Warning: Spoiler Alert
Last week, in the midseason premiere, Ken spoke to Don about “the life not lived.” In Episode 7.9, New Business, Don encounters a wide array of his life’s experiences, with most of them being paths that he traversed and abandoned. With only five episodes remaining in the series, the lessons that he drew from these experiences remain as oblique as ever.
What seemed most noteworthy was his new relationship with the diner waitress, Diana. Despite her admonition to leave him alone, he follows up on his apparent (that qualifier must be used, because Matthew Weiner doesn’t ever want us to get too cocky about thinking that we know what’s in these characters’ heads) sense that she can fill the emptiness that is threatening to swallow him whole. Her misunderstanding about Don having been soliciting her in the previous episode stems from her being a newcomer to the big city and thinking the worst about the expectations of the rich and powerful in the Big Apple.
And while frustration has been noted in this space previously about the winding character paths of Don and Company, sometimes Weiner pulls out a tie-in that is so stunning that it seems apparent that few, if any, other showrunners could manage it. In this case, Diana turns out to be a guilt-ridden runaway from Racine, WI, who was so traumatized by the death of one daughter that she abandoned her other one, her husband and her tranquil middle-class life. So the very woman who only materialized in Don’s life because she reminded him of a/the “one who got away,” Rachel, is living the life that Don almost lived with Rachel. Remember the moment that caused Rachel to peer at Don with true, undisguised disgust for the first time: when Don, terrified of Pete detonating the “Dick Whitman bomb,” wanted to run away with her to Los Angeles and leave his entire life – children certainly included – behind. For Diana, a deeply unhappy woman wanting to remain numb to the pain she suffered and is inflicting on her fellow family survivors, the reason for fleeing is more serious than Don’s would have been, but the emotional torment is the same as Don would have felt and would have inflicted on Sally, Bobby and Gene. After an episode that seemed to indicate that Don and the mysterious Diana might be able to find emotional refuge together, in a turning-the-page dynamic that each needs, her revelation at the end and plea for Don to let her try to resume her numbness in peace seems to indicate that the fledgling relationship is doomed.
Now, there’s a school of thought that indicates that heartbreak can be dealt with by getting distracted by another, less emotionally fraught matter to cause anger. If that’s the case, then Don is the luckiest man in the world, because he arrives home from his apparent end with Diana to discover that his luxury apartment is completely empty!
The story of how that happened seemed to check off every box on the “why people hate French/French Canadians” stereotype, so if there’s any pressure groups who monitor such matters, Weiner should be expecting some hate mail in his inbox after this episode. Megan, with her insufferable mother and sister in tow, has come to collect her share of the furniture to take back to Los Angeles. Also, Megan, who was last seen telling Don that he doesn’t owe her anything, has since devolved into bitterness and a sense of entitlement when it comes to Don’s money. Don generously foots the bill for the entire matter to go down smoothly, except it doesn’t when Marie decides that her daughter is “owed more” and directs the movers to take it all away. Naturally, Don is at the office and, subsequently, on a golf course with clients when his hateful mother-in-law ups the ante. And naturally, the movers demand more money when they are instructed to exceed the agreed-upon labor. And naturally, Marie calls Roger to deliver the money when she cannot reach Don. And naturally, Marie and Roger demonstrate that furniture is completely unnecessary when it comes to defiling her marriage. Seriously, for as much as the big picture with this show can be hard to decipher, sometimes connecting the dots within an episode takes no effort at all.
So Don’s starting over from scratch in his “dee-lux apartment … in the sky—yyy—yyy” (hey, in five years, George Jefferson’s going to become his neighbor – what a crossover that would have been) as he continues to glance at the discarded used pieces of his life around him. As he is departing Henry’s home after a visit with the kids, he stares wistfully at the family tableau – after having been amused a few minutes earlier by Betty’s declaration that she’s going to be obtaining a Master’s in psychology. If there’s not a sequel to the show portraying the lost souls of the Seventies doomed to broken lives by the spoiled, self-centered advice of TV’s most unlikeable trophy wife (yes, including all the Bravo reality shows), then that will be a big disappointment. Don also encounters Sylvia and Arnold in the elevator of his building, the first time that they’ve been shown since the end of that most unfortunate affair. Based on Arnold’s attitude, it seems that he’s sussed out the betrayal of his “friend” and his wife, but Don doesn’t appear to feel anything in particular when he sees them.
Having either Arnold or Sylvia drop a little knowledge on Megan just to add more bitterness and truculence to the divorce would have been a nice touch, but really, it’s not like she needs any more. She herself figured out that Don was making “the O face” with other lasses and with her career on the rocks – starting from her resignation from the soap opera when she thought that she and Don were moving to California – she’s guzzling from her flask of Haterade every chance that she gets. A lunch meeting with Harry that is supposed to lead her to better representation turns into a typical, unclassy Harry-on-the-make scene. His scurrying, preemptive attempt to cover himself with Don by denouncing Megan as unstable (after he, naturally, disparaged Don to try to get into her pants) and untrustworthy is on the all-time top tier of Reprehensible Crane Moments. Never change, Harry, you thoroughly entertaining perv!
In the end, Megan’s guilt-tripping of Don leads to him scratching her a check for a cool million (albeit before he discovers the cleaned-out apartment, so the first off-camera move he makes is probably to stop payment ASAP!) and Marie leaves her husband for Roger. Chances that Roger sticks around with somebody infinitely more annoying and frankly, less attractive than his two ex-wives and many paramours that he discarded: zero.
The other main subplot was, quite frankly, simply bizarre. Talented and sensuous celebrity photographer Pima Ryan (played in very fine fashion by Mimi Rogers) works with Peggy, Stan and the crew on a campaign. Knowing that the Sterling Cooper folks are in awe of her stature, after critiquing Stan’s work, she seduces him in the darkroom – and she begins to make an unreciprocated move on Peggy. Both Stan and Peggy seem hurt by the revelation that Pima was apparently toying with the both of them. Honestly, though, Pima’s games don’t seem like they’re going to leave a permanent imprint on any of the characters and, with five episodes left, the time for providing any resolution is fading away. Of course, that’s assuming that resolution is on the agenda and, as previously explored in this corner, that belief cannot be taken for granted.
Rarely is the reaction of a program on social media noteworthy enough to be chronicled here, but 7.9 proves the exception to the rule: fans and critics were scratching their heads about the insertion of new (Pima and Megan’s snotty sister), relatively new (Diana), thought-to-be-done (Megan) and hoped-were-forgotten (Marie) females into a story that is literally comprised solely of loose ends at this point. Some of the reaction seemed a bit over the top, but credit must be given to everyone who sounded the note of alarm: if Weiner tries to build a serious, all-consuming sense of resolution in the final five episodes but seems to run out of time, then New Business will be a missed opportunity. And if his artistic choice – which would be brave, but broadly unsatisfying to many – is to reject the notion of resolution itself as unrealistic, then New Business will serve in retrospect as the sign of Weiner’s path. Everyone who loves Mad Men is rooting for it to end “the right way.” In a perfect world, Weiner’s vision aligns with those who love the show. Will it happen? The smart money right now says that we won’t know until the curtain comes down on May 17.