Mad Men 7×12: Transitions

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The transition from SC&P to McCann-Erickson is not without some growing pains.

The former SC&P secretaries are mothering Don, making sure he can find his way from the lobby to his new office, whether that’s Beverly making sure he knows what floor he’s going to or Meredith coming to meet him at the elevator, reminding him that he can’t be late, that he can’t take naps now that Jim Hobart’s back from vacation. (There’s lots of talk about floors in this episode, everyone save Peggy divvied up around the building, unable to provide each other with support.)

The hallways at McCann are dark and claustrophobic, full of new people heading every which way–the opposite of the bright, modern space that housed SC&P. Don’s office is reminiscent of the one he had back at Sterling Cooper, in the first three seasons, with the wood paneling and his desk off to the side, but he doesn’t seem comfortable in it. Meredith asks him if the smell has improved, and he fiddles with the windows, which emit a high-pitched whistling noise from the  wind 19 floors up.

But Don seems happier once he’s meeting with Jim Hobart and Ferg Donnelly. Hobart appeals to his ego, refers to Don as his White Whale. He even claims that he bought a small agency in the midwest just so he could get Don the Miller account. They’re looking to brand what will eventually be Miller Lite. Hobart encourages him to introduce himself and nearly swoons when Don says he’s “Don Draper from McCann-Erickson.” He seems genuinely thrilled to have Don on their team at last.

This is all just an ego-stroke, though, as Don learns when he shows up to the Miller meeting and finds out that half of McCann’s creative directors have been invited. Ted Chaough is there, looking as serene as he was last week when Hobart promised him a pharmaceutical account. It’s clear he’s been fed the same lines as Don, about his value to the agency, but he doesn’t seem bothered by the discovery that he’s just a cog in the McCann-Erickson machine. He fits right in in the Miller meeting, but Don still wants to be something special, he wants to be the myth he spun for the reporter back at the beginning of season 4. When he gets up and walks out of the meeting it’s a move we’ve seen before, just like his subsequent disappearance (to Racine, Wisconsin, though he neglects to tell even Meredith that he’ll be out indefinitely) it’s the sort of thing that helps build up the Don Draper Mystery, but no one in the meeting even looks up. They’re too busy working. 

Meanwhile, Joan’s dealing with the same overt sexism that plagued the Topaz meeting back in the mid-season premiere.

Unlike at SC&P, Joan’s got a window office at McCann, a status symbol that turns out to be just as fake as Don’s ego-stroke. Two female copywriters show up before she’s even settled in to try to attach their names to her client list, and the men at McCann are pigs in every available flavor. One of the account men from the Topaz meeting, a man Joan technically outranks, torpedoes a call with Avon after failing to read Joan’s briefing, gets mad at her for getting mad and then sneers “I thought you were gonna be fun” as he storms out of her office; when she gets him off her business by going to Ferg Donnelly she finds herself rebuffing Ferg’s repeated advances; and when she goes to Jim Hobart to try to remove Ferg she’s informed that she’s worth nothing to McCann, that she can either walk out the door with only fifty cents for every dollar they owe her or she can bring a lawsuit they’ll fight, but either way she’s walking out of Jim Hobart’s office and he doesn’t want to so much as hear her name.

Hobart implies that Joan did nothing to earn her SC&P partnership, suggests that maybe it was left to her in a will, but Joan sacrificed more for that title than anyone else. She’s fired up to fight for every penny of her half million dollars because of what she did to earn them, to metaphorically burn McCann-Erickson down, the way she wanted to in “Severance,” with references to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Betty Friedan, and it’s only Roger, who knows exactly how she ended up with a partnership, who can convince her to take the $250,000 and walk out the door. Joan leaves McCann with a lot of money, her rolodex, and the wind knocked out of her sails.

It was Roger that walked into Sterling Cooper with his name already on the door, and it’s Roger that’s having trouble leaving it behind. Peggy finds him skulking around, playing ominous music on an organ and looking for ways to get drunk instead of heading off to start his new job.

Peggy’s still at SC&P because McCann mistook her for a secretary and didn’t have an office ready. She spends the whole episode trying to walk the line between not accepting less than she deserves, like Joan, and not wanting to make too big of a fuss. She doesn’t want her secretary to go running to Don with the problem, but she wants someone to stick up for her. She doesn’t want to start her time at McCann working from a secretary’s desk, but she can’t accomplish anything from the SC&P offices, where first the power goes out and then the phones. She finds Roger just after her secretary informs her (from the same hall payphone where Ken discussed the life unlived with Don) that they’ve got an office for her but she’ll have to work from a drafting table until her furniture is delivered. 

The scenes between Roger and Peggy are where the episode shines brightest. They get drunk on a bottle of vermouth and Roger offers Peggy the painting that Bert Cooper had hanging in his office, the one of “an octopus pleasuring a lady.” She claims she can’t hang it in her new office because the people at McCann won’t take her seriously. “You know I have to make men feel at ease,” she tells Roger. The patient way she rode out the unfiltered sexism in the same Topaz meeting that inflamed Joan, the image of her on the Playtex exec’s lap back in “Maidenform,” the way she’s handled the bungled move to McCann…Peggy’s been putting men at ease to get her way for years, but Roger doesn’t see the point.

Roger’s not bothered by women in the workplace. He’s of a different era, yes, occasionally old-fashioned, but he’s long been dependent on Joan, bullied by his secretaries, and he was the one who gave Peggy her own office back in season 3. He responds positively to assertive women. He tells Peggy a story about cool water on a hot day, and how he almost missed out on what he wanted because he was scared of the jump. Peggy tells him that everyone has regrets, but this wasn’t a regret, he just needed someone to push him. Roger does the opposite for Peggy of what he did for Joan: he gives Peggy the necessary push. 

And when we see her striding into McCann, cigarette lit, sunglasses on, in what is instantaneously one of the defining shots of the series, it’s clear that Peggy won’t be taking 50 cents on anyone’s dollar (or 70 cents, for that matter), and that despite what Ferg may have told Joan earlier in the episode, McCann will not be holding Peggy back. If someone’s going to burn McCann-Erickson to the ground it’s going to be Peggy, and she’s going to do it from the inside out. 

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