Inasmuch as the courting of the Burger Chef account by SC&P has been a major storyline during the first half of Mad Men‘s seventh season, food has been discernibly used as a motif. The plot of The Strategy (7.06) centers around the development of a “family” themed ad campaign for Burger Chef that parallels Pete, Peggy and Don’s own personal doubts about their respective family situations. Presented in the episode is the idea that the concept of the traditional family firmly ingrained in people’s minds as a cultural reference has, unbeknownst to many, diverged from the reality.
“Convenience” is the answer given by a station-wagon driving mom to Peggy and Mathis in response to their question about why she frequents Burger Chef. Ostensibly, this reflects the main benefit of “fast food” outlets to a time-challenged consumer. However, this is also the reason (more or less) given by Bob Benson to Joan when he proposes marriage for the sake of his career. The episode suggests that it is the construct of a family which the culture prizes even if it only honors that construct in the breach.
Mathis tells Peggy that they barely have enough money for a cheap carry-out dinner. This is analogous to how Peggy herself feels about a lack of any strong familial connections.
On a flight from California, Pete and Bonnie eat while watching an in-flight movie. This is not unlike the families watching television during meals that are later referenced in ad strategy sessions at SC&P. One of the original versions of the Burger Chef ad had children surprised and confused by the appearance of their father. This is echoed by Pete expressing concern to Bonnie that her presence may confuse his daughter, Tammy.
When Pete visits Tammy, he shows off the Barbie Doll he brought “from California.” This mirrors Pete showing off Bonnie, a real-life Californian Barbie in his eyes, to coworkers at SC&P. Pete becomes upset when he suspects that Trudy is out on a date. When he confronts Trudy about it, she reaffirms her desire to get a divorce and tells Pete that he’s “not part of this family anymore.” Pete, who must confront the reality of no longer having a “home” with Trudy and Tammy, vindictively takes out his anger at food by smashing a beer bottle into a homemade cake.
Later, when Pete has a disagreement with Bonnie, it is over food. Pete chooses to order dinner from room service rather than eat with her. An empty plate pointedly takes her place in their bed.
Megan’s beautifully prepared balcony breakfast fools Don into thinking that their family situation is improving. However, Don soon realizes that they are becoming more distant as Megan aggressively packs to return to California (including her asking about a fondue set). It’s noteworthy that Don finds an old newspaper with a headline about the JFK assassination. This was certainly presented as a culture changing event in earlier seasons of Mad Men.
When evaluating her market research, Peggy comes to the incorrect conclusion that husbands still call all the shots in the family. It’s certainly an idea that Lou considers as a given when evaluating an early incarnation of the Burger Chef ad. However, after his arrest, Chevy rep Bill Hartley admits to Bob Benson that he has his wife’s permission to dine out (so to speak). Also, Megan and Bonnie both assert their own independence in The Strategy. The notion that the traditional male-dominated patriarchy is on the wane is punctuated by the close-up of a shutting curtain which abruptly ends a dolly shot down an airplane aisle showing the women on a flight back to California and away from their respective domestic situations.
The Strategy ends on an upbeat note with Don, Peggy and Pete breaking bread at Burger Chef while forming a new type of “family” amidst Formica tables and plastic chairs. While it’s not the traditional sort of family they are familiar with, as depicted, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.