Mad Men Season 6 Episode Recap: For Immediate Release
Welcome back to our weekly recap of Mad Men. This one had everything we love about the show—gripping office drama, hilarious fantasy sequences, righteously angry women, and Pete Campbell incurring bodily harm.
So grab a drink—sorry, Bert, we don't have any spirits of elderflower—and settle in.
"It is very hard to stand next to someone giving an autograph."
As is standard for a Mad Men episode, "For Immediate Release" was filled with superiority and ego. In between talk of SCDP going public and the cancer diagnosis of Gleason from Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough, Marie Calvet provided a moment of levity when she dished out French quip after French quip to her daughter regarding Herb Rennet's Chatty Cathy of a wife, Peaches (the humor of this scene of course being tainted by our knowledge of what a huge garbage person Herb is). It's clear that Marie feels above the puppy gabfest going on across the table, but she's certainly not the only one in SCDP's orbit who sees themselves as superior to whoever is around them.
Just in time for Mother's Day, Megan is able to demonstrate her acting success to her mother when she is recognized in the elevator by two binder-wielding girls. While being asked for an autograph distinguishes the struggling actor from the TV star, Marie remains unimpressed. As she reminds her daughter, being a successful actress may establish your superiority over the average Jane, but it also challenges your husband's frail sense of power and control. Not that Marie is all that taken by Don anyway, given her clear preference for the success of a bathrobed, pre-job-quittin' Arnold Rosen. Megan's own moment of superiority was overshadowed by her mom's withheld approval, a situation that mimics the power dynamics between Megan and Don: Despite the fact that Megan is quickly ascending into stardom, Don is always there to make her feel like there's something that she's not succeeding at so that he can maintain his status as the only star in the Draper universe.
Within the walls of SCDP, the money-minded staff members—Bert, Pete, and Joan—are plotting to take SCDP public. As they haggle over the company's price per share, it's clear that it's not only their individual financial profit that's on the line. The share prices of SCDP communicate a level of importance and (yes, again) superiority over their competitors. Following suit, both Pete and Don lose accounts over their own senses of superiority. Pete finds himself and Trudy's father, Tom Vogel, at the same whorehouse and rightfully freaks out. However, he is later coached by Ken into believing that, if anything, SCDP's relationship with Vicks as a client is secure via stalemate (or, to use Cosgrove's words, "mutually assured destruction"), since both Pete and Tom have their own secrets to guard and each other's secrets to spill.
And yet Tom refuses to hold up his end of the silent bargain, dumping SCDP over his daughter and granddaughter's honor, obviously choosing to cast judgment over Pete's behavior but not his own. Elsewhere, Don can't hold in his tongue any longer and finally clues Herb in on what a skeezeball he is in Don's eyes. Herb hinting that some kid making flyers could teach Don a thing or two about selling cars was just the perfect excuse for a Draper-style kiss-off.
This brings us back to Mad Men's ultimate battle: Don vs. Everyone Else. Once the news reaches SCDP's second floor that Don fired Jaguar, Pete hauls it out into the open through his stair-stumbling shouting fit. (Should you need to watch this glorious moment over and over, here it is in gif form.)
While certainly angry about what losing Jaguar means to the stock shares, more than anything Pete seems to have just had it with Don, well, being Don. When have we not seen Dick Whitman pull rogue shenanigans like this? As the supposed recipient of Don's knight in shining armor-like behavior, Joan lays down the truth to Don better than we've seen anyone in a long time. "Punishing" Herb wasn't Don's responsibility, and moralizing the situation took agency away from Joan, who now is left feeling like she slept with a client in vain: If I could deal with him, Don, so could you." As Joan tells her failed hero, it's unfair (and clearly counterproductive) for Don to walk around telling the rest of the agency what to do and how to feel. Having been subjected to six seasons of a very singularly focused universe, it was almost surprising to see someone call Don out on not considering the "we."
With so many oppositional pairings, having this episode capped off with the advertising rivals SCDP and CGC merging (at the hands of Don and Ted, no less!) would almost seem refreshing. While you could read this as proof that Joan's words sunk in for Don, merging with CGC was as beneficial for him individually as it was for either and both firms collectively (plus, it's not like Don asked for any other SCDP opinion before moving forward with a joint pitch). While it's all smiles between Draper and Chaough now, the always cryptic "scenes from next week" hint that this is not going to be an easy blending of business. Ted and Don were able to enjoy working together once, but only within the context of sticking it to someone else. What's going to happen when they have to get along just because it's a Tuesday and they're at work? Spoiler alert: probably lots of male insecurity.
Think about puppies. Think about puppies. Puppies. PUPPIES.
"I love puppies" is the last thing you'd ever expect to hear from Don Draper
As much as I'm not looking forward to the ongoing pissing contest between Don and Ted, I was initially very excited to realize that Peggy is going to be back in the ex-SCDP office. While this eliminates the need for late-night phone calls, let's hope that this means we'll see more of Peggy and Stan's friendship. However, Peggy would also appear to be taking a step down career-wise, as she'll likely have less sway at an agency with twice as many creatives and two bosses to report to, one that she's romantically linked to and the other being Don Draper.
There's no "team" in "Don"
For all the talk of how television is becoming more and more interactive and the people watching it more inclined to multitask while watching, this was the kind of Mad Men episode that is impossible to look away from—no filler, no flab, and I even waited until this morning to start Googling the possibilities for the Chevy model that was the focus of the episode's plot. (It's the Vega, a high-tech, short-lived model that started out promising, but by all accounts was more of a lemon than last seaon's Jaguar.) All of this episode's action—including the many pairs of doffed underpants—were in the service of the right-away, right-now pacing. No time for secret maid's-room idylls for Don and Sylvia; shit was going down, and sex wasn't so much a respite as a propulsive device.
"For Immediate Release" in some ways felt like a throwback to the earliest seasons of Mad Men, in the sense that it was very much The Don Show. This is a mixed proposition for the other players, of course, especially those at SCDP, and I think we can all agree that Pete spoke the truth when he complained to Don, "Don't act like you had a plan. You're like Tarzan, swinging from vine to vine." But in an episode where calculated plane trips (and first-class-lounge machinations) were the basis for new business opportunities, seeing Don fly by the seat of his pants was a visceral thrill. The look on his face when he realized that he no longer wanted to suffer the company of Herb Rennet was a revelation, his expression turning from blank to almost feral in seconds. And the moment in the bar with Ted Chaough when we realized that the letting down of their guards was much more than an admission of mutual defeat in the face of bigger competitors was as giddy-making as that first meeting of the future Sterling, Cooper, Draper, and Pryce gang at the end of season three.
(A brief break here to point out that Herb Rennet's wife is named Peaches. Peaches and Herb! These two are going to be psyched to do a slow dance to "Reunited" at their 20th-anniversary party.)
The problem with the Don Show is that, as Joan pointed out, it may be compelling, but it relegates everyone else to mere supporting players. (With the exception of Roger, who proved this episode that he's much more useful as SCDP's James Bond—seriously, all that was missing from his client-courting gambit was a baccarat table and an ejector seat—than he is skulking around the offices pouring drinks and cracking wise.) For Joan especially, Don flying solo is an insult—as much as his firing of Herb was rooted in what Joan had to do for the firm to get Jaguar as a client in the first place, the deed was already done. "Don't you feel 300 pounds lighter?" Don asked. But for Joan, losing Jaguar doesn't wipe away that night, any more than it wipes away those memories for the partners who still treat her like the office wife.
Peggy, too, is less excited by Don's grandstanding than he expects her to be, and it will be fascinating to see what happens when the merger between SCDP and CGC is complete. It's clear that Don sees the merger as an opportunity to make things up to Peggy, to take her less for granted than he once did and reclaim what he feels is his rightful place as her once and future mentor. That's not only complicated by Peggy's burgeoning whatever-it-is with Ted, it could well feel like a step back for her. As we've seen this season, she's come into her own as a top creative and as a manager; the look on her face as she hears that she'll be leaving her small pond for the chaotic, LSD-spiked swimming pool of a new, bigger agency offers a sense that, for her, this might look like a step back.
Don't worry, Pegs. Whatever happens, that brownstone is a killer investment.
"I don't like change," she said earlier in the episode, speaking of the gentrification of her new neighborhood (as Abe suggested just last episode, she's bought a building, complete with a stair-pooping junkie tenant, on the rapidly-changing Upper West Side). "I just want everything back the way it was." Don's mulligan with regard to Peggy is well meant, and his exhortation about her control of writing the press release—"make it sound like the agency that you want to work for"—is sincere. So far in the Don show, he gets everything he wants, and it's clear he's happy to be able to extend that privilege to Peggy. But though she will technically get "everything back the way it was" when she brings her experience back to the SCDP offices (or whatever they'll be called starting next week), it'll be different in one crucial way: She'll be boss to Stan, Ginsberg, and the still-unnamed female creative. Will it work? Will her self-possession hold up when she's thrust back into the place where she was once a second-guessed mouseburger, to cop a phrase from another self-made woman, Helen Gurley Brown? And does Phyllis get to come along?
So much for Pete Campbell, champion of the black citizen: His outrage not just at running into his father-in-law at "that party house," but at the man's choice of consort ("a 200-pound Negro") was as ugly as his spill down the office staircase.
It was glossed over this episode, but Rosen quitting his job means trouble for Don. Not only will it mean far less time for assignations with his wife, but Rosen has already been set up as someone who admires—and perhaps aspires to be–Don; now that he's no longer a surgeon, who wants to bet he'll be turning to Don for advice on a career change? It's bad enough that they're always the only two guys in the elevator; an Arnold in need of a mentor will be way too close for comfort.
"Unless this works, I'm against it," says Cutler before they go in for the Chevy pitch. And, I mean: How on earth is this new agency going to survive with two versions of Roger Sterling under the same roof? Are they going to have to hold a quip-off to decide who gets to stay?
Kelsey couldn't join us this week thanks to a wedding in Arizona, she'll be back writing part of the recap next week. Meanwhile, what did you think of the episode? Got anything to add? Let us know in the comments, and see you next week!
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