Mad Men just finished the first half of its latest season with the episode “For Immediate Release.” Unfortunately, the episode represents a low point in an already disappointing season. From the start, Season 6 felt like Matthew Weiner was having fun at our expense. In the first episode, the audience discovers the Dante that Don is reading comes from his new paramour. We get it: Don is going to hell. But “For Immediate Release” goes a step further into very hokey territory. The secondary theme of the episode was hypocrisy, and the entire plotline revolved around men getting angry at other men for things they themselves were guilty of.
The episode starts with the quiet plot to take SCDP public. Joan and Pete are almost rapturous at the idea of making tons of money for all of the partners. The security it offers Joan coupled with the compliments from the underwriter on how well Joan kept SCDP’s financial records has her more excited about this prospect than any previous. Inevitably, this leads to her conflict with Don when he blows the whole thing up by ditching Jaguar, the company she prostituted herself to in order to gain their business. Joan and Don have traditionally been allies in the series, so seeing them at odds is new. Weiner is using every plot line to show Don’s complete isolation from the rest of the people around him. Thankfully, this attempt was significantly more subtle.
Pete Campbell is of course outraged that Don ended their business relationship with Jaguar. He joins Joan in scolding him in the conference room for making every decision unilaterally. It is at that moment that Roger, deux-ex-machina style, pops in to say that he has secured a pitch meeting with Chevrolet. This is, as they say, a big fish. In a bit of comedic timing, SCDP is informed shortly thereafter that Pete has also cost them a business relationship with Vicks chemical by running into his father-in-law at a whorehouse. Between that and Pete falling down the stairs in his state of rage, it is hard not to laugh at his impotency. It is a bit less funny when his father-in-law pushes him to reveal both of their whoring to Pete’s wife Trudy.
We have been down this road before with Mad Men. Gaining an account last second is a storyline they have trotted out before and it is getting a bit clichéd. Oh and the car they are pitching? The XP-887, better known as The Chevy Vega, a total bust. Yet again, any positive momentum is going to be reversed. Weiner is being a bit heavy-handed by picking the Vega, though at least it is somewhat humorous.
Meanwhile, Peggy Olson is getting hit on by her boss, Ted Chaough, and she cannot help but picture her life with him rather than the mustachioed hipster she currently spends her time with. This leads to a later scene that is quite ridiculous. Peggy begins to daydream of her boss kissing her while he reads from Emerson. The scene is complete with ridiculous elevator music playing in her head. It is unimaginable that this woman who Weiner has spent so much time building into a serious character would be subject to such whimsy. It is a pretty silly departure.
The episode concludes with Don and Ted Chaough meeting at a bar in Detroit before both of their pitch meetings with Chevy. They hatch a plan to merge the two agencies in order to secure Chevy’s business. This is essentially the plot from the season finale of Season 3 when the main characters left to form SCDP in the first place.
“For Immediate Release” thoroughly demonstrates this season’s repetitive plot lines and lack of subtlety. Don continues to be unable to see things from anyone’s perspective but his own, Pete is the eternal beta male, and dramatic business developments continue to come at the last second for SCDP. Peggy’s ridiculous (and poorly written) daydream sequence is representative of the 2×4 Weiner has been taking to the audience to get his message across. She is growing past her idealistic phase: we get it, Weiner. I remain an unabashed Mad Men fan and will continue until the bitter end, but I want to see the show get back to its mastery of subtle messaging or else it risks become a caricature of itself.
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