Mad Men Season 6 Episode 6: For Immediate Release

Don "concealing" his disdain for Herb
Don “concealing” his disdain for Herb

The latest installment of Mad Men felt like a throwback to some of the earlier days of the series, with Don Draper focused on trying to land a top client, having already lost another; Roger Sterling using his charm and a caper to make an important business connection; and Pete Campbell being at odds with his father-in-law.  By the end of the episode, events had led to yet another major change in the organizational structure of the agency, the fourth iteration since the series began: initially, there was Sterling Cooper; then, in the Fall of 1962, it waspurchased by the British Company, Puttnam, Powell and Lowe; in December of 1963, with McCann Erickson set to buy the parent company PPL, they broke off and started afresh as Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; and now there is to be a merger with Cutler, Gleason and Chaough.

In order to get the two agencies to a point where their senior creative partners – Don and Ted Chaough – would be willing to end their rivalry to team up together, the show made it clear that neither was likely to survive without the other.  For CGC, the obstacle was in the form of a health scare for one of its partners, Frank Gleason, who is battling pancreatic cancer – his death would mean the other two partners would have to buy him out, something they would have been in a stronger position to do had they not resigned their Alfa Romeo account to pursue Chevrolet.  By contrast, things have never looked better for SCDP than they do at the beginning of the episode, as Bert Cooper, Pete Campbell and Joan Harris are working with an underwriter on a proposal to take the company public, which would result in a big windfall for all of the partners.

However, the public offering would have been made on the basis of existing accounts, two of which are quickly lost by Don and Pete.  Draper is the cause of Jaguar exiting the agency, as he is unable to hold his tongue when Herb Rennett suggests that he should run all of his idea by a kid who is writing fliers for him at his New Jersey dealership.  Don not only tells him that they no longer want his business, but also insults Herb by making fun of his weight when he says that he does somersaults – his animosity stemming from the Jaguar man’s insistence on getting to sleep with Joan in order to take his business to the agency last season.  While Draper announces that he has never felt better, this is dampened when he is berated by Ms. Harris for making everything she had been through mean nothing and that if she could deal with Herb, then he ought to be able to as well.  This has much more of an effect on Don than the dressing down Pete attempts to give him – perhaps because Joan did not fall down the stairs before shouting at him – but Campbell is upset because he believes that the hard work he has done in getting the agency to where it is, something that earns him praise from Bert Cooper, he believes has been undone by his partner’s inability to control his impulses.  As it turns out, Pete’s own lack of impulse control costs the agency another account, as a trip to a brothel results in an inopportune encounter with his father-in-law, who subsequently pulls the business of Vicks Chemical from SCDP.  

Despite the loss of these two clients – though Vicks’ departure is kept from Don by Roger, who wants his man focused on the Chevy pitch – what motivates Draper to suggest a merger with CGC is not financial concerns, rather the frustration he feels at being unable to compete for the biggest clients due to his agency’s smaller size.  Heading to Detroit, Don is actually appears to have his mojo back – he enjoyed getting rid of Jaguar, believed he had a chance of landing a huge car company, and had been given…encouragement…by Megan to inspire him to success.  All of this confidence is unravelled by a late night bar encounter with Ted Chaough, who sees the writing on the wall for both of them, as General Motors will just take their creative work and give it to an advertising agency with the man power they will require.  This then leads to an awesome scene between the two, as they cannot quell their competitiveness and even perform their pitches for each other, but also recognize that if they continue to fight alone, then the destruction of both agencies will be mutually assured.  While this very concept was something that Pete’s father-in-law could not accept, Chaough and Draper have been in the business long enough to see that – in the words of Jack Shepherd – if CGC and SCDP cannot live together, then they will die alone.

Wait, you guys did what now?
Wait, you guys did what now?

The decision of Ted and Don – which was validated by the fact that between them they landed Chevy – will have an impact on many other people, but the one we first see its effect on is Peggy Olson, who had escaped out of the shadow of Draper little more than six months before this merger.  Peggy’s relationship with her old boss had never strayed away from being professional – save for a moment early on when she believed as Don’s secretary, more would be expected of her – but she and Chaough kiss each other when she uses the word “strong” to describe him, rather than “nice”.  While Ted quickly apologizes and moves on, Olson fantasizes about him when she is with her boyfriend, Abe – imagining that Caough would be reading “Something” by Ralph Waldo Emerson – and fixes her makeup prior to the meeting with her new boss, in which she is ambushed by her old one.  Understanding what her role will be in SCDP/CGC (the letters P(ryce) and G(leason) can be dropped going forward I guess, but I am sure they will come up with a more catchy name for the new agency) will be important to Peggy, as she will now find herself below two creative geniuses, not just one, as well as working with Stan – whom she screwed over to try to land Ketchup – and Ginsberg once more.

There are plenty of other people who have a vested interest in the structure upper echelons of the new agency: Joan is a new partner and will want to maintain her position of power; Harry Crane has long believed he should be at that level also; Campbell was essentially the main accounts man and has sought his name to be on the door, but he lost Vicks and now Sterling may be able to increase his role having played a crucial role in landing Chevy; and Cooper has been ready to cash out for six years and may not have the opportunity to do so for good.  Also, now that Burt Peterson is back in the mix (he currently works for CGC), can someone please find Salvatore and give him a job in the new company’s art department.

Some other thoughts:

  • Spare a thought for Bob Benson too – who now has a whole new load of asses to kiss with twice as many people above him.  The ever agreeable employee was this week happy to fetch Joan and some ice; pay for Pete’s prostitute; and was left with two coffees when Campbell was too busy to take one from him.
  • With events set in May of 1968, depending on how much time has passed by the next installment, this episode could be bracketed by two that have major assassinations as the backdrop – after Martin Luther King Jr’s was part of last week’s, it is less than a month in story time until Robert Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (which happened in the early hours of June 5th of that year).  This season, Mad Men has prominently featured the support that Eugene McCarthy – who was the first candidate to oppose President Johnson because of Vietnam in the Democratic Primaries – enjoyed among anti-war activists in New York, with Abe saying that he offered hope for the future and the “worst-case scenario” of RFK was also promising.  Little does he know that the Democratic candidate will end up being Johnson’s VP, Hubert Humphrey – who had such a strong lead of delegates from non-primary states that he may well have beaten Kennedy anyway – and that Richard Nixon will ultimately win the White House.
  • It may not have been the greatest episode for Pete Campbell, but he did have the funniest line – when he offers Bert a drink and the elder partner requests first brandy, then spirit of elderflower, he tells him “I don’t have any laudanum either!”.
  • The ability of Ken Cosgrove – AKA Ben Hargrove and Dave Algonquin – to tell a story is displayed of his recounting of the time when the movie “Making a Baby” came to his home town and he saw one of his teachers in the theatre, though he wasn’t “working the slide rule of anything”.
  • After they have given each other their pitches and have realized the futility of their efforts, so used to competing with Don is Ted, that when Draper is about to pitch the merger to him and says “I have a better idea”, Chaough misunderstands the context and immediately tells him, “No you don’t, I just heard it! This is why everybody hates you!”

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