The Best Episode Of Mad Men And Why It Matters

Join us as we discuss the best episode of Mad Men, "The Strategy", the sixth episode from the Seventh Season.
The Strategy from Mad Men
Image Source: Mad Men Wiki

The Best Episode of Mad Men

While there are many memorable episodes in the catalog of AMC's Mad Men, few capture the thesis of the series like "The Strategy". The sixth episode from the show's final season, "The Strategy" is about family. Familial relationships create constant strife in the series. 

However, in this episode, we are shown that the relationships created in our work lives can sometimes mean almost as much as the arbitrary family relationships in which we have no choice. The episode features a common structure for Mad Men.

Although the episode features the development and presentation of a pitch, it also coincides with perhaps the most major historical event of the 1960s. We follow Peggy as she chases Burger Chef, a client that operated fast-food franchises from 1954 to 1996. They are based out of Indianapolis and the whole team takes a flight to present their strategy for the client. 

In addition to the pitch, the episode is followed by the June 1969 Moon landing by the crew of the United States' Apollo 11. This great achievement is shown in the following episode, "Waterloo" and both episodes are irreversibly intertwined. The sky is used as a metaphor for success here. The team from SCP makes it their goal to sign Burger Chef as the astronauts try to make history and catapult the human race into a new dimension.

Peggy Olsen and Don Draper Together
Image Source:: Glide Magazine

Peggy and Don's Special Relationship

Regarding Peggy Olsen and mentor Don Draper, "The Strategy" chooses to show some warmer moments between the two. There have been many episodes that have showcased the hardships in their working and personal relationships with each other, but this episode is one of the few that proves to us just how much they care about one another. 

While the episode speaks poignantly about family and the friends we make in our work lives, it also cements Don's devotion to Peggy and his subsequent pride in her success. Prior to this episode, a fair amount of jealousy had existed between Ted Chaough and Don Draper. This was largely due to their competition in the workplace, but soon Peggy became involved. 

Ted's extramarital affair with Peggy brings deep discord into the company as well as Peggy's personal life. Ted moves to California to get away from her, and she is left with Don. Times have been hard for Don too.

Don has just recently returned from a hiatus, due to his compulsive drinking, and in this episode, he is facing another professional hurdle. Jim Cutler has decided to try and fire Don for breach of contract due to his interference with him and Lou Avery's pursuit of Commander Cigarettes. 

Although Don did this primarily to save himself, he is reasonably disillusioned with SCP and advertising in general. Peggy is called into a meeting with Pete Campbell and Ted Chaough, in which they both express their desire to have Don pitch the presentation to Burger Chef, even though Peggy is the one who created it. 

Peggy reluctantly accepts and is understandably crestfallen about losing her spot to Don. Don, thinking it was Peggy's idea, is excited at the idea of finally presenting again, but is shaken by the conflict he has with the company. Peggy eventually begins to question her approach to the Burger Chef pitch and calls Don in to give her some help.

What ensues is perhaps one of the warmest moments in Mad Men's history, as the two join forces to create a better pitch. They begin drinking and bouncing ideas off of each other. Don pushes Peggy to really question what family means, not only in relation to the Burger Chef commercial but also what it means to be a family in 1969. 

Peggy and Don Mad Men
Image Source: The TV Ate My Homework

This leads to a tearful encounter in which Peggy expresses the sadness surrounding the distraction of their modern times. Peggy's idea is that Burger Chef can be the one place in the world, without television and without arguments, that families can go to break bread together. Don agrees with the poignancy of the idea, and the two share a knowing look as Frank Sinatra's "My Way" plays in the background.

When Don cites the song as ironic, given Peggy's push to be independent of his success. She, however, brushes it off, saying it has been on the radio all day. Don says it is no coincidence and extends his hand to his protege. He asks her to dance with him and beckons her closer, covering her shoulders with his embrace.

Although Peggy is reluctant at first, she snuggles into his chest and takes comfort in the silly slow dance between the two. Don holds her close and smells her hair and then kisses the top of her head, assuring her that everything will be okay.

Don Draper's Character Growth

Although Don Draper has long been the source of much frustration for fans, especially regarding his antihero and immoral nature, this episode gives us a bright view into the hope of what the leading man could be. Don, perhaps, could be a better man if he always showed his feelings the way he does in this episode. 

Even though he is good in a crisis, it might do Don some good in his professional and personal life to embrace his feelings more intimately. His special bonding moment with Peggy leads him to confront her in her hotel room, the night before the pitch in Indiana. 

In the episode following this, the mid-season finale for Season 7, "Waterloo", the Moon landing theme continues, as we discover the astronauts have been successful in their endeavors.

After a special sequence, in which we see all our characters view the Moon landing and subsequent quote by Neil Armstrong, Don makes a trip to Peggy's room to tell her something very important. He confesses that the company is trying to oust him, and she is sad for him. 

Moon Landing Mad Men AMC
Image Source: AMC

Until now, Peggy has not really been on Don's side, she sees him as competition in her new role as copy chief. However, this honesty by Don opens her mind to something important. Don declares she must be the one to present to Burger Chef. It was her idea, after all, and he is ready to move aside to let her have the spotlight. 

This special moment catches Peggy off guard, and she is nervous. In her mind, it is too short of notice to prepare. The two sit down together and embrace the late night in which they both must prepare each other for the pitch presentation. The next day, at the meeting, a soft whirring plays in the background as Peggy steels herself for the speech she must give.

Because the astronauts are a hard act to follow, she is understandably nervous. Previously, when she thought Don would be the one to give the speech, she was going to introduce him in an interesting way: "Every great ad tells a story, and here to tell that story is Don Draper."

When the camera finally pans back to Peggy, with everyone expecting Don to speak and deliver the speech, he finally opens his mouth. After meeting her glance and smiling in an affirmative way which shows his love for Peggy, he finally says the words no one thought they were there to hear: "Every great ad tells a story, and here to tell that story is Peggy Olsen."

It is difficult not to feel the emotion in this scene. The passing of the torch between the selfish Don and the hard-working Peggy is a beautiful moment. Peggy, looking as beautiful as ever, speaks eloquently about what they had all seen the night before.

She sets the scene, a place where families can finally be together. Even though the hard times of the 1960s, with Vietnam and the differences between the older and younger generations, she expresses her hope that Burger Chef will become a place where families can finally be together again. Later on, we are shown that she wins the account, and brings tears to the eyes of the clients.

Burger Chef Family Dinner
Image Source: AMC

The Theme of Family in Mad Men

Pete and Don are both going through marital separations in this episode. Peggy is just getting over her affair with Ted. Still, these three have been through a lot together. Peggy was impregnated by Pete when she was an impressional young novice at the firm. She was forced to give the child up for adoption to continue her career.

The man by her bedside in the hospital that day, almost a decade prior, was none other than her boss Donald Draper. He told her, "It will shock you how much it never happened."

Of course, this is in reference to Don's experience with secrets as well, including his fraudulent identity. This is something Pete has tried to expose in the past, but the two have now made amends and also have an extremely close relationship. 

All three of our characters have a relation to the Burger Chef account. Pete is feeling overshadowed by newcomer Bob Benson, and this account is finally his opportunity to make a splash in the new California market. Peggy is finally getting to use her own idea as the basis of a pitch, and Don is seeking redemption by presenting this strategy to the client. 

In contrast to Don's previous attitude, he surprises Pete when the three coworkers meet at Burger Chef to discuss the pitch. He informs Pete that Peggy's new idea is the one he wants to present. Pete is confused at the change but soon breaks into a smile as Peggy brings him a burger and soda. 

The three colleagues become the very family Peggy was speaking about in her pitch preparation with Don. They smile at each other, breaking bread together and discussing the funny nature of the close relationships we develop with the people we work with.

When you are in constant contact with your coworkers, you develop comradeship and family values. You fight for each other and cheer when one of you succeeds. These three characters have not always been like this, but after almost a decade of doing business together, fighting in the same trenches, they have become one. 

Mad Men Burger Chef Ending
Image Source: IMDB

The scene is made light when Pete accidentally smears ketchup on his face from the burger, and Don motions for him to wipe his face. Peggy chuckles and passes her onetime lover a napkin as the two separated men find solace in their company with each other. 

The camera pulls away from the window of the restaurant as we are unable to hear what the three speak about. All we know is they are enjoying themselves in the company of true family members. 

Peggy The Strategy
Image Source: Variety

Why "The Strategy" Matters

In our modern timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic and the forced separation of ourselves from our loved ones, this episode has new meaning. After not being able to see our nuclear family members, we can understand the sadness these characters feel.

In late 2021, now a good deal removed from the quarantine phase of the pandemic, many of us have returned to work. We have been able to better appreciate our work pals even more. Maybe we didn't even realize how much we missed them until this terrible pandemic happened.

It is both funny and sad how we take our colleagues for granted. Since we spend full 8-hour shifts together every day, it is no wonder we are so close with our coworkers. If you are an adult in America, this is likely much more time than you spend with your actual family, especially if you have moved away from your parents' home.

The ways in which "The Strategy" shows us the familial bond that can occur in the workplace are striking. After watching the complicated, yet loving nature of Don and Peggy's relationship, we too can appreciate our own coworkers.

The sacrifice we make for each other when we work together as a part of a team is one of the most honorable things we can do. To work towards a common goal and strive for success is a noble endeavor. We could all learn a thing or two from the way in which Don helps Peggy reach her true potential by stepping aside. He pushes her to advocate for herself and accept the confidence she knows she deserves on the inside. 

As we move further into the future of what life will be like post-pandemic, we can hold our coworkers close, knowing they are struggling with these crazy times in the same ways we are. Being there for each other is one of the kindest things we can do when the future is so uncertain.

Joseph Poulos is a freelance writer from Michigan.

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