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This episode of Mad Men felt like a spinoff

Look out, everybody! It's Pima (Mimi Rogers)! Starring in Pima! This fall on AMC.
Look out, everybody! It's Pima (Mimi Rogers)! Starring in Pima! This fall on AMC.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the previous episode over the course of that week. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, Todd is joined by political writer Dylan Matthews and education reporter Libby Nelson. Keep checking in all week long for new entries.

Todd VanDerWerff: Do you guys remember that one episode of The Simpsons "The Simpsons Spin-off Showcase"? Airing in season eight, it purported to show three separate proposed spinoffs from the series, including a cop show, a stupid gimmick sitcom, and a variety show. The terribleness of the ideas was the point — this is what television networks do when left to their own devices, the episode seemed to snark.

Well, I feel roughly similarly about "New Business," which feels for much of its running time like "The Mad Men Spinoff Showcase." We know that AMC asked Matthew Weiner if it could get a Mad Men spinoff — and unlike with his compatriots at The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, Weiner said no. So I'm choosing to read this entire episode as a long series of backdoor pilots — an episode of a TV series that introduces an entirely new set of characters to star in a spinoff from that series — for shows that we will never see, about characters we've just met.

Why, just think of the several spinoffs this episode suggests!

And Marie-France Makes Three: You remember French-Canadian sensation Megan Calvert Draper (Jessica Paré), of course. And you're surely a fan of her mother, Marie Calvert (Julia Ormond), as well! But did you know there's a third lady in this Calvert trio? And she's so religious that the thought of her sister getting a divorce disgusts her?

Say hello to Marie-France (Kim Bubbs), who trails behind her mother and sister on their cross-country adventures, shaking her head and tsking all the while! There's nothing this odd trio can't handle, from car trouble to small-town speed traps. Look out, America — here come the Calverts.

Diana and Don: Diana (Elizabeth Reaser) found herself struggling to make a fresh start after a family tragedy. Little did she know that leaving Racine to move to New York and taking a job as a waitress at a diner would lead to just the thing she needed — the attentions and affections of Don (Jon Hamm), a very rich man who can understand where she's coming from because he was once poor himself.

Diana and Don might not seem like the most perfectly matched couple out there, but that's what makes them so great together. She's collapsing under the weight of a crippling depression; he's completely empty inside because he refuses to deal with any emotions whatsoever. They don't know it, but love is in the air.

Pima!: Pima (Mimi Rogers) charts her own course through the 1970s New York City art scene. Pima doesn't take no for an answer. Pima knows what's up, and she's seen where the bodies are buried. There's nobody you'd rather spend your Sunday nights with than Pima.

Photographer by day, private investigator by night, Pima's got what it takes to keep you tuning in. And when she has the sweetly befuddled Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) by her side, well, there's nothing she can't do. Pima! This fall on AMC.

I could go on, but I think you guys see my point. "New Business" doesn't feel like the episode that should be airing with just six episodes left. It feels like the sort of thing you might toss into the middle of season four, just to see what will happen and if anybody sparks to one of the new characters.

And don't get me wrong — I like the overly melodramatic Diana in spite of myself. But this is still an episode that feels like it's not quite sure where any of this is going. I'm not particularly worried, as Mad Men seasons always start a little slowly before gaining momentum, but the fact that this half-season is only seven episodes long — and technically part of a longer season that had similar structural problems in its first half-season — definitely has me ever-so-slightly concerned.

One thing I'm taking solace in, however: every single final season I can think of has at least one episode that pretty much everybody hated the first time it aired. "New Business" isn't the finale, so if the rest of the season picks up, we likely will reduce this one to a footnote in due time.

What did you think? Are you guys in the "worst episode ever" camp, or the "eh, it was pretty bad but not that bad" camp with me? And did you notice Megan said "fuck"? They apparently can do that now.

Read the recap and come back later today for thoughts from Dylan and Libby.

Previous episode's discussion

Next: Dylan Matthews on Diana as Don's "Cool Girl"

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