Mad Men 7×09 ‘New Business’: Out with the old…

Mad Men 7x09 Cover

Life is full of new beginnings.  We decide that the path we’re on isn’t what we wanted, and so we embark new into unknown territory, trying to make this story better than the last.  Because, in essence, our life is a story, and it’s made up of smaller stories.  We can choose to see these smaller stories through to their conclusions, or we can start new and try to find one that will lead somewhere better.  Only the beginning is the most exciting part of the story, and as a people who crave excitement, we always want to experience the excitement and the passion and the energy of those beginnings.  However, if we live only for those beginnings, we damage those along the way that we may have robbed of their stories, using them in order to keep our high.  And that damage piles up, to the point that we only realize how much pain we’ve created and how little we’ve created of anything else.

Mad Men 7x09-2

Source: AMC

“New Business” is all about beginnings, about the passion and the energy that comes with them.  But it’s also about people who realize that their fixation on those beginnings has robbed them of anything truly meaningful.  The A-plot fixates on Don and the women around him, and it smartly reaches back into the past to remind us of all the beginnings he had.  Don starts up a relationship with the woman he slept with in “Severance”, Diana, and their relationship is full of passion and lust.  It’s not because there’s a particularly deep connection between them; it’s because they’re both immensely lonely people who have experienced incredible loss and are hamstrung by their pasts.  Don is finalizing his divorce with Megan, who is incredibly bitter and angry at him, while Diana just lost one of her daughters and left her other daughter with the father.  She’s new to New York and doesn’t know how to deal with all of the loss in her life.  Don and Diana want to be in love, but they’re too broken, their bond only formed by loss.

Mad Men 7x09-1

Source: AMC

Don’s past seems to follow him everywhere he goes, even though he tries so feverishly to get rid of it.  He sees Betty and lingers on an image of her, Henry, and his two sons in the kitchen together, seeing an ending he could have had himself.  He finalizes the divorce with Megan, whose belongings still litter his apartment.  He sees Sylvia in the elevator, still with her husband, where they share an awkward greeting with Diana present.  Diana asks him, “How many women have you had in this elevator?”, and it reminds us of all the beginnings Don has had with all the women he’s been with.  It frames his sexual escapades as this sad desire to connect, to feel the excitement of a beginning.  But the excitement always ends and it always leaves sadness in its wake.

Mad Men 7x09-3

Source: AMC

Consider how Megan is framed in this episode.  Everyone tries to use her to their own ends.  Her sister constantly snaps at her for divorcing Don because she’s so miserable in her own marriage.  Her mother takes all the furniture from Don’s apartment as revenge for the unhappiness in her own life.  Harry tries to sleep with her in exchange for helping her get hired.  Roger even talks about her like she’s Jane (his ex-wife) in order to make himself feel better about his divorce.  And it reflects onto the way Don treated her.  He forced her into so many different roles, from nanny to his kids to a child he could control and manipulate.  And now that she’s divorcing him, she’s taking control of her life.  She’s able to say no to Harry.  She’s able to tell off her sister and to shrug at the fact that her mother is leaving her father.  She’s always been subordinate to the people around her, and she’s finally done with it.  So when she meets with Don at the end of the episode, when he gives her one million dollars for the divorce, it’s the only thing he can do to make up for what he’s done to her.  Because he finally understands what it is that he has done.  He has been selfish and awful and commanding and manipulative, and she deserves better than what he gave her.

Mad Men 7x09-4

Source: AMC

The rest of the episode ruminates on the notion of wanting to start over.  Marie leaves her husband for Roger, who has been the focus of her flings in the past.  She’s looking for that energy that comes with new beginnings, and she thinks that Roger will bring her happiness, when, in fact, that happiness will only exist until the passion is gone and the beginning has passed.  Peggy and Stan hire Pima for an ad campaign, as she shows the promise of a new perspective in her visual art, but when Peggy finds out that Pima slept with Stan as a way to manipulate business, she’s unimpressed.  Peggy wants the newness of real artistic talent, not somebody that manipulates others into liking her style.  Stan wants that vibrancy as well, as he’s unable to produce any new art of great substance, but he buys into Pima’s promise of that newness, falling victim to the fake nature of her promise.  Everybody is searching for that passion that comes with newness.  However, Peggy is the only one that sees it for what it is: a lie.

“New Business” is a powerhouse of an episode, one that expertly employs the majority of the show’s characters in order to remind us how much the drive for “newness” ultimately breaks us.  At the end of the episode, Don and Diana finally part ways, Diana leaving Don because she’s too broken by her own past to want anything better in her life.  Diana wants to feel the pain of that past and not be clouded by the present.  She wants to reap what she has sown in the world.  And with that, Don comes home to an apartment where the furniture is completely gone, the room nearly empty.  He stands alone in an empty room, nothing around him, nobody around him.

Because that’s what Don has created in his desire for all of these new beginnings.  That’s what he really has.  Nothing.

So what did you think of “New Business”?  With only five episodes left, do you think Don is going to have a happy ending?  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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