We Are Happy To Serve You

 Posted by on April 9, 2015 at 6:52 am  Characters, Mad Men, Season 7, Themes
Apr 092015


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.

waitressThe 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.

mad-men-season-7bAt 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.


  24 Responses to “We Are Happy To Serve You”

  1. Bob Benson! (in his tiny little shorts….haha).

  2. Wow. What amazingly close observations. Great post.

  3. Aren’t those the kind of takeout cups (always two) that Bob Benson’s coffee was in?

    • Yes. We’re actually working on an article on those cups.

      • I’ve noticed them on other NYC-based shows, like Law and Order SVU. Never did until Bob Benson brought them, though.

        Great observations, Matt. This is why I love Mad Men and the fans who write about it.

        • Magenta, are you from NY? They’re ubiquitous.

        • I’m from California, and I’ve never noticed them in movie/shows until Bob Benson either. Since Bob Benson, I’m spotting them all the time. It’s funny how Mad Men makes you notice those little details.

      • Can’t wait to read it! I know they’re not uncommon, but I will always picture Bob Benson holding two of them!

  4. Joan’s unzipping by the sales clerk reminded me of the pose she struck w/the Jaguar sales guy….

  5. Matt you always make lots of great connections – really fund interesting stuff here! Your essay spurred me to thinking more about status, service and subordination in Severance.

    As you point out there is a status or caste type arrangement on display with the waitress Diana at the bottom with the least power (or if we want to be too cute the little coffee cup is at the very bottom – happy to serve anyone who is willing to pay). Money is the engine behind most of the transactions in Severance but not all of them. Rodger thinks money buys him the right to be rude to the waitress (of course he is showing off for his company too).

    Diana at the bottom of the caste confuses the money as pre-payment for later “servicing” Don. For Don, most of the servicing is of the carnal variety. He believes his status at SC&P allows him to take the fur audition to a different level and he even flirts with the call service!

    Service industry workers have to deal with things like urine-soaked blankets, rudeness, weirdos and bad tippers. Surely SC&P including smug Rodger and lusty Don are above all that? Nope. Matt as you point out McCann actually holds the maximum power. Peggy and Joan have to deal with the ugliness of McCann and it is no mistake that the women do most of the dirty work and clean up the messes. Joan feels so lousy that she has to use her new money-based power to boss around a service worker too and pointedly remind the servant that she never resided in that lower level (though what the worker at Bonwit Teller deals with not a fraction of what Joan and Peggy have to deal with despite having greater work status)

    If we look at all this through a lens to determine which characters behave wisely, humanely or at least decently there is a solid inverse relationship. The McCann clowns are at the top of the pure power scale but are the most abusive and reprehensible. To lesser extents Roger, Don and even Joan are not above using or abusing their status (again no surprise that men are doing most of the damage here).
    But we see Peggy shocked that Stevie chooses not to use his power as a customer to fix a pretty major screw up at the restaurant. His polite behavior and a genuine compliment turn that date around for Peggy. Again at the bottom of the power scale we have the waitress, Diana who in the end imparts guidance and wisdom to Don without asking for anything in return. Shakespeare always gives the wisdom to those at the bottom while the real fools are at the top.

    Even higher on the humanity scale we have the mourners sitting Shiva for Rachel. Very far indeed from the other transactions in Severance, here we have genuine service being conducted with the highest regard for tradition and human kindness. As has been noted elsewhere, to his credit Don doesn’t try to fix a problem with money instead bringing a small cake. Don is making progress but as often happens in MM, he gets to glimpse relationships that are warm and human and real but he still on the outside.

    • The scene with the McCann f#%kwads was several levels worse than any we’ve seen with Joan as the object – with the exception of several Herb scenes. That she was so shaken up suggests a bit of PTSD post-Herb – something to which Peggy’s slightly-Asperger’s-aspect may have blinded her.

      • Interesting. I’ve always thought of Peggy as having a sheltered upbringing that made her naive and socially awkward at times, but never being on the Asperger’s spectrum. Knowing that sometimes these characteristics look different in females, that is a very interesting observation!

      • I agree. It’s interesting. On first viewing I thought that the McCann scene was a bit over the top because literally every single utterance by the three McCann reps was insulting/degrading and that didn’t seem realistic. I mean setting aside the insults, there was no advance of any business purpose whatsoever by the idiots.

        On second viewing I was less critical of the scene because I think this abusive behavior while really outrageous might have been intended to underscore the subordinate role of SC&P. The Topaz meeting and Ken’s termination lead me to think that the bullying by McCann is intentional and perhaps directed from above.

        • My thought was that is was a phenomenon that fed into itself. I’ve seen this in real life and it seemed realistic.

    • Wish there was an applause or “like” icon for comments here. So insghtful. I really like the observation about the people at the bottom being the wisest. Very astute.

  6. Gotta love the NY Times:


    Serving one up, just for you, Matt.

  7. Matt,

    This is such a fantastic post! It’s is one of the reasons I like BoK so much. Everyone viewer comes with their own point of view and experience. If I were watching on my own I’d just have my own perspective. But then I read something so insightful like this, or even a large or small comment, and I see the show episode in a totally new light.

    With service, I wonder if Peggy giving her meal to her date was the only interaction true to “we are happy to serve you,” in that she really does want to make her date happy because she is starting to like him.

    Also, with Kenny, it could be the ultimate “service” revenge. Roger and Pete assume Ken’s done with them by firing SCDP. But Ken does something worse by his own admission, they’ll now have to be at his service.

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