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Mad Men Gets a Bounce After Shaking Things Up

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Q. "What the hell are you doing in Detroit?"
A. "My doctor recommended an ocean voyage."

Exchange between rivals Ted Chaough and Don Draper.

"I love Bobby Kennedy."

Peggy Olson

Mad Men's ratings edged back upward for the first time in a somewhat uneven Season 6 with Sunday night's fine episode, "For Immediate Release." Incidentally, here's an archive of my pieces on the show, in The Mad Men File.

After a long span of increasingly airless personal drama, followed by last week's intrusion of a major historical tragedy, the show got back to its advertising roots with a vengeance.

In fact, the show may have re-booted itself, as it did at the end of Season 3. For once again, the old Sterling Cooper etc. is no more.

SCDP is, very suddenly, a new and different agency after joining forces with Don Draper rival Ted Chaough's CGC to beat out the big boys and win the new work on offer from Chevrolet.

This shock development at the tail end of the episode came after Draper essentially blew up his agency's business with Jaguar in a dinner gone very wrong with the American car dealer who oddly carries such weight in Jaguar advertising decisions.

By the way, there is a very big punch line coming in the show's substitution of advertising for Jaguar -- which, unfortunately, we saw very little of -- with advertising for Chevy's new "Mustang-killer."

Oh, and Pete Campbell's marriage suddenly blew up, too, just as Trudy was warming again to his attentions. What happened? Well, he ran into his father-in-law at a brothel. And rather than carry on in mutual secrecy, said father-in-law decided to escalate the embarrassment by pulling his company's business from SCDP.

Anyway, back to the other precipitous development.

As I write this, what was definitely an entertaining episode is seeming a bit more, well, less than credible in terms of its plotting. Not unlike Season 2 of Homeland, which was entertaining as all get out, but made very little sense the more you thought about it.

SCDPCGC is suddenly here, and Peggy Olson, who may be giving into a mutual infatuation with her mostly nice guy boss Ted, is once again going to be working under her old mentor Don.

As a friend noted in an e-mail, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. But that Who classic won't come for a few more bitter years.

Don's sudden moves in Detroit, which through improvisation with enemy-turned-frenemy Ted foiled what the show lays out as the usual mega-corporate plan of getting free creative ideas from smaller agencies and cycling them through the giant ad agencies, averted what could have been a total disaster.

For, in another sudden development, a small group of Joan, Pete, and Bert Cooper had been developing a plan to sell stock in the agency through a public offering. Which plan was wrecked when Don decided entirely on his own to blow up the Jaguar account.

Is it credible that these three would do all this suddenly revealed work for an IPO without ever mentioning it to Don or Roger Sterling?

Frankly, how credible is any of this set-up, aside from the sudden decision at the end of the episode, which I think was taken out of believable desperation?

I say, let's just go with it. Just so long as we have gotten out of the tedium of the endlessly impending destruction-that-never-happens of Don Draper.

So, at the very end of the episode, Peggy gets to write the press release announcing the merger of her new agency with her old agency. Hence the title of the episode, "for immediate release."

The most important piece of information for us in that press release?

The date.

May 17th, 1968.

For history is about to intrude, in a big way, once again.

Earlier in the episode, Peggy's likable lefty journo significant other Abe opines about the politics of '68. Things are looking up, he prognosticates.

President Lyndon Johnson has pulled out of the race. The Vietnam War is likely to come to an end. His hero Gene McCarthy might even be president, and ... Oh, let's let Abe lay it out:

"I don't think you understand, babe. Everything's getting better. Johnson's gone. The war is gonna end. We're gonna have a new president no matter what. Maybe McCarthy. Worst case: Kennedy."

Peggy: "I love Bobby Kennedy."

Two-and-a-half weeks after Peggy writes the press release on the agency merger, anti-war Senator Robert F. Kennedy -- close ally of the recently assassinated Martin Luther King and the, ah, "worst case," hahah -- scores a big win in the California presidential primary. After a joyous victory speech, as he makes his way through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, he is shot in the head. On June 6th, he dies.

Things are not going to turn out anywhere near the way Abe predicted.

And the exciting new General Motors car -- designed using a computer, as an impressed Roger pointed out -- that Chevy "Mustang-killer" the new revamped agency will sell to the world is ... the Chevy Vega!

After I watched the episode, I was curious what car was being referred to. Chevy's Mustang-killer that wasn't, the otherwise good Camaro, is already out in the show's timeline. The Corvette has been out since the '50s. But the code name mentioned in the show revealed that SCDPCGC has now won the task of marketing one of the most ill-starred cars in Detroit history.

It will make those sometimes frustrating Jaguar XKEs seem like some of the greatest cars in history!

Hold on, they were. (The E-Types, as they were known in Britain, are in fact some of the most collectable cars in the world.)

Too bad we got so little of the actual mystique of those Jags.

But Mad Men has another chance to get into one of the iconographic cars of the '60s in the form of the Ford Mustang, which Don and Ted and Peggy and company have to understand in order to compete.

Hopefully this is a cultural opportunity that the show won't miss.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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