“Time & Life” is powerful episode that breaks through the thin veneer of complacency at SC&P and brings everyone face to face with the reality they naively hoped would never materialize. SC&P, the agency, will disappear and the partners will no longer be masters of their universe. Finally, after 10 years Jim Hobart of McCann got what he wanted: the acquisition of SC&P. With this transaction McCann eliminates an industry competitor, neutralizes a threat to their General Motors account, brings top creative talent to the agency (Don & Ted), adds additional revenue, and fuels McCann’s growth plans. The bait and switch tactics were brilliantly executed. It is clear that independence was never part of McCann’s game plan. The fact that McCann moved so quickly and secretively shocked the partners. Shock turned to humiliation when the news came in the form of a lapsed lease from their Time-Life landlord.
After Joan informs Roger that the cancellation of the lease emanated from the “overlords” at McCann-Erickson, Roger immediately calls Ferg and tells him to fix the mistake. Ferg tells Roger that there is no mistake. In order to avoid paying expensive rent on two floors in the Time Life building, they will be moving SC&P’s whole office into McCann’s building. “We’re bringing you home,” Ferg says, and they set up a meeting with Jim Hobart. This is a blow that even cool as ice Roger Sterling has trouble absorbing. In Don’s office Roger announces the loss of the lease to the partners and says SC&P doesn’t exist and admits, “they’ve been had.” After the partners’ initial shock and Pete’s feeble refusal to go, Joan reminds them of their four-year contracts and non-compete clauses. Reality bites quickly. Do what you are told or risk loosing your newly found fortunes and being sued. Next stop, the meeting with Jim Hobart.
The partners realize that the negative fallout from this move will be serious and widespread. The disappearance of the agency name is the most visible manifestation but the personal fallout hits even harder. Don, Roger, Pete, Joan, and Ted are no longer the bosses. They each will be working for someone else on a specific account or in a management role. In addition to saving rent, McCann will also be cutting head count and duplicate back office functions. Careers will be disrupted, egos bruised, and friendships strained. As I have written in prior posts, I experienced this firsthand when McCann acquired Geers Gross in the 80s and can attest to the professional and personal strain ahead of them.
As Don contemplates the future over his mid-day scotch, he has a Don Draper “save the day” idea. Lou Avery’s departure leaves vacant office space on the West Coast just waiting to be filled by yet another SC&P reincarnation. In true Mad Men form, Roger, Don, Pete, Joan, and Ted scramble to pull off one more escape by developing a business plan for Sterling Cooper West. They plan to secure clients that will be lost due to merger conflicts by setting up shop at the West Coast agency thereby providing McCann safe haven for the lost revenue and way to keep the partners in the McCann family. “We can make McCann money that they’d have to throw away,” Don says. In his mind, an offer they can’t refuse. The partners work quickly to line up three clients but even champagne and caviar cannot convince Ken to move the Dow account to their satellite agency. Ken matter-of-factly rejects their offer and suggests he will most likely consolidate his business with one of his other agencies, McManus, Johns & Adams. McManus was a well-established mid-west agency and a good logical choice for the Dow business. Sweet revenge.
Undaunted and armed with flip charts and the legendary Don Draper charm the partners meet with Jim Hobart and the McCann top brass. Don barely gets into his pitch and, sensing where this is headed, Hobart clears the room and delivers the final dose of reality to the partners. He tells them it’s over and says, “You are dying and going to advertising heaven,” and adds, “Stop struggling, you won.” Jim Hobart’s definition of victory is that the partners are now executives at global agency working with major league clients with big budgets and generous travel and expense accounts. What more could they ask for? Jim recites the names of these coveted clients Ortho (Ted is delighted), Nabisco (Perfect For Pete), Buick (A playground for Roger) and of course Coca Cola (The big stage for Don to cement his creative legacy). There is no mention of an account for Joan, and she is treated as if she didn’t exist. Joan realizes the best she can hope for is a continued role on Avon and knows that she will definitely have a tough time in the boys club. The scene of the stunned and humbled partners sitting at the conference room table perfectly captures their reality. They are rich “employees” and no longer owners and entrepreneurs.
Later the partners gather at dinner to commiserate and contemplate their futures. Each of the partners has different emotions. Roger laments the passing of the Sterling name and legacy and proposes a toast to Bert Cooper. Ted is relieved he is staying in New York; Joan recognizes that “at least we went down swinging,” and Don stays remarkably calm and collected. Don even gives Roger his blessing to get it on with Megan’s mother warning him that she is crazy. Now that’s a close relationship.
The fate of the mid-level employees is much less certain. Pete gives Peggy a heads-up on the developments with McCann so she can plan her next moves. “Having a leg up on the rats that fly off this ship is going to help you,” he says. This is an important moment for Peggy and her next move could dramatically affect her career. She wastes no time and privately meets with a headhunter who pulls no punches in laying out her options. He tells Peggy that most of the big agencies have an Ivy-League-only hiring mentality for high-level creative jobs. Without this pedigree he advises Peggy to stay at McCann for a few years to work on big, visible accounts and she will be “worth four times what she is earning now.” He also warns her about taking speculative meetings with agencies and says, “Word always gets out and McCann is vindictive.”
The next day Peggy and Stan talk about their status and Peggy lets it be known that she will most likely stay with McCann. Hopefully she will not give up on her dream to be the creative director of an agency. It looks like Stan is leaning the same way. Peggy also bears her soul to Stan about giving up her child for a career and their emotional bond deepens. There is definitely more to come between Peggy and Stan.
The next day the partners gather to announce the dissolution of SC&P into McCann-Erickson to a very nervous and agitated group of employees. Most of them have heard a version of this “change for the better” speech before from Roger and Don. This time when they round up the employees to announce the move the reception is starkly different. “This is the beginning of something, not the end,” Don says. The employees whisper among themselves, ignore him, and angrily disperse. They realize that many of them will not have a job and no amount of empty reassurance from the partners carries any weight. They now work for McCann.
SC&P. R.I.P. (Again)