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'Mad Men' recap, 'Time & Life'

"They keep telling me their future's in California."

California has always been a magical place where "Mad Men" characters can leave their mistakes behind to start over. At least, that's what they hope.

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It's surprising, if not slightly disappointing, that the theme of starting fresh should revisit nearly identical stories from previous seasons. For the most part, "Time & Life" was reminiscent of the season three finale, "Sit Down. Have a Seat."

"Mad Men" refresher course: McMann Erickson was set to acquire Puttnam, Powell and Lowe, of which Sterling Cooper was a subsidiary. Don and crew wanted no part of that. So, they secured all their clients in secret and broke away to create their new agency, SCPD.

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Now, SC&P has already joined McMann Erickson, but they kept their employees and their deluxe two-floor office in the Time & Life building. That is, until the soulless McMann Erickson stopped paying rent.

Not because they're deadbeats — they'e making SC&P move into their office. They're devouring them whole.

There's no escaping this fate. Until, thanks to a freak chance of luck, Lou announces he's leaving the California office to go to Tokyo to bring his cartoon to life.

(Side note: "Sayonara" is too good a word, Lou. How long until "Scout's Honor" ends up on the cutting room floor?)

If California made that hack Lou's dream come true, surely it can save Don and the partners of SC&P. So, Don hatches a genius plan to move the agency out West.

Just like the previous stealth operation to create a new company overnight, they secure any clients that would be a conflict at McMann Erickson. They then present their Sterling Cooper West strategy to their "benevolent overlords," as Roger calls them.

Only this time, the rug is pulled out from under them. And in the grand tradition of ad men, Jim Hobart, the head of McMann Erickson, spins it as "rolling out the red carpet."

"You won," he assures them. They have accounts with household names and boast international presence. But winning means nothing to Don if he's not behind the wheel.

I'm relieved Don and crew aren't heading out West — for now, at least. If SC&P had triumphed, it would have been a carbon copy of season three's plot line with palm trees added to the mix.

This concession gives the writers more flexing room for Don's bigger and grander escape, if not for the entire agency, then for himself. Knowing Don and his selfish ways, it will be just for himself.

Don's already mentally checked out of the advertising world. Being a cog in the massive McMann Erickson machine will only bring him more existential plight.

As I've said before, I don't think Don will die at the end of this series. But that doesn't mean his life in advertising is coming to an end.

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Though the SC&P/McMann Erickson plotline was stale, the Peggy's storyline was a breath of fresh air. It was my favorite part of the show this season.

I like how Pete tells Peggy, not Trudy, about the imminent demise of Sterling Cooper and Partners. He still looks out for her, even if they never raised their child together.

After hearing the news, Peggy meets with a headhunter, excuse me, "career builder." He tells her to take a job offer as a copywriter at McMann Erickson.

It's a great opportunity, he assures her, but we know it isn't. There, she would be knocked down to a low-rung job and have to work three to four years to get where she is now.

"Mad Men" can't end like that. Don's future might not be bright, but Peggy's is. Sunny California is calling her name, and that's where she can strike career gold.

If there's anyone, besides Don, who needs a new beginning, it's Peggy. Sure, she's made leaps and bounds for women in the workforce, but she's still struggling as a mother in the workforce. Especially as a mother who's plagued by giving her child away.

Seeing Peggy stiffly interact with the children for the commercials was painful. "You hate kids," Stan dismisses. No, Stan, she doesn't. She just hates what happened with her own.

In recent seasons, they've only hinted that Peggy had a child or that she gave him up for adoption. Never before have we seen her open up to someone about it. Not even Don, who came to visit her in the hospital after the birth, knows her struggles.

Sure, he knows it's been difficult for her; he was there in the hospital after she gave birth. But his way of processing the emotional turmoil is to keep your head down and act like it never happened.

That's what Peggy has had to do all these years. Not just to keep her job, but to persevere. Men don't have that burden.

"That's funny to you," she says sharply to Stan who jokes about not knowing if he has any kids out there. "Because it wouldn't matter — you can walk away."

Pete walked away. So did Roger. Granted, Pete didn't know about his son until after Peggy gave him away, but he hasn't made much of an effort to be involved in Peggy's life, other than giving her the occasional heads up that their company's going under.

The latter even tells Joan that Kevin, his child with her, can wait when they're at the bar drowning their sorrows after they've been absorbed by McMann Erickson.

They can move on like nothing happened. Peggy and Joan can't.

"She should be able to live the rest of her life like a man does," Peggy says about a mother at the commercial shoot, but really she means herself. "You're right," Stan admits.

Stan is a stark contrast to Don. What a relief it must have been to Peggy to open up to someone who doesn't feign strength by building up an emotional wall.

Don might be Peggy's work husband, but there's something special that she shares with Stan. Admitting that breaks my heart, because knowing this show, they're likely to sever that relationship.

I have a few guesses as to how it will go down: one, they'll shuffle him off to a different agency (most likely), or two, they'll hack off one of his body parts (least likely, but not impossible when characters have previously lost their feet and nipples).

Or maybe he's the one who gets to start fresh in California. Someone's future is out there.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM "TIME & LIFE":

Best Meredith one-liner: Tie! "In a month you're not going to have an office and you're not going to have apartment. Do you want to lose me, too?" And… "Don't 'sweetheart' me!" I know she says it in the same breath, but that last part needs to be emphasized. Seriously, don't "sweetheart" anyone. Ever.

Best line: "Were they difficult to move?" Don quips about Secor Laxatives joining Sterling Cooper West. "All I had to do was not make that joke," Pete replies.

Daddy issues: Pete's daughter didn't get into Trudy's fancy-pants school of choice partly because she didn't pass her aptitude test, based on a drawing. (And you thought the Common Core was bad.) Meanwhile, Roger's fussy that the Sterling name dies with him. Funny how both of those men bemoan their "disappointing" daughters when they have illegitimate sons.

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Rich people problems: Pete's daughter didn't get into their school of choice because some schmuck is holding onto 300-year old grudge between their blue-blooded families. I never thought I'd cheer so loud for Pete to be on the giving end of a punch, but here we are. Go, Pete, go! Speaking of...

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Good guy Pete: Pete was actually likeable this episode. He looked out for the career of the mother of his illegitimate child, defended his ex-wife's honor and cheered on women, namely Joan, in the workforce. Weird. Next week I'm sure he'll be a raging, chauvinist pig to balance everything out.

Best line: "'Germ killer'? It makes people think of shit," says Ken, making a dig at SC&P's bathroom ad strategy. Clearly this was before germophobia took hostage of 99.9% of cleaning product ads.

Phantom calls: Diana reappears this episode, but not in the flesh. Almost like a specter, she haunts Don with calls and missing messages. Then she vanishes from her crummy apartment. He's obsessed with dying (get it? Di?), so I'm sure she'll reappear again in some form.

Ghost director: Jared Harris, who portrayed Lane Pryce, directed this episode. I was hoping he would reappear with a cryptic message for Don. But it seems only thing vaguely reminiscent of Lane was the sucker punch Pete gave that McDonald twerp. It's like he was coaching him from beyond the grave.

Line that perfectly sums up "Mad Men": "You don't know lots of things about lots of people," Peggy says to Stan.

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