Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. In Peggy’s case, he’s literally the same old boss. This entire season has been about characters thinking they’ve made important new changes to their lives, only to find themselves cycling back to where they’ve been before. In fact, it’s often a downward spiral: The cool new car turns out to be a lemon, the presidential election results in Nixon. All the struggle is for nothing. I’ve already seen some excitement online about this agency merger being a cool new storyline, but if you think things are actually going to get better, you weren’t paying attention. As you’ll see in the Orange Couch, the culmination of events in the episode point to one conclusion: Downward spiral.
That’s why I thought it was particularly interesting to place this episode on Mother’s Day. The show has always had a skeptical attitude towards the sentimental American approach to parenthood, and this episode was no different. Marie is quick to offer her flowers, a symbol of Megan’s love, to a man she just met because she thought he was a little attractive. Trudy worships her father, and that gets dashed in a second upon finding out about his extramarital sexual activities. (By the way, I can’t help but feel she had a point about how unnecessary it was for Pete to tell her about that.) I loved that hilarious dinner scene with Herb’s wife telling the puppy story. Like Don, we all love puppies in the abstract, but the story she tells is so unpalatable in its details that you can’t help but think of how gross and germy puppies actually are. The sentimental veneer is ripped right off, and we’re left reaching for the bottle of wine to blunt the emotional impact.
At first, I couldn’t tell what they were doing with all this weird parent/child stuff, and then it occurred to me: It goes back to the theme of the cycle and how what we think is renewal and change turns into the same old shit. So many hopes are pinned on children—or puppies—and then they grow up and end up being the same fuck-ups that their parents were. Tom thinks his daughter Trudy is a princess, but you know what? His wife is some other daddy’s princess. The cycle renews. Degradation just sets in faster each time around. Marie notes that her daughter’s marriage seems to be disintegrating faster than she apparently expected, which is to say that it’s falling apart even faster than Marie’s own marriage did.
There was a brief, momentary reference to Don’s ongoing fantasies of ending the cycle of renewal and degradation, when he was sitting in the airport and zoning out to the sound of the airplanes, a sound that was deliberately mixed to make it sound like the sound of waves crashing on the shore. The only way to get out of the cycle of starting new things and then watching them slowly fall apart like everything you’ve done before is to get off the carousel of life completely. Don craves a change that is true renewal, a change that sticks. But he increasingly has come to believe that death is really the only change that is permanent. So it calls to him, even though it’s also the only change that is inevitable and will come on its own if you wait it out. If, as I’ve theorized, Robert Frost is the muse hanging over this entire season, then his most famous poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, is the one that ties the entire season together.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.But I have promises to keep,And miles to go before I sleep,And miles to go before I sleep.