Monday, November 9, 2009

'Mad Men' Monday: Shut the Door. Have a Seat.

*Warning, spoilers ahead from the season three finale of Mad Men.*

This was everything I expected and nothing I expected. I spent the hour saying, “Oh my God” and being pleased that while I could anticipate some of the plot turns, the way in which they were executed were creatively interesting and loaded with unexpected twists.

First of all . . . is Betty actually going to marry Henry Francis, a man she barely even knows?! Can this be possible? How can she trust him? How can she not worry that she could be being duped a second time because she doesn’t know Henry that well? To see Betty, baby Gene and Henry on that plane headed to Reno while Carla was home in Ossining with Sally and Bobby (for what, six weeks?) and Don was in Manhattan toting suitcases into a furnished apartment . . . was surprising and yet somehow not.

Clearly Betty felt irreparably humiliated by the discovery of Don’s Dick Whitman information, more so than she did when she learned he was screwing Bobbie Barrett and countless other nameless women, and, when coupled with the emotional iciness Don displayed after the Kennedy assassination, that solidified for Betty that she and Don were history. She decided her best option was to run away with a man who was willing to upend his entire life and accept three children, including a baby, into his life in order to be with her. Betty did all of this coolly and effectively. She was uncowed by Don and his typical attempts to wear her down pin the blame for the collapse of their marriage on her. (“Come on Betts, what are you doing seeing a lawyer?” he said, trying to tell Betty that maybe she was just upset about Kennedy and perhaps should see a psychiatrist. “I want to be civilized about this, please don’t act surprised,” she replied.) Man, it was as if Betty had tapped some of that ice water from Don’s veins and injected it into hers.

Their angry confrontation after Don learned that Betty and Henry had some kind of a romantic relationship, simply allowed Don to verbalize his deepest fears: That someone like him, a poor farm boy with his sordid conception and screwed up family, couldn’t ever get an affluent, educated woman from an established society family like the Hofstadts to love him and be his wife. (“You got everything you ever wanted! Everything! And you loved it! What, now I’m not good enough for some spoiled, mainline brat?”) To watch Don hypocritically call Betty a “whore” -- after his well known, epic philandering, plus given the fact that his mother was an actual prostitute -- was devastatingly sad.

When it was clear that the Draper family would be no more, Don watched as everything else around him crumbled, and he couldn’t help recalling dreary moments of his hellishly bleak childhood, including witnessing his father kicked in the head by a horse. (How poignant was it for Don to come home late one night to find Sally -- who hated and feared “Grandpa Gene’s” room but braved the scariness in order to sleep in her dad’s bed – and to snuggle beside her?) Don lost his wife. He broke his children’s hearts by moving out of the house permanently. (Money says Sally’s going to go haywire next season. Imagine her response if Don openly started dating Miss Farrell?) He lost his major account who called him a “prized pig” when he learned that Sterling Cooper was going to be no more after it, as well as PPL, was being bought by McCann.
And from this we saw the birth of a new Don, one who had to be humble again, like the boy from the farm. Don had to admit that in order to form a new ad agency – in that wonderfully espionage-like story about stealing all the clients away from PPL before they knew what hit them – that he had weaknesses that he couldn’t paper over. He wasn’t good with numbers. He wasn’t good with accounts. He couldn’t always see the ways of the future coming at him (the way Pete did). He didn’t value relationships. (“You’re not good at relationships because you don’t value them.”) In order to get the freedom he wanted – to not be part of McCann’s “sausage factory” – Don, ironically, needed people and relationships and humility. And he needed to be plain about it all.

So while Don lost Betty, he had to make amends and appease people, like with Roger Sterling. Don had to go, hat in hand, to Peggy’s apartment and apologize for acting like a Neanderthal toward her, admit that he took her for granted, beg her to come with him to his new company, and say he didn’t think she’d just follow him around like a “nervous poodle,” as she put it. (“I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you,” he said when Peggy asked if he’d never speak to her again if she turned him down.) He and Roger even set foot in Pete Campbell’s apartment – the domicile of the man who threatened to reveal Don’s secret identity to Bert Cooper as a bargaining ploy in order to secure a promotion – and plead with him to bring his portfolio of accounts to join them.

Joan – yay Joan! – was pulled out of the department store in order to prove how savvy and valuable she is. Trudy – hey, new partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, hire this lady – was a source of brightness and light as the new members of the just-born ad agency commenced work in cramped hotel quarters. It was a great scene, seeing the Sterling Cooper refuges – Roger, Bert, Don, Lane, Joan, Peggy, Pete and Harry Crane – in that hotel room, starting from scratch, a humble beginning, all together. Likewise, it was delicious to see not only Lane blithely allow the patronizing British snots of PPL to sack him (as he stabbed them in the back), but to see the rest of the folks not asked to join SCDP wonder if the Sterling Cooper offices had been robbed. When they figured out what was happening, the look on Paul Kinsey’s face when he realized Don had asked Peggy to join them and not him – once again, Paul was on the outside looking in – was priceless.

However, hands down, one of the best scenes was when the SCDP folks were pilfering company files and Roger said, “Peggy, can you get me some coffee?” Peggy -- who eloquently and fearlessly stood up to Don (who rightfully she said Don used her to kick whenever he failed and feeling badly about himself) earlier in the episode – quickly and flatly said, “No.” A new era was been born, for everyone, and now I’m unreasonably curious to find out how the new era of Mad Men will unfold next summer. (Bert Cooper jokingly threatening to lock Harry in the store room was a close second for comedic relief.)

What did you think of the Mad Men finale? Did it meet your expectations?

Image credit: Carin Baer/AMC.


Crackr said...

A couple more great funny lines (in addition to Bert threatening to lock Harry in the closet):

Harry: Are you kidding?
Roger: Yes. Yes we are. Happy birthday!

Pete (during the meeting in his apartment): I don't have any accounts. In fact, I don't know what you're talking about.
Trudy (from off-screen): Peter, can I talk to you for a minute?

amy said...

I was waiting for Don and Betty to start slinging it at each other when they were telling the kids about him moving out; they both exhibited more restraint than couples do in present-day times. Given that they wouldn't really know back then how divorce would affect the kids and the "right" way to break it to them, I can't believe that Don didn't do a "Mommy wants me to leave" and Betty didn't add a "Daddy was bad and so he has to go" kind of thing in front of the kids. The whole scene was too PC for me and certainly for the 60s.

I love the way they are bringing key people in the cast back together, and that Bert was included in it, Roger and Don had to make up, and JOAN is now back. It will be fun to see then conduct the business of advertising as they will have to be trying constantly to win accounts from larger agencies.

Thought the finale was great overall, exceeded my expectations.

Meredith said...

Crackr: Did like Roger's line about the whole thing being some weird birthday prank. Trudy's heavy-handed hint from off-screen made me smile.

In fact I smiled a great deal throughout this episode.

Amy, I was thrilled to see Joan return, but I kept waiting for Sal. I miss him.

On the Don-Betty front, I too was waiting for Don to tell the kids, "Mommy is making me leave," particularly when he was desperately trying to couch his leaving as "temporary" while Betty was insisting it was permanent. Seeing Don hug Bobby, so sad.

Bill said...

I thought Don's reading of Betty was right on the money. I didn't think it was deepest fears - Don doesn't pay attention to class, Betty certainly does. He was pissed because he earned what he got and worked to be where he is, and now she's throwing him over because she found out the truth about his pedigree. He should have told her, but she never would have stayed with him. (Not that any of that excuses the lying and cheating.)

His 'whore' comment was a bit rough, but hardly hypocritical. (Especially after her back-of-the-bar escapade.) Don's shallow philandering is more a warped celebration of what he's earned; it's not how he earns it.
We've seen Betty fascinated with call-girls -- maybe a little self-recognition?

And 'God knows' the kids *would* be better off with him. Her marriage, like her children, is somewhat inconvenient. So, she sends the marriage to its room and takes up with Henry.

I didn't see Don as emotionally icy after JFK. The survivor in him came out. He refused to wallow. He attempted to be comforting, especially with the kids. Betty was too busy feeling sorry for herself to deal with them.

And hoorah for a show that is often about WORK. What we all do for most of our days. So many shows are just set in the workplace... this one actually finds time to talk about the actual work, about money, etc. I loved Peggy's 'No' about getting coffee, and Roger trying to read Joan's writing. Those scenes around the table really had the feel of people pitching in to get something done.

Another funny line:
Roger: "We need another 3-4 million for... cash flow. Or something."

Bizness acumen! At least amusing in Slattery's hands.

Bill said...

Also, the line that really had be bursting out laughing was Layne Price's.

After SaintJohn bellows "You're fired for incompetence! You're fired for being disloyal! You're fired!"

Layne: "Very good. Happy Christmas!" -click-

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