Friday, 1 May 2015

MAD MEN, 7.11 – 'Time & Life'

Friday, 1 May 2015


Things finally begin taking big strides towards the finish-line with "Time & Life", although I found faintly amusing the drama once again revolved around a company shakeup for SC&P. How many is that now? Is anyone keeping count? Fortunately, the show's writers do an excellent job making corporate takeovers and dissolution into very interesting television, and there was a nice curveball thrown at the end...

Things began with Roger (John Slattery) accidentally discovering the company's lease hasn't been paid in months, only to realise this was an intentional on the part of McCann-Erickson—who own SC&P, but now plan to dissolve their company. Naturally, this sent shockwaves through the partners of SC&P, who all expect the worst from this development, so they began to draft a full-proof way to save their beloved company: become a division of McCann-Erickson at the currently vacant Sterling Cooper West offices in California, catering to the lucrative clients who wouldn't do business with McGann-Erickson as a sole entity.

The strategy had clear merit, but ultimately proved worthless once Don (Jon Hamm) got in the conference room to pitch their proposal to Jim Hobart (H. Richard Greene) and Ferg Donnelly (Paul Johansson)—to be told, in no uncertain terms, that fighting this change is utter madness, because the SC&P's partners are each in line to be given extraordinary accounts ranging from Coca-Cola to Buick.

For awhile, it seemed like this situation was the first piece of an intended happy ending for the series, with the key players of latter-day Mad Men—Don, Roger, Pete (Vincent Katheiser), Ted (Kevin Rahm) and Joan (Christina Hendricks)—all ascending to "advertising heaven". In truth, they'd forgotten what really matters, and their understandable selfishness had blinkered them to how the SC&P workforce would feel about this. For the hundreds of people below them (most in secretarial or administrative jobs), there's no guarantee of anything, and certainly no riches as a sweetener. In the closing scene, with the S&P partners informing everyone about the dissolution, they all seemed rather astonished by the walkout of the people they work with every day. Interesting that a few episodes recently have ended with Don standing alone somewhere, and how that loneliness was still felt in the closing shot of "Time & Life", despite the fact he was joined by four others. Is there a chance they'll all agree to turn their backs on the heavenly promises of McCann-Erickson, for the sake of their less privileged workmates?

Elsewhere, there was a definite theme of children and families in the air, which denote a sustainable future. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) was having problems getting ordinary kids to play with toys during a casting session, then later confided in Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) about the child she gave up for adoption; Pete faced problems getting his daughter Tammy enrolled at an exclusive private school, so had to fight his corner with ex-wife Trudy (Alison Brie) by his side (getting some excellent scenes); and there was a brief moment with Don in an elevator full of mothers and their kids (hinting that women his age are becoming unavailable because they're all taken and have other concerns?)

The episode's title, "Time & Life", had significance because Time Life were name-checked, but was more in relation to a feeling that the sands of time are running out, and the characters are all needing to find something to guarantee their own futures. Usually that's through having kids, but it can also be the legacy of a business—the knowledge you created something successful and good, that will remain long after you're gone, in the right hands. That's something Roger felt more than most, as the Sterling name's been a mainstay of all their business's permutations.

Overall, "Time & Life" was a much better episode than the ones we've had recently, and more indicative of what I expect from this series near the end. It was slightly annoying so much was (again) being driven by the company going through a huge overhaul, now on course for oblivion whilst makings the dreams of its partners come true, but at least everything felt suitably big and nothing panned out. The partners aren't exactly headed for disaster, but neither was this episode a resounding success for them.

It's now more appealing to consider what's going to happen next, and where each character's going to end up after seven seasons. Rich and fulfilled? Rich and lonely? Poor and happy? Or something else entirely? Also worth mentioning this hour was directed by Jared Harris, who played Lane Pryce on the show for three seasons (to award-winning acclaim), so it was nice to get this off-screen reunion as the show winds up.

written by Erin Levy & Matthew Weiner • directed by Jared Harris • 30 April 2015 • Sky Atlantic