The 5 Best Things From Mad Men, “Severance” (7×08)

As an academic, overanalyzing and historicizing is kind of my thing, but since Mad Men spawns more think pieces than any other show on the air, we’re going to do this a little differently, and just focus on the best stuff.

1) Peggy Olson went on a date with friggin’ Brian Krakow. 

I know Devon Gummersall has had other jobs since appearing on My So-Called Life two decades ago, including a guest appearance just this week on iZombie. It’s just that I don’t care, because he’ll always be Angela Chase’s lovelorn admirer in my heart, and his appearance allowed my own personal sense of nostalgia to merge with Mad Men‘s. When he shows up on screen as Stevie Wolcott, Mathis’ brother-in-law, with Peggy on a blind date, I squeed with joy.  Peggy was her usual semi-abrasive and defensive self to start, only to get drunk, hit it off with Stevie (even though he wouldn’t send back his dinner when the waiter brought the wrong item), suggest a wildly out-of-character impromptu trip to Paris, and then be foiled by a misplaced passport that was (oh so symbolically) in her office. What was supposed to be a one-and-done date turned out to offer the potential for something more, and Peggy sent him on his way without sleeping with him – here’s hoping that he calls when he gets back from that interview in DC, because if anyone deserves a happy ending out of this whole damn thing, it’s Peggy. Also, the dress she wears for that date might be my favorite outfit on the show so far.

2) Don mistakenly pays for sex.

Don Draper is in the process of divorcing Megan and therefore back in ladykiller mode, once again confident in the fact that he can make any woman want to drop her panties within mere seconds of meeting him. However, he severely misreads the situation when it comes to waitress Diana (guest star Elizabeth Reaser). During a late-night visit to a dirty spoon diner with Roger and some redshirt ladies, Diana catches Don’s eye. She bears a passing resemblance to so many of the brunettes Don’s bedded in the past seven seasons that he insists he knows her from somewhere, and returns later to figure it out. With a hard look on her face, Diana tells Don that she knows why he’s there, leads him out to an alley behind the diner, and proceeds to have sex with him. The whole episode seems, at first, to be another one of the surreal encounters that only Don Draper can have. Upon returning inside, Don tries to flirt, and that’s when the stark reality crashes down. Diana snaps, “You got your $100 worth. You can go.” Suddenly, the magic and the dreamlike haze are gone, leaving behind something tawdry and much crasser: Diana thought that Don was there to cash in on the oversize tip Roger had left. The reality of the world Don left behind with his Dick Whitman identity comes crashing back down; while he was regaling ladies with stories about johns near the start of the episode, he’s now inadvertently become one.

3) Joan engages in some empowering retail therapy.

Joan finally has some legitimate, agency-sanctioned power, working as the accounts manager for some actual clients, including being partnered with Peggy on Topaz pantyhose. Sadly, this doesn’t mean she gets any respect, as finds out when the neanderthals from McCann Erickson repeatedly objectify and dismiss her based on her appearance. Even Peggy criticizes how she dresses, suggesting that Joan brings the harassment upon herself. But Joan is also, as Peggy so bluntly puts it, “filthy rich.” So how does Joan deal? She goes shopping, and buys more of those gorgeous, luxurious dresses. The scene ends with a shot of a person unzipping Joan’s dress – but this time it’s the salesgirl, there to serve Joan, and not some man wanting her to serve him.

4) Ken Cosgrove’s “life not lived”

Ken has always been one of the sunnier characters on Mad Men, partially due to his chipper disposition, the way fortune seemed to smile upon him, and his happy marriage. (In this way, aspiring writer Ken Cosgrove is like no aspiring writer I’ve ever known.) In “Severance,” it appears that Ken is going to have to take his licks like everyone else at SCDP: his wife Cynthia (Larisa Oleynik, AKA Alex Mack – the 90s are wellcalls him out for not pursuing what makes him happy, and as revenge for absconding from McCann Erickson with some serious account dollars, SCDP’s new corporate overlords are forcing Roger to let Ken go and turn all his accounts over to Pete. At first outraged, Ken comes around to seeing it as a sign that maybe Cynthia is right and that he should write that novel. But after conversations with Pete and Don, Ken opts for something sweeter: revenge. Ken takes a job as the head of advertising for one of SCDP’s clients – a job left vacant due to his father-in-law’s retirement and a string of subsequent promotions – so now he can make Pete and Roger’s lives a living hell from the other side. After all, as Ken says, he’s pretty difficult to please. I look forward to seeing Ken pop up as an antagonist for comic relief, but even if this is the last we see of him – it’s a fitting send off for the character.

5) The. Facial. Hair.StanRoger

Don (and the models auditioning in chinchilla coats) may be smooth as silk, but not everyone is avoiding funky seventies hair trends. Roger sports a droopy, oversized, snow-white ‘stache now, but the real winner is Stan, whose full, spectacular, bushy beard and mustache are accompanied by hair that resembles a lion’s mane and a sassy brown scarf. Furthermore, Stan’s presence means we get this exchange with Peggy about her date with Stevie (and accompanying hangover):

Stan: “Sounds like fun!”
Peggy: “Nothing a couple aspirin won’t fix.”

Stan, Peggy, never change.

Honorable Mention:

Meredith as Don’s secretary; Ted going to a Vogue party; Pete’s anguish over being too rich; a drunk stewardess in her underwear patting spilled wine on Don’s carpet with her bare hands in a pathetic attempt to clean it up.