Ah, those last four minutes. As 10 pm clicked over to 11 on the first airing of Episode of 706 of Mad Men, we see Peggy Olson and Don Draper slow dancing as Frank Sinatra croons “My Way.” Peggy rests her head on Don’s starched white shirt. Don gently kisses her hair.
Only a few minutes earlier, Don reassured his one-time protege in a way that he hasn’t since season season two. This is about more than wondering about a pitch for a fast food burger joint.
“I worry about a lot of things,” Don said. “But I don’t worry about you.”
Typically, Peggy hears what she wants to hear in Don’s words. She can’t accept a compliment, so she pokes back.
‘What do you have to worry about?” she challenges.
“That I never did anything. And I don’t have anyone.” Wow.
It’s the new Don Draper. The one who speaks the truth, or tries to, no matter what the cost.
This scene is a great Mad Men moment and one that’s been a long time coming. Mad Men is as much Peggy’s show as Don’s, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen them interact as anything but co-workers in a strained relationship.
But as they struggle to find a better way to sell burgers to frazzled mothers, Peggy and Don share a moment so intimate that she would climb into his brain if she could. And as they take a breather from the Battle for the Perfect Tagline, they get swept up in a song that harkens back to a simpler time, and the moment moves in a different direction.
We’ve had severed limbs and illegitimate children, but there’s one thing that Mad Men has never given us: Don and Peggy as a couple. So for a long moment, showrunner Matt Weiner teases us.
Is this the beginning of something? Why not? Peggy’s unattached. Don’s actually announces how alone he feels. And Megan seems to miss her fondue pot as much as she misses her husband.
It’s real all right. But like so much in Mad Men, it’s not built to last. Too much has happened. (And maybe, there just aren’t enough episodes left.) It’s just another moment consigned to what Don calls the “not knowing.”
Up to this point “The Strategy” has been a referendum on the idea of “family,” in quotation marks, and the early poll number aren’t looking promising.
“Does this family exist?” Peggy wonders. “Are there still people who eat dinner and smile instead of watching TV?”
Early on, we hear Lou rooting hard for “family happiness,” which makes it suspect right off the bat. Closeted Bob Benson realizes he needs to become a family man and quick to satisfy his new bosses at Buick. And while she turns down his proposal for both their sakes, Joan realizes she’s more likely to end up “alone” (albeit in a crowded apartment with her mother and son) than he is.
Pete will throw away any chance he has to make something real with Bonnie just to sabotage with Trudi’s attempt to create something new. And let’s not forget about Betty “Mommy Dearest” Francis, absent from this episode but whose relationship with Sally casts a pall over Mad Men as a whole.
All of these characters are obsessed with things outside their grasp, willing to cast away a sure thing in pursuit of something that may not actually exist.
The family is clearly in crisis, and the dimensions of this calamity are a lot bigger than “What’s for dinner?”
So an episode that could easily have ended with Don and Peggy wrapped suggestively in each others arms, continues for a few minutes past the top of the hour and ends very differently.
We see a plane with Megan and Bonnie both jetting back to the West Coast, less attached than when they flew out.
We get some back room wrangling between Roger and Jim Cutler.
And we end the episode at, of all, places, Burger Chef. We eavesdrop on three people. They’re unrelated by blood or marriage. But they share common goals. And an easy familiarity. Deep secrets. They sit around a pile of fast food burgers.
This meal is messy, but they’ve got plenty of napkins.
They eat, and talk and really listen.
“Every table is a family table,” Peggy announces with a newfound confidence. She’s been transformed by that moment at the office, but not how you’d suspect.
“What if there was a place, where you could go, where there was no TV, and you could break bread and whoever you were sitting with was family?” What if, indeed. And what if that family just happened to be your Baby Daddy and your old boss.