A year ago, Mad Men Season 7.1 closed with Peggy giving a pitch about connection. We’re “starving” she said, hungry for connection, and then she tied Burger Chef into assuaging that hunger. And now? Now the people of SC&P are ravenous. Severance is an episode very much about getting everything you want, and having it be nothing at all. No one here is satisfied. No one connects. If they do connect, as Peggy does, they can’t trust the connection.
Don’s intense, compulsive womanizing, which requires an answering service to keep up with, is the same thing, in spirit, as Joan’s shopping. Joan is so utterly insulted, so demeaned, that she must soothe herself with “the boots, and the tan heels, the chiffon, the red,” and the De La Renta.
Earlier in Season 7, Joan told Bob Benson she wants love, but she may want respect even more. The shop girl at Bonwit Teller seems to remember Joan (or someone else did and told her) from when she worked there in Season 3. But the offer of a discount ruins the experience of shopping for Joan. Her argument with Peggy ended with a reminder that, after all, Joan is filthy rich. If she can’t spend full price, and never think about the cost, then she can’t soothe the pain of being so disrespected. She may not be able to make Dennis Ford of McCann respect her, but she can make a shop girl
zip unzip her up and pretend she never had to do anything so low.
Don, of course, has no idea what he wants. He wants it to stop hurting. He wants to be soothed. At first it seems remarkable how honest Don has come to be about his past, to the point where Roger teases him that he won’t shut up about how poor he once was. But it seem to me that the honesty is itself a compulsion. It’s as if he believes that his inner pain came from all of the hiding he once did. Now these stories of Abigail and Uncle Mack are a new way of trying to ease the pain.
The familiar-looking waitress (Elizabeth Reaser) is part of Don’s hunger, his longing for connection. So is his dreaming of Rachel. He longs for her, dreams of her, all the time, as the waitress intuited. (And yeah, Jon Hamm, Roberta totally called that one.) He can’t long for Betty, because she knows him too well, and he sees her too often, and it’s too mixed in with anger. He can’t long for Megan, because they’re divorcing right now, and it’s too fresh. So he longs for someone in the past, someone whom he loved and felt safe with, but who didn’t really know him. And when department stores come up in the course of business, she’s the perfect person to fulfill a fantasy.
Until she isn’t.
Rachel had everything she wanted, was fulfilled and happy, and died very young. That isn’t merely senseless, it’s a slap in the face to Don’s longing. How can all his “if only”s end with “and then she dies of leukemia”?
The saddest, the most tragic story of getting what you want and not wanting it? That’s Kenny’s. He has the money, love, support, and opportunity to fulfill all his dreams, and he’d rather squander it to spend his life being vengeful. That’s heartbreaking.
Some bullet points to wrap up:
- Continuity Watch: Peggy says “I once quit a job because I wanted to go to Paris.” I thought Sterling Cooper was her first job, and that the only job she’d ever quit was when she went from SCDP to CGC. If I do the math, she graduated from high school in 1957, and secretarial school doesn’t take three years, so I’m guessing she worked between high school and Miss Deever’s. CORRECTION: Smart Basketcases (Karl was first) point out that Peggy was referring to quitting SCDP over the Chevalier campaign.
- Quote of the Week: Not the wittiest episode, and I’d rather avoid the waitresses advice at the end as too on-the-nose. My choice, while still on the nose, is pretty gut-wrenching given how the episode ended. It’s Cynthia Cosgrove, “You gave them your eye, don’t give them the rest of your life!”
- Don still can’t be 100% honest. In his story about the toaster, he refers to the “boarders” who tripped over the wire; in fact, it must have been the whores.
- Please hit me on the head. I saw the episode three times before I realized that Rachel in the fur was a dream. Blame the several waking hallucinations Don has experienced in the course of Mad Men. I only recently rewatched Waterloo; if Don can see a Bert Cooper musical number while awake, why not Rachel In Furs?
- Speaking of which, that Wilkinson ad casting is certainly a callback to Don’s humble beginnings as the in-house writer at a fur company, first mentioned in Season 1’s The Wheel and revisited in Season 4’s Waldorf Stories. He knows the difference between chinchilla and mink.
- And speaking of callbacks, Don saying to Kenny, “Don’t do anything rash, it’s just a job” is surely Don remembering Lane.
- Glitch #1: On Tuesday, Mathis invites Peggy to dinner without saying when. On Wednesday, she says she’ll take him up on dinner “tomorrow”. Say what?
- Glitch #2: Not so much a glitch as an acting problem? At home and without the eyepatch, Aaron Staton uses a lot of body language to look over and around the missing or damaged eye. But Kenny lost that eye two years ago. One-eyed people adapt; he should not be “acting like” the eye is a problem after two years.
- Look at the face of the model in the first fur. Between 1969 and 1970, fashions in makeup changed a lot. The 1969 face has heavy eyeliner, often a liquid cat-eye, bold shadows, and a pale lip. The 1970 face is the start of a “natural” look; baby-pink lipstick, softer eyes.
- The two waitresses in the diner are Violet and Diana. They call each other “Vi” and “Di”.
- I wonder if we’ll see that wine stain on Don’s rug again, or a replacement rug. I really do imagine six more episodes with a red streak across his bedroom every time.
- The speech by Richard Nixon that we saw was delivered on April 30, 1970. The episode therefore takes place on five consecutive weekdays, Monday, April 27, through Friday, May 1.