Mad Men Season 7 Ep. 8 Recap: “Severance”

Photo Credit: AMC
Here we go. The final seven. When we last left this cabal of deeply flawed but fascinating characters, Roger had brokered a deal with their one-time nemesis McCann-Erickson to buy part of SC&P with him serving as president, earning each of the partners a sizable chunk of change and saving the company from the clutches of Jim Cutler, Harry Crane and his computer.

Up first for this last go around is “Severance,” an hour that finds Don, Peggy, Joan and Ken grappling with a familiar Mad Men motif: wrestling with the ghosts of your past, all while struggling to figure out who your future self will be.

Ken faces a literal severance when his father-in-law Ed Baxter's retirement from Dow Corning, on which he's been the account man, leads to him being unceremoniously fired by Ferguson Donnelly, a McCann exec with an ax to grind, and is told to give his accounts to Pete. Ken's always been an anomaly among his admen peers, treating his job like well, a job, instead of the be-all, end-all of his existence, and keeping it separate from his home life. Which explains why Roger, who's expressed irritation at Ken's squeamishness about working with his family, was at his most glib during his dismissal.

At first, Ken seems to want to take the road less traveled, bail out of advertising and take his wife's advice to get back into writing. But, as he's done time and time again, Ken sacrifices his creative aspirations, taking a job at Dow as head of advertising, which makes him Pete and Roger's latest client and boss. Will it lead to a happier, more fulfilling life for Mr. Cosgrove? Probably not. But at the very least, it's payback for that ass.

Peggy and Joan have a client crisis when Topaz is starting to feel the heat from Hane's L'Eggs, which offers an inferior design but is selling like gangbusters thanks a superior marketing campaign. On advice from Don, they work a connection within McCann to see if they can get some department store muscle behind Topaz, which leads to a meeting where a table full of douche bags make sexist comments about how easily panties come off and suggest Joan should have gone into the brassiere business.

Unfortunately, Joan and Peggy turn on each other in the elevator post-meeting, as Peggy obliviously blames the guys' misogynistic reaction on her wardrobe, and dismisses Joan's anger by saying it likely wasn't the first time she's heard those kind of remarks. Peggy says the men didn't her seriously either, but she's unknowingly rubbing salt in a very deep wound, and gets a vicious Joan read for her trouble.

“So you're saying I don't dress the way you do, because I don't look like you. And thats very true,” joan seethes. Peggy snaps back that Joan's filthy rich, and therefore doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to before stomping off. Both women have likely had to suffer idiots like these guys their entire lives—Joan for meeting a certain standard of beauty, Peggy for not—but sadly, they couldn't see the forest for the trees and forge some sisterly solidarity. Joan shakes off the negativity with a shopping spree at the store where she once worked, buying clothes that compliment her figure and dismissing the sales girl's suggestion she use her employee discount. What was she thinking? Joan doesn't want to be thought of as a secretary, let alone a sales girl.

Peggy had better luck forging a bond with Stevie, the blind date she was set up with by co-worker Johnny Mathis, his brother-in-law. Things appear to be going south at first Stevie gets the wrong dinner order, which he worries will make her think he's weak if he doesn't send it back, or a prima donna if he does. Yet things perk up when the guy says Johnny told her she was funny and fearless.

“You know I love veal,” Peggy says as she switches plates, and a few drinks later, all is well as they knock back drinks and like reasonable human beings, make fun of Johnny Mathis' having the misfortune of being named Johnny Mathis and not being a famous singer. Peggy takes Stevie home, but doesn't sleep with him; after breaking tradition with Abe, she's trying a more old fashioned approach this time around. It's so rare to see Peggy let her guard down—and have a good time on a date--that seeing her face break out into a wide, girlish smile as he leaves is sublime.

Unsurprisingly, the character facing the darkest severance is Don Draper. On the surface, it looks like he's carefree and living it up post-Megan, auditioning models at work, inviting women up to his bachelor pad at home and hitting the town with a mustached Roger. He's also gotten pretty comfortable using his impoverished childhood as a flirtation device, regaling a table full of pretty young things about a toaster his Uncle Mac used to trip over in the whorehouse he grew up in—though he may or may not have mentioned the whorehouse.

This being Mad Men, a seemingly happy existence can't stay that way for long. Don has dream where his old flame Rachel Menken Katz is one of the girls auditioning in the Chinchilla fur and heels. However, the boom is lowered when Meredith tells him Rachel stepped down from her company a few months before and died a week ago. Don goes to the shiva for her, and meets her sister, who of course knows all about Don. Their exchange is tense on the verge of being hostile (at least on Rachel's sister's end). She essentially asks him what he hoped to accomplish by coming, and he answers he wanted to see what her life was like.

“She lived the life she wanted to live,” she says, fitting the theme of going for yours that seems to be running through the episode. Like the death of Anna back in season four, Rachel's passing hits Don particularly hard, because like the woman whose husband's identity he claimed for his own, she was one of the few people in the world whom he felt knew and understood him. Her death also represents the end of a dream, of a fantasy of what their life may have been like had she run away with him a decade ago (though judging by how things turned out with Megan, another fantasy Don dove headlong into, it wouldn't ended all that great). Don acts out the emotions stirred up by dream and the somber reality via a stranger he swears he knows at the restaurant where he and Roger eat.

Later, Don revisits the restaurant to talk to the waitress named Di, whose also a sex worker; she takes a cigarette break, which leads to some back alley way hanky panky. “You got your hundred dollars worth,” she says, referring to the generous tips Roger left at their first meeting, before going to tend to the other customers. She's really just a stand-in for Rachael—and not a very good one in my opinion, as the back alley felt a little gratuitous. But she offers some simple, good advice, saying “When someone dies, you want to make sense of out if, but you just can't.” Hopefully Don will take those words to heart, and spare himself another downward spiral.

---Other Thoughts:

--“Is That All There Is,” bookends the hour, but strikes two distinct emotional tones; as a sort of simple, uncomplicated ode to the sexy, Lothario existence Don appears to be living out as he ogles and orders around an aspiring model, and at the end, a melancholy accompaniment to his sense of ennui as he tries cope with Rachel's death.

--In Don's dream, Rachel tells him he missed his flight. Of course, Rachel is the same woman he once desperately made an attempt to run away with. Coincidentally, Peggy drunkenly attempts a run off to Paris with Stevie, but can't find a her passport. Also, didn't Don once try to whisk Midge off to Paris, before seeing she and one of her bohemian friends were in love? Hmmm...

--“Severance” obviously refers to money, and from Ken referring to Pete's millions to Peggy spitting “you're filthy rich” to Joan during their elevator confrontation, the payday from McCann seems to have created a subtle us vs them vibe between the partners and everyone else in the office. It'll be interesting to see if this dynamic is explored more.