‘Mad Men’ Discussion: ‘The Strategy’ Was The Most Beautiful Episode Of TV’s Most Beautiful Drama

“Family” was the overriding theme of “The Strategy,” last night’s perfect episode of Mad Men, and “Who is your family?” is the question that everything in the episode hinged upon. For Don, Peggy, and Pete, it may have been a hard realization to come by, but by the end of the episode — and that gorgeous shot from the window of Burger Chef — those three knew the only real family they had was each other.

Joan Harris, meanwhile, came to a different realization: She didn’t want a pretend family, one that looked good on Christmas cards. She wanted a real family, with real love. Bob Benson — who had become something of a gay bestie to Joan last season — made his triumphant return to Mad Men last night (thanks Danger!), fancy, plaid jackets and all. While all indications last season pointed toward the fact that Bob Benson was gay, you never know what the IBM supercomputer in the office could do to a person’s sexuality. For instance, it turned Chevy executive Bill Hartley — GLEN GULIA — gay in one day, and he ended up calling Bob to bail him out after he’s caught “fellating” an undercover police officer. Not great, Bob?

It’s during that conversation in the cab that Bob learns that Chevy is about to abandon Sterling Cooper and go in-house, which is going to be a huge blow to the firm. Bob Benson, however, will be just fine because he’s going to be offered an in-house job at Buick. Bob Benson apparently let that cush job offer go to his head, or maybe the supercomputer briefly turned Bob straight, because he came at Joan with a marriage proposal. “We need to reproduce!”

Clearly Bob is an accounts man and not a creative, because he delivered an awful pitch to Joan, essentially saying to her, “You’re old and your prospects are drying up and your child has no one around to give him erector sets (erector set, heh heh), and I’m gay and I need some arm candy to show off at dinner parties, so why don’t we get hitched?” The old Bill Hartley arrangement. So romantic!

“I want love, and I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement,” Joan says. “I would rather die hoping for that, and you should to.” Good for you, Joan. She may not have a family beyond her son and the mother she doesn’t like, but she’s not willing to force a family into existence, either. (I still think that Roger — who realized that he was a lousy father to Margaret and that Margaret was being a lousy parent to her son two episodes ago — will eventually make it back to Joan, where he can finally be the father he should’ve been the first time around.)

Meanwhile, Pete opened the episode by joining his hairline in the Mile High Club. He’s in a kind of fake happy trance with Bonnie, who he brings to New York for a vacation. “I want you shopping all day, and screwing me all night,” he tells her, a line that Don would echo later with Megan, with similar results. But Pete’s not willing to introduce Bonnie to his daughter because he knows Bonnie is just a dalliance, somebody he f*cks. One look at Trudy and Pete realizes what he really wants: A family. His family. But his daughter barely recognizes him, and Trudy is dating other men, which turns Pete once again into the slimeball he often is whenever he feels threatened and insecure. He ends up giving his daughter a beer-in-the-cake cake, a classic dick move on Pete’s part.

Basically, he realizes he’s got no one.

No one, that is, except Don and Peggy. Pete plays the role of condescending big brother to Peggy at the beginning of the episode and stirs sh*t up with her and Don, asking Don to take over the client pitch to Burger Chef. “Don will give authority. You will give emotion,” Pete says, because no one delivers backhanded compliments better than Pete Campbell.

That’s not what ultimately drives Peggy batsh*t, however. It’s Don’s suggestion that he’d been tinkering with the Burger Chef pitch, a notion that gets inside Peggy’s head, where where Don has been living rent free since he returned from his hiatus. Peggy goes home and instead of masturbating gloomily, ends up overthinking her pitch. She calls Don over the weekend like a petulant child to tell him that his idea was a lousy one, but mostly to bitch at him for undermining her. HOW DARE YOU EXPRESS AN OPINION.

Eventually Don convinces her that he’s not there to undermine her, but to legitimately support her, as she had done so often for him when he was her superior. With echoes of “The Suitcase,” Don opens up to Peggy. He’s vulnerable with her, telling her that “I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t worry about you,” reminding her that  she’s “doing great,” and that he, on the other hand, worries that “I don’t have anyone.” It culminates with Peggy coming around to a great Burger Chef pitch, and Peggy and Don dancing to “My Way” in one of the most beautifully perfect scenes on one of the best television dramas ever. Mentor and mentee. Two old friends finally returning to one another. And that kiss on the head. What an amazing, sweet, perfect goddamn moment of television.

For Don, it was also a realization that Peggy is the closest thing he has left to family. That’s because, although she didn’t come right out and say it, Megan has left him. She basically came back to New York to get her things, cook Don another lousy spaghetti dinner (always with the spaghetti, Megan?), and enjoy one last weekend with Don. Don knew it, too. Betty left him in the JFK assassination episode, and that newspaper memento from after JFK’s assassination that Don found on his bed let us know exactly what was going on in this episode between Don and Megan. It’s why Don confessed to Peggy that he was afraid he’d end up alone. It’s why that curtain closed in that strange scene on the airplane with Megan and Bonnie: They were closing the curtain on their relationships with Don and Pete, respectively. It’s all over but the divorce papers.

But Don and Pete aren’t alone, which was what that final, beautiful (and familiar) scene was all about: The episode ends with Don, Peggy, and Pete — all who feel like they aren’t a part of a family — eating in a restaurant and discussing a pitch about the realities of family in 1969: It’s not necessarily the traditional husband, wife and kids. It’s whoever you break bread with. And there was Don, Peggy, and Pete breaking bread together in one beautiful, slightly cheesy (in a good way) perfect shot.

“Whoever’s at the table is family.”

Random Observations

— Stan’s beard is getting out of hand, but I like to think that its unruliness was foreshadowing Bob Benson’s proposal to Joan.

— It’s good to see that Roger made it back to civilization after what had to be a long walk from upstate New York. I’m not entirely sure what game he’s playing at here: He seems to have a plan that involves Chevy, Buick, McCann, and Bob Benson, and I guess he’s going to try and salvage the Chevy account. It could involve yet another firm split, but I almost feel like Weiner has played that card too many times now.

— I love that Roger finally called Cutler out on his bullsh*t plan to get Don ousted. “So you can win your secret war?” he says.

— Potentially without Chevy, it really does highlight the importance of gaining Philip Morris as a client and the stakes involved for Sterling Cooper & Partners. That will be Don’s “Waterloo” (the title of next week’s mid-season finale).

— Ken: “You really gotta keep an eye on him.”

— Margie to Peggy in front of Megan: “Oh, I didn’t know he was married.” Ouch. If Megan hadn’t already decided she was leaving Don, that was the nail in the coffin.

— “To live in the not knowing,” as Don suggests of the advertising profession, sounds like the perfect recipe for alcoholism.

— A few things about Harry. I love that he’s basically to Roger what Toby is to Michael Scott in The Office (and Harry is another of Mad Men’s butt monkeys). I love Don’s passive aggressive dig at the partners when he shows his support of Harry: “Say what you will, but he’s very loyal.” But most of all, I love that Harry didn’t even get to witness his own approval as a partner, saving us from that moment of smug satisfaction.

— I thought it was strange that Peggy described Burger Chef as a “Clean, Well Lighted Place” instead of a clean, well lit place, but as always, there was a good reason for it. It was a reference to a Hemingway short story with some thematic similarities.

— I’m glad that at least Stan bothered to visit Ginsberg. Maybe Ginsberg’s not completely done with the series just yet.

— Line of the night: Cutler: “Oh good. I see you’re still here.” Roger: “That’s your opinion.”