Mad Men has a reputation for being a little slow — but when it kicks things into high gear, it really kicks things into high gear. At the end of its third season, Mad Men blew up its status quo, as Don Draper convinced his fellow partners to break off and form their own advertising firm before they could be sold off again. And once again, in tonight's madcap, buoyant "For Immediate Release," Don has found a way to strike a blow against the big fish that dominate their business: Pooling resources with Cutler, Gleason and Chaough, a fellow guppy in the advertising game, to land the biggest account in the series' history.
After a string of episodes that have been derided by some fans as dull, repetitive, and plodding, it's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't be satisfied by "For Immediate Release," which is absolutely packed with forward momentum and fan service. Roger Sterling is at his slyest and wittiest in a jet-setting caper that lands a major new account. Don tells off Herb, the creep from Jaguar, once and for all. Pete Campbell falls down a flight of stairs. The fact that Mad Men, which has embraced a molasses-slow pace until now, just jammed a season's worth of plotting into the last eight minutes of an episode… well, that's what makes it Mad Men.
But before we talk about tonight's seismic, game-changing event, let's talk about what it took to get there. "For Immediate Release" opens with major news: Pete, Joan Holloway, and Bert Cooper have been quietly looking into the possibility of taking Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce public, which would make all the partners — including Joan, who has the smallest stake — instant millionaires. As red herrings go, it's a good one, and it's worth noting that Don and Roger have been left out of the investigative process.
As it turns out, the decision to keep Don and Roger at arm's length is a poor one; while the rest of the partners are hashing out the terms of the public offering, Don and Roger each might jeopardize it. Roger is perennially under-appreciated by his fellow partners, but in "For Immediate Release," he shows exactly why he's so valuable to the firm: An affair with a young airline employee named Daisy offers Roger an entrée into the airport lounge, which is fertile ground for the kind of clients SCDP is trying to reel in. When Daisy points Roger in the direction of Mikey, a delayed passenger who just happens to work for one of the biggest automotive companies in the world, it isn't long before they're talking over drinks — Mikey, with a double Jim Beam, and Roger, with a martini glass full of water and a cocktail onion.
But if Roger's scheme is marked by advance-level strategy, Don's is marked by its utter lack of forethought. When Herb asks Don to meet him for dinner so he can make the latest in a series of fussy and patronizing demands, Don dumps both Herb and the Jaguar account on the spot. "Never felt better in my life," says Don, leaving Herb and his blathering wife behind for good, before returning to his apartment. (And on that subject: Marie told Megan, who's worried about how Don has been acting, to dress so his only thought at dinner will be "how quickly he can get between your legs." Don does, indeed, pounce on Megan the second they get in the door — but it's clear that he's much more turned on by the self-induced ego boost that came from dropping Herb than he is by his wife.)
Unsurprisingly, Pete throws a fit when he learns that Don has just dumped their biggest and flashiest account — and while his public tantrum is childish and irresponsible, it shouldn't be overlooked that Pete is actually right. Don had no right to make such a major decision without consulting the partners first; even if the public offering wasn't in the works, dumping Jaguar runs the risk of doing permanent and lasting damage to the firm. But just when things are looking grim, Roger swoops in like a superhero, revealing that his airline hijinks have actually borne real fruit: They've been invited to pitch to Chevrolet in Detroit, which would require them to drop Jaguar anyway.
This uncommonly lucky turn of events might feel a little too convenient, but Mad Men doesn't let our characters have it quite that easy. "Honestly, Don, if I could deal with him, you could deal with him," says Joan, angrily referring to Herb's consummated indecent proposal from last season, which netted SCDP the Jaguar account in the first place (and netted Joan her big promotion). "I don't believe in fate. You make your own opportunities," insists Don in a later scene — failing to realize or appreciate that fate threw him a Chevrolet-sized life preserver exactly when he needed it most.
But of course, our heroes need to take advantage of their lucky break by winning the account for the as-yet-unnamed car. (Some quick Googling reveals that the car in question, which the characters only know as "the XP-887," will eventually be dubbed the Chevrolet Vega. You can read more about it here if you're interested in hints about where this story is going.) As usual, Don shows up for a pitch to find himself going head-to-head with longtime rival Ted Chaough — the newly-minted, Ralph Waldo Emerson–reading object of Peggy Olson's affections — with both men recognizing that, as with Heinz, their firms are both destined to be shut out by one of their bigger rivals. "This business is rigged," muses Don — before coming up with a way to rewrite the rule book.
And just like that, Don and Ted become allies, negotiating a mutually beneficial deal to turn their once-rival ad agencies into one of the bigger fish they were just complaining about. It's a shame that we don't actually get to see Don and Ted make their successful pitch for the Chevrolet account together, but by the end of the episode, the broad strokes are clear: Cutler, Gleason and Chaough will be merging its client list and its staff list — including, mercifully, Peggy — with our heroes at SCDP.
So it's now, in the middle of season six, that we're welcomed to the new Mad Men at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason Chaough. (Something tells me Peggy will come up with a catchier name.) Mad Men generally expects its viewers to do a little research to figure out exactly when the show is taking place, but the final moments of "For Immediate Release" make the "where" and "when" explicit. "New York City. May 17, 1968," says Peggy, drafting the press release that will introduce the new firm to the world. It's a clarity and a confidence that speaks to a new vision for the series going forward — and for the first time this season, Mad Men feels like it's taking us somewhere new again.
Read more Mad Men recaps: