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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Mad Men 4.12 – A Certain Kind of Girl

Sorry for the delay in knocking out this week’s blog, but I spent the weekend attempting to cover the New York Comic Con, and the end result was that, upon flying home and making it into my house at about 10:30 PM, my attempts to watch and blog the show while wearing my spiffy new “Mad Men” button from NYCC – it has an illustration of Roger Sterling, along with the words, “When God closes a door, he opens a dress” – were interrupted by my complete and utter inability to stay awake.

So here we are on Monday morning, and although I’m still pretty freaking tired, I’m at least slightly better rested than I was last night.

Guess I picked the right button: it’s another episode directed by John Slattery. Things kick off with Don having an off-the-record meeting with a guy from Heinz, trying to get a feel for whether or not the company might be willing to hook up with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It’s clear that he respects Don and his work (though he may just be saying that because Don’s behind his premise that beans don’t have to be funny), but they’re on different timetables. There are two people at that table, but only one of them has any real confidence that SCDP will be around in six to eight months, and, frankly, you can’t blame Heinz for wanting to make sure that they’re working with an ad agency that’s going to have some sort of staying power.

Geoffrey Atherthon lays the state of SCDP on the line, using dating metaphors to make his point, and since “tobacco is your ideal boyfriend,” he’s helped provide the firm with a meeting with Philip Morris about their new cigarette line for women. “We will listen more than we will speak,” says Bert, matter-of-factly. “Like a good girlfriend,” smirks Atherton. Immediately after the meeting, everyone begins to break into small camps: Bert and Roger discussing what sort of clients they should be pursuing, Harry and Ken mostly just trying to figure out where they stand in the firm, and Pete and Lane talking about the state of the office and Don saving the day. Meanwhile, Don and Faye are chatting as well, but it’s work-related, so the conversation ends in a handshake, a decision which clearly bemuses Don. I’m guessing it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the shot was framed in such a way that Megan appeared to be between them.

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Mad Men 4.10 – Do You Promise Not To Tell?

Joan wants a chat with Roger…and the talk is serious: “I’m late. Very late.” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at how Roger immediately did his best to calm her down, speaking to her in a tender voice and assuring her that he’d take care of everything. His doctor, however, isn’t nearly as tolerant of the fact that Roger’s gotten Joan pregnant, but he still passes along information so that she can get an abortion…if she decides to actually get one, that is.
The mere fact that Roger broached the possibility of Joan keeping the baby made me sure that we were going to spend the rest of the episode playing “will she or won’t she,” and I was right on the money about that. Even now, Joan’s impossible to read. I hate to believe that she actually went through with it ’til we get formal confirmation on the matter, but she probably did, as it would go against standard “Mad Men” storytelling for her to do something as cliched as say, “I changed my mind, I’m keeping the baby.”

Lee Garner, Jr. is back…but not for long. After the Christmas episode, you’d think they’d be glad to see him go away for good, but since Lucky Strike is basically the client that’s keeping Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce afloat, their departure could literally sink the firm. It’s a little disconcerting to see Roger shift from angry into being legitimately upset. Will he be able to save SCDP in 30 days…or before he has another heart attack?

Isn’t it amazing how the promise of a ticket to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium – which dates the events of the episode as taking place near August 15, 1965 – can make up for years of half-assed parenting? But, my God, even Betty’s icy exterior cracked when Don told her where he was taking Sally…and, perhaps even more impressively, mother and daughter actually shared a smile. Unfortunately, the way Don kept having to put pressure on Harry about the tickets, coupled with Harry’s expression while assuring him that he’d get the tickets, had me worried almost immediately that the grand event wouldn’t go off as planned. Little did I know that it’d be the only thing that would pan out.

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Mad Men 4.9 – Here’s to you, Mrs. Blankenship…

Another week, another great episode of “Mad Men.” The show has really settled into a solid groove of awesomeness over the course of the past several weeks. Not that it isn’t always pretty darned awesome, but ever since Episode 4.6, it’s been mindbogglingly good.

Given the title of this blog, I feel obliged to start things off by discussing the late, great Mrs. Ida Blankenship. I’ve spent much of this season under the presumption that Bert Cooper would be the one to die in the saddle at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Not that I’m rooting for Robert Morse to leave the show, but it just seemed like we hadn’t been seeing a whole lot of him this year, so I thought that perhaps that Bert’s days were numbered…and maybe they still are, but I certainly never expected that Mrs. Blankenship would beat him to the punch.

Of Mrs. Blankenship’s death, Roger quipped, “She died as she lived: surrounded by the people she answered phones for.” Similarly, the character departed in much the same way that she existed: as a punchline. There was some straight-up “Weekend at Bernie’s” schtick going on in the background as Don desperately tried to maintain his meeting with the gentlemen from Fillmore Auto Parts, and even though that isn’t necessarily the sort of thing that I expect when I tune in to “Mad Men,” it doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. If I laugh harder at a Don Draper line this season than “I’d have my secretary do it, but she’s dead,” I’ll be very surprised. Still, Mrs. Blankenship’s demise did also lead to a sad, sweet moment from Bert, when he poetically described her as “an astronaut,” and it served to remind Roger of his mortality, which ultimately found him living life to the fullest…but we’ll get to that.

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Mad Men 4.8 – Power of the Poontang

Oh, come on: that line was screaming to be the title.

When we first see Don this week, he’s going for a swim…and, by the sound of it, he’s also going to be coughing up a lung in the near future. Surely someone in the firm is going to be developing lung cancer from their constant smoking, but I always thought Don’s liver would fail him first. Maybe I’m wrong…? Time will tell. We also hear him in voiceover as he bears his soul into a journal. I don’t know if he’s been inspired by Roger’s excruciatingly awful ramblings for his memoirs or if the loss of Anna has caused him to realize that someone someday should be able to know the real Don Draper, but whatever the case, these are some seriously deep thoughts that we hear over the course of the episode. Nice use of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” by the way, especially having the line about “the same cigarettes as me” roll off Mick’s lips just as Don’s preparing to put a cigarette to his.

Elsewhere around the office, Mrs. Blankenship has had eye surgery (I’m looking at her in a different light since the revelation that she used to be quite the hellcat back in her day, and I’m wondering if that might’ve been Matthew Weiner’s way of sidestepping critical accusations that she’d been less a character than a punchline), and the office neanderthals are beating the living hell out of the new vending machine. Clearly, it deserved it, what with first not doling out a tasty treat, then for swallowing Joey’s watch when he tried to go after said treat. I laughed out loud when Peggy said, “I feel like Margaret Mead.”

Yes, it’s definitely still a man’s man’s man’s world at Sterling Cooper Draper & Pryce, as evidenced by the treatment Joan has to put up with from the jackasses in the office…emphasis on “asses,” if you were watching closely during the discussion she was having with Peggy. Speaking of which, I thought that was a particularly nasty jab about how she could do with taking a few extra steps, but we soon realize that it isn’t (entirely) the goings-on at the office that have gotten her riled up but, rather, the fact that her husband is preparing to head to basic training. Given Don’s subsequent viewing of Vietnam footage on the telly and Joan pointedly referencing it in her later verbal attack on the guys (“Remember, you’re not dying for me, because I never liked you”), it’s hard to conceive of a scenario where she doesn’t end up as a widow in short order.

When Don began to space out during his meeting with the team, I thought for one moment that he was looking at Peggy in a different light after last week’s episode…but, no, it was much more likely the effects of the alcohol. That, or the simple fact that his mind just isn’t on his work the way it once was. Either there’s too much going on in his personal life or there’s not enough of what he wants there to be in it, but either way, this is not a happy camper that we see before us. An attempt to drown his sorrows in an evening with Bethany might possibly have worked, but however he might’ve anticipating things going, things changed at the precise moment that Betty and Henry stopped by their table.

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