Mad Men Season 7 Ep. 11 Recap: “Time and Life”

Photo Credit: AMC
Aw hell Matt Weiner. Just three episodes to go before Mad Men signs off, and you drop this bomb on us. The bomb being McCann-Erikson is absorbing SC&P, essentially dissolving the company and any independent agency, that the well, agency and its partners had.

However. Don't mistake the preceding paragraph for disappointment; that would have been the taste left in my mouth had the hour played out for Don and Co. the way they did back in 1963, when they hatched their grand scheme to start SCDP and escaped the clutches of McCann. This time around though, the powers that be wrapped up the deal before the partners even knew the lease hadn't been paid. They will simply be cogs in a huge machine; extremely well-compensated cogs, but cogs nonetheless. It's a surprising, crushing downer of a twist—and one that absolutely should have happened. As thrilling as it is to see Don shake off the cobwebs and summon up some of the inventive, scheming fire of yore, you just don't escape a huge international corporation like McCann twice, at least not that way. Everyone's luck runs out eventually.

One of the highlights of “Time and Life” is watching news of SC&P's impending demise spread through the agency like a toxic ooze, leaving a stench of uncertainty and fear so strong even Meredith confronts Don because she knows something is up.

And it all starts when Roger calls about the lease notice, and a McCann exec plays coy, telling him to speak to head honcho Jim Hobart. The exec eventually reveals McCann is moving SC&P's physical office into theirs, but Roger smells bullshit and rightly assumes they're dissolving the agency.

Roger informs the other partners, but while Pete characteristically balks, everyone else seems resigned to their fate—though a four-year contract and a non-compete cause will do that to you. The plan is to keep the news mum, but Pete tells Peggy so she'll at least have a leg up when things starts to go down. She offers some small comfort by telling him he'll do well, despite the changing circumstances. It's a nice, short scene, one that mirrors their sofa chats back in the series early seasons. Peggy tells Stan, but for my money the real culprit in spilling the tea is Meredith, who walks in on the tail end of Dawn and Shirley discussing what SC&P's dissolution means for their future.

When Lou calls Don, it appears the news has gone bi coastal. However, after some confusion, Lou reveals he's moving to Tokyo, because some firm—who he claims made Speed Racer—bought his horrible Scout's Honor cartoon. The lucky break has him feeling his oats, as he tells Don to enjoy the rest of his miserable life and hangs up. Good riddance. Don quickly realizes Lou's exit has an upside, that being SC&P's Cali office can be a launch pad for them to take the conflicting business McCann has and use it to maintain their independent status. They just have to convince the clients to come with just like they did in 1963.

Ken's not taking the plunge with Dow Chemical, turning Pete and Roger down after metaphorically dangling them over the roof by their heels. And given what happens next, a yes or no from Mr. Cosgrove really wouldn't matter. When the partners meet with Jim Hobart and run down the California plan, Jim stops Don mid-sentence, asking him to have a seat as he reels off the top-tier business they'll be in charge of under the new arrangement. Buick, Naisco, Coca-Cola and a major pharmaceutical company will all be their new clients he explains, before advising them to take the rest of the day off and pop champagne. The struggle is over.

Or is it? As Joan notes, accounts were listed off for everyone but her, and she is highly skeptical Hobart will keep his word and that anyone will take her seriously. Ted is relieved to let someone else take the wheel, but Don seems unsure and uncomfortable about the whole thing, an expected reaction from a man who's spent decades living by his own personal hobo code.

The post-meeting pow wow does give us what may be the last great Roger-and-Don-alone-in-a-bar scene, as they ruminate over the day's events. For Roger, it's the end of Sterling Cooper, both in company and his bloodline (being an only son with a daughter). Roger expresses admiration for the way Don was always striving for more, with Don reminding Roger he didn't have to (“In another lifetime I would've been your chauffeur,” he says). They also ream each other out over the other's personal history, with Roger reminding Don how hard he was on him when he married his secretary (though Jane wasn't technically his secretary) then turned around and did the same thing with Megan, after revealing his relationship with Marie. It's a conversation rife with references to both the men's tumultuous, long-standing relationship and the show's history.

“You are okay,” Roger tells him as he leaves, echoing Don's Lucky Strike pitch from the pilot. Of course, we've seen enough to know that's not the case. Don's still living at the old apartment (and still hasn't bothered with a least getting a futon for the living room) while his realtor Melanie searches for a new one. When he learns Diana called, he goes looking for her, but finds a gay couple in her apartment instead. No disrespect to the actress, but given we have a minimum of two hours left of Mad Men (unless Weiner is going to gift us with a 90-minute or two-hour finale), I really don't want to spend much, if any of it with newer characters.

But Don's not the only one struggling. Peggy meets with a headhunter after Pete tells her about McCann, but is told her best move is staying where she is and joining McCann. Though like her mentor, Peggy's not all that thrilled about it. On the personal front, working on an account involving kids brings up old demons.
“You hate kids,” Stan tells her, unknowingly striking a nerve. It also explains Peggy's vitriolic response when the girl she and Stan get left babysitting injures herself (stapling her finger) and her mother berates her for it. Hours later, the argument is still weighing on her, and she goes on a diatribe to Stan about a young girl getting “in trouble” for following her heart, saying a woman should be able to make a mistake and move on just like a man can. Stan connects the dots, asking her how she handled her pregnancy, and Peggy says her son is probably with a family somewhere.

“I don't know because I'm not supposed to know. Or you can't go on with your life,” she says. Peggy has certainly made an effort to do the latter. But while she may not ever know the whereabouts of her child, acknowledging that she had one—that, this in fact did happen—to herself, and importantly, those close to her, and embracing it as simply part of her life's story, may help her finally make peace with her decision.

Of course, what no one can deny is happening is times are a changin' at SC&P. Roger breaks the news to all the employees, but folks don't seem convinced everything is fine, and tune him out and start talking over each other. Not even Don can quiet the troops with a great, rousing speech, only getting out “this is the beginning of something” before everyone just walks off.

Aw hell.

Other Thoughts:

– “Time and Life” gave Alison Brie what's likely her last appearance as Trudy, as she and Pete momentarily unite when Tammy is put on a wait list at Greenwich Country Day, a prep school Pete's family's pumped a lot of money into. A meeting with the headmaster goes horribly wrong, as he cites some ancient feud between his family the McDonalds and the Campbells (apparently Pete's ancestors came and ambushed the dude's family in their sleep) as reason for rejecting Tammy, with Pete punching the guy out in response. Later, Trudy talks about her stagnant social life, explaining how husbands won't leave her alone, but saying sadly in another decade, everyone will leave her alone. Ten years after Helen Bishop, and it's still hard out for there for divorced woman in these suburbs. “You're ageless,” Pete tells her. If this is their last on-screen appearance together, it's a nice send off.

--Joan and Richard are still going strong. When she tells him she got some bad news at work, he immediately books a red eye to New York. He's either really devoted or supremely sprung on what Ms. Holloway's throwing down. Just sayin'. Though her new romance may be influencing the way she treats Roger, quietly but firmly telling him “Don't do that” when he yells for her, or refusing to break the bad news to the other partners for him. Perhaps it's a way of asserting she's no longer a secretary, nor his caretaker. Then again, her putting her head on his shoulder after he initially gets the news proves she's not completely above comforting him.

--Stan: “Real kids are shy. And you have to talk to them like people.”

--Shirley: “My goodness Meredith. We should put a bell on you.”

--“What's in a name?” Don you said a mouthful.