Mad Men often deals with family issues, but it was everywhere in The Strategy. The Detroit businessmen ask Ken Cosgrove about his during New York’s greatest pirate’s 5 seconds on screen. Bob Benson tries to form an imperfect union with Joan. Pete Campbell has been trying to put up a happy front without his, but it all comes crumbling down when Trudy goes on a date instead of hanging around to deal with her rapidly balding ex.
And then there’s Don. We don’t see most of his actual family this week. The kids are off with Betty in the Haunted Mansion. His wife has been trying to get him to live her life on the west coast. That’s not what Don needs. He needs his advertising family, specifically his quasi daughter in Peggy .
Peggy has dealt with the disappointment of not entirely having her say on creative matters at SC&P all season. This episode makes it seem like she’s actually surrounded by the people holding her back. She’s supposed to be calling the shots on the Burger Chef project, but there’s Pete telling her that Don should pitch it. She already had Don forced onto her team for the project. Now, she’s being told how to pitch her own work.
Peggy tries to make it look like this was her idea, and Don tries to play the role of being a team player. He throws an idea out there and suggests that there could another and better way to do this ad. Don inceptioned the shit out of Peggy. Just giving her that inkling of knowledge that there is another way and that she could possibly do better is too much to resist. It infects her. She obsesses over it and spends her weekend at the office. But she doesn’t want Don’s idea, she wants her own.
In some ways, this episode serves as a sequel to The Suitcase. Hell, there was even mention of Peggy’s birthday (Don, naturally, didn’t realize that it had passed). So much of Mad Men comes down to the Don and Peggy dynamic. They’ve been at odds all season long. It’s a relief to see them finally hash things out. Don and Peggy need each other. Lou can give her all of the encouragement in the world, but he’s still not Don. Peggy needs to understand how Don works in order to be Don (creatively speaking, no one wants Don’s train wreck of a life).
Mad Men also loves to look at parent-child relationships, specifically fathers and daughters. Roger tried to bring his daughter back from the hippie lifestyle. Pete’s daughter doesn’t even know who he is. Don reached a new level of understanding with his real daughter earlier this season, and now it’s time to reconcile with his work daughter. They bond over rum and brainstorm in his old office. Don has come a long way since breaking down in The Suitcase. He’s finally working at the same level as Peggy. They’re two colleagues, brainstorming and pondering just what’s happened to their lives while burning the midnight oil.
The moment where Don and Peggy dance in his old office might be the sweetest in the show’s history. I was expecting the show to end there, with Sinatra’s My Way playing. The show kept going and wrapped up with Don, Peggy, and Pete breaking bread as an impromptu family in Burger Chef. It tied in thematically with Peggy’s new and improved commercial idea, but it wasn’t the lovely shot of these two wonderful, conflicted characters coming together over an old-fashioned song released in the crazy days of 1969.