“I don’t believe in fate. Make your own opportunities.” -Don Draper
There has been some grumbling around the Internet that not enough is happening on this season of ‘Mad Men,’ that the episodes don’t feel focused and that they aren’t building towards something tangible. Putting aside the fact that ‘Mad Men’ seasons never feel like they’re about much of anything initially, I haven’t been overly concerned about the lack of a central theme for the season. I’d watch these characters watch paint dry and enjoy it (note: this episode literally featured a paint drying scene in Peggy’s new apartment), and ‘Mad Men’ has a way of getting to its point when it’s good and ready.
Still, the chorus of “nothing is happening!” has steadily grown in volume. Which is why “For Immediate Release,” a thrilling roller coaster of an episode that is instantly (and in my opinion, unquestionably) the best hour of television so far in 2013, is all the more startling. ’Mad Men’ season 6 has officially arrived.
Here’s how we knew that ‘Mad Men’ wasn’t f’ing around tonight: the episode opens with (it OPENS with!) Bert, Pete, and Joan finalizing a secret deal to take Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce public, without Don’s knowledge. The deal will make all the partners super rich, though as Joan points out, Don’s not motivated by money.
But from there things take quite a turn, half because of Don, and half because of Pete.
Don and Roger are called to dinner by Herb from Jaguar, and based on all available knowledge about Herb, nobody expects it to go well. Roger, always eager for a war metaphor, encourages Don to bring Megan and her visiting mother in order to “pack it with spouses, limit the explosion.” But Roger is called to the airport by the ever-helpful stewardness he’s sleeping with to meet a potential client, meaning it’s just Don and the ladies at dinner with the loathsome Herb. Not a good idea. After Herb’s wife makes some truly atrocious small talk, hilariously mocked in French by Marie, the ladies exit, leaving Don alone with him. Herb recklessly suggests that Don run all his work by the kid who makes flyers for Herb’s dealerships, Don overreacts and quits the account, mocks Herb for being fat, and drops Jaguar as a client.
The next morning, an apopletic Pete is so worked up that he falls on his ass while stomping down the stairs to shout at Don. Losing Jaguar would be catastrophic for SCDP under normal circumstances, but on the day the public offering was supposed to be finalized, it’s almost unthinkable, especially for Pete and Joan. Don didn’t know about the IPO or that his actions would spike it, so he’s furious about that, Pete’s furious about losing a fortune, and Joan’s furious both about losing a fortune and the fact that Don couldn’t live with a client that she gave away her dignity to secure.
So who rides in to save the day? Roger motherf#%ing Sterling.
For the last 2+ seasons, Roger’s been on cruise control, firing off one liners and throwing money at any problem that comes his way. He also hasn’t done a lick of real work. But Roger appears to have quietly recommitted himself to being an accounts man – he’s even started shining his own shoes! – and the tip from his trusty stewardess pays off. Turns out the man he meets at the airport is Mikey O’Brien from GM, and he’s looking for a new agency to promote the newest Chevy, an absolutely massive potential account. Roger gets SCDP a meeting in Detroit on that Friday, which would have probably required dropping Jaguar as a client, anyway.
The creative team kicks in to action, and with Friday approaching, we see two scenes with Don that shape his actions for the rest of the hour. First, he runs into Dr. Arnold Rosen in the elevator, who has just quit his job in New York in disgust after the hospital got cold feet over allowing him to perform the first American heart transplant. Rosen is angry at fate, but Don drops the quote at the top of this article in a way that only Don Draper can.
Second, an empowered Megan – after a rousing pep talk from her mom that basically boiled down to “GET SOME!” – gives Don a rousing good luck blowjob. So yeah, Don’s ready to go.
And he ends up needing all the luck he can get, because as Don and Roger are waiting for their flight to Detroit, they learn from the competition that SCDP has lost Vick’s.
Earlier in the episode, Pete did what Pete does and visited a brothel to celebrate his upcoming wealth from the public offering. He saw his father-in-law there, but didn’t think much of it because A) he’s a slimeball and assumes everyone else is too, and B) because of Ken’s story about “mutually assured destruction,” how neither can tell on the other for fear that the other will tell on him. But for all his indescretions with the “biggest, blackest prostitute you have ever seen,” Pete’s father-in-law dearly loves his daughter, and immediately severs all ties, business or otherwise, with Pete.
Losing Jaguar was bad, but losing Vick’s is game over for SCDP. The company is done. The Chevy pitch is the final hail mary, and Don and Roger know it.
The next we see of Don, he’s drinking alone at a bar in Detroit when Teddy Chaough walks in. Don doesn’t know it, but Teddy’s run into trouble of his own – one of his partners has come down with cancer, which will not only be impactful to his business but will require the other two partners to buy out a third of the company. Upon seeing Don, Teddy quickly does the math and realizes neither he nor Don have a shot at this account – GM is going to take their work, and give it to the larger third agency that has Detroit offices and can throw countless people at the account. Don knows Teddy is right, and the two men commiserate and do their pitches for one another for funsies.
Suddenly, Don Draper has an idea.
Don suggests that he and Teddy go in on the pitch together, pooling their resources to create a company large enough to appeal to GM. It’s Don’s one and only play, and it doesn’t take much convincing to get Teddy on board.
After a spiteful Pete throws away his marriage once and for all, we see Peggy in the CGC offices called in to meet with Teddy, who she briefly kissed earlier in the hour. Peggy’s new apartment isn’t exactly going smoothly, and while Abe’s quite at home with kids playing music on their stoop and the occasional junkie pooping on the stairs, Peggy would rather things stay the way they were.
So Peggy’s shock is palpable as she walks into Ted’s office, finds out that they got the Chevy account, and sees Don Draper sitting on the couch.
In a brilliant last-ditch effort, Don saves SCDP by not only teaming up with CGC to win Chevy, but by engineering a merge to combine the two companies into a top-25 national agency, led by Teddy. Peggy’s the new copy chief, and she gets the honor of writing the press release announcing the merger, thus lending the episode its title.
This was a simply incredible hour of television, full of ups and downs that culminated with an exhilirating and unpredictable finish. I’ve had a strong sense that SCDP was going down for a few weeks now, but I didn’t think it was happening this quickly, nor did I think Don could fix it.
While the personal lives of the characters on ‘Mad Men’ are fascinating, the show is just so damn exciting when an episode is centered almost entirely around the professional side of things. ”For Immediate Release” is strongly reminiscent of “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”, the season 3 finale that also happens to be my favorite episode of the series to date. Tonight’s episode had the same ‘caper’ vibe, and once again a thunderbolt of an idea from Don Draper saved the day.
I don’t know how the new agency will function going forward, and in fact I could see it going poorly. But for now, this hour is a triumph – both for the characters on the show, and for the show itself.