Mad Men 7×06 ‘The Strategy’: What do you want?

Mad Men 7x06 Cover

“No, you’re not, Bob.  Because I want love.  And I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement.  And you should too.” –Joan Holloway

“I’m just being realistic.” –Bob Benson

If Mad Men could be boiled down to a story about one idea, that idea would be the concept of “want”.  When approaching the topic of advertisement, it would be easy for Mad Men to argue that advertisement is the manipulation of people in order to make them want something.  Instead, it’s consistently approached from the perspective of the consumer.  Everybody wants everything.  They want to add to what they already have because what they already have isn’t enough.  It’s not scratching that itch, the one that continually prods us because life isn’t enough to make us happy.

Mad Men 7x06-3

Source: AMC

This is one of those episodes of Mad Men that seems like it’s sprawling in all directions until the end, where it’s revealed what everything is cohering into.  Everybody in “The Strategy” is looking for that happiness through trying to acquire something new.  Pete wants to feel like he’s included somewhere, but neither his family nor his new girlfriend will give him that unconditional acceptance.  Trudy wants a divorce but Pete isn’t willing to disconnect from her with that kind of finality.  He sees how his daughter already doesn’t really remember him, how even she isn’t able to love him.  But in trying to hold on to a family that he has already lost, he abandons the prospects of what might be.  Bonnie wants to get closer to Pete, but he stands her up in order to stay and take care of his daughter.  But it’s just part of a plan, a strategy.  Pete is looking for a way to get what he wants, but his strategy excludes the reality that Trudy doesn’t want him anymore.

Mad Men 7x06-2

Source: AMC

That idea of “The Strategy” permeates the rest of the episode as well.  Bob is looking for normalcy and is trying to exploit Joan through a marriage proposal.  He sees the ramifications of living life as an openly homosexual man in the 1960s through the life of that Chevy executive who was busted and beaten for trying to give fellatio to an undercover officer.  He wants to live out his life, but finding what he wants is unbelievably difficult.  It’s even harder to consider taking a leap of faith to get what you want when failure has such a physical presence around you.  There are always people around you who have failed, and it makes sense to play it safe to avoid becoming that.  So Bob’s strategy is to live his life as Sal did, pretending that he’s normal until maybe he feels normal.  But he, like Pete, is ignoring the truth of the matter: that he’s a homosexual man and those feelings will never go away.

Joan, on the other hand, has the strength to accept the truth of her situation.  She wants so badly to experience the utopian domestic love that she was raised believing existed, but she’s experienced enough with her ex-husband Greg to know that such love isn’t only hard to find, but that delusion can result in gross miscalculation.  So, she has the experience to understand that her future with Bob would be a dismal lie.  Only, when he says that he’s being realistic, he’s echoing the sentiment that finding that utopia and satisfying that basic human need is likely an impossibility.  Joan may be saying that she’s rather die with hope than with a lie, but how comforting is hope when you’re facing the end of your life alone?  Is it ever worth cutting your losses and settling for a lie if it means shutting out the possibility of finding something real?

Mad Men 7x06-4

Source: AMC

But the most beautiful moment in the episode comes from Don and Peggy, who both have some of the series’ best moments.  Their connection in Season 4’s “The Suitcase” makes that one of the series’ finest hours, and their storyline here elevates “The Strategy” to the season’s best episode, if not a series highlight.  Peggy has created a strategy for Burger Chef that is all her own, a creation that she is infinitely proud of.  But it’s one that is being contorted by those around her.  Pete wants Don to pitch Peggy’s idea, pushing her to take a supporting role.  Don questions her idea, wondering about taking the pitch from a new angle.  Peggy has seen her ideas questioned and dismissed her entire career, so seeing Don take power again has her furious with him.

Mad Men 7x06-1

Source: AMC

But Don has been the one person who has consistently supported her throughout the years, even when he’s torn her down during times like Season 6.  Instead of pandering to her and instead of lashing out at her childish behavior, he pushes her to become better.  He pushes her to continue thinking through her idea, working through a structured process until they get to the basic human need that Burger Chef has an answer for.  Because the products aren’t an answer for a simple problem, such as what to use to best clean something.  Products are answers for questions we have about our lives, about basic human needs that we have.  So the connection that binds Don and Peggy comes from that desire to dive into what advertising really accomplishes.  Peggy has always been a younger version of Don, and their dance at the end exemplifies that now more than ever.  It’s not a romantic dance.  It’s more akin to a father-daughter dance, a nurturing dance that shows paternal love more than anything else.

Because, when it comes down to it, people are the only things that get us through the day.  Look at the final scene, where Don and Peggy help Pete clear some ketchup off of his face.  They could have made fun of him, but they decided to help him out.  It may be on a smaller scale, but it’s still human connection that reminds us that we’re valid, that we have what it takes to achieve great things, that we can maybe achieve what we’ve always wanted.  It’s not strategizing that gets us closer to what we want.  It’s remembering that we have those around us, a family, biological or not, to hold our hand through the uncertain times.

So what did you think of “The Strategy”?  Did the Don and Peggy moment melt your heart like it did mine?  And what do you think will happen in the finale, “Waterloo”?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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