'Mad Men' 7.6: Better late than later

So all six readers of this blog know this recap and review is way behind even my lax schedule. Mad Men's sixth episode aired May 18 and I’m just posting now? This is why I’d never survive at a daily.

Then again, AMC is known for giving its most prestigious dramas (down in front, Hell on Wheels) generous sabbaticals between 13-episode seasons, and I’m just piggybacking on that kindness.

If you buy that, I’ve got a burger chain to sell you.

Speaking of, the office tug of war over who got to pitch the advertising strategy to the nice folks at Burger Chef may have been the “A” plotline in this episode, but other plans brewed and burst in “The Strategy.”

We had Jim Hobart of rival agency McCann Erickson making a vague steam room pitch to everyone’s favorite quipper Roger Sterling (John Slattery), having none of it. “When we grow up, we’re going to kill you and marry your wife,” Roger cracks. That he follows up that clever dig with an off-color one about Hobart’s sexuality was, unfortunately, all too appropriate.

Because this is the episode where the biggest strategy of all belonged to closeted accounts man Bob Benson, back from Detroit with the boys of GM and hitting a fork in his relationship with single mom Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks).

Bob, tipped off to a Buick job offer coming his way, spots an opportunity to build the kind of fake life mid-20th century America expects of its alpha males. “I know I’m flawed, but I’m offering you more than anyone else ever will,” he says in what must be the shittiest marriage proposal ever recorded between two beautiful people.

But Joan, nearing 40 with a kid and a meddlesome mother, isn’t ready to take that deflating deal. “No you’re not, Bob,” she answers, eyes brimming. “Because I want love. And I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement.”

That line could’ve been a schmalz deathtrap, but Hendricks conveys the defiance that barely restrains Joan’s tears. Eying Bob for a moment, she then concludes, “And you should too.”

But Bob lives in a different world, one that’s less forgiving of gay men than unmarried spinsters. “I’m just being realistic,” he says hopelessly.

Poor Bob. Ever since he came on scene least season to flummox Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and maybe off the guy’s mother, I’ve considered Bob, his plastic smile and PG attitude all kinds of creepy. Like a late-'60s version of Patrick Bateman, a sociopathic climber approximating what it’s like to be human. But we finally won a glimpse of the man behind the camouflage, a guy who’s focused every ounce of energy on attaining success because society won’t allow him anything else.

When copy chief Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), drunk and doubting her mom-absolving burger campaign, wonders, “Does this family exist anymore?” we already have our answer: It never did.

There isn’t a character on the show that doesn’t fall short of the B.S. “perfect family” ideal, including the main two.

Raised on a prostitute’s stolen Hershey bars instead of a mother’s love, Don is glumly watching his second marriage pull apart. Peggy, who secretly gave a child up for adoption years ago, returns each night to an empty apartment except for when the sweet Hispanic kid in her building watches TV with her.

Yet these two have been boxed in as the voice of dad and mom, respectively, by Pete, whose daughter doesn’t even recognize him.

Peggy and Don initially spark over this absurdity, as well as the reversal in their professional fortunes—Peggy is technically in charge, but still forced to play second fiddle, while Don gets to claim credit, but not control, of the work. The two work spouses ultimately call a truce to rewrite their bogus Norman Rockwell pitch into one that feels more Norman Lear.

Flashing with inspiration like Don used to, Peggy finally locates the truth in what they’re hoping to sell. “What if there was a place where there are no TVs and whoever you’re with was family?” she thinks aloud.

Don muffles an expression that’s both pride and “Why didn’t I think of that?” envy. Actors Hamm and Olson typically wring the best out of each other, and their delicate, nuanced scenes here color in every wrinkle of their constantly evolving relationship: Boss and employee. Mentor and student. Colleagues and rivals. Most of all, they’re lonely soul mates who excel at finding truth in advertising, yet run from it in their own scattered lives.

As the camera pulls back on a bright diner window framing Don, Peggy and Pete breaking bread at Burger Chef to discuss the new campaign, we see the ad Peggy has in mind. For a meal, at least, the frenemies have allowed themselves a break from family values propaganda in exchange for something warm, familiar and true.

If only Bob could join them.

Grade: A

Final thoughts
-We only got one brief mention of Ginsberg since he lost  a nipple—and his mind—to the evil computer that’s taking over Sterling Cooper & Partners.
-That scene where eyepatch-sporting Ken Cosgrove obliviously tells the GM fellas about his young so: “You really gotta keep an eye on him.”
-Waiting for the moment when Joan breaks the news to her Bob-smitten mother. You think her rollers will pop out?

Mad Men 7.5
Mad Men 7.4
Mad Men 7.3
Mad Men 7.2
Mad Men 7.1

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