Joan appears to enjoy being a beautiful, sexy woman, and no doubt she does enjoy this to some extent. However, the reality of her life is that she’s frustrated sexually since she doesn’t have a man in her life. Also, her glamorous appearance causes her a lot of grief because the men around her don’t take her seriously as a business woman, believing as they did back then that a smart woman is not likely to be beautiful and a beautiful woman is not likely to be smart.
· Freddy Rumsen appears to have become incredibly talented in developing ad campaigns. Yet the reality is that Freddy is just a mouthpiece for Don Draper’s behind-the-scenes talent.
· Don creates the appearance to Megan of success by not admitting to her that he’s been squeezed out of Sterling Cooper and by lying to her about when he goes to the office. In reality, he’s failed at the company to a significant degree and is scrambling to survive creatively by partnering with Freddy for freelance work.
Finally, we see the theme of entrenched hierarchy at Sterling Cooper, and how it stifles creativity and productivity while breeding bad attitudes, including not only frustration and anger but condescension, bossiness, a sense of entitlement, sexism, racism, apathy, and a lack of job fulfillment leading to dysfunction. As Lou says with a smile when shutting down Peggy’s (Don’s) brilliant ad concept, “That’s the way it works.”
This theme echoes the “establishment” vs. the frustrations and rebellions of 1969 America, which comprised both the entrenched hierarchy and the counterculture “hippie” movement. The hierarchy was set up so that any white man who was (or pretended to be) straight could feel superior and condescending and entitled compared to any woman, a white to a black person, a boss to a subordinate, a rich to a poor person, a parent to an offspring, a beautiful to an ordinary-looking person, a straight to a gay person, and so on. The hippie counterculture, rejecting the old models of success and proposing an alternative vision for living well, was more or less in alignment with the civil rights movement and the women’s movement. Together they functioned to gradually begin to undermine the entrenched white-male-dominant hierarchy in American culture.