We’re into 1970, and as a result of the deal struck with McCann Erickson at the end of the last episode, the partners are all wealthy. There’s a new guy in the office – Johnny Mathis, I think? – trying to set Peggy up with his brother-in-law; Peggy goes on a blind date with him. Roger and Ted have moustaches. Ken is still thinking about retiring to write his Great American Novel, but when he’s fired by Roger, on orders from McCann Erickson, instead goes to work at Dow with the intention of being a difficult client for Sterling Cooper. Peggy and Joan are working together, trying to salvage the account of a tights-manufacturing client.
Don, meantime, is either divorced or about to be, and even by his standards is shagging anything that moves, with an answering service to cope with the deluge of booty calls he’s getting. But, as ever, with Don, he’s more intrigued by what he can’t have. He dreams about Rachel Menken, who has become more idealised in her absence from his life, but he discovers that she’s died.
And he becomes strangely fascinated with Diana (Elizabeth Reaser, who was Tammy in The Good Wife), a waitress at a local diner. He thinks he’s seen her before; she accuses him of using a line, but you can tell he means it. Their first sexual encounter strikes, perhaps, a True Detective-y off-key note; she believes that he left her a $100 dollar tip on a previous occasion as a sort of advance payment for a back-alley quickie, so accommodates him with minimal fuss. Women don’t actually do that, Mr Weiner. But Diana clearly isn’t prepared for the possibility that Don will come back, and he does. This storyline has the sort of dreamlike, surreal tone which Mad Men sometimes gets just right, almost as if it’s slipping in and out of focus – does Don know her? – and it’s intriguing.
But back in the real world Peggy and Joan have to endure a business meeting with three bros, which consists more or less of a string of sexist remarks aimed at Joan, who withdraws into herself while Peggy tries to keep things going. It’s what comes after that really stings, though: Joan is furious (“I want to burn this place down”); Peggy’s in go-along-to-get-along mode, and they spar a little. Then it kicks off. Peggy to Joan: “You dress like a ho.” (I paraphrase, but not much.) Joan to Peggy: “What you’re saying is, I don’t dress the way you do because I don’t look like you. And that is very true.” Peggy to Joan: “You’re filthy rich. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.” And this might, in turn, be behind Peggy’s spur-of-the-moment decision to take her blind date to Paris – why can’t she be spontaneous? – although after sobering up she starts to back away from it.
‘Severance’ is all beautifully shot and exquisitely acted, of course; sometimes it’s on-the-nose, and at other times it feels as if meaning and significance are just eluding the viewer’s grasp. Very Mad Men, in other words. But although it’s good to have it back I couldn’t help wondering, well, is that all there is? Those of us who’ve stuck around know that sometimes with Mad Men you have to play the long game; but with only a handful of episodes to go it can’t afford to be too long a game.