We already know that Mad Men’s characters don’t deal particularly well with change, and there was plenty of upheaval in last night’s episode, as the agency found out they were moving out of the Time-Life Building, under the aegis of McCann Erickson. Both the office old-timers and the newbies, like Don’s chirpy secretary, Meredith, seemed to have trouble grappling with the decision. And a plot to relocate the office to L.A. quickly fizzles.
Despite the specter of big speed bumps ahead, the episode’s costumes indicate that most of the Sterling Cooper & Partners crew is in a bit of a rut. Joan has been sticking to a formula: long dresses with foulard ties, including a navy version with polka dots, another navy dress with a geometric patterned tie, and a blue dress with a kicky floral skirt — accessorized with pendants that recall her famous pen necklace. She’s found her niche in the office as a partner and mediator, but under the new McCann rule she won’t even have a single client to her name. One of the things this episode drove home is how much of a sanctuary the office has been for characters like Joan — who, considering the time period, has been able to exist as almost an equal to the men there — and how shaky her future outside it is.
Peggy, too, is a creature of the office, which becomes clear when she tries to shop around her talents and is told that other firms are “Ivy League only.” (Peggy, of course, doesn’t even have a college degree.) She continues to wear her static wardrobe of schoolgirl-style shifts — making an unfortunate detour into full ‘70s glory with an orange-and-brown floral-print dress. Dawn and Shirley, the secretaries, still favor riotously printed microminis, while Meredith is mired in Stenographer Barbie–like outfits, notably the pink quilted Holly Hobbie dress she wears with a matching headband and earrings. Meredith, too, sounds a rare note of panic when she asks Don if he’s bringing her along to the new office. (He is, which means headband enthusiasts will still get three more episodes of delight out of her.)
While most of the episode is office-centric to the point of tunnel vision — we never see Betty, Megan, Sally, that elusive waitress, or any of the other non-SC&P main cast — Pete finds out that his daughter has been rejected from private school because she failed its dubious-sounding IQ test, which requires you to draw and then accessorize a man. Pete dons his best red power tie for a mano a mano with the admissions officer. Trudy trades out her curlers and tropically printed housedress for a preppy cream shift and straw hat, in the interest of forming a united front with her ex-husband. It’s this episode’s only venture into domesticity, and it ends poorly — Trudy and Pete’s attempt to impersonate the perfect Greenwich couple doesn’t land.
The other hint of domesticity, or even life outside the office, of course, is Peggy’s square-off with a stage mother who leaves her kid unattended on an audition. (Considering Peggy is so eager for approval from higher-ups, it’s interesting that she doesn’t react particularly well to the girl’s full-court press about whether she got the part.) After the girl bloodies herself in a stapler accident — one of the show’s many eerily gory scenes (see also: the lawnmower incident, Ginsberg’s nipple) — the mother blames Peggy, who blames her back. Later, Peggy confides to Stan (and I’d be remiss, here, not to note Stan’s double-denim and Southwestern turquoise accessories. He continues to be the best flouter of whatever the Sterling Cooper & Partners dress code is.) She tells him about the son she gave up for adoption, a constant source of guilt but one that seeing an unattended child surely stirred up. The only way to deal with it, she tells a sympathetic Stan, is not to know — to deprive herself of any information that might make her regret the decision to give him up. Stan points out, kindly, that she would never have had the kind of success she has experienced if she hadn’t put the baby up for adoption. Peggy isn’t the only one who’s had to suppress something from her past in order to move ahead, and as our plucky band of admen and adwomen prepare for the next move, there’s sure to be more that gets dredged up.