Lost in the Movies: Mad Men - "For Immediate Release" (season 6, episode 6)

Mad Men - "For Immediate Release" (season 6, episode 6)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review another episode of seasons four, five, and six. Both parts of season seven will be covered in the summer of 2022 (now updated to winter 2021-22). I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on May 5, 2013/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Jennifer Getzinger): The SCDP elite ride a roller coaster in "For Immediate Release": toasting as they plan to take the company public, panicking when the loss of two huge clients threatens their valuation, rebounding by landing a meeting with Chevrolet, worrying as they realize who their rivals are, and finally executing a brilliant maneuver to secure their position. Don and Pete are to blame for Jaguar and Vicks Chemical cutting their ties. Don fires Herb - or fires himself, it's hard to say exactly - after a lousy dinner triple date (or would-be triple; Megan's mother plays the increasingly drunk fifth wheel when Roger stands them up). Battered down by the inane conversation of Herb's wife Peaches (Sarah Aldrich) and faced with yet another obnoxious request from the piggish car dealer himself, Don decides to get reckless, dumping Jaguar just to wash himself clean of Jersey's stink. Meanwhile, Pete finds himself in that classic brothel scenario when he comes face to face with his father-in-law in a compromising position (for both of them, obviously). Tom punishes Pete professionally by cancelling their contract and trusting that his daughter's estranged husband will "do the right thing." In Pete's eyes, however, that means telling Trudy where he saw her dear old dad. Pete, often one to tout his own racial progressivism, is eager to describe Tom's paramour as a "two-hundred-pound Negro" for shock effect.

So yes, the firm could definitely use a breakthrough right about now, and it's Roger and his airline employee girlfriend Daisy McClusky (Danielle Panabaker) who come to the rescue: Daisy spots a Chevrolet whale on a local flight and Roger prepares his harpoon. As it turns out, one of the agency's rivals - good old CGC - is also struggling. A partner, Frank Gleason (Craig Anton), reveals that he is gravely ill with pancreatic cancer; meanwhile Ted's affection for Peggy blossoms into an embarrassing kiss. By the time Ted and Don run into each other in a Detroit bar, they're both getting desperate, tired of their companies' junior status in the industry and certain that they're about to be overshadowed once again by those big names. And then Don gets creative. Alone, each would fail, but together... The next morning, the two agencies collaborate on their pitch to Chevy and when they return to New York they surprise Peggy - who was expecting to pick up where she left off with Ted - with the big news. From now on, SCDP and CGC will become SCDPCGC (or something like that). Don saved the business once with a split, and now he may be saving it (and himself) with a merger. Yet Peggy doesn't exactly seem pleased to return to the lion's den.

My Response: The last time Mad Men took a deep, dark look at an assassination, it immediately followed this grim offering with a jaunty, narrative-redefining business escapade, and "For Immediate Release" echoes "Shut the Door. Have a Seat." in that regard. Granted, this is a midseason entry rather than a grand finale and it's not quite so lighthearted - few are having a good time (except for Roger, who is practically walking on air). But if the previous episode had me thinking that the second Kennedy assassination might be paired with the second Draper marital collapse I'm no longer so sure. I suspect that Mad Men's creators craft their season arcs pretty carefully beforehand but if I ever had reason to doubt that, this episode might be Exhibit A. The unexpected coupling of Draper and Chaou (disrupting the far more expected coupling of Peggy and Ted) feels as off-the-cuff for the show itself as it does for the characters. I really didn't see this coming and laughed out loud at the outrageousness - as well as the perfect concept and execution. Of course these two had to end up together, and of course Peggy and Don had to find themselves in the same office again. That said, the bar scene had me thoroughly convinced that both were just pulling each other's legs with a pessimistic psych-out; I was genuinely shocked when the next morning came and this turned out to be a genuine partnership rather than an attempted prank.

So much is resolved, in most cases destructively: the Campbell marriage truly explodes, Vick and Jaguar are out the door, even Arnold's hope to perform the first heart transplant in the U.S. appears to be crushed (he seems more upset about losing his opportunity than his child patient...between that and his lascivious interaction with Marie, he's looking a lot less saintly these days). And maybe the show is just toying with us, but it's also beginning to feel like the Don/Sylvia romance is dying on the vine. This more than any other development makes me wonder how close the writing and shooting dates were and if the staff decided on a course correction mid-production. Linda Cardellini is a wonderful actress, and there's a certain "tried-and-true Don's mistress" chemistry between the pair, but was this material bringing anything particularly new or helpful to our understanding of these characters or this world? We already got the idea that Don was ready to cheat again from the season five finale, and in a way his fundamental issues with Megan have less to do with fidelity than respect. "For Immediate Release" gins up Don's charisma by focusing on his strengths as an adman rather than his shortcomings as a husband. This is no more a long-term solution to Mad Men's struggle with a protagonist (who arguably reached the climax of his arc several seasons ago) than Megan's spicy seduction is a long-term solution to the drift between two supposed soulmates, but it does provide a momentary boost heading into the turmoil of the summer of 1968. Most of all, though, I'm fascinated to see where Peggy's story goes from here after a promotion that feels suspiciously like a demotion - or at least a reversion, even as everyone around her races ahead.

Next (active on October 18, 8am): "Man with a Plan"Previous: "The Flood"

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