After last week’s rather unnerving sign-off of one-nippled Ginsberg being hauled off to the loony bin, the penultimate episode of “Mad Men’s” half-season was in need of some earthly stabilization. Usually, that means back-stabbing and office politics, but this time around was different — a most welcome change after two weeks of roundabout plodding. “The Strategy” found its characters perhaps at their happiest. Not one member of the limited cast appeared even remotely flummoxed until Roger and Joan were brought back together over a mutual distaste for Harry Crane, and even that had a hopeful subtext thanks to Joan’s earlier romantic stand. Yet it was a touching moment between “Mad Men’s” two leads, perhaps the pair’s most meaningful interaction since “The Suitcase” in Season 4, that made “The Strategy” the best episode of Season 7.
What began as a worrisome sequence of office events for anyone well versed in the pessimism hovering over Matthew Weiner’s less-than-hopeful series became something else entirely. Peggy’s pitch went well, but she was pulled from the presentation anyway. Don appeared to be in her head, and she seemed close to yet another break down before knocking back a few drinks — the “Mad Men” version of breaking bread. It was all following a rather predictable trajectory, and the worry became Don breaking from the plan during the pitch, a formerly common practice for the man now on probation, with terms calling for dismissal if his old ways resurface.
Yet we didn’t even reach the pitch. Don walked into Peggy’s office on a mission to civilize, so to speak, answering all of her hostile questions and accusations with honesty. He was forthright in a way previously unseen from the secretive Dick Whitman. Don even walked Peggy through his process, admitting his first step was to “abuse the people whose help I need.” Peggy brought her shields down enough to say “done,” admitting she’d treated Don rather poorly so far and allowing them to get back to work.
And work they did. While Bob Benson was proposing to Joan — another surprising sequence, not for confirming for the umpteenth time the man is gay, or that Joan knew it, but for how it further elevated her professional demeanor and desire for business first, real romance when it comes up — Don and Peggy worked out the perfect pitch. It felt like old times with a facelift. Someone was tugging at the edges of Don and Peggy’s mouths, making them smile for the first time in who knows how long. They’ve always been better together. They’ve always both known it, and pride has ruined it time and time again, more so from Peggy than Don (though Peggy’s frustrations are relevant).
It was Don’s humble admission of what worries him (“That I never did anything, and I don’t have anyone”) that first marked the scene as more than just a meeting. He’s had a few moments this season where he’s been willing to confess his darkest fears, perhaps laying on the exposition a little thick. Still, he’s reaching his pinnacle of self-awareness, and cutting him some slack this week was easy. Their working together would have been enough. Even with only one episode left, the sheer sight of those two smoothing things out over a pitch is a pretty massive step forward. Then came the dancing. Oh, the dancing. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” was playing on the radio, and while Peggy was ready to dismiss it, Don said, “You think that’s a coincidence?” and offered Peggy his hand. It was an extremely touching moment, made more so by Peggy placing her head on Don’s chest and Don taking it all in before kissing her head.
The new power couple — at least at the office — was then reenforced by the closing scene of Don and Peggy sitting side by side, reflecting the same position to Pete regarding their new strategy. Slowly pulling back, light music playing over the top, viewers got a glimpse at the new nuclear family of Pete, Don, and Peggy. If only Roger could have been there, it would have been perfect (but Roger stepping foot in a fast food restaurant sounds laughable). Pete and Roger both stuck up for Don this week — Pete so much so that his new beau Bonnie left him in New York. Roger’s response to Jim about the tobacco company was key: “Your secret plan to win the war?” Cutler told him to think about the company and not Don, but we already know where Roger lands on that point.
This is the new company. A company of men (and one woman). Sides have been taken and a showdown is coming. Don, Peggy, Roger, and Pete — the core four — are back together, a welcome sight if not necessarily a wise business decision for anyone other than Don. Will joining Don’s unstable team (well, Peggy’s team, but Don will be the issue) save them, as Cutler told Don two weeks prior after his savvy move? We might not find out next week in the mid-season finale, but it would have been worth splitting this final season in half if we do.