While running the audition of a model in a chinchilla coat,at the very beginning of Mad Men episode 7.08, Severance, a close up of Don’s hand shows a coffee cup with the words “We are happy to serve you” written on the side. This motif is carried throughout the episode as moments of introspection on the part of various characters are punctuated by displays of servitude to others. In an episode about people questioning their life choices, this device helps create a mood of subordination to situations one cannot control.
The centerpiece of Severance is Don’s encounter with the waitress Diana at a diner. Roger is very dismissive of the service worker and cynically leaves a hundred dollar tip to make amends. Don, on the other hand, finds himself drawn to Diana. That attraction will be linked with Don’s former lover, Rachel (Menken) Katz, whose very recent death takes a toll on Don as he regrets a life he could not have. It’s worth noting that Diana is referred to by a coworker as “Di.” That this is a homonym for “die” would seem deliberate and almost supernatural.
Earlier in the episode, Don finds out via his message service that he has his choice for a nighttime liaison from a list of three women who have contacted him to make themselves available. Don pointedly selects a service person, a TWA stewardess, who claims to have to contend with at least one urine soaked blanket on every flight.
When Meredith sees how upset news of Rachel’s makes Don, the secretary offers to get Don a sandwich while holding a pad in her hand in a posture similar to Diana.
After his tryst with the waitress, Don is shown riding up in an elevator lost in thought. A woman on the same elevator is clearly shown holding a carryout box containing a number of the exact same blue coffee cups Don held in the first scene.
At the office, before Mathis invites his superior, Peggy, to meet his brother-in-law Stevie, he surrenders a freshly poured cup of coffee cup to her. This power balance is later reversed when Peggy, on a date with Stevie, surrenders her entree to him.
Roger’s treatment of Diana is echoed during Peggy and Joan’s meeting at McCann Erickson. The misogynist rudeness displayed toward the women clearly indicates that, contrary to what Don tells Joan, the relationship between the firms is not a “two-way street.”
Later, still angered by the incident, Joan refuses to take a call from McCann’s Dennis Ford. Instead, she goes on a shopping spree at the department store where she had previously worked. Joan not only denies to the sales associate that she is a former employee, she also directs the sales person to help her change outfits. While being served, Joan regards herself in the mirror like the chinchilla model from the first scene. However, she doesn’t look happy.