“Severance,” the new episode of Mad Men, is set in April 1970, a year after the previous, and the excitement and drama surrounding the moon landing has subsided into a return to the old ways for Don Draper.
In the process of divorcing his second wife, he seems to have given up on monogamy again, if indeed he ever picked it up.
Where Don has given up, Peggy, however, is still wistful, still longing for a connection, and against her better judgement allows herself to be set up on a date by a co-worker. And a character we don’t get to see enough of, Ken Cosgrove, gets a bit of time as he is fired from the agency, then pops straight back up as a client to get revenge.
The very last half of the very last season of Mad Men is upon us. Entitled “The End of an Era,” the show is slowly, surely, tying off the ends of our beloved characters, and the tying begins in this episode eight.
The episode is undeniably gloomy, and portentous of a great doom, while maybe not one as literal as that in other dramas. Nonetheless it seems to be a real downer for the characters that have been realized in front of us over the last 8 years. Characters we have come to cherish as authentic human beings, even if we can’t love them as good people
The title “Severance” is bitterly ironic for one character in partic-ular, whose plot seems to be end-ed in this episode. It refers to the severance package offered to Ken as he’s cut from the company. Ken hates the industry, but in the end cannot sever himself from it, even when handed the chance.
He jumps at the chance to become a client of the agency in order to torment them. He’s drawn back in, and unable to serve as a soldier in the ranks, becomes a ghost instead, a spectre whose body is no longer needed but whose malignant soul lingers to wrestle with the immense dissatisfaction he left behind.
Another tie is cut in “Severance,” this one for Don. Rachel Menken dies, and he hears about it second-hand. Distraught, he goes to the funeral but is prevented from participating due to not being Jewish. In a way, it’s a fitting end for the character, a fiercely independent woman who was unreservedly proud of her Jewish heritage. Don was always an outsider to her, although in some ways they seemed to understand each other better than anyone.
The death of Rachel, devoted as she was to family and heritage, may symbolize the end of some part of Don. As he weeps in the corner, per-haps he is weeping for that death: the end of his last personal connections, his wives divorced, his children seemingly estranged, already so long removed from family, and kept from the one he felt perhaps the most kinship for, even in death.
Don is shown floundering for a connection to draw, his dreams mingling with memories, his memories tampering with reality. “Don’t I know you?” he asks a waitress, sincerely. He doesn’t, and she tells him so, but he lingers anyway.
Finally, there’s Peggy. Like Ken, Peggy is given the option to escape. She takes a leap of faith to meet a man on a blind date, it goes well. Peggy reveals that she’s never been on a vacation, and the two decide to fly to Paris that very night. But she can’t find her passport, and the plot is postponed.
Peggy finds it in her desk the next morning, as if the very office itself was trying to hold her back. She tries to dismiss the earlier nights plans as foolish. But the book hasn’t been finished for Peggy as seems to be for Ken, not by a long shot.
She can still save herself, go to Paris, fall in love, and you get the feeling that the writers, as well as the audience, want her to. Whether or not they allow her to, whether they allow their characters any happiness, is what we’ll have to wait for the next six episodes to find out