Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the previous episode of Mad Men 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.
Libby Nelson: We should have known this would be a Megan-centric episode from the opening shot of Don making a milkshake for his children. If Megan hadn't calmly wiped up Bobby and Sally's spilled milkshake in "Tomorrowland," the fourth-season finale, Don might still have his furniture and Megan might not have her $1 million check.
If "New Business" is Megan's final goodbye — and I hope it is — I can't think of a sendoff that better encapsulates her character: unfocused, dull, and forgettable, yet somehow still disliked out of proportion to its faults.
I never really understood the vitriol many fans had toward Megan (I'd like every minute I spent reading online comments about actress Jessica Paré's teeth back, please). But the worst sin a Mad Men character can commit, it seems, is to be boring. Megan's character inspired so many crazy conspiracy theories (she'll be murdered by the Manson family! no, she's already dead, and Don is hallucinating her!) because it seems hard to accept that a Mad Men character can be so uninteresting.
And it's true that Megan was more or less a paper doll: I loved gawping at her clothes, but I never understood what she wanted, or even what she thought she wanted. I understand why Don married her over Dr. Faye, the far more interesting, complicated woman he was dating at the time, but I never understood why she wanted to marry Don. Status? Money? A visa to make it easier for her to work in Hollywood? And even while I'm enjoying my revisionist history of Megan and Don's marriage as a long-running immigration scam, I can't quite believe it, because Megan's devotion to acting never seemed quite real.
Maybe Megan was just too normal for Mad Men's world. And thus, Dylan, I share your affection for the weird, dark Diana. Her line about buying her perfume from Avon in her living room in Wisconsin jumped out from an otherwise lackluster episode.
Although Todd's right that her background is stuffed with melodrama — her ex-husband of 12 years back in Racine, her daughter died of the flu, she abandoned her other daughter to move to New York — highbrow melodrama isn't out of place at all in the world of Mad Men. Perhaps the impact is greater because we get the whole story at once, but nothing that's happened to Diana is more dramatic or improbable than Don's arc, or Joan's, or Peggy's.
And that brings us to the real "new business" of the episode: Pima. To me, it seemed like the latest variation on an old Mad Men theme: sex as quid pro quo, often an expected quid pro quo. This runs throughout the series, starting with Peggy's awkward pass at Don in the season premiere, but this episode was particularly full of it: Marie Calvet slept with Roger so she could pay the movers; Harry propositioned Megan in his imagined role as Hollywood agent; Pima propositioned Stan, successfully, and Peggy, unsuccessfully but intriguingly.
Like you, Dylan, I thought for half a second that Peggy might play along, too. But the more I reflect on her scene, the more I think about what it says about Peggy's power in that situation. Peggy started at Sterling Cooper as the secretary making herself sexually available to her boss because she thought it was what she was supposed to do. She's endured an absurd degree of sexual harassment, including the Topaz meeting in the midseason premiere. But this is the first time, as far as I can remember, that she unequivocally had the upper hand — that someone was using sex to try to get something else out of her. There are so many quietly radical dimensions to that scene that symbolize how much times have changed since the beginning of the series.
Speaking of symbolism, "new business," in Robert's Rules of Order, refers to what's introduced near the end of a meeting, after all the pressing decisions are made. "New business" just sits there; it isn't voted upon until it becomes old business, at the beginning of the next meeting. That's a startlingly accurate, if not particularly flattering, description of this episode: the loose ends have already been tied up, so here are some new characters to throw into the mix!
But eventually, at least in the world of meetings, new business always becomes old business. With five episodes to go, I can't tell if any of this was important. Todd and Dylan, do you think we've seen the last of Pima, Diana, and the Calvets? Will our only farewell to Betty be her line about pursuing a master's degree? And — to answer my most shamefully pressing question — did Peggy ever go to Paris?
Read the recap and come back later today for more thoughts from Dylan.
Next: Dylan Matthews on why the ending is likely to frustrate many