The family that works together, stays together.
Peggy and Don are reunited, and it feels so good. All it took was an ad campaign about motherhood and children. And well-lighted burger joints.
“The Strategy” felt heartwarming and slightly sappy at times, but I’ll take that over the gruesome nip snip last week (whimper). It was faintly reminiscent of Season 4’s “The Suitcase,” arguably the best episode of the series, without being redundant. That’s always a good sign.
Quick refresher: In “The Suitcase,” Peggy stayed at the office overnight and sparred with Don over an ad campaign, coinciding with the Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston match and her birthday. Peggy felt under-appreciated and frustrated that Don wasn’t the nurturing mentor she needed.
“The Strategy,” meanwhile, takes place a few weeks after her birthday (her 30th — no less). This time, the Don and Peggy dynamic didn’t flare up quite as dramatically, and there weren’t any tears from Don or the audience. (What? There was a lot of dust in my apartment.)
Peggy has the Burger Chef ad campaign approved and ready to go. It’s disappointingly heavy on the gender stereotypes (daughter in tutu, son in football helmet — eye roll), but it’s good enough that everyone is on board to have her present to the client. Except Pete the Patriarch.
Strong-armed by Pete, Peggy asks Don to pitch the idea to Burger Chef. Don insists that she should do “whatever [she] wants.” But, before she walks out the door declaring victory, Don suggests a different angle. Maybe, from the kids’ point of view?
Peggy leaves his office and — in a terrific moment portrayed by Elisabeth Moss — sinks in defeat. Self-doubt creeps in. The campaign stinks, she realizes. Peggy suspects that Don intentionally said that to make her question the campaign.
She was right. But it wasn’t out of spite or malice, like she initially thought. Don actually trusts her talents. What’s more: Don knows that she can do better, and he wants to help her succeed.
“There’s always a better idea!” an exasperated Stan yells at Peggy, who's called him on a weekend to get his input. Right, and Don’s there to help her find it. While Stan and the other complacent SC&P creatives have been resting on — or smoking up — their laurels, Don is always searching and striving for something better. See, Pegs? You did miss Don.
Don’s become the mentor that Peggy longed for back in “The Suitcase.” He’s supportive, encouraging and platonic, unlike Ted. We might not see Don burn as bright as he did at the pinnacle of his ad-writing days, but he’s ready to pass the torch to Peggy. Well, almost.
Don, like Pete, still has one foot in the past, wishing it were still 1955 — “a good year,” he says wistfully. Peggy’s got talent and he knows it. But the idea of a woman taking charge is still unfamiliar and slightly unwelcome at first.
“What’s her profession?” a dumbstruck Don asks Peggy when she’s describing a commercial featuring a mother coming home from work, completely unaware that not every woman is content in the kitchen like Betty, who stubbornly refused to leave that room in last week’s episode.
“Mad Men,” at its core, exposes the characters’ flaws mercilessly, refusing to gloss over them. Don abuses mistress after mistress, and even his beloved protégé. He paid the price when she left the agency in Season 5.
But what gave Don a breakthrough in this episode — it wasn’t staying sober, that’s for sure — is his enduring respect for Peggy.
It’s why he turned down her advances when she placed her hand on his early in season one as his secretary; it’s why he placed his hand on hers after she comforted him when he opened up about Anna’s death in “The Suitcase”; it’s why he kissed her hand when she resigned from SCDP; and it’s why he takes her hand to dance with her to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
What a cheesy yet sentimental song to choose. “You think that’s a coincidence?” Don asks, nearly glancing at the camera. It’s like he knows we’re watching.
Old Blue Eyes was past his prime when that song came out in 1969, just like Don. Both filled with regrets, they’ve come to accept the consequences of their decisions. Now, it’s Peggy’s turn to do it her way. Guide the way, Don.
When Peggy put her head on Don’s chest, I started cringing, pleading, “Please don’t kiss her, please don’t kiss her!” Don did kiss her. Only on the forehead, thank goodness. It was endearing.
Ever since the series started, there has always been a little part of me, and many other viewers, who had hoped that Don and Peggy would end up together, like the typical rom-com tropes. What a relief they haven’t.