Monday, October 18, 2010

'Mad Men' Finale -- Tomorrowland

Image credit: AMC
*Warning: Spoilers ahead from the season finale of Mad Men.*

I’m very annoyed with Matthew Weiner right about now. And after the jump I'll tell you why. (I'm putting the jump in to avoid spoiling the episode for the late-watchers.)


Image credit: AMC
I strenuously object to Don Draper being turned into a clichéd Roger Sterling who cheats on his wife with a series of women, divorces ugly, gets out of control and embarrassingly drunk (including at work), puts his company in peril with his behavior, and then spontaneously decides to propose marriage to a woman some 15 years his junior who represents a younger, newer, less jaded version of his first wife.

Seriously Matt & Co.?

The best scene of the entire finale – after I let some of the shock of the Don-Megan situation sink in (which I at first thought the proposal was a dream and I kept waiting for Don to wake up), and of the fact that Joan did not abort the baby she conceived with Roger seconds after they were mugged on a Manhattan street – took place in Joan’s office after Peggy learned of Don’s engagement. To watch Peggy, whom I’ve never seen smoke anything other than pot that one time, just casually take a cigarette from Joan’s pack and start unloading about this outrageously development in a casual shorthand, without having to explain everything or say everything out loud, was very gratifying. The two women finally seemed like contemporaries fighting the system side-by-side and complaining about the pathetic older men who cling to younger women to make them feel better about themselves.

The Joan-Peggy scene was a great antidote to those awful scenes with Don in bed with Megan, like when he weakly said, “I’ve done a lot of things,” as though he was testing the waters to see if she could handle the fact that he’s a quasi-fugitive hiding his real identity from the government.

“I know who you are now,” Megan replied dreamily. Yeah, he’s a horny nearly fortysomething divorced guy with three kids who has just rebounded from the drunken rock bottom and who had been serious with another woman, the one who saw him through his panic attack when he thought was close to getting arrested, a situation which caused his company to flush a multi-million-dollar account down the toilet. Does the shiny new penny known as Megan really know that that’s the kind of man she said has promised to marry? I think not.

We’ve already seen what happens when a middle aged man of Don’s ilk suddenly marries a subordinate, a young secretary whom he barely knows, casting aside older, wiser women. Roger, who married the stunning Jane (who stomps her feet, pouts and is portrayed as behaving like a child) and booted Mona, now finds that he’s bored with his trophy wife and fled into the arms of the older, wiser more compatible Joan (although Joan’s not Roger’s contemporary, age-wise, either). That doesn't bode well for Don and Megan (nor does that final, weighty scene with Don and Betty).

I thought that Faye, although she wasn’t great with children, was a good match for Don. She didn’t overly mother him, didn’t just automatically attend to all his needs like, say, a secretary, but she was around his age, was mature, strong and professionally accomplished. She reminded me a great deal of Rachel Menken. Why Don decided to ask Megan to marry him – using the ring that the real Don Draper gave to Anna – will likely be the grist for many a vigorous online debate, much of it centering on whether Don (who told Peggy that Megan reminds him of her?!) was looking to find someone who’d mother him and his kids in a way he was never mothered as a child.

Was it really Megan’s deft, loving handling of Sally spilling the milkshake that prompted Don to look at Megan with fresh eyes? In the very next scene, Don was proposing to Megan in his bedroom right after she’d woken up in his bed in New York. She was wearing a negligee and her hair was mussed, while he was all cleaned up and dapper in his suit and saying things like, “I feel like myself when I’m with you, but the way I always wanted to feel because I’m in love with you Megan and I think I have been for a while.” Huh? Isn’t this lust and not love?

Should I read anything into this turn of events about Weiner’s views on women in general? Like the notion that strong, achieving women get punished or chastised in some way?
 
Confident Joan was an older bride for the time period, whose doctor fiancé raped her because he was jealous of her sexual experience. When her husband couldn’t cut it as a surgeon in New York, he spontaneously joined the Army and was sent to Vietnam, all without consulting his wife. Then Joan went to dinner with her old flame, got mugged, had sex with her former lover in a gritty alley, got pregnant with the lover’s baby, listened to said married lover say he’d deny paternity of the kid should she have it and then she received a hollow promotion, one with a title but no money.

Peggy got knocked up by a married colleague when she was a secretary and he held a higher position than she, then she got promoted, was involuntarily committed because she didn’t want to acknowledge her pregnancy, climbed the ladder at work and had a guy dump her because he thought she worked too much. At work she's constantly reminded that marriage should be more important to her than her career.

Faye was a cool customer, a PhD who pretended to be married so that her love life would be a non-issue in the workplace. She was smart, had a tough exterior and rebuffed Don’s initial attempts to woo her. Then she finally softened and became the kind of partner who’d help you for life, brace you for your difficulties, offer astute advice. She also had professional ethical standards and tried her best to live by them. And then Faye was dumped. Over the phone. “Are you kidding me?” she asked when Don called and said, “I fell in love. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

Then there was Betty, for whom I have a soft spot. This season, the writers have made her a vapid, aggressive, angry and unlikable raging narcissist. She was utterly demonizing in this finale, impulsively firing Carla when Carla let Glen into the house. (I still think Betty’s jealous that Glen no longer has a crush on her and was now paying attention to Sally.) She was infantilized in the scene where she went into Sally’s mostly-packed room and curled up on her daughter's stripped bed. Then Betty indicated some remorse when she clearly waited for Don at the home they used to share together and confessed that things aren't perfect in her life.

With the exception of the scene with Joan and Peggy, I got a very bad vibe off from this episode. (I was pleased that Joan kept the baby, she should get something she wants for a change.)  For all the sexism and misogyny that’s gone on in this show, it has usually seemed contextually on the mark. That was the way that it was then, I told myself. That’s the way it would’ve played out. But to have Don break up with Faye after spending a handful of days with Megan and dive into marriage didn’t HAVE to happen. And Betty didn’t have to be depicted as a thoroughly and completely irritating character this season with practically no redeeming moments.

Did the finale make for exciting and unpredictable TV? Absolutely. But I did not like where the last 30 minutes took us.

Image credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.

6 comments:

mominsanity said...

Ditto on the scene with Joan and Peggy. Joan, Peggy and the doctor are my favorite characters in this series. I just don't get Don Draper all that much and Roger is just a disgusting pig IMO.

Cooley Horner said...

I have mixed feelings on the finale. I liked the season a lot; compared to others, it was very cohesive and felt consistent in terms of tone. However, the finale felt like a lot of stuff dumped into place all at once. "Oh great! He got the ring! Oh great! Meghan fits in with his kids like Carol Brady! Oh perfect! She's all gorgeous and stuff and he's asking her to marry him, and oh perfect, there are no repercussions (yet)!" It all just came together too neatly, and I don't trust it. I didn't like Faye, but I also thought Meghan felt very fake for the second half of the season. Faye hit the nail on the head when she said he only likes beginnings--I know a lot of men like that, actually, and it's a contributing factor to the divorce rate these days--but Don strikes me as someone who needs to be alone for a while (even though that'll never happen).

For me, the best parts of the episode were on the periphery. I loved learning that Joan kept the baby, and I was proud of Peggy's victory for the company. Their pow-wow in Joan's office was awesome, and it almost made up for that awkward conversation in the elevator when Joan accused Peggy of throwing her under the bus.

All in all? Good season, weird finale. I didn't dislike it, but it was kind of unsettling in a subtle way.

Meredith O'Brien said...

Cooley,

I thought this season, overall, was amazing. "The Suitcase" -- the episode with Don and Peggy at the office all night -- was my favorite. Many of the scenes have been incredibly powerful (Lane with his father, Don blacking out and forgetting about his kids, Roger with Honda, Joan and Roger at the doctor's office, Don journaling) and yet, often, so tragic as well.

This finale, with Don's incredibly dumb spur-of-the-moment decision, just struck me as out of the blue and not in line with how he'd been consciously rebuilding his life with self-reflective journaling, with the cutting back on drinking, with his swimming and dating a woman who was appropriate for him. It seemed desperate. Although Don did rip his previous journal entries out of the notebook in the previous episode. Perhaps that was foreshadowing.

Cooley Horner said...

Meredith--

They will NEVER top "The Suitcase." It's one of those episodes that, even taken by itself and out of context of the series, is just perfect. I agree that this finale felt really out of the blue, but for now I'm crossing my fingers and hoping Weiner knows what he's doing. You're right, though---Self-Reflective Don seems to have gone as quickly as he arrived, and that's weird. I was also struck by the lack of closure/development in Betty's storyline; she's been stagnant in this childish/bitchy phase since the start of the season, and I'd thought they'd develop that more.

Still, a fabulous season, nonetheless. Can't deny it. From "The Suitcase" to the resurgence of Roger/Joan to Keirnan Shipka being awesome as Sally, it was awesome.

amy said...

Allright Ladies, here's my take on the finale.

It remained consistent in terms of character. Don has become somewhat impulsive and bold, more Peggy-esque in some ways--and proposing to Meghan was in line with this trait, it was similar to writing the op ed piece in the Times.

I think he wants to marry her because she is nurturing and good with his kids, but here's the thing--unlike Roger, I'm not sure Don needs much more than that. I think Meghan is young enough that she will be supportive of whatever Don wants and won't challenge him, and I think he has enough other people in his life to do so--Peggy for one--so having someone who will let him take care of her and will care for his kids is enough for him.

I do think Don will cheat on Meghan as he did with Betty, the question is, with the 60s ramping up, will Meghan cheat on him?

Love the scene between Peggy and Joan, shows how far Peggy has come from a mousy awestruck secretary to a more confident young woman. And Meredith, I think the show missed the biggest opportunity of the season in NOT playing "Fools in Love" as the closing song for this season.

Meredith O'Brien said...

Amy -- "Fools in Love" would've been PERFECT!