Mad Men Rewatch: The Strategy

 Posted by on March 25, 2015 at 1:49 pm  Mad Men, Season 7
Mar 252015


You are not part of this family anymore! –Trudy Campbell

Mad Men episode 7.06, The Strategy, is about the dissolution and recreation of family. In my original recap, I talked a lot about family, about sexism, the “new woman,” and so on. What struck me on rewatch, though, was the extraordinary way that the episode allowed this narrative theme to come full circle. Everything breaks, and then everything reforms.

Consider: We watch so many relationships break down, or simply be broken. Pete and Trudy, mid-divorce, with her nasty rejection of him. I hate the above quote. It’s a sadistic and awful thing to say, and patently false. Pete is Tammy’s father no matter what, and for her to withdraw that is vile. Pete deserves to lose Trudy, but he has done nothing wrong to Tammy, and Trudy is being selfish in a way that harms both Pete (which she intends) and Tammy.

Part of what breaks Pete and Bonnie up is the pressure of his marriage. He lies to Bonnie about Saturday night, staying to confront Trudy rather than have a fun evening with his girlfriend. Pete is roiled up in the notion of his failed family, and can’t create a new bond when both are on the same coast.

The episode opens with a snapshot of people’s family status: Pete and Bonnie on a flight, discussing their relationships, Don preparing for Megan’s arrival, Joan leaving her mother and son to go to work. Next, we get an ad presentation that is entirely about traditional family: “Dad” giving “Mom” his “permission” to eat Burger Chef. From there, it’s all breakdown.

Pete and Bonnie. Then the undermining of Peggy’s authority because she’s a woman. Then Peggy snaps at Stan. Then the gay executive gets beaten and arrested. Then Pete and Trudy. Then we see how close to breaking apart Megan and Don are–she’s packing her things in a much more long-term way than she’d indicated to Don. Then Pete and Bonnie fight–apparently with finality, and then Peggy confronts Don with bitterness and bile, then Bob Benson proposes to, and is rejected by, Joan, in an absolute parody of family. Then back to Peggy and Don, with Peggy so, so lost that she’s 30 and has no family, and doesn’t know what she’s done wrong.

All that breakdown, all that disconnect. It seems like the theme of the episode, the brokenness of family, the brokenness especially of ideas about what a women is supposed to be. And certainly there have been episodes of Mad Men that have left us with that, that have ended on sorrowful or bitter or questioning notes.

Here, then, is where we enter genius territory. Because now, we have a chance to reshape, to recover, to re-form.

It’s all about the dance, of course.


We’ve had a season of hostility and unspoken words between Don and Peggy, at this point. She blames him for the end of her relationship with Ted. She blames him for blowing up everything, and she doesn’t trust him. But she also misses her mentor. Then she was put in the position of having to supervise him. At first he was a shit about it, but then Freddy kind of slapped him around, and he treated her with respect, and did his work. But Peggy wasn’t going to reach out to him until she needed him, and she wasn’t going to make peace with him until she aired her anger, and her grief.

Peggy works through her feelings by working. As she processes the pain of not being one of the women she saw in all those station wagons, the ad comes to her: What if there was a place where you could go, and there was no TV, and you could break bread, and whoever you were sitting with was family? A place that would include Peggy. A place that would include Don.

I think it’s absolutely significant that Don doesn’t ask Peggy to dance until after they hit on the strategy. Their feeling for each other, that they are each other’s family, is in the work.

Later, Pete is included in their circle of not-family family, when they present the idea at a Burger Chef. Here, just as in Peggy’s fantasy, is a place she can be warm with Don and Pete, and forget they’re not conventionally related. Here Pete can forget he has neither wife nor girlfriend. Here, Don can forget that Megan wanted to take her fondue pot to LA with her.

Not everyone gets their moment in this resolution; not everyone is handed back a new relationship. But our principals have found a tender peace together, and that tenderness sprinkles some hope over the remainder of the cast; over Joan and Bob, Megan and Bonnie.

Every table here is the family table.


  9 Responses to “Mad Men Rewatch: The Strategy”

  1. I mean, yeah it was obviously about family, but I never picked up on the whole arc! Really well observed Deborah. Insights like this are why I love your writing.

  2. This was one of the best episodes of the entire series (in my opinion). It’s about real love aka family and I love how Joan sums it all up, “I want real love (real family) and I’d rather die waiting for it than to settle for an arrangement.

  3. This episode.
    Even the way Don motions to Pete that he has ketchup smeared on his mug, is very tender. Familial.
    Joanie, as per her usual, hit the bullseye. When is she ever wrong about anything, ‘cept her choice in men? Her brain should be left to science.
    Does DD consider Peggy family? Did the My Way dance cement that sentiment. Was it just him being gentlemanly and offering comfort to someone in distress?

    • Yes, I believe he does, although he wouldn’t describe it that way. She’s important to him, she understands him, he mentors her. I think that’s a pretty intimate relationship.

    • Yes! The dance scene and the scene with the three of them in burger chef are when we see and they discover that they are truly family and they have the “real love” that Joan is holding out for. This episode and those scenes in particular are so powerful because they hit you right in the heart– our deepest need to be known, accepted and loved.
      “I know everything about you, and I still love you.” (Anna Draper)
      And after Anna Draper died, Don said “The only person who really knew me died.” and Peggy said, “That’s not true.”

  4. This is so great.
    Kind of nice to see them all breaking bread drinking cokes, not liquor.

  5. I think this episode redefined what family is. There are many examples of people having stronger connections with non-family family than with birth family. Peggy is closer to the tenant’s son than her own nephews and mother; Pete is more supportive of Don than he is of his own daughter who he only sees once a year; Don has tried to please more people in the office than his own (now estranged wife). They have all had battles with their non-family family but in the end seem to have stronger connections

  6. […] I was writing my “Rewatch” post, I suddenly saw it–there are two kinds of families. There are the families in […]

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