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 editor-in-chief Ezra Klein and foreign policy writer Amanda Taub.
Todd VanDerWerff: Hi, I'm Todd VanDerWerff, reverse Don Draper — I only like the endings of things, which makes this as good a time as any to discuss where things seem to be headed as Mad Men enters its final hours.
From one point of view, the employees of the central advertising firm finally have it all. They've managed to attain both success and stability; they just had to sell out to get there. The encroachment of McCann-Erickson into the world of Sterling Cooper & Partners was inevitable. The show has always featured prominently the idea that the thing you try the hardest to escape will almost certainly catch you eventually, so the fact that SC&P has been purchased by the firm the characters literally left their original company to avoid has a ghoulish resonance to it.
McCann-Erickson has promised to let SC&P operate as an independent subsidiary, but that already seems unlikely. Sure, getting rid of Ken is ultimately a rather minor request in the face of things, but it also seems a harbinger of things to come. Even if you can't change yourself without extreme effort — and even then, it's often impossible — you can't escape the change that surrounds you, the plot twists that will devour you whole.
If I'm going to guess where these final six episodes will go based on "Severance," then, I imagine they will have their fair amount of dissolution. The characters — having gotten what they superficially wanted — ask, "Is that all there is?" And then the other shoe drops, and they realize how tentative what they wanted in the first place is.
That's why Don's scenes with the waitress strike me as so important, beyond the obvious dreamlike quality that always makes it seem as if this episode is taking place amid a haze. She sees him as a business transaction, as someone who believes she can be bought. Don wants desperately to connect with her but also isn't above having sex with her when she offers. He wants to be honest (notice how he tells an impromptu story about his destitute childhood at the diner earlier in the episode), but he cannot. He's weighed down by history, just like everybody.
In its own way, then, the show begins its march into the '70s, a period when the United States would seem to many of its citizens to be splitting apart at the seams. "Severance's" evocation of 1970 reminds me of the way the show's very first season evoked 1960 — which is to say it seems an extension of the '60s in the same way 1960 seemed like 1959, part two.
That's how time works, of course. We think of it in distinct units — like "The '70s!" with bell-bottom pants and disco — but we wake up one day and look back and realize how far we've come and how much we've lost in the course of getting there.
The question, then, is whether Don — or any of these characters — realizes the same.
What do you guys see forthcoming? (I will admit my own personal hope is that the show starts taking China Beach–style time jumps, leaping forward in time with greater and greater abandon — except as gifted an actress as Kiernan Shipka is, I doubt she could play Sally in her 40s.)
Read the recap. Come back tomorrow for Ezra's thoughts on where this is all headed.
Next: Ezra Klein reflects on the changing nature of advertising.