“Mad Men” asks, “What’s in a name?”

Season seven, episode eleven, “Time and Life”

When Roger laments the loss of the Sterling name–“No more Sterling Cooper. And no more Sterlings”–Don of the stolen identity and buried birth name retorts with a stolen line: “What’s in a name?” But, as the partners know, an ad agency by any other name would not smell as sweet. Even Ted, who welcomes the chance to “let someone else drive,” knows that being part of McCann Ericson is not the same as being SCP or Sterling Cooper West. The “name change” represents so much more: loss of autonomy, control, and identity. And represents different changes to different members of the team.

To Ted–the least striving of the bunch, who now wants a calmer life in which he can focus on nurturing a good relationship–being absorbed by the large firm is a relief. To the blue blood Roger, who’s never worked very hard, it means a loss of the family name. As the father of a daughter whose child has another man’s name and the father of a son whom he cannot acknowledge, who also has another man’s name, his agency was the only Sterling legacy. Now it is gone, sold off for the millions they all lusted after a year ago.

Pete, too, had to contend with a battle over his blue blood name this episode: huffing and puffing that a Campbell has always attended the elite school that won’t take poor little Tammy Campbell, how dare they decline her, he must punch the snarky school headmaster because that’s what blue-blood gentlemen do to defend the honor of their women folk, I guess, though I wouldn’t know for sure since my blood is more reddish brown, and I have never attended an elite private school, nor even ever been anywhere near Connecticut. But, surprisingly, after it was all over, Pete–who is typically the most whiny, angry, and/or expressive of a strong sense of entitlement over events he doesn’t like–is the most sanguine after Ted. He tells Joan, “For the first time I feel like whatever happens is supposed to happen.” He says this after he and Joan leave the group at the bar because he wants to check in with Trudy, who he recognizes has also had a really hard day. What? Pete maturing? If this lasts until the end, it will be quite the surprising, but nice, character development to wrap-up with.

How Don is reading this change is a bit harder to suss out at this point. In some ways, it’s the biggest hit to him, the man who has always been able to mine the pain and screw-ups of his life and create out of them supremely persuasive and often beautiful advertising campaigns: the Carousel, the suitcase, the Hershey bar. He has on more than one occasion taken the firm at crisis points and lifted it out of the ashes to be reborn and re-formed. Yet this attempt did not work. Jim Hobart wouldn’t even let him finish his pitch. It’s Hobart who attempts to persuade them, through re-defining what has happened: “It’s done. You passed the test. . . . You are dying and going to advertising heaven. . . . Buick, Ortho Pharmaceutical, Nabisco, Coca-Cola. Stop struggling. You win.” But the partners know they have not won. And, while Joan tells Pete that “Hobart listed off accounts for everyone but me,” after last week, when Don couldn’t believe that all Ted wanted out of his work were bigger accounts, after he mused to his tape recorder about how “It’s supposed to get better,” I wonder if Don will be the one to opt out of Hobart’s heaven. He’s the master of re-defining, re-naming, and re-creating himself. Perhaps he will do so again now. Because the name is not as important to him. His autonomy and ability to act and create are.

Although these professional changes present varying levels of challenge for the men, it is the women of the episode who are most strongly affected. From the black secretaries who worry that the new firm won’t “need one more black girl,” to Meredith, who makes a surprisingly strong stand for herself and the other employees when she tells Don that he must talk to them because everyone is so worried about what’s going to happen, to Joan who knows “they won’t take me seriously there” after all the hard work and fight and putting-up-with-bullshit she’s gone through to make partner at SCP, the women’s positions are most precarious.

Yet it’s through Trudy and Peggy–and even Tammy–that this episode most effectively demonstrates that even more than a name, what matters is one’s sex. What’s in a name? Not much for the women, who trade their names for a man’s when they marry. Yet this name trade can be seen to stand for so much more. For Joan, it’s the possible loss of recognition of her intelligence and worth as an executive. For Trudy, it’s the situation of a suburban divorcee: being hounded by all the husbands at parties and school officials when she checks out schools for her daughter. She had wanted nothing more than to be a suburban wife, but now seems to be recognizing that this particular suburban life is not all it was cracked up to be. Her daughter fails her ‘draw a man test,’ only getting on to paper a head and a necktie. Some psychologists would likely theorize that this is because she lives without her father in her home, and it has stunted her emotional growth. But, what if it’s a sign of the lack of wholeness and the emotional barrenness of these men–who, in the drawing, are only heads, but not hearts? (And on this show penises, but one could argue that their frequent sexual encounters with women they hardly know are also indicative of a failure to relate emotionally). When Jim Hobart walked out of his conference room, he left a tableaux of the five SCP partners, sitting in a row on one side of the table. Each one of them–the woman included–has been divorced; some more than once. Each one lives alone, partnerless. Only Joan, the woman, lives with her child. Peggy spends the episode having to work with children, which only serves to remind her of the sacrifice she made for her career. She argues to Stan that “no one should have to make a mistake and not be able to move on like a man does.” She’s right about how women and men shouldn’t have to give up different things for their careers. But, don’t these characters demonstrate that all of them–the men and the women–have given up too much in the realm of human emotion and relationship and closeness for their careers? And perhaps because they’re too afraid to finish up that drawing of the man that is only a head.

Yet, interestingly, when faced with a career- and life-changing day, each one of them reached out or went in search of someone to love. Joan calls the new Roger; “I just wanted to hear your voice,” she tells him. Ted leaves the gathering at the bar to meet the new woman he’s in a relationship with; Roger leaves to go to Marie; Pete leaves to contact Trudy; and Don goes off in search of Diana. Peggy shares her deepest secret with Stan and the next day wants him just to stay on the phone with her while she’s working. Who knows where they will go next with all of this. These characters are great for back-tracking, but they made some interesting emotional acknowledgments and movement tonight. We’ll see where it takes them.

This article is from Mad About Mad Men blog.


Cathy Colton
Cathy Colton

Cathy Colton is a community college English professor in the Chicago area. She offers a feminist take on books, movies, TV, and more at her blog, And Another Thing.