“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.