Your ‘Mad Men’ Season 6, Episode 6 Talking Points: May ’68


No current TV show generates more Monday morning conversation than Mad Men. With that in mind, Flavorwire is recapping Season 6′s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce by giving you a handful of talking points to spark your own water-cooler debate. The title of last night’s episode, “For Immediate Release,” refers to the press release Peggy finds herself writing in its final moments — but the key to understanding Season 6’s strongest installment of Mad Men yet is in the date she stamps on that document: May 17, 1968.

By situating the events of the episode in May ’68, Matt Weiner (who has the sole writing credit on “For Immediate Release”) ties them to the student-led protests that raged in France during that month and snowballed into a general strike that eventually included two-thirds of the nation’s workforce. May ’68 is one of the most mythologized moments in French history, and in the global history of politically radical 1960s youth movements. Since this is Mad Men, we’re not exactly dealing with kids fighting cops in the street, but “revolution” is certainly the episode’s watchword.

From Trudy once again leaving Pete out in the cold (although not before he’s destroyed her idealism about her father) to Peggy ignoring her Don Draper-aping Upper East Side fantasies to buy an apartment in a significantly more colorful neighborhood (where, she informs Abe, there’s poop on the stairs), radical change is afoot on “For Immediate Release.” Characters keep referring to their bright futures (Pete to Trudy: “You’ve given up on me at exactly the wrong time. I have big things coming”). And Don is pitching Chevy a conceptual ad campaign for their innovative new vehicle with the slogan, “The future is something you haven’t even thought of yet.”

Moments later, of course, Don makes good on this promise in a late-night pact with Ted to collaborate on the Chevy pitch. And when her boss returns from Detroit and Peggy walks into his office, she finds Don there with him — preparing not only to work together on that business, which they’ve won, but to merge their companies and form one much bigger, more powerful agency. This is revolutionary thinking indeed, and as her current and former (/future) boss point out, it means Peggy will be the copy chief at one of the country’s top 25 ad agencies before she turns 30.

Everything’s looking rosy, but let’s not forget what Peggy tells Abe a bit earlier in the episode: “I don’t like change. I want everything to stay the way it is.” Of all the characters on the show, she’s the most consistent barometer. Coupled with Weiner’s well-established skepticism of the radical ’60s left and the failure of May ’68 to create the Situationist utopia French students envisioned, this would seem to suggest that the outcome of this revolution won’t be all good. But then, seeing as this is Mad Men we’re talking about, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Additional talking points:

  • Marie’s perfect description of Herb’s wife: “She’s the apple that goes in the pig’s mouth.”
  • “Mutually assured destruction”: This is the concept Ken uses to assure Pete that his father-in-law isn’t going to use the brothel incident against him. “That’s why I don’t worry about the bomb,” he says, smugly. But considering how things actually do shake out at the Campbell household, maybe Ken should be a bit more concerned about the Cold War. This may double as a metaphor for what happens when rivals — like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler Gleason and Chaough — collaborate, making it another harbinger of bad things to come.
  • Pete falling down the stairs: Weiner catches some heat for humiliating characters (and even, in the case of January Jones, actors) he isn’t fond of, but this moment was just pure joy.
  • Joan vs. Don: The most uncomfortable moment in the episode happens when Joan confronts Don about firing Herb. “Honestly, Don, if I could deal with him, you could deal with him,” she says, comparing his refusal to put up with the kid who writes Herb’s flyers to the night she spent with the slimy Jaguar client. “Just once, I would like to hear you use the word ‘we.'” This may be the first time we’ve seen the two of them seriously at odds. Clearly, Joan has a right to be upset. But with the new merger promising to make her rich, will she be able to forgive him?
  • Bert Cooper prefers to celebrate with “spirits of elderflower”: Well, of course he does.