Mad Men “Severance” Review (7×08)

6 Apr


“Is that all there is?”

There’s one life that you live, and then there are an infinite number of lives that you don’t live. “Severance” is about what happens when you grapple with those un-lived lives, when you wonder what could’ve been different, when it seems like you’re in a pool of stagnation even though things have changed around you. As Ed Baxter insists, he’s “still young enough to enjoy things, to make up for lost time.” The problem is that it may already be too late, and you’re left falling back into old patterns because that’s what you do.

Ken Cosgrove, for example, is the character who gives the episode its title and the episode’s theme its very own on-the-nose statement (“the life un-lived”). When he’s fired by McCann Erickson, he has the opportunity to write his novel, to leave advertising and craft a new life for himself; he has the opportunity to live the life he never lived. It’s telling, though, that he eventually decides to stay in the business, and he gets his revenge on Roger and Pete when he–complete with villain eye patch–marches into their office to gloat about his new position at Dow. He’s sticking with the work he’s always done.

Speaking of work, that’s what Peggy’s life revolves around, and it’s a nice touch that she ends up finding her passport in her office. She hits it off with Stevie and is the confident, assertive, and sexy woman she can be, but as much fun as the two have that night, there’s also a sense that Paris is just a fantasy. This is probably the most “positive outlook” of the various storylines spinning around in “Severance”, but the predominant mood in Mad Men seems to be melancholy…especially since we’re nearing the end.

And being a woman, Peggy is subjected to quite a bit of misogyny in the workplace, illustrated during her and Joan’s meeting with the M-E guys. The scene afterwards in the elevator is a wonderful one for Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss, and it highlights the effects of sexism on the victims: Peggy and Joan lash out at each other, using reasoning that we oftentimes hear from the other side (e.g. you were asking for it by dressing that way). When Joan later heads out to (presumably) Bonwit Teller, the place she used to work, we see a wonderful piece of acting on Hendricks’s part when she looks at herself in the mirror. Because this is a part of her past that she wants to forget, she refuses to acknowledge that she used to work there, but it’s clear that her life isn’t changing as much as she hoped it would. She’s still objectified and is still condescended to, and the life she never lived is constantly being taken away from her by the societal restraints in her environment. “That’s tempting, but I think you have me confused with someone else,” she says to the employee offering her a discount.


Going along with that theme of identity that’s been so pervasive on the show, let’s talk about Don Draper. “Do I know you?” he asks a waitress named Diana, and we slowly start to get the sense that this woman isn’t technically “anyone” to Don. Rather, she’s a way for him to work through a painful history, a representation of the trauma of his childhood; after all, it’s key to note that exchanging money for sex–an arrangement Diana assumes is happening–ties in with Don’s past at the brothel. And to be honest, this isn’t really the first time we’ve seen the women in Don’s life represent a painful past.

Take Rachel, for example, who represents both a painful past and a life un-lived for Don. When she dies, he goes to her wake and is met by her sister, Barbara, who has the gut-punch line of the episode for him: “She lived the life she wanted to live.” Essentially, she’s saying that Rachel lived her life just fine without Don Draper, that the two children sitting on the couch are just fine without Don Draper. It hurts to hear, and because Jon Hamm is such an amazing actor who deserves a bunch of Emmys, we see that pain clearly written on his face.

And so, the episode returns to Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” in its beautiful final scene. It’s like a halfway point between dream and reality, and Diana ties the whole hour together when she states: “When people die, everything gets mixed up. When someone dies, you just want to make sense out of it, but you can’t.” It’s the perfect encapsulation of where Don Draper is at right now, and it’s a poignant note to end the hour on. As the camera pulls back on Don at the end, we see his past, present, and future laid out before him. Time is catching up to him, and the lives he hasn’t lived are just out of his reach.




-The second saddest part about Mad Men ending? Next Week On Mad Men is also ending! That means that after the series finale, I’ll never get to know that a door will close and that a phone will ring the following week.

-Don dreams that Rachel’s auditioning for him, which is fitting considering Don’s a very possessive guy. In real life, she lives her life without him, but in the fantasy he’s constructing within his mind, she’s seduced by him in his element (at work, constructing a pitch).

– “I Love Veal” sounds like “I Love You”.

-Looks like this is set in 1970. Don parallels Vietnam.

-The opening scene of the episode is really beautifully handled.

-Ray Wise+pop tarts.

-Don has a fling with a flight attendant. Flight attendants move from place to place, going on different trips. This is the kind of relationship Don gravitates toward.

-Diana…Die? Anna?

-In Don’s dream sequence, Ted opens the door, and Pete closes it. I can’t possibly come up with a better explanation for this than John Teti did at the AV Club (go check out his review. It’s fantastic, as expected).

-Mustaches! Mustaches! Mustaches!

-I love writing about this show, but these late nights are going to burn me out for the next seven weeks. I will not have the ability to also write Game of Thrones reviews as a result.

Photo credits: AMC, Mad Men

4 Responses to “Mad Men “Severance” Review (7×08)”

  1. Hepburn3 April 7, 2015 at 10:35 pm #

    I love Mad Men and I will miss it greatly once it is all over.
    It is such a well written, casted, plotted show. So much depth with what is said and unsaid at times.
    I love that they had the Peggy Lee song Is that all there is? It is such a bittersweet song, it is like it is not just laying the ground for this episode but it is also, I think< foreshadowing the ultimate end and the whole series of Mad Men.
    I love Jon Hamm, he is wonderful, I love that he can do drama and comedy so wonderfully, some of my favourite comedy bits that he did on 30 Rock and on SNL as that cursed Saxophone player still kill me, and when he is in full Don Draper mode I really believe him and he could sell me anything, sex, romance,self-loathing, pain, and sadness to name a few.
    One thing that I do love Mad Men for is the way that they do deal with the dynamics of sexism by showing what Joan, Peggy and even Betty have to go through, where they do fall short though is racism, it is just slightly broached and often ignored but maybe in doing so in some perverse way they are touching it?

    Things that killed me Roger's ridiculous mustache, it should have got a walk on acting credit! 😉

    I look forward to your reviews as always PB!
    Next up PoI!!! (HUZZAH!)

    p.s. DVR or Tivo Game of Thrones because you just have to review it! 🙂

    • polarbears16 April 7, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

      Yes definitely, there’s always been quite a bit of foreshadowing in the show. It’s kind of fun seeing how it all comes together at the end. And yes, Jon Hamm is amazing and deserves an Emmy this year; his role earlier on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt also highlighted his comedic range.

      Haha well, I’ll still be able to watch Game of Thrones, I just don’t know if I’ll have the motivation to review it if I’m too burned out. 🙂

  2. Hepburn3 April 7, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

    Pace yourself PB!! You are an Olympic level reviewer!! 😉 ❤

  3. JustMeMike April 8, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    Excellent analysis – terrific review, Nice touch about time catching up with Don.

    From our own perspective writing and watching and then writing again catches up with us too. Here it is Wednesday morning and I haven’t watched last Sunday’s The Good Wife yet….

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