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 4.10 – 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 4.4 – “I’m going to need a new secretary.”

This week’s “Mad Men” blog starts off in much the same way as this week’s “True Blood” blog: with a thank-you to the gentleman who so capably filled my shoes while I was at the TCA press tour. Kudos to Bob Westal, who – unlike the Beverly Hilton – actually gets AMC, thereby putting him in a far better position than myself to write up last week’s episode. Fortunately, I had the chance to watch the episode when I got home, but I also read Bob’s blog, which should ostensibly mean that I’m doubly prepared this week.

Rarely does a basic cable program which opens with the words “the following program contains brief nudity” ever disappoint me, so I was glad to see that particular phrase gracing the beginning of tonight’s episode. Based on Bryan Cranston’s comments about how he hates to direct episodes of “Breaking Bad” without having as much lead time to prepare for them as possible (to date, he’s only helmed season openers), I presumed that seeing John Slattery’s name in the directorial slot meant that we’d see little in the way of Roger Sterling, but damned if he wasn’t the second person to show onscreen. John, don’t work yourself so hard!

The national crackdown on smoking advertisements would seem to be cutting into what SCD&P can accomplish, but, of course, Roger’s telling everyone that “Don doesn’t think there’s a problem.” Meanwhile, there’s clearly a problem with Don, who picks up an empty bottle of Scotch, only to be informed that the reason it’s empty is because he drank it all. The “ladies” are looking for him to make business decisions, but he’s just looking for ice. The poor bastard: with everything going on in his personal life, he’s clearly hovering in the vicinity of a nervous breakdown, but he’s stuck having to be the big man on campus with the new firm. The moment he pulled out the photo out of the letter, there was no question in my mind that it would, by episode’s end, prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it was only cemented by the bug-eyed look Don gave Allison when she saw the photo and asked if it was from the letter from California.

Pete’s in a grouchy mood from the moment he turns up this week, bitching about not being included in the Lucky Strike call, and things only get worse when Roger tells him that SCD&P is going to have to kick Clearasil to the curb. Lane attempts his version of putting salve on the wound by explaining the mathematics behind the decision, leaving Pete even more upset, but Roger tells him to throw himself on the grenade, as it were, for the good of the company. “This evening, if you can,” adds Lane. What a guy. “I hate this office,” says Pete, as he storms into his office, where he finds…Harry Crane? Yep, dude’s just hanging out, having a snack, and waiting to cheer down Pete even more with the news that his old nemesis, Ken Cosgrove, is marrying the daughter of the CFO of Corning. When Harry says that he’s going to the opera with Ken because they’re friends, Pete sneers, “Friends? Why are you always looking for a job?” Oh, Pete, you’re such an unlikeable little shit. If we’re supposed to feel sorry for him…well, sorry, but I don’t. With an attitude like that, you reap what you sow. But with that said, I did have to smile at his excitement at learning that he was going to be a father, and the scene with him and Trudy was genuinely touching.

After Lane battled back from being a British Businessman to offer Pete legitimate congratulations on his impending child, it seemed as though all was right in Pete’s world, so much so that he even agreed to join Harry for a lunch with Ken. Still, I sensed that something would go wrong at the luncheon. I just didn’t expect that, as soon as Harry went to take a phone call, Ken would be the one who came roaring out of the gate, pissed off at Pete. Not a surprise: Pete flailing to avoid being seen as guilty. Less expected: offering an apology that sounded at least 10% sincere. (I was only expecting 3% sincerity, tops.) Fast forward to Pete’s dinner with the in-laws. The kid’s clearly gotten his second wind with this kid coming, giving Trudy’s dad the smackdown. Calling him a son of a bitch was probably more polite than I would’ve been.

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Mad Men 4.3 – We’re Going to Have to Smoke the Dress

Howdy Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce-heads. Will Harris, your usual “Mad Men” blogger, has found himself here in beautiful Southern California and ensconced at the Beverly Hilton, where — as you may have noticed from his numerous posts — he has been covering the twice-annual conclave of the Television Critics Association (TCA). Ironically, especially considering last year’s Conrad Hilton storyline, the beautiful and very pricey Beverly Hilton does not, in fact, carry AMC and so the job has been left to yours truly.

Now, for some reason, whenever I sit in for Will on one of these posts, there’s always something stressing me out. Tonight it’s these weird twinges in my upper right teeth that I’m hoping are somehow normally associated with the new nightguard I’ve been trying out from the dentist and not an early warning sign of a toothy catastrophe of some sort. However, as Don Draper would no doubt remark over an Old Fashioned, we’ve all got our problems And so it is in spades for pretty much all the featured characters on tonight’s episode, which takes place around the New Year’s holiday of 1964-65.

As we begin, Joan Harris is visiting her affable gynecologist, who is concerned that she’ll be able to have a baby when her and Dr. Greg are finally ready. The doctor is wondering what Joan is waiting for as most newlywed females as positively ancient as Joan is would be desperate to have a baby yesterday, or so it seems to the kindly doc. There is also the obliquely referred to issue of not one but two abortions. One of the procedures was apparently performed by doc, though abortion would remain illegal in New York until 1970. An earlier procedure was performed by a woman who claimed to be a midwife. This isn’t great, but Joan got pregnant (and unpregnant) after that and besides, there’s always the wise words of songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans: “whatever will be, will be.” (I need to remember that about my teeth.)

Then it’s off to offices of SCDP where Don is planning a New Year’s get away to Acapulco, which always seemed to be swinging bachelor destination of choice on sixties sitcoms. Speaking of said sitcoms, Harry Crane, now quite the show biz insider, notes a 24 hour L.A. lay over in Don’s itinerary. Why not hang out at the legendary Brown Derby with Harry’s new acquaintance, producer Bill Asher? It’s not mentioned, but William Asher’s new program in ’64 was a sitcom called “Bewitched” starring Asher’s then spouse, the highly underrated Elizabeth Montgomery, as a witch whose magic powers were often employed in helping her advertising executive husband land and retain new clients. Occasionally “Mad Men” has what I sometimes call “McMahon &  Tate moments” after the firm on the show — usually when someone saves a presentation at the last second with a sudden inspiration. Don, naturally, will blow off that Asher meeting. This trip is all about freedom, after all.

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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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