Mad Men 4.13 – No, seriously, who IS Don Draper?

A lot of TV critics spent much of last week trying to work out what would come to pass in this season’s final episode of “Mad Men,” but I can honestly say that I didn’t give it too much thought. The most I did, really, was reflect on how the previous season of “Mad Men” ended, which only served to leave me thinking, “Okay, there’s no way the end of Season 4 is going to leave me as excited about next season as the end of Season 3 did.” And I was right: it didn’t…but that doesn’t mean that Matthew Weiner didn’t still do yet another fine job of setting the stage for the series’ next go-round.

Maybe it’s just the cocktails talking, but since this is the season finale, I don’t think there’s any point in going through the episode scene by scene by scene, so let’s just look at the various events that went down, along with their repercussions:

Don and Fay: I think we all knew they were more or less doomed from the moment Don sexed up Megan in his office, but, man, it just got more and more depressing to watch them interact, especially knowing that Fay had basically betrayed her principles for the sake of their relationship. Her speech to him before she headed off on her flight underlined yet again how much she cared about him. I really do think that Don wanted it to work out between them, but as he proved last week with his letter to The New York Times (and, of course, on probably a hundred more occasions in other episodes), he’s a man who does things on impulse, rarely bothering to concern himself with the possible repercussions. I can’t imagine that their final phone conversation will prove to be the last we see of Fay, but if it is, you can’t say she didn’t get the best possible last word, snapping, “I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”

Don and Megan: As soon I saw Don start talking to Megan, I said to my wife, “Oh, God, don’t tell me he’s going to ask her to watch the kids for him…” But, of course, he did. I knew that the fire between them was destined to be rekindled at some point during the trip to California, but, really, did anyone anticipate that it would all go down so fast? Even when Stephanie gave Don the ring, I couldn’t imagine that he and Fay would ever actually make it to the altar, but, Jesus, it never occurred to me that, before episode’s end, the ring would be on Megan’s finger…and, yet, looking back at the episode, it’s very easy to see how Don got so caught up in it all.

First and foremost, Megan loves the kids and the kids love Megan. Don’s initial line when he walks into the room to a French chorus – “You said you didn’t have any experience, but you’re like Maria von Trapp!” – was hilarious, but it still wasn’t as funny as the expressions on the faces of Sally, Bobby, and Don when Megan kept her cool after Sally’s milkshake spillage. On top of that, she’s gorgeous, smart, and respects what Don does, all of which are important qualities. Still, let’s not kid ourselves: it’s the way she handles the kids that seals the deal.

In the midst of post-coital bliss, Megan tells Don, “I know who you are now.” Except she doesn’t. Not really, anyway. But she’ll no doubt find out at some point in the future. Maybe Betty and Fay can fill her in…?

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A trailer double bill: “The Black Swan” and “The Red Shoes” and some movie news too, I guess (updated)

I’m miles from home, I’ve left my mouse at home, and the barristas where I am are annoying while talking about movies, which is extra annoying to me. Can’t they talk annoyingly about sports instead? Why am I here? I got here early to beat the traffic and am across the street from the New Beverly Theater where I’ll be frittering hours away doing something unspeaking geeky on the occasion of the birthday of a fellow film geek blogger.

So, there’s no time for discuss the more interesting than usual casting news that Idris Elba will be taking over the role of James Patterson’s Alex Cross in the upcoming series reboot, that January Jones will try something different from tantalizing and annoying “Mad Men” viewers as Betty Draper and will be taking over the role of Emma Frost in “X-Men: First Class” or that Noomi Rapace, who originated the role of Lisbeth Salender in the Swedish “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is about to be heavily promoted for an Oscar nomination and may be taking on some blockbuster roles in big time American flicks, except that I just did. Instead, I’m presenting the really terrific — and outstandingly creepy — trailer for “The Black Swan” which seems destined for the title of most unnerving ballet film of all time, which I guess is just what we should expect from Darren Aronofsky after all this time. 13 year-old Chloe Moretz has already endorsed it in my recent interview with her. [UPDATE: Anne Thompson has thrown some very cold water over the Nikki Finke/Noomi Rapace story. I’m sure readers of both blogs may be seeing more about this one.]

I think I’ve presented it before here, but what the heck, after the flip is the trailer for the rather strange and very ravishing classic film Aronofsky pretty much had to have been thinking about as he made his film. I hope Mr. Scorsese, whose directing her “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” guides young Ms. Moretz to “The Red Shoes” — I can’t imagine he wouldn’t, seeing as he’s said it’s his favorite movie.

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Mad Men 3.13 – “Do We Vote or Something?”

DAMN, that was good.

Tonight’s season finale of “Mad Men” was one of those blessing / curse episodes: it took threads from throughout the season, tied them together into a happy ending of cheer-worthy proportions, but just as you start to think, “Oh, man, I can’t wait to see what happens next,” you remember that you’re watching the season finale and that your wait is going to last for the better part of a year.

When we first see Don, he’s a goddamned mess. He looks like crap, he’s been kicked out of his own bed, and even worse, his alarm didn’t go off, leading him to show up late for a meeting with Conrad Hilton. Not exactly the best start to a day, and it only gets worse: Connie drops the bombshell that McCann-Erickson is buying Putnam, Powell & Lowe, and since PPL owns Sterling-Cooper…well, so much for the Draper / Hilton partnership. Given his already rough morning, it’s no surprise that Don quickly descends into mouthing off to Connie about his treatment, leading Hilton to snap back with the suggestion that Don’s being a bit of a whiner. In the end, the two shake hands and depart as…not exactly friends, but still on some semblance of friendliness, at least from a business standpoint.

It’s after this encounter, though, that the ball really starts rolling, and, man, there are some points where you feel like the ball in question is the boulder that chased Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Seriously, this was about as fast-moving an episode of “Mad Men” as I can ever remember. After we have a quick flashback to Don’s childhood, wherein we see that he has some personal experience to abrupt business transitions, Mr. Draper blows into Mr. Cooper’s office and drops on him the bombshell that he’s learned from Hilton. The result, surprisingly enough, is little more than a shrug. (“It makes sense,” says Bert. “All that short-term thinking.”) When Cooper falls back on his “we’ve got a contract” mentality, Don lashes back and suggests that they try and buy Sterling-Cooper back from the Brits, making for an absolutely fantastic back-and-forth between the two of them, delivered with impeccable timing by Jon Hamm and Robert Morse. The buyback isn’t such a bad idea, but, of course, it involves Don and Roger Sterling having to start speaking again, which would seem to lower the odds considerably…and, yet, it doesn’t. Instead, it leads to a reconciliation between the two of them, though not before Morse and John Slattery get their chance to do some verbal sparring, with Cooper offering his “Join or Die” speech and Sterling openly mocking his tactics. Even after returning to speaking terms with Roger, however, Don still can’t catch a break, returning home only to get the word from Betty that she’s moving forward with her plans to divorce him.

The Trio of Power – that’s what I’ve decided to start calling Don, Roger, and Bert – soon reconvene and invite Lane Pryce in for a cup of tea, springing it on him that they know all about the situation with PPL and Sterling-Cooper. He tells them they’re slightly misinformed. Turns out that he’s slightly misinformed, once again getting the shaft from the company to which we’ve consistently seen him giving his all. This time they’ve gone too far, however, and he’s not afraid to let them know it. I gotta tell ya, I almost cheered when Lane began working out specifics with the Trio of Power about a possible partnership. This scene was even more enthralling than the ones which had preceded it, with the Trio more than willing to acknowledge Lane’s worth to them. And as soon as the quartet decided on their new plan of attack – to let Lane fire them and immediately begin working a back-door plan to start their own brand new agency – the tone of the episode officially turned into something not terribly far removed from “Ocean’s 11,” with a “we’re getting the band back together” vibe.

But what do you do when not everybody in the band wants to get back together?

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Mad Men 3.12 – JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?

It’s impossible to write about the season’s penultimate episode of “Mad Men” without immediately acknowledging the elephant in the room: the JFK assassination. As grim as it sounds, it’s an event we’ve been waiting for since the second episode of this season. You may or may not remember, but there was a shot in Episode 3.2 which pointedly focused on Margaret Sterling’s wedding invitation, of which I wrote at the time, “I’m sure those who know their ’60s dates better than I do offered a sad nod when they saw the date of Roger’s daughter’s wedding, but I had to look it up. Given that the camera pointedly held on the invitation, I figured, ‘Okay, clearly, this is an important date,’ and I was right. Well, the actual wedding day isn’t necessarily important, but the day before certainly will be.”

And so it was, though it was already starting off pretty important for a few folks at Sterling-Cooper even before things went dramatically downhill in Dallas.

Roger’s daughter is battling back against her new stepmother, making ridiculous claims about how Jane’s gotten her so wound up that she no longer wants to get married. This sets Mona, a.k.a. the former Mrs. Sterling, into a rant during which she comes across as about as pleasant a mother as Betty Draper, but it’s clear that, once upon a time, she and Roger really were a match made in Heaven. Roger, meanwhile, has his own problems, and in the midst of his annoyance with Jane’s attempts to forge a relationship with Margaret, she locks herself in the bathroom. She tells him to go away. He snaps back, “Or what? You’ll commit suicide?” That’s dark, Roger, but somehow it’s still funny…well, y’know, unless that’s what she actually did.

We got a brief reappearance of Peggy’s roommate, who seemed to mostly show up for purposes of disparaging the relationship between Peggy and Duck Phillips. Later, she gets completely flustered (and we get a big laugh) when Duck invites her off for a mid-day rendezvous and, when she attempts to slip out surreptitiously, Paul unabashedly calls her out by saying, “I know a nooner when I hear one.” Awesome.

Aw, look at poor little Pete, asleep on the couch. Rustled awake by his assistant, his first instinct is to criticize the hot chocolate she’s brought him. That’s our Pete! It’s ice cold in the office for some reason (later, Don complaints that it’s too hot, leading me to believe that there’s some intended temperature-related metaphor going on in the background), and it only gets colder when Lane Pryce calls him into his office to give him some “rather disappointing news”: Ken is being made senior VP in charge account services, while Pete will be head of account management. Pete takes in the information with as much stride as he can manage, though you get the impression that he could well go “American Psycho” at any given moment. He bails out of the office and heads home, where a surprised Trudy immediately begins to play Ellery Queen and work her way through Pete’s assurances that he’s been fired before confirming that he’s just being typically melodramatic. A return to the office leads him into a conversation with Harry, but when Harry reaches over to turn down the volume on the TV on his desk so that they can chat in earnest, a familiar CBS News graphic pops onto the screen…well, familiar to someone who’s watched “JFK” as many times as I have, anyway.

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Mad Men 3.11 – And Who Are YOU Supposed To Be?

First things first: my thanks to Bob Westal for ably filling my shoes last week while I was in the UK. Alas, I was so busy covering the press junket for “Pirate Radio” that I wasn’t able to hunt down the home office of Putnam, Powell, and Lowe. Oh, well, maybe next time…

Betty is packing her bags when the episode begins. Will it prove to be prophetic…? We’ll see, but it certainly doesn’t seem to bode well that A) she and the kids are heading off for a week at her dad’s old place, and B) her last moments with Don involve him…well, not so much lying to her face about his stash o’ cash as unabashedly avoiding giving an answer when she asks if he has any money lying around. But, even so, you can tell she’s still damned well pissed at him, and given all of the confusing information that she’s found out about him through the contents of the drawer, you can’t blame her.

We meet Annabelle Mathis, heiress to a fortune in dog food as a result of her husband’s unfortunately demise at the age of 51…and, boy, the look Roger cut to Don when he was lighting up just as Annabelle was revealing that her husband had died of lung cancer was priceless. Don’s given the opportunity to take a shot at the campaign (apparently, Sterling-Cooper used to have their business, but, per Bert Cooper, “Her father was a son of a bitch”), just so long as he follows two cardinal rules: don’t change the recipe and don’t change the name. What’s the connection between Roger and Annabelle? Well, there was clearly a relationship of some sort back in the day. At first, it sounded like an extra-martial affair, since she asked him if he’s still married, but it’s later revealed that their coupling was quite some time in the past…not that either one of them has forgotten it. It’s to Roger’s credit that, despite the amount of alcohol in his system, he still doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity for post-dinner entertainment that Annabelle offers him.

Speaking of Roger’s extra-marital affairs, Joan is trying to help her husband prepare for job interviews, and in the process, she learns that his father had a nervous breakdown. Somehow, that stands to reason. The next day, she decides to call Roger and, although she won’t ask him for her old job back, she’s not above asking him for assistance in finding a new gig. The two of them have a nice, flirtatious conversation that harks back to earlier seasons, making for one of the most pleasant scenes of the episode, and although it doesn’t entirely pay off for Joan yet, Roger does indeed start making calls on her behalf. Things don’t go nearly as well for Dr. Greg, however, who promptly does an emotional bellyflop during his interview, then comes home and takes his annoyance out on his wife. She, however, responds in turn, clocking him over the head with a vase and leaving him to pick up the resulting broken glass by his damned self. “Oh, shit,” indeed. You go, Joan. But by episode’s end, we’re left wondering if maybe she gave him a concussion, as he returns home to tell her that he’s joined the Army. Just the mention of Vietnam and the throwaway line when he references it, saying, “If that’s still going on…” is a sure sign that he’ll be going over there and probably never coming back.

The dog food test for Calcott Farms goes so horribly bad, with the participants immediately recognizing the name, that Don orders Peggy to turn it off, leading to one of the funniest lines in the episode: “I can’t turn it off. It’s actually happening!” And then…

Oh, but you don’t want to hear any more about this stuff, do you? Let’s get to the real meat and potatoes of the episode: Don and Betty.

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