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.
Don's relationship with Peggy fluxes from father-figure to work-husband to man-child, without nearly as much creepiness as his hippie "niece," Stephanie. Don and Peggy are an oddball family, but they seem to be settling in with the new generational shift in stride.
This dysfunctional family heads to dinner at Burger Chef for a special occasion: Mom's no longer asking Dad for permission.
Together, they sit on one side of the booth as a team. Pete sits on the other side, pouting like a child. I chuckled when Don gestures that there's food on Pete's face, while Peggy swoops in and hands him a napkin. Might have been overkill if she'd licked her thumb to scrub the smudge off his face.
Pete acts like a brat because Peggy's calling the shots and the commercial's focus is on family, not the mother. Not that he cares if mothers have the spotlight for their hard work and sacrifices. He doesn't want the traditional family roles to fade away.
The only person missing from this family portrait is Pete and Peggy's illegitimate child. How's that for family happiness, Pete?
If Pete weren't such a scumbag, I'd suspect that his insistence that Peggy act as the subservient mother for the Burger Chef pitch is his attempt to play out the could-have-been family roles if Peggy had kept their illegitimate child, especially now that his family with Trudy is non-existent.
Pete's never been a family man. He's a power-hungry patriarch, who's upset that Trudy didn't rush to him for comfort when her father had a heart attack. She doesn't need him, and neither does his daughter.
"I don't think we've met," Pete says to his daughter's nanny. He might as well have said that to his own daughter. Tammy looks terrified to see him, but Kevin is beyond thrilled to see Bob, who isn't his real father.
Even closeted Bob is desperately grasping onto the idea of the nuclear family. But his motive is to fit in, not to rule over his potential wife. Can you blame him? He runs the risk of being arrested or assaulted for his homosexuality, just like that brutalized GM exec.
Bob aims to climb the corporate ladder and rescue the soon-to-be-40 damsel in distress, Joan, trapped atop of her two-bedroom apartment, by — how else? — marrying her. Joan declines. No bearding for her.
"I want love," she says. "I'd rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement. And you should too." That might be the most pro-gay statement said on "Mad Men," and seems out of place for the late '60s. Even if they are shopping buddies.
SC&P, meanwhile, is Cutler's agency now. He's the one who brought in the computer, and he's the one who decided to give Harry the partnership. The only partner with that much seniority and say-so is his adversary, Roger, but he's a sloppy drunk who bungles accounts.
Roger's power is always waning and threatened. It's one of the reasons Roger doesn't like Harry: he's shaking up the status quo. Roger, like Don and the rest of the good ol' boy club, is becoming obsolete.
"Say what you will but [Harry's] very loyal," Don assures Roger. So is Roger. Who does Don think got him his old job back? It sure wasn't Joan, Bert or even Harry, for that matter.
I find it suspicious that Cutler and Lou haven't figured out that Harry was the one who told Don where the secret meeting with Phillip Morris was. Who else on Team Don would have told him?
Meredith? Too ditzy. Roger? Too drunk. Ginsy? Too…distracted. (Eesh, I'm still recovering from last week's episode.) Is Harry working with Cutler to oust Don? Or, is it a plot hole that the writers are hoping we didn't notice? Could be that.
More troublesome is that desperate look in Roger's eye when he found out that Bob's taking over Buick. Anytime a major account leaves, Roger's always been to blame. First Lucky Strike, now GM. Not that GM was his fault.
SC&P has always been too dependent on one client. Losing Lucky Strike would supposedly "turn off the lights." They stayed open, at the cost of laying off employees by the dozen when the account closed.
Another unhealthy SC&P dependency (other than booze): Don. With GM gone, Roger could sacrifice Don to secure Phillip Morris, an easy decision after Don sided with Harry.
Sure, Peggy is Team Don now. But with his allies dwindling, in "Waterloo," the next and final episode of this season, Don's defeat might be imminent.
MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM 'THE STRATEGY':
BEST ROGER ONE-LINER: "The brand commander of Commander brand." Why is this guy not writing copy?
BEST ROGER QUOTE: "The New York Athletic Club frowns on people making advances in their steam rooms. I was kidding around, but I really think you're making eyes at me. I'm going to get a massage — relieve some of this tension." Not really a one-liner, but more of a hat trick of snarky perfection.
BEST MEREDITH ONE-LINER: "Do you want me to come and get you in five minutes?" And that wink! Meredith is killing it! I love how territorial she got with Don when Bonnie walked into his office. Her glare said it all: "Back off! He's trim, and he's mine!"
BEST HEAR-ME-ROAR MOMENT: " You can't f**k your way out of this." – Bonnie to Pete, after she calls him out for being too mopey and self-absorbed to pay any attention to her. Pete shouldn't go for divorcées. They've dealt with these misogynistic antics before.
MOST AWKWARD MOMENT: "I didn't know [Don] was married!" – One of the secretaries to Megan. Maybe that's why Meredith always flirts with purpose.
WOMEN BE SHOPPING: First, Pete tells Bonnie to go shopping. Then Don takes Megan shopping. Then Bob takes Joan and her mother shopping. Not with the money these women earned (all of them have jobs), but with the men's money. Takeaway point: The traditional male doesn't mind setting back his bank account, so long as they're in control of what their women wear. It's like grown men playing real-life Barbies — all the way from California!