UK TV review: Mad Men Season 7, Episode 11
Chris Bryant | On 02, May 2015
Already seen Episode 11? Keep reading at the end for some additional, spoiler-filled notes.
“You’re okay.” That’s Roger Sterling both judging and comforting Don after a drinking session that disguises loss as celebration. So far, Season 7 has explored the virtues of SC&P and its employees – it’s been about freedom, success and a very tentative glance towards what happiness might look like. Episode 11 turns the tables brilliantly on this concept, delivering the seemingly obvious fact that, in Matthew Weiner’s glamorous drama, nothing is free.
For a show in which the majority of the focus centres on enviably dressed millionaires, it’s a bold juxtaposition that rent could be an issue. When a potential clerical error questions the company’s status, the partners are forced to confront a reality they had chosen to deny until now. Time & Life is a strikingly brave title for the episode, a supposed nod to the subject matter that also serves as an unwitting compliment – only Mad Men could tackle these subjects in 45 minutes.
A heartless phone call later and Don hits panic mode. (The kind where he finds miraculous solutions, not the kind where he drinks and frets over love.) Jon Hamm clearly embraces the opportunity to give a few of Draper’s trademark rousing battle cries, opting to face the problem with a solution instead of a libation.
With the very fabric of their profession thrown into dispute, it may come as a surprise (although maybe not to those who know to expect the unexpected from the writing team) to find that the greatest battle in Episode 11 is fought by Peggy. Relatively unfazed by the executive’s issues, a simple casting session forces Elisabeth Moss’ admirable prodigy to confront an issue that’s been on the audience’s minds since Episode 1 – and then she drops the F-bomb. Erin Levy’s soulful writing hints at the subtext before having Peggy face it head-on, not only forming one of the truly important scenes in the show’s history, but also mustering a heartfelt ‘Peggy-and-Stan’ moment to match. It’s beautiful, but more than that.
A note should be made that Mad Men alumnus Jared Harris (Lane Pryce – whose only adjective can be ‘English’) directs the episode, his unique understanding of the show made jolly clear indeed. The episode – much like its predecessor – is a juggernaut for the heart and mind. Filled with positive energy, it powers from scene to scene, tackling subjects usually reserved for Russian novels, never missing a beat or wasting a second. Time & Life is an episode free of pity or doubt, Don, Peggy, Roger and Pete all thundering forward, driven by their passion to hope. Levy and Harris combine to bring out the very best in the programme, providing enough quotable motivation to inspire the audience to hope just as grandly.
Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– Although the future is clear for Peggy, who seems to manage to welcome to blurry move to McCan, it’s significantly less so for the others. As dubious as the handsome partners regarding their new positions, it’s understandable that those being taken on by the giant agency could find their talents being tested.
– Even to the viewer, McCan is a mystery. It’s big, it’s scary, but it does have Coca-Cola. Anticipating Don’s living situation – and still hoping he can connect with Diana – the idea that Don could soon be producing pitches akin to his glory days (Kodak, Lucky Strike) for the companies he’s always dreamed of conjures excitement and not a doubt that Weiner’s writing team are up to the task.
– With Ken and Lou Avery making rude (but possibly justified) exits, the restraints do seem to be dropping from the shoulders of what was SC&P. It could be Jim Hobart’s “advertising heaven” speech, but it is forgivable to be excited about the opportunities about to be presented to the partners. However, as one feminist icon embraces her future (and lovingly accepts her past), another is as realistic as ever. Perpetually undervalued and often objectified, Christina Hendrick’s unstoppable office manager is doubtful about her professional future, just as her personal life begins to give her what she always deserved.
– Episode 12 continues Mad Men’s run of unforgettable episodes, with the season so far living up to every expectation of quality. Our handsome heroes may have lost the walls they rented, but certainly not the spirit they’ve built.
Mad Men: Season 1 to 7 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.