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Review: ‘Mad Men’ Season 7 Episode 8 ‘Severance’ Asks Is That All There Is?

Review: 'Mad Men' Season 7 Episode 8 'Severance' Asks Is That All There Is?

Don’s Level of Happiness: 4

Though Don seemed to be in particularly good spirits early on — what would have been around a seven on this 0-10 scale — his good mood didn’t last (as usual). Despite re-solidifying himself at work as the top salesman and go-to partner; despite wooing enough ladies to have an intimate relationship with the woman who gives him his voice mails; despite taking advantage of his lavish lifestyle by having sex on the wine spilled by his young guest; despite it all, Don couldn’t shake the jarring death of one of the few women to call him out on his bullshit.

Rachel Menken (or, to be more current, Rachel Katz) wasn’t the one who got away — that title belongs to Dr. Faye Miller — but she was the first real threat to Don’s singular identity. When the two met in Season 1, Don was still married and still hiding his true identity from everyone around him. Rachel threatened that safety with her sharp mind in both the bedroom and boardroom. Her death — as well as her sister’s knowledge of Don — truly got to our leading man in a way we’ve seen few times before. It knocked him from his safe space, above it all, back to reality. As Diana the waitress said, “When someone dies you just want to make sense of it, but you can’t.” Don isn’t above anything, and — no matter how hard he works to escape it — he’s going to have to confront his mortality soon.

READ MORE: Jon Hamm on ‘the Big Picture’ of ‘Mad Men’ Season 7b & the Challenges of Being Don Draper

Our Happiness With Don: 7

Everyone has their own unique relationship with Don Draper, and I’m not just talking about his coworkers, lovers and ex-wives. We, the audience, identify with and reject our commonalities with Don to various extremes at varying times. Heading into the premiere of Season 7b, it seems safe to say our collective opinion of Don was at or near an all-time high. He’d made things right with Peggy and regained his deserved stature at work. The air had been cleared with Megan, and Don was ready to move on with his life as he saw fit — which, for once, did not mean getting stupid hammered and sleeping with anything that moved.

So to see him on a double date with Roger and three women, telling stories about his actual childhood and filling up mugs with flask whiskey was reaffirming. Here was a man who didn’t need to swear off his vices to keep them in check; someone who could keep living the way he wanted to without penalty and find happiness in the day-to-day. Might some of us be envious of such a life? Sure. But then the truth came out; that none of it was true. Don may have thought he was happy bedding women on the floor of his marital bedroom, but it wasn’t until he was knocked back to reality that we saw the seeds of actual growth appear in Don. “I just want to sit here,” is about as basic as requests can be, and that’s really all Don wanted from the waitress. He needs to figure things out, and we the audience should be collectively excited to see him try.

My Name is Peggy Olsen, and I Want To… Be Spontaneous

Peggy’s quest for happiness is just as vital to these final seven episodes as Don’s, and it’s also quite similar. Both are striving for happiness both inside and outside the office, even if Peggy needs a bit more from both. This week saw her crave the kind of spontaneity her mentor utilizes again and again. Don’s random decisions to ditch work for play may have gotten him in a bit of trouble, but Peggy’s never even allowed herself to risk it. She couldn’t — not with how hard she’s had to fight to get where she is now, and certainly not under Lou’s command. And perhaps she still can’t.

But the desire is clearly there, as evidenced by her random, intoxicated plans to run away with the first nice, attractive guy she meets to an exotic locale like Paris. It’s good that she was able to identify Mathis’ brother-in-law as someone worth more than a one night stand, but the way she wrote the whole experience off mid-hangover was discouraging. Hopefully Peggy is given the power she deserves and needs, thus providing her the breathing room to make much-needed personal rendezvouses. 

Employee of the Week: Ken

Okay, so Ken got fired in “Severance,” but he was still the unexpected highlight of the Season 7b premiere. There’s always someone who pops out of nowhere to steal the spotlight in the season premieres, and Weiner surprised us again in his final chance (premiere-wise). Last year, Freddy Rumsen showed up out of nowhere, pitching Peggy with fittingly Don-esque talent. Season 5 showcased Megan and her “Zou Bisou Bisou.” Hell, even “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” had a twist ending. 

Things always broaden back to the corps characters in Episode 2, but for now, let’s think on poor, mistreated Ken Cosgrove. In the Season 7 premiere (Episode 1), the only experience we had with Ken revolved around Joan’s mistreatment, making his empathetic turn in Episode 8 all the more surprising. Ken was proud of his company, or at least proud enough to resist his wife’s urges for early retirement. Not only that, but he proved himself savvy enough to make a lateral move in transitioning between jobs. Grabbing the head of advertising job at his father-in-law’s firm assured him not only a post worthy of his (self-established) talents, but also the opportunity for revenge down the line. Will it matter for our core cast in the long run? Maybe not. But Ken was fun to watch this week.

The ’70s Have Arrived

Well, folks. We officially made it past the ’60s. President Nixon’s speech late in the episode marked the time period as April of 1970, and with the new decade comes new trends. I’d say Roger’s mustache is the most noticeable marker of time — and the most entertaining — but we’ll certainly see many more transitional fashions, devices and facial hair as the season continues.

Comedic Relief

Though not all of “Mad Men’s” darkly comic or surprising moments of levity can be summed up in a few quotes, this week certainly can, courtesy of Ken’s father-in-law, Ed Baxter:

“I started cooking. I actually made myself a… what was it honey?”
“A Pop-Tart, Ed.”
“It was very good.”

Marketing Speak

“She lived the life she wanted to live. She had everything.” – Barbara

The closing song for “Severance” was Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is (To Love),” and, as we all know, Weiner does not select his closing songs at random. This week’s is rather on the nose, as Don was left pondering if what he has — which many would consider to be “everything” — is all that there is to be looking for in his continuous quest for contentment. The above quote from Rachel’s sister certainly implied there was more, but not in Don’s area of expertise. 

If Season 7a was about Don’s resurgence in the business world, it appears 7b will focus on Don’s quest for personal fulfillment. One’s professional life is not to be discarded — as Don learned the hard way at the end of Season 6 — but it’s not the end-all be-all a man of Don’s status may have hoped. The real search has begun, and it’s surprisingly thrilling to see that Don doesn’t know where to start.

Grade: A

READ MORE: Review: The Final ‘Mad Men’ Season Premiere Asks If Don, or Anyone, Can Ever Be Happy

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