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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Mad Men 3.10 – If you want to send a message…

Believe it or not, Will Harris has made a quick jump across the pond to the UK on a super secret mission of entertainment reportage this week. No word if he’ll be in communications with the 21st century descendants of Saint John Powell, Lane Pryce, and the rest of Sterling Cooper’s British overlords. As a result, however, I’m allowed one more whack at this whole “Mad Men” recap thing this week.

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So…Don’s lies are becoming more transparent than ever. He arrives for dinner one night and is dutifully given his drink by Betty. She asks him if he’ll be sleeping at home and the answer is no. More work he says. Betty simply accepts that he commuted all the way from Manhattan to Connecticut, only to return to the office later on. This is apparently a regular thing these days.

Soon Don is in bed with the alluring Suzanne Farrell, lest we forget, daughter Sally’s teacher. This episode is entitled “The Color Blue,” and they have a discussion about a boy in her class who wonders if the blue that he sees is the same blue that everyone else sees. She told the boy honestly that she didn’t know. Don’s answer is, not surprisingly, a lot more cynical. Some of us might see something different, but we’d rather keep the differences to ourselves. I wonder what Don will think of the “do your own thing” meme coming a few years down the road.

At work, presumably the next day, Don complains that a commercial being staged for him has a pause in it that will ruin the impact. Peggy Olson, who was playing the lead role in the dramatization, comes up with a simple and effective way to streamline the commercial. Don’s happy and Peggy’s happy. Paul Kinsey, who dreamed up the initial version, is not and goes into full whine mode. It’s not pretty.

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Mad Men 3.9 – L.S.M.F.T.

Well, I think it’s far to say that they had dirty dreams in the ’60s, based on what’s running through Betty’s mind when the phone rings and wakes her up…and when she’s holding the baby, no less. Turns out it’s Connie, calling for Don and trying to wrack his brain about a business decision. Whether or not it’s helpful for Connie isn’t immediately evident, but it prevents Don from getting back to sleep, leading him to a late-night drive and a close encounter with Sally’s teacher on a jog, eventually finding him heading to his office and crashing on the couch. Betty, meanwhile, tries to be a dutiful mother and see the kids off to the school, but when she’s given the opportunity to bail out and go to sleep, she does…but not before first composing a letter to Henry Francis, asking, “Does anyone else read this?” The answer: not if Betty’s going to be writing him.

The Lucky Strike ad campaign looked like it was going to result in Sal getting lucky, but after rejecting the drunken advances of Lee Garner, Jr., the company’s representative, he quickly found himself in a position where the guy wanted him off the project. It was such a surreal event for all parties concerned…Garner for having his advances shunned, Sal for getting hit on in the first place, and then Harry for getting the alcohol-fueled phone call from Garner…that it’s no wonder that the whole situation ended up completely FUBAR, but I have to admit that I didn’t expect it to truly end with Sal getting dismissed from Sterling-Cooper. My wife was particularly fascinated by the conversation between Don and Sal, specifically when Sal questioned the sort of reaction that would’ve occurred had it been a woman who had been hit on: “It would depend on who the woman was and what I knew about her.” It was harsh, but it’s not like we’re dealing with a world of H.R. interactions and constant lawsuits. We’re in Take-One-For-The-Team territory, and although you could see from Don’s reaction that his knowledge of Sal’s shenanigans doesn’t mean in any way that he approves of them, one must rise above and look at the business side of the situation…and the fact of the matter is that Lucky Strike is a big account, and Sal should’ve done anything to save it. Anything.

Aside from Sal’s storyline, this week was predominantly about two burgeoning relationships: the one between Betty and Henry, and the one between Don and…Connie? Yeah, it’s fair to say that, although Don’s obviously a smitten kitten when it comes to Sally’s teacher, the more important goings-on this week were between him and Mr. Hilton. It’s made imminently clear that it’s not exactly easy to have a normal sleeping schedule with you’re working with Connie, but it’s even harder to figure out where you stand with the man. The two of them shared several in-depth conversations over late night drinks (including the great moment when they’re enjoying a little bit of “hair tonic” from circa the Prohibition era), and Connie all but said that he viewed Don as being like a son, but by episode’s end, Connie seems furious at Don for being unable to read him like a book about this whole “Hiltons on the moon” concept. Between this incident and the Lucky Strike fiasco, then coming home to Betty being Betty, given what we know about Don, it’s only to be expected that he would be going out trolling for a little stress relief. Still, how about that pitiful excuse of claiming that Connie called, even though he knows full well that Betty would’ve heard the phone if he had? Man, Don’s just not even trying any more…

Meanwhile, Betty’s attempts at pursuing something with Henry didn’t exactly go as she’d planned. When it appeared that they’d be able to enjoy their handwritten communiques without prying eyes, she started to get excited, but then he tried to take it a step further by showing up at the Draper residence, and that completely freaked her out. (By the way, just how stupid does Betty think Carla is, anyway?) Still, after their subsequent phone call, she started to get excited again, only be totally let down when he bailed out on a campaign-related appearance and sent someone else in his stead. Clearly, this is a case where the man and the woman are approaching the situation from two completely different directions, but you can kind of understand her reaction of showing up at his office and throwing the locked box at him. And, hey, it did lead to a passionate kiss…well, you know, as passionate as an ice queen like Betty gets. But in the end, she backed away from the situation, and it looked for a moment like the relationship between Don and Sally’s teacher was traveling on a parallel track, but if you really thought it would end that way, then you’re just not giving the old Don Draper charm enough credit. Instead, he’s going back to school, and Betty…well, she’s back to dreaming the same dreams she was when the episode back.

A few random comments to close:

* Peggy teamed up with the two new guys to offer a possible Hilton campaign, but her new comrades in arms didn’t do her any favors, though at least part of that may have been due to Don’s lack of sleep. It did, however, result in at least one great line from Don toward the young buck with the highly accented speech: “Now that I can finally understand you, I’m less impressed with what you have to say.”

* I thought it was hilarious that Pete spent the entire scene on the set of the Lucky Strike commercial coughing up a lung from his attempt to smoke one of the client’s cigarettes.

* I loved that, when Don came home from having to back Sterling’s decision to fire Sal, he already had bottle and glass in hand before he answered Betty’s question, “How was your day?”

  

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