The words “written by Matthew Weiner” during opening credits have taught Mad Men fans to hold onto our hats, but little could have prepared us for this episode. After a couple of grim installments “For Immediate Release” smacked of the playful shenanigans that rebooted the series in season three and launched the fledgling SCDP. After an opening shocker (SCDP is going public! Without all the partners’ approval?) and some good old fashioned Don Draper wheeling and dealing, we wind up somewhere completely unexpected by episode’s end: in Detroit, then in Ted’s office, then with Peggy typing out a press release on soon-to-be obsolete letterhead. Peggy is coming back!
Three quarters through the episode, Don encounters the neighbor he idolizes and has turned into a cuckold. Dr. Rosen has just quit his job after his hospital backed out of what could have been the world’s first heart transplant. The good doctor is furious at frittering away his talent amid lesser minds while “some asshole” takes his place in history. “I don’t believe in fate,” Don admonishes. “You make your own opportunities.” The motto might as well be etched on Don’s tombstone, but when he hears Ted’s dismal prognosis for the Chevy pitch, he snaps to attention. (Since when does Ted Chaough have to explain the facts of life to Don? Another sign Don has been slipping.) The move is classic Don: impulsive, brilliant, self-serving. What it’s not is popular.
We (along with Peggy) thought Don was kidding when he announced in Ted’s office that SCDP is permanently merging with CGC. In an episode where Peggy takes major financial steps and tentative personal ones while mentioning that she used to work with pessimistic people, the revelation that her sojourn abroad is about to be curtailed by an abrupt return to the Sterling Cooper fold is not exactly welcome news. At least this time around, Don knows to invite her instead of ordering her to heel. But what choice does she have? She just bought Abe’s dream apartment. Expect some cool glances in the hallways after her stint with Heinz.
The move also nixes Peggy’s incipient fantasies about Ted. Don’s attitude toward Peggy has often been paternalistic; following her illicit kiss with Ted, the scene with him and Don and Ted trading confidences at the bar feels like Dad vetting the new boyfriend. When Ted returns, Peggy expects a renewal or at least acknowledgement of their attraction. Instead, she finds him beaming, part of a new couple that doesn’t include her: He and the old man went hunting and they’re best buds. Watch the attraction drain out of Peggy’s face as she slinks back to her office.
Joan’s storyline forms a bookend of sorts. “Just once, I would like to hear you use the word ‘we’—because we’re all rooting for you from the sidelines, hoping that you’ll decide whatever you think is right for our lives,” she seethes. This episode featured Don making cataclysmic decisions while the people around him, namely women, scrambled to respond. Don clearly thinks he’s doing Joan a favor by cutting ties with Jaguar, but the surprise move—dropping their biggest client days before SCDP’s secret public offering and without consulting the partner who traded her body for their business—humiliates Joan again. In the opening scene, a girlish Joanie glows at the thought of becoming a millionaire. Don’s move literally cheapens her by wresting away control over her financial and private life – and then he treats her like a secretary.
Meanwhile Pete is whoring while Roger is scheming, and it looks like the silver fox might just have come out on top. In the new Frankenstein agency (SHDCCC?), will Peggy lose her hard-won seniority? Will Joan revert to de facto office manager? Will Dawn and Phyllis develop some kind of forced rapport as the only two black female employees? (On the heels of an episode where Pete noted twice that his father-in-law’s prostitute was a large black woman? Sorry, Pete, we’re revoking your NAACP card.) The reshuffling recalls the huge agency reorganization that preceded Guy McKendrick’s visit to the American office. And we all know what happened that time. Let’s not forget: This is 1968. Bad things have to happen.