Mad Men

There were many reasons this week's Mad Men reminded me of the earlier seasons. For one it saw numerous key players return to New York, where the episode was entirely set, but it also made Don Draper and Peggy Olsen's relationship the focal point once again.

Theirs has been the show's most important relationship since the very beginning. Before we even knew Don had a wife, Peggy and Don met for the first time and the foundations of their complicated, often problematic but always mutually-beneficial friendship were laid down.

Since last season's finale Peggy has been more than a little frosty toward Don, but has slowly thawed over the past five episodes. The Strategy saw their bond finally healed – completing a trilogy of pivotal episodes that started with season two's The New Girl and continued with season four's The Suitcase.

Mad Men
Don was pretty happy to be leading the presentationAMC

It's the one key relationship in Don's life that he handles with some degree of normality. His daughter Sally may have come to understand her father better, but there relationship won't ever be fully healed. Then there's his marriage to Megan, which with her coming to New York to get her things and enjoy one last weekend with him, is essentially over.

This finality is reinforced by Don picking up an old newspaper covering the JFK assassination – which occurred in the same season three episode in which Betty left him.

Don knew it too, and was left concerned. In their big scene together he tells Peggy that he "worries about a lot things" - including that "he has no one" - but also that he doesn't worry about Peggy. The two then share a tender dance to Frank Sinatra's My Way on the radio, in one of the best, most beautiful scenes the show has yet produced.

Marking his return to New York in typical feather-ruffling style, Pete Campbell – hairline receded further than ever – insists Don sit in on the run-through of creative's presentation to Burger Chef. This exasperated the frustration already felt by Peggy, until her scene with Don – in which she came up with a better idea on her own, though coaxed by Don.

Mad Men
Pete Campbell marvels at Lou's booze cabinetAMC

In the interim Pete went off to visit his daughter Tammy and wife Trudy – who as his current squeeze Bonnie reminds him, he has yet to divorce. He has yet to do so because he can't let go. He longs for his lost family life and shows his happy Californian persona for the lie it really is.

Trudy deliberately attempts to avoid Pete, and this gives her husband cause for his first truly despicable act of Pete Campbell-ness this season. "I don't like you in New York," states Bonnie the following day. Neither should Pete, but just like Don he's torn between two lives – the damaged one he wishes to return to, and the faker, happier one.

This episode also saw Bob Benson finally make his illustrious return, bringing two Chevy executives to New York to meet with the SC&P partners. As it turns out, one of those executives is secretly gay like Bob. Clearly in possession of some active gaydar, the executive calls Bob to bail him out after he's beaten following advances made on an undercover male police officer. In the taxi afterwards, he reveals that Chevy (a huge account) are set to leave SC&P.

Mad Men
Stan Rizzo: World beaterAMC

Bob, scared by what happens to gay men in 1969, proposes to Joan Harris in an attempt to create the illusion of a family. Seeing right through this Joan declines, revealing she's in possession of a keen gaydar herself. After declaring that she'd rather die in the hope of true love than submit to an illusion, Bob leaves.

It continued the episode's theme of family. Bob's attempts at starting a family fail, the family Pete desperately wants back doesn't want him and Don is on the verge of his second marriage ending.

Peggy meanwhile – in that aforementioned pivotal scene – opened up to Don about having recently turned 30 and not having a family to show for it. Her tears and Don's compassion leads her to a new idea for Burger Chef: that every table is a family table, and family shouldn't be defined by a mum or a dad, but by those who you grow with and mean most to you.

The Strategy's final scene sees Peggy and Don meet Pete at a Burger Chef restaurant and pitch the new idea. As they eat and the camera pulls out the show makes clear that they – for better or worse - are as close to a family unit as any currently has.

It's a little heavy-handed, but affective and warranted by the episode before it, which was comfortably one of the greatest episodes of Mad Men. Next week comes the mid-season finale, but how will Matthew Weiner leave the show hanging until it returns for the final time next year?

Mad Men
Peggy, Don and Peter in the episode's final sceneAMC