We got a phone call at 11:02 last night from someone who wanted to eagerly discuss the incredible episode we both just saw. “Did you think it would turn out this way?” she asked. “Not exactly,” we said. “But it’s like they gave every one of our favorite characters their best-case scenario.”
Last night’s episode wasn’t just a culmination of the entire season; it was a culmination of the entire series to this point. Leave it to the creators of this show. Two weeks before the season finale they gave us an episode as shocking as any season finale and now for the actual season finale, they give us an episode that feels like a coda to the whole series. Every action taken by every character made complete and total sense for that character based on their experiences. Every story felt like it had naturally flowed to this place. They could have just titled the episode “Of Course.” It was an incredibly satisfying payoff wherein each character got to have a character-defining scene and various relationships were re-defined and re-affirmed while others were ended.
When things are ending, it gives license to truth and much truth was spoken this episode. The series could be easily dismissed as endless scenes of subtext piled upon subtext, but last night’s episode was all text, all the time.
“Young men love risk because they can’t imagine the consequences.”
“And you old men love building golden tombs and sealing the rest of us in with you.”
“I wanna see what you look like with your tail between your legs.”
“You sold your birthright so you could marry that trollop!”
“You’re not good at relationships because you don’t value them.”
“I don’t want to make a career out of being there so you can kick me when you fail.”
Suddenly, everything’s out on the table and nobody is holding back. And even though the events could have played out in a doom-laden catastrophic manner, it all felt like a breath of fresh air. At the end, every character was exactly where they were supposed to be.
As the title of the episode indicated, the show was literally composed of scenes of people shutting the door and having a seat and yet great drama was wrung out of these remarkably repetitive scenes over and over again. They’ve spent the last three seasons setting these characters up (and in some cases, knocking them down) to get to this point. This episode was all about playing all the riffs on the relationships they’ve spent three years constructing to get to this moment. Like Peggy’s “Really?” to the news that Pete brought Clearasil on as a client. Two syllables that address the history of the two characters and also implied a highly functioning partnership on the part of the Campbells. In fact, to our intense delight, Trudy looks to have become a fairly prominent character in the new status quo, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
You’re going to have to forgive a little bit of fragmentation in this post. We’re just gonna spew and hope it wraps itself up in the end somehow.
The episode opens with Don waking up coughing in Gene’s/Baby Gene’s/I Don’t Love You Anymore’s room. Contrast that with the Don of just 3 episodes ago in a tuxedo accepting an award. We said back then that it felt like Don was heading toward a downfall and he certainly rarely looked as beaten down as he does here.
Betty, on the other hand, is moving forward, jaw set. “Maybe you should see a doctor. A good one,” says Don to the news that Betty’s consulted a divorce lawyer, desperately trying to regain control in the old Don Draper manner. “Because I’d have to be sick to want out of this?” she shoots back. It’s not gonna work anymore, Don.
To be honest, we just wanted to see the Draper marriage end. We really hope there isn’t a planned reconciliation for these two characters in season 4. It’s done and we’ll repeat what we said about them during season 2: “The Draper family seems irrevocably broken and we can’t help thinking that everyone involved would be better off if they just all went their separate ways.” And we said that BEFORE she threw him out of the house the first time. It’s been three full seasons of misery in Ossining. A good marriage might have survived the year that they had, but they clearly never had a good marriage.
In other news, Connie calls Don in for another meeting and drops a bomb on him, which gives him license to speak the truth and call Connie out on his games and bullshit. “You called me son. I get it, Connie.” But Connie unwittingly throws down a gauntlet to Don: Are you the type of man who whines about his fate or does something about it? Don chooses option B because taking charge of his career is the only thing he has left in the face of his disintegrating home life.
Just like in last season’s finale, when every character had to come face to face with the end of something (although last year’s Cuban Missile Crisis-inspired “end of civilization” was a little bit more dire), the status quo got upended and all bets were off. As Don appealed first to Bert and then with Bert to Roger, he had the zeal of a man with a mission and the desperation to go around with hat in hand (literally) to convince others to climb on board.
Roger, like Pete and Peggy and Betty this episode, wants his pound of flesh from Don and before he can even think of throwing in with him, he had to get a few things off his chest, not the least of which was his brutally honest assessment that Don doesn’t value relationships in any form. A hobo down to his soul. It’s interesting to note that for all Don’s attempt at privacy, the people around him have known him long enough and been at the mercy of his demons enough that they all tend to know him pretty well, much to his chagrin. This episode was in many ways a chance for many of the characters to tell Don exactly what they think of him.
We loved the scene where the four future partners of Sterling Cooper Draper Price sit down in Don’s office and discover to their delight that they can actually get out of this untenable situation. It only made us wish we could have seen more of the business drama this season because they really shine when they focus on it. “Well, gentlemen. I suppose you’re fired.” Lane is awesome. Have we said that enough? We’re really looking forward to seeing more of him next season and wondering how his bitchy wife is going to take to her permanent residence in New York.
Two things of note here:
The first: The lack of technology, the fact that you could only set this story in this particular time period, when a message to London won’t even be read for 3 days, is what allows the entire caper to be successfully pulled off. We appreciate that from the writers because the show works best when they really make good use of that specific brief period of time to set stories in motion. That short window when the business world was operating globally but didn’t have the technology that would come along in a short while to facilitate it.
It’s also notable that Don gives an emphatic “No” to the idea of Connie as a client for the newly formed firm. While it’s true that Connie had ended things and Don gave him a little mouth on the way out, Don could conceivably have pitched him on the merits of SCD&P. That he chose not to is evidence of his need for control in this moment. He had the energy of a newly formed evangelical. He had found his purpose and he didn’t have time for idiosyncratic clients who like to play head games.
So Don and Roger are off to see Pouting Pete. Don finally said to Pete everything Pete needed to hear from him, and the beauty of it was that all of it was absolutely true. A complete validation for the character.
Can we just take a moment here to once again declare our love for Trudy Campbell, setting out the chip and dip and wearing a kicky little dress for company? Her perky little, “I’m going to change the sheets,” was treat enough, but her tense, eavesdropping-inspired “Peter, may I speak to you for a moment?” had us rolling. Best line of the night. Once again, we see the total teamwork in the Campbell marriage as Pete tells her to get the rolodex out from under the bed, where he threw it (a great throwaway line illustrating Pete’s childishness) and pose as his secretary in order to set up a meeting with a client. At the end of the episode, we see Trudy breezing into the new “office” with lunch for everyone and we realize, she is in a new position to become the alpha wife in this scenario. Don, Roger, Lane and Bert do not have willing partners to play the hostess and the arm candy as a firm like this would definitely require. Her willingness to be a partner to her husband could be a great asset not only to the Campbells, but to the newly formed company.
Roger and Don still don’t love each other, but they’re back to sitting in a bar together, something we haven’t seen them do all season. They each seem to have realized the other’s worth and they’ve reached enough of a detente that it can survive Roger blurting out Betty’s rumored infidelity to him. Our mouths dropped when he said the name of Henry Francis to Don. A great scene and a plot twist we didn’t see coming.
Again, revelations and endings lead to spoken truths. After calling her a “spoiled main line brat,” Don says to Betty, “You never forgave me.” “Forgave what?” she spits out. “That I’ve never been enough?” And if these truths weren’t enough, when Don calls her the very worst name Don Draper could ever call someone, “whore,” they’ve reached the point of no return. The marriage effectively ends at that moment. And didn’t we all want it to? We don’t hate either character or blame either character for the demise of the marriage; we just want it to be over. They’re more miserable than they’ve ever been (and that’s really saying something) and it’s time to just rip off the band-aid and get it over with. So they do.
“Is it because I lost your cufflinks?” asks Bobby at the news. It’s a heartbreaking line that reveals beautifully what goes on in the head of a child when divorce becomes real to them. “You made him stay in Gene’s room and it’s scary in there!” accused Sally. Children processing adult events in child-like terms. It was a tear-your-heart out scene, beautifully written and perfectly acted by all four of them. But even this didn’t change our minds about the divorce. As painful as it was for the kids, they’d only have a lifetime of tense and uncomfortable scenes ahead of them if they tried to keep the family together.
The ending of the primary relationship in Don’s life has him running around trying to shore up all the secondary relationships and none were better than the scenes where he tries to keep Peggy from leaving him. But she’s no more likely to fall for the old Don Draper moves than Betty is. “Beg me?” she says when it’s her turn to collect her pound of flesh, “You didn’t even ask me.”
Later, in her adorably messy new apartment (in the DVD bonus commentaries for season 2, Matthew Weiner gleefully mentions the fact that Peggy is a bit of a slob as one of his favorite character bits several times) Don laid it all out to her. We watched this scene three times and each time we thought, “Why does Don look so good here?” It wasn’t just the beautiful lighting. On the third viewing we finally figured it out. It’s because Don is looking up at Peggy, who’s in a superior position. A pleading Don with his hat literally in his hands, the sun streaming through the windows and lighting his face up like a joyous convert, is a completely human and vulnerable Don. A far cry from the swaggering Don who shoved his hands up the skirts of women to get them to do his bidding. And then something else occurred to us. This scene is a romance. There isn’t a chance in hell of Peggy and Don ever having a literal romantic relationship (or of even wanting one) but this scene is nevertheless a declaration of love, a grand gesture in the face of a breakup. “I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.” It’s literally one of the most romantic things Don has ever said. That’s as firm a declaration of love and need as Don has ever uttered. And Peggy, because how could she not? Completely accepted it. She is finally where she needed to be: her worth is known and valued.
After that, it’s just a matter of setting events into motion. With the addition of one last-minute, yet nonetheless major player.When Roger stood up and said he was making a phone call we knew our Joannie was on her way back. “Joan. What a good idea,” says Don appreciatively, and we could NOT agree more. From that point on, we just sat back with huge grins on our faces and watched it all unfold.
“Peggy, can you get me some coffee?”
Okay, no. THAT was the best line of the night. Of the SERIES. The old ways are OVER. We said this about Don after Betty found out the truth about him, but now it applies to all of them: they could literally go anywhere they want to with these new core characters. The possibilities for what season 4 could even be about are so wide open that we’re not even going to attempt to make predictions.
Joan. We just can’t say how happy we are regarding Joan’s role in this turn of events. “Furnished?” she asks Don, at his request for a new apartment, followed by the most incredibly discreet “I’m sorry,” as she folds the paper and files it away in her robot brain. SCD&P didn’t feel like a real possibility until she came on board and we can’t wait to see where this takes her.
With a newfound control exerted over his life and his immediate goals met and immediate future wide open, Don ends what needs to end. “I’m not gonna fight you,” he says to Betty and for a moment she looks a little hurt to hear that he won’t. But it’s really over. “You will always be their father.” That’s as final as final gets and Don knows it.
So Betty is off to Reno with Henry and little Gene while Carla sits in the den in Ossining with poor Sally and Bobby. It would be easy to vilify Betty for running off with another man and leaving her two children weeks before Christmas but that’s as much an admonishment against the draconian divorce laws of the times as it is a strike against her. We guess she could have waited until after the holidays but why? Why leave the family in limbo? For good or for ill, she’s fallen for someone else and wants to get her family out of an untenable situation. Is she going to find happiness with Henry? Who knows? Sure, there are some warning signs there, but say what you will about him, the guy follows through. She’s got a better chance with Henry than she ever did with Don.
And Don is living in the city- where he belongs? After all, Don always was attracted to either the cosmopolitan (Rachel and Bobbie) or the bohemian (Midge and Suzanne). His mistake was taking the educated, world traveling, Italian-speaking model he fell in love with and trying to turn her into a suburban housewife. We suspect Don’s immediate focus is his career at the moment and another relationship is not on his agenda right now but you never can tell with this show and a divorced Don doesn’t necessarily mean he’s suddenly conquered his impulse control issues when it comes to women. Although really, anything is possible right now with these characters and that suddenly makes the show feel more energized. For once, all of these characters are out in front of change instead of unprepared for it or worse, passive to it, like they usually are. The future really is wide open to them.
[Pictures courtesy of amctv.com]
Tags: Mad Men
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