“New Business,” the ninth episode of Mad Men’s seventh and final season, is all about one question: Am I getting what I deserve?
Written by Tom Smuts and Matthew Weiner and directed by Michael Uppendahl, “New Business” lets us in on what Megan has been up to since we saw her in the summer of 1969. The answer? Not much. Her tune has changed from the phone conversation with Don in episode seven, “Waterloo”; she’s no longer answering Don’s “I’ll take care of you” with “You don’t owe me anything.” At first glance, the harshness of Megan’s turn against Don — much of it stemming from having been riled up by her mother and sister, not to mention the disgustingness of Harry Crane — appeared bordering on character assassination. But a lot can happen in almost a year when you’re getting a divorce and not getting acting jobs.
Now more so than ever, Megan is in line with her generation and the collective sense of disillusionment and entitlement. She’s wrong in her bitterness; she’s not being punished for being young and for believing Don would change. In truth, she’s not being punished at all, and her life is far from ruined. Her dreams haven’t come true, sure, but she hasn’t been fighting for them. She’s been waiting for them to fall in her lap. How I wish she would have torn up the check for $1 million Don gave her. She clearly saw Harry’s machinations for what they were, and she wasn’t interested in sleeping her way to a better career. But turn his words to her around — “Megan, you’re a big girl. Maybe you’re in this situation because of how you’re reacting to this.” — and consider them where it comes to Don. Talk about taking the easy way out. She’s young, smart, healthy — find a job, Megan. Move on. A man with no family who grew up during the Depression with nothing gave a woman born into comfort slightly ahead of the Baby Boomers a check to set her up for life. She got what she thought she deserved, but she didn’t earn it. Don brushed off Roger’s settlement warnings by saying Megan isn’t like Jane, but is that entirely true?
Don is filled with more resignation than guilt, more pain than anger. Divorce can be ugly, and he’s sorry for Megan’s sake. As he looks at the Francis household, with Betty and Henry and his two boys seeming to get along in domesticity (and Betty going back to school! For psychology!), he still wonders where things went wrong — why he still hasn’t found that tableau of his own, or at least one that will last. His true growth, however, shows through in relation to Diana. They’re two sides of the same coin, so naturally he’s attracted to her. But she’s down a hole he’s already crawled out of, one of darkness and the belief of deserving to be in pain at all times. When she’s with him, she says, there’s a twinge in her stomach, a feeling of being alive and, while not happy, perhaps content for the moment. That takes her away from the anguish of knowing she lost one of her daughters two years ago to the flu, and she can’t have that. “I know you think you deserve this,” Don says. “I’ve done it.” He eventually walks away, after quickly failing at “fixing” the situation by taking care of her like he took care of Megan, with money, and things. He knows too well he can’t save her. She has to save herself.
To a degree, that’s what Megan sees Marie doing. Her sanctimonious sister Marie-France sits crying at the news that Marie has decided to leave their father and presumably go to Roger, to whom she’d already turned with the desire to feel better. (This after cleaning out Don’s apartment, deciding Megan deserved more than her original belongings and blaming Don for her daughter’s unhappiness.) “You know it’s a sin to be a ghoul and feed on everyone’s pain?,” Megan tells her sister. “She’s been very unhappy for a very long time. At least she did something about it.” That’s more of the Megan we know, practical and willing to accept change. Her blind spot is the change that needs to happen in her own life.
She’s a nice contrast to Peggy, who also smells a rat this episode, as the photographer Pima Ryan (Mimi Rogers) charms her way around SC&P’s creative department. She’s alluring and knows how to get what she wants, but hearing of Pima’s seducing of Stan only makes Peggy recoil from the earlier advances she herself had received from the photographer. “She’s a hustler,” Peggy says, and her collaboration with the agency is over. “I don’t believe you,” Stan says. “Which part?,” she replies. Peggy still shies at outright respect she receives, such as when Pima compliments her authority at the photo shoot, but when it comes down to it, she know she deserves it, and deserves it authentically. She’s not interested in whatever snake oil Pima or anyone else is peddling. She worked hard to get here. Stan’s a contrast to her as well, doubting his talents along with his relationship to Elaine in the light of Pima, not realizing that her talent is amplified by all the smoke and mirrors she carries around.
At first glance, “New Business” feels slightly frustrating from a fan’s perspective. Perhaps it is the introduction of three characters this close to the finale, with Marie-France (did we even know Megan had a sister?), Elaine, and Pima, and spending time focusing on another new character, Diana. We even saw Arnold and Sylvia Rosen! That’s three of Don’s brunettes showing up in the same apartment building in one episode, with Betty kept safely apart in the suburbs, just as she’s kept apart from Don’s other lovers in his mind. We’re inching closer to whatever level of resolution we’ll see for the main Mad Men characters, but for most of them, “New Business” didn’t take us very far, if at all, down that road. Yet the journey is just as important, if not more so, than the end point, which I like to think Don was telling Pete as they drove to golf with clients. “You think you’re going to begin your life over and do it right, but what if you never get past the beginning again?,” Pete asks. “Watch the road,” Don answers. It’s not over. That goes for the grumblers and naysayers out there, too, complaining the show isn’t delivering what they think it should — what they think they deserve to see. Watch the show — see where it takes us.
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. You can find her on Twitter.