|Photo Credit: ABC|
After last week's mid-season premiere “Severance,” depicted Don, Joan, Peggy and Ken grappling with their past selves while trying to seize control of the present, this week's “New Business” mines similar thematic territory, as several characters struggle to make a new start—and shake the baggage of their current circumstances.
The literal new business comes in the form of Pima Ryan, a powerful female photographer whose reputation really gets under Stan's skin. He's rude when he and Peggy go to meet her one set, but as we learned through his early clashes with Ms. Olsen, his brusqueness is a cover for his own insecurities. And underneath his seeming contempt for Pima is a strong admiration for her artistry. All of which amounts to him freaking out over trying to impress her.
Stan's girlfriend Elaine partly relieves his worry by offering herself as a model. Pima pulls some world class mental jujitsu by seducing Stan in the dark room, doing a masterful job of making him (and us—or at least me) feel as though she genuinely likes his work and is attracted to him. Until she tries to run the same game on Peggy, who after talking with a gleeful Stan, sees what's up and hips him to it, declaring Pima a hustler who she won't hire again.
At first viewing, it's a curious B-story to “New Business,” whose primary focus is on Don dealing with the emotional and financial fallout of his divorce. But then again, this is the same show whose protagonist got his big break by getting his future boss drunk and then “reminding” him he hired him the next day, and where a partner earned her partnership by sleeping with a client, so Pima's actions are hardly beyond the pale. And it fits into the hour's theme; Stan is dissatisfied with his job as an ad agency art director—an oxymoron in his mind—and Pima's presumed interest in him and his work offers a chance to view his creative output in a more legitimate, artistic way. At least until Peggy bursts his bubble.
But back to the main event. After dangling the possibility of a reunion with Rachel Menken in front of our tortured protagonist's face before tragically pulling the rug out from under him, “New Business” shifts focus to Don's tumultuous relationship with another beautiful, dark-haired woman with whom he tried to fulfill his fantasy of running away with: Megan.
Things have gotten tense between these two since we last saw them on screen together. You knew a divorce couldn't end too amicably on Mad Men. Megan thinks he's drawing out the divorce proceedings, while Don says his finances are a mess since the McCann deal.
Things get more complicated once Megan's family—her mother Marie and her sister Marie-France—enter the picture. If you're familiar with Marie's style of parenting, you know that her helping Megan get the last of her things out of the apartment also includes berating her for allowing Don to treat her like a prostitute (by giving her a check to pay for moving expenses). Marie-France, who is married with kids, and judging from Marie's flippant quip about her going to “cry in church” either very religious, conservative or both, isn't much help either, viewing Megan's divorce as sacrilege. It's late in the game, but showing these family dynamics, particularly with Marie-France, gives a clearer of who Megan is, who she wanted to be and how it ultimately landed her in New York and with Don.
While talking about the divorce, Roger makes a bitter remark to Don about remembering he gave Megan the good life; Don asserts Megan's not Jane, and while that's true, her life obviously got an upgrade when they wed. It's a fact her family picks up on, and expects certain things from her because of it, as when Marie-France pushes her make their girls' night out one full of expensive food and much wine drinking. Her life has Don's fingerprints all over it, and despite her best efforts, she can't seem to wipe them away.
Megan ends up making some of the same charges to Don as Jane did to Roger, accusing him of lying to her and stealing her youth. They're accusations that, at least in my opinion, don't exactly land. Don hasn't been a saint—the affair with Sylvia and basically calling her a whore for kissing on camera are obvious examples—but compared to the massive amount of wool he pulled over Betty's eyes for a full decade, he's been pretty upfront about his past with Megan, and made a real effort to support her dreams of being an actress. And compared to way he reacted to the demise of his first marriage, he's been relatively calm during this second go around. If anything, Megan may be taking out all of the day's slights—Harry proving he's still a colossal a-hole by promising to help her land auditions then making a pass at her, learning of Marie and Roger's affair, dealing with her sister's judgment, facing the prospect of a waning career—on him.
Don waves the white flag and writes Megan a check for $1 million dollars, and they seem to come to some understanding. It could be that Don is, like he says, really tired of fighting. Or maybe his push to resolve things could be because he has another romantic option on standby Or so he thinks.
He continues to pursue Diana, the woman he slept with/projected his feelings of Rachel onto last week, Don's insistent on meeting and getting to know her, inviting her to come to his place.
“I took a cab with six dollars in my pocket to a stranger's apartment. I was hoping it looked like this,” Diana says as she looks around the apartment, slightly in awe. Diana, already tipsy, falls into his arms and they spend the night together. Like many Mad Men hookups, the scene and dialogue play on the thrill and fantasy of a new face or place, then bring things back down to reality when daylight breaks.
We learn Diana is a Wisconsin transplant and recent divorcee with no children. Well not really—it turns out she does have a little girl, but she died of the flu, as the sight of Sally's room reminds her. Later, she tells Don she actually has two daughters, and left the living one with her husband. She asks Don if he wants to why she did it, almost daring him to ask, but he doesn't. Why would he want to? It would spoil the fantasy—much like Betty's psychological issues or Megan's wish not to be his partner in love and advertising did.
Diana says she's not ready for a relationship with him, or to feel anything in general. Don acknowledges his own first post-divorce wreckage, but she's unmoved and he leaves, putting the gift he brought her on the bed. Diana is living a similar life to fourth season Don, drinking heavily, having empty (for her) sexual encounters and coming home to a ramshackle apartment. As Don puts it, she's punishing herself.
This may or may not be the last we see of Diana, but she appears to have taken the same path as Marie—who Marie-France tearfully says has run off with some man (Roger). As Megan tells her sister, their mother was unhappy for a long time, and right or wrong, she did something about it.
On to new business.
--Betty's going back to school for a masters in psychology—since according to her, people seek her out to speak in confidence. If you say so hon.
--Speaking of Betty, the way she turns her complete attention to Henry, Bobby and Gene once Don leaves reinforces she really appears to have moved on. Don on the other hand looks back, getting a glimpse of the happy family he never had with Betty (or anyone for that matter), but imagines or wishes that he did.
--Arnold and Sylvia make an appearance. Arnold, drunk off his ass, enters the elevator with Sylvia, and makes borderline rude comments about Don “bringing the whole restaurant home,” when he sees Diana in her waitress uniform. On some level, he must know about the affair, or maybe he's just jealous of Don's new single life.
--Who else was hoping for a Roger/Burt Peterson reunion on the golf course? Drop dead ya' limey vulture!
--Watching Meredith and Harry interact is like watching two high school kids talk awkwardly in a hall way.
---So Marie's taking off with Roger hmmm? No disrespect to Megan's dad, but if this means more Marie for this last go around, then get it girl.
--One of Jane's claims in her divorce was that Roger“thwarted her career.” Again, if you say so hon.