Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t seen Mad Men Season 7, Ep. 8 – “Severance.”
“You know what? You’re filthy rich. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”— Peggy
In case you couldn’t tell by the facial hair, it’s officially the ‘70s. Although its hard to pinpoint an exact time, it appears to be the spring of 1970, less than a year from where we left off, yet so much has changed SC&P is barely recognizable. Joan is fully entrenched as an accounts man, Don and Ted are being friendly and Stan somehow managed to look even cooler. It’s utter madness.
But perhaps the most shocking change is Kenny. Ken has always been above the petty office drama. His life was never wrapped up in his work because he had his own passions to keep him fulfilled. Then Chevy happened. Somewhere between one merger and the next, Ken became the bitter working man he used to write about. So, when McCann forced Roger to fire him, it seemed like a perfect outcome. Ken would be the one person to escape the remains of Sterling Cooper (relatively) unscathed. But, as chipper as his firing left him, Ken has become vindictive. As amusing as it is to consider the possibilities of Ken as Pete’s client, its also sad that Ken isn’t actually taking this opportunity to escape to the country and write the next great American novel.
And, unfortunately, some things never change. Joan and Peggy are working together for the first time as equals and yet they were forced to deal with the most vulgar, blatant sexism yet. The treatment they received from the men at McCann went above even the worst behavior from the previous decade. It speaks to the disappearance of etiquette from the culture that what was one said behind closed doors is now freely expressed in the middle of a meeting. In the days between the sexual revolution and sexual harassment clauses, this was likely all too common. Luckily, Joan has her piles of money to comfort her.
Peggy doesn’t have Oscar de la Renta to make her feel better so she was forced to turn to an actual man; Stevie. Its funny that in all the ways Peggy has tried to become Don she’s never tried out any of his personal life habits. She’s had her fair share of disastrous relationships, but her suggestion to fly off to Paris for the weekend is the kind of spontaneous, romantic move Don would have tried just a few seasons ago. Of course it never worked out that well for Don and it certainly didn’t end the way Peggy might have hoped. But perhaps that isn’t a bad thing. Don may be a fine person to base your professional life off of, but he’s hardly the man to take relationship cues from.
Speaking of Don’s love life, what the hell is going on there? He’s not officially divorced from Megan yet, but he has certainly adapted well to single life. But his stable of beautiful young women still isn’t enough to keep his mind from wandering down darker paths. After seeing a waitress that reminded him of someone, he dreamt of Rachel Menken. He attempted to get in touch with her only to find out she had died a week ago.
Two seasons ago Don found his ex-mistress Midge living in squalor, addicted to heroin and now he learns that Rachel, the woman he was ready to run away with, got everything she wanted and then died of leukemia. This entire series has been very much about Don’s relationship with women, so I almost wonder if we’ll check in with each of Don’s girlfriends. Perhaps we’ll see how Bobbie or Suzanne or even Faye has faired post Don as a last bit of closure on each of Don’s most notable relationships.
Or perhaps Rachel’s death adds more fuel to the idea the series will end with Don’s suicide and/or death. In his dream, Rachel told him he missed his flight. The flight they were supposed to take together ten years ago or the flight she took alone a week ago. Either way, its clear the light tone from the previous episode is gone.
This episode, the first of the last, harkens back to the very first episode of the series. It focused solely on Don’s life at work and with his girlfriends with barely a mention of his family. And, like when Mad Men began, Don is once again succeeding. As much as things have changed, much is still the same. And perhaps that is the point.
The 60s were a decade that saw substantial change, yet if Mad Men has taught us nothing else, people don’t change. They’ll still react and adapt the way they always have. The 60s have officially ended and everyone has made it out the other side. Now its time to shake off the dust and survey the damage.
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