‘Mad Men’ Recap: “New Business”

So last night’s episode of Mad Men was one of the first that failed to capture my undivided attention. It was shockingly mediocre in its writing and execution, resulting in a novel experience when watching Mad Men: boredom. The plot dealt mainly with Don’s divorce from Megan. There was a cameo appearance by January Jones as Betty – but if you blinked you would’ve missed it, as well as, a walk on by Linda Cardelllini, and an always welcome Julia Ormond, who returns as Megan’s vindictive and acid-tongued mother.

Last week, Don and Megan had a decent heart-to-heart on the telephone, which confused me this week, because Megan in “New Business” is all fire and spite. She’s pissed at Don for “lying” to her and taking away the best years of her life. In an exchange Roger complains bitterly of his ex Jane who said the same thing, but Don smugly reminded Roger that Megan isn’t Joan. Well, in “New Business” it’s hard to tell the difference. Megan petulantly reminds Don that she needs money to move her things out of their apartment. And when she appears at her old digs, she brings her mean-spirited mother, Marie, as well as her dour and boring-as-hell sister. The three women bicker in a dizzying combo of French and English, and Marie’s just ready to belch out fire for the many sins of Don Draper. It all feels rather automatic and repetitive, though Ormond is solid, as usual.

Don, meanwhile, is courting Di, the comely waitress who bears a striking resemblance to the late Rachel Menkins. She meets him at his apartment after work for sex (“You know what you came here for,” Don said) and then the two shared stories – she initially lies about having only one daughter who died, when really she lost one daughter and left the other little girl with the father. She’s prompted to this revelation when she sees Sally’s room. When she admits that she lied to Don, he responded with a great “Already?” Other than that, the back story feels superfluous. The two later meet after Don pays off Megan (more on that later), and she swats away any of  his attempts at a relationship – which makes sense because what the hell, he’s only after her because she looks like Rachel. Di acts a cipher in Don’s life and as a cipher on the show – and because Mad Men purportedly speaks out on gender inequality and misogyny, the Di character doesn’t still well with me (and we don’t have a whole lot of time to figure her out, because, as AMC helpfully reminds us, we’re only four episodes away from the series finale).

But back to Megan’s big windfall. When Di and Don are in bed together, Megan calls to warn him that she’s coming with her army of movers. He and Di skedaddle, which makes for a lot of hurt and awkward feelings. When Megan sweeps in with her mom, all Marie can grouse about is how shitty Don is. It’s not that I disagree, but really? Can’t she be a supportive mother for a hot second? And what’s with Megan’s sad sack of a sister? All of this Gallic family drama feels very high school production, and the script writer’s choice of see-sawing back and forth from French to English is a really bad one (it’s distracting, especially when Marie will then spit something out in heavily-accented English). When Megan leaves for a lunch with Harry Crane (oh, yeah – more on that in a second), Marie is so filled with rage and fury she packs up the apartment whole – all of Don’s furniture, as well and gets it moved. Because Megan didn’t leave enough money for the extra stuff, Marie calls on Roger to swing by with the cash – he does, and the two predictably have sex. Again, nothing new or interesting (though, I love, love, love Megan’s “What the fuck?” when she stomps into an empty apartment).

Because Don realized that Di was put out when he shooed her out of his apartment, he understood that he couldn’t continue battling with Megan. It’s a different situation than his and Betty’s because there were no kids around, and he’s richer now (though he tries to cry poor when Megan shook him down for moving expenses). In the aforementioned lawyer’s office, Megan was throwing a nasty tantrum (though she looked amazing – seriously, the wardrobe, makeup, and hair folks suited/booted Megan beautifully). Don’s tired and exhausted (in fact he looks it). So to end it all, he writes out a check for a cool $1 million. Obviously, Megan is initially wary, but agrees to Don’s payout and leaves a millionaire.

But the whole episode isn’t a victor for Megan: read, her lunch with Harry. I always liked Harry until he started feeling his oats. Then he got as gross and anti-woman as all the other Mad Men. So, during lunch, Megan is angling for Harry to connect her with some Hollywood agents. For some reason, we’re led to believe that Megan’s becoming a has-been. Harry, on the other hand, does this really gross, really inept attempt at a casting couch moment, which sends Megan (rightly) marching out of their lunch. Realizing that he’ll look like a dick, he rushes to Don’s office and tries the old “bitches be crazy” routine – which doesn’t work. But Don doesn’t really believe Harry, and it looks like he doesn’t really care. And when Megan finds Marie and Roger hurryingly zip themselves up after their yucky tryst, her world is turned all kinds of upside down.

While all this nonsense is happening, Peggy and Stan have their own hurdle: a famous photographer called Pima Ryan (a really in over her head Mimi Rogers), who is doing an ad campaign, much to Stan’s chagrin. Pima is done up in Annie Hall drag, and saunters around, purring her lines, so we know she’s going to be sexy. She manages to seduce Stan who sees her as a threat, but then, to get her way, Pima also tries to seduce Peggy. It doesn’t work, and Peggy quickly decides that Pima’s not worth the trouble and that her “business turns out to be more advertising than art.” And when she reveals Pima’s overtures to  her, Stan reacts with almost-childish incredulity and marches away, mad. Again, none of this was all that interesting – Stan was too much of a peripheral character to suddenly spark interest in sympathy in his artistic frustrations.

I normally praise Mad Men to the sky, but “New Business” wasn’t very good. The writing of Megan was really loose and careless (from sad, yet caring soul to spiteful scold) and poor Jessica Paré isn’t up to the loose structure of what the character became. The problem with being paired with Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is that once the character’s done with the woman, she becomes a blurry, two-dimensional nothing (yeah, I’m sorry, but I’m looking at you, Betty Francis). And the folks behind Mad Men usually do a great job with guest casting (Julia Ormond, Harry Hamlin, Robert Morse, Talia Balsam, Linda Cardellini come to mind), but someone banged the pooch with Mimi Rogers whose pretty wooden. I’m hoping that this sub par episode is just an aberration and next week’s show will be a return to form.

Some random notes:

  • So Betty Draper is going to grad school to get her master’s in psychology. Nice. All those years of furiously smoking and kvetching about Don on that couch will pay off…
  • Where’s Sally?
  • Where’s Joan?
  • I don’t remember Dr. Rosen being such a sexist douche.
  • I wish Sylvia Rosen had more to say.

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