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Ten takeaways from 'Mad Men's' "The Strategy"
May 19, 2014  | By Ed Bark  | 3 comments

Presenting 10 takeaways from Sunday's Mad Men’s episode, “The Strategy.”

1. The episode just as easily could have been subtitled “Plaid Men.” And those garish sport coats amounted to red flags for both Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Bob Benson (James Wolk).

2. In an emotional hour filled with characters out of their geographical comfort zones, Bob made a surprise appearance at Sterling, Cooper and Partners after working the Chevy account off-camera in Detroit. Freed from what turned out to be the shackles of CBS’ canceled The Crazy Ones, Wolk for now can pop back into Mad Men whenever producer Matthew Weiner wants him. The Sunday show-up was a bonus, though.

Bob had his full-blown coming out party in this episode. And the timing turned out to be incredibly apt, given all that’s happened this month with Michael Sam and the St. Louis Rams’ drafting him as the NFL’s first openly gay player. A scene with one of GM’s Detroit executives, Bill Hartley (Matthew Glave), set the table for one of Mad Men’s more poignant scenes of this season.

Hartley, badly beaten after coming on to an undercover New York cop, was bailed out by Bob, who told him he’s never been similarly caught. Bob also learned that he’s due for a big job offer from Buick, which thrills him.

Hartley remains married to keep up appearances. Bob hopes to do the same. So he proposed to Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), proffering an engagement ring while clad in that godawful plaid.

“Bob, you shouldn’t be with a woman,” she told him after he kissed her.

“I have been, you know,” he said without much conviction.

Bob threw out all the pragmatic reasons for becoming Joan’s husband. Her little boy, Kevin, would have a father. She could live in a spacious home rather than in a cramped apartment with her mother and son. Plus, she’s nearing 40. “We could comfort each other through an uncertain world . . . I know I’m flawed. But I’m offering you more than anyone else ever will,” Bob pleaded.

Joan had the perfect response: “No, you’re not, Bob. Because I want love. And I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement. And you should, too.”

Bob took a last stab -- “I’m just being realistic” -- before Joan bade him “goodnight.” He left slump-shouldered without another word.

As noted in previous summations, Hendricks’ Joan has been underwritten this season. But this bravura scene with Bob almost singlehandedly redressed that imbalance. It may also have signaled an end to Wolk’s recurring appearances on Mad Men. But let’s hope not.

3. By the way, Joan looks smashing with her hair all the way down. That more severe office ‘do just won’t do anymore.

4. On to Pete, who journeyed back to NYC with his blonde realtor girlfriend, Bonnie Whiteside (Jessy Schram), along for the coast-to-coast ride. But Pete had other personal business, showing up at the old homestead to give his daughter a Barbie Doll for her birthday. Daddy’s little girl, in the company of a nanny, wasn’t at all happy to see him. Pete wore eyesore plaid for the occasion; it perfectly matched a gaudy ear-to-ear grin -- “It’s daddy, sweetheart!” -- that quickly became a grimace.

His divorce of estranged wife Trudy (Alison Brie) isn’t yet official. So when she returned home that night, Pete basically branded her an unfit mother and sleep-around slut. She shot him down like an expert military sniper: “You’ve seen your daughter for the year. Don’t you have a plane to catch?”

Pete’s final childish act, before storming out, was sinking a beer bottle in the middle of his little daughter’s uneaten birthday cake. He then lost Bonnie as well after she bluntly told him, “I don’t like you in New York.” She earlier eye-flirted with Don after dropping into his office. Don’t go there, man. Meanwhile, Pete continues to make it almost impossible to in any way feel sorry for him.

5. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) had the good sense to stay out of plaid. And in the episode’s other signature sequence, he finally got back in a groove with his true soul mate, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss).

They initially clashed over Don’s escalating role in the campaign to woo Burger Chef as a client. In fact, the old Alpha Don happily smacked his left palm with his right fist upon learning he’d be the head presenter.

Peggy festered, glowered and then finally had a late night, booze-fueled meeting of the minds with her original mentor. They talked about ad strategies, but more about life. She had just turned 30, and “kept it as secret as I could.” He confessed to having core misgivings about whether he’d ever have anyone close to him or accomplish anything of worth.

But then came the clincher. “I worry about a lot of things. But I don’t worry about you,” Don told her before offering his hand as the radio began playing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” They danced platonically, with Peggy resting her head on his shoulder before he kissed her hair lightly. Father and daughter? Or another step in Don’s realization that she’s the one woman who’s truly made for him? However this particular campaign plays out, this was one beautiful way to get back on the same page.

6. Don, Peggy and Pete ended the episode eating fast food at a spanking clean Burger Chef amid other idealistic renderings of families “breaking bread” together. The camera then slowly and lovingly panned away to the sound of Muzak. Ronald McDonald would have been as out of place here as a Filet O’ Fish sandwich at a Hampton’s dinner party.

7. In real life, Burger Chef was sold off to Hardee’s, with the last restaurant closing in 1996.

8. Sunday’s episode also featured a visit to New York by Don’s aspiring actress wife, Megan (Jessica Pare). He looked as content as he may ever be after awakening to see her preparing breakfast on his penthouse patio. Megan seemed restive, though, gathering up more of her things for the return flight to Laurel Canyon. When he offered to be a pack horse by carrying some of these belongings on his next trip West, Megan instead proposed seeing him “where there’s nothing else going on.”

“That’d be nice,” said Don, who probably should be suspicious.

9. While cleaning out a closet, Megan came across an indelible edition of The New York Times that Don has saved. She left it on Don’s bed. The headline: “Kennedy Killed By Sniper As He Rides In Car In Dallas; Johnson Sworn In On Plane.” This season began with Richard Nixon being sworn in as President.

10. Don continued to be adventuresome, rather than strait-laced, in his choice of art house movies. Before the rapprochement with Peggy, he noted without further comment that he had just seen I Am Curious (Yellow), a Swedish film with a number of explicit sex scenes. Perhaps more to the point, though, its narrative is driven by a young woman’s impassioned determination to make sense of the world at large and her place in it. So maybe he was in an optimum frame of mind to empathize with Peggy’s winter/spring of discontent.

Read more by Ed Bark at unclebarky.com
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Mary Jo
what about the cartoon story line? or was that the the previous episode?
May 24, 2014   |  Reply
dennis robles
One thing that I haven't seen mentioned by others, is that this was an episode on how the women are becoming more independent. They are strutting themselves into their professions (You're not going to "bleep" your self out of this." All the women in this episode declare and act on what was happen in that period of time- liberation from traditional women patriarchal shackles.
May 21, 2014   |  Reply
Keith Robin
Great essay! I could not agree with you more about Joan and her hairdo...she was, and always will be, one of my favorite characters!
May 20, 2014   |  Reply
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