“Six Month Leave” Review
“Everything Put Together Falls Apart”
Bad things often come in threes. But in the world of Mad Men, misfortunes often snowball out of control until they become too numerous to count. That’s certainly the case in “Six Month Leave.”
For example — Don Draper, recently estranged from his wife, is living at The Roosevelt Hotel. Meanwhile, Betty spends the days drunk and depressed. The children’s nanny, Carla, acts as the surrogate mother for young Bobby and Sally. At Sterling Cooper, Freddy Rumsen’s alcoholism causes him to literally piss his pants before a presentation. He gets fired by Duck Phillips. Meanwhile, Roger and Mona Sterling’s 25-year marriage surprisingly crumbles when it’s revealed he’s been having an affair with Don’s new secretary, the 20-year-old Jane Siegel.
To further dampen the mood, the episode takes place on August 5, 1962, the day after Marilyn Monroe’s death.
“Six Month Leave” is one of the most depressing Mad Men episodes thus far. Even when things seem to go right, it’s for all the wrong reasons. For example, Peggy Olson is upset that her promotion to lead copywriter has come at the expense of Freddy’s job. She blames Pete Campbell, who told Duck about Freddy’s accident, but Don puts the blame on Peggy instead, who neglected to inform Don in the first place. He coldly tells her, “Don’t feel bad about being good at your job.”
The high point of the hour comes when Don and Roger give Freddy Rumsen the send-off he deserves: a raucous night on the town that ends up at an underground speakeasy. It’s a glimpse into the bygone days of advertising’s Golden Age. However, the night ends prematurely when Don see Jimmy Barrett and gives him a well-deserved sucker-punch to the face. After getting kicked out of the club, Roger pays for Freddy’s cab home and sends him off into the abyss.
It’s a shame to see Freddy get fired, as he’s easily been the friendliest and funniest employee at Sterling Cooper (and one of the Top 10 Mad Men characters so far). But that’s unfortunately how the world of big business works — come Monday, his long tenure at the agency will be all but forgotten.
Even though “Six Month Leave” is a gloomy episode, it remains a masterclass in characterization, which is why we so easily empathize with their situations. It’s understandable that Don feels “relieved” rather than depressed at his current separation. It’s also understandable that Roger seeks Don’s counsel as an excuse to leave Mona. Both characters have little regard for what they do and whom they affect.
The episode also does a great job contrasting the action at Sterling Cooper with the complete lack thereof at Betty’s home. Separated from Don, she spends her days sleeping, cleaning and drinking wine. So … pretty much the same thing as when he was still living there. The more that things change, the more they stay the same.
Director Michael Uppendahl captures the action with a bystander’s focus. He rarely uses closeups, which makes it feel like we’re just a fly on the wall. The episode feels omnipotent yet indifferent — things happen, and that’s that. As a result, we’re tricked into agreeing with one of Don’s core philosophies: “You’ve gotta move forward.”
By the end of the episode, the overall emotional state remains unchanged — life goes on. But that’s what we crave out of Mad Men. No matter the circumstances, the series moves with the pace and grace of natural life, and “Six Month Leave” carries a comforting atmosphere overall despite the somber storylines.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
- In terms of likability, Freddy Rumsen is light years ahead of Harry Crane, Paul Kinsey and the rest of Sterling Cooper’s secondary characters, which is why it’s such a shame to watch him go. He was the one who originally helped Peggy become a copywriter, and he’s also been a loyal friend to Don and Roger for years. Even more relatable: he hates Pete Campbell and Duck Phillips.
- Freddy reminds Roger that his late father (Roger Sterling Sr.) used to drink more booze than all three of them combined. The Golden Age of Advertising, indeed.
- All the secretaries are distraught over Marilyn Monroe’s apparent suicide, but it’s not a primary focus of the episode. Instead, the event is smartly used as a way to cast a despondent tone over the proceedings. Depression hangs over every scene.
- After Freddy takes a taxi home, Don and Roger continue drinking at another bar. Roger pries Don to open up about his current situation with Betty. What Don doesn’t know is that Roger is only looking for an excuse to get out of his own marriage. Mona Sterling confronts all three — Roger, Don and Jane — at the office the next day. She blames Don for telling Roger to “move forward,” even though Don had no knowledge of the affair.
- The ending of the episode is pitch-perfect, as Roger’s marriage falls apart in real time to Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of “I’m Through with Love.” One of Mad Men’s best musical cues.
- Marilyn Monroe’s suicide represents one of the series’ biggest themes: the crumbling facade of the American dream. Her exterior showed perfection, but it hid how she truly felt inside. It mirrors the illusion of Don and Betty’s “storybook” marriage, the Don Draper/Dick Whitman dichotomy and the nature of advertising in general.
- “Six Month Leave” was written by Andre & Maria Jacquemetton and series creator Matthew Weiner, and directed by Michael Uppendahl.
- “Some people just hide in plain sight.”
- “I thought you can talk anyone into anything.”
- “Your loyalty is starting to become a liability.”
- “It’s not an ending. It’s a fresh start.”