Monday, October 18, 2010

Mad Decisions

The following post will have spoilers of the final episode of this season of Mad Men. You have been warned. Though, really, if you're reading this, you should have watched it yet. It was so good.

Three years ago, the Mad Men finale involved a heartfelt monologue from Don Draper about family and how the Carousel projector from Kodak incorporated the idea of family. Most of the major action ("Mr. Campbell, who cares?") had taken place the previous episode, but it was a great episode emphasizing the family structure and set up the total tonal shift of the show to a focus on the women in season two.

The next year, the finale, set against the Cuban Missile Crisis, had an understandable air of chaos, but still made time for Don begging to get Betty back, Betty finding out she's pregnant and hooking up with a stranger in a bathroom, and Peggy delivering her legendary monologue to Pete about having his child. Lots of drama, not so much sentimentality.

Last year, Mad Men ended with its one and only purely fun hour, which felt like a reward to each and every one of it's fans. Great music, great character interactions, a great idea, great lines... One of the best episodes ever produced by this show. It left you wanting to see the next episode as soon as possible.

Last night, Mad Men took one of its characters to a place he should never have been, yet it made the ultimate sense that he was there. Don Draper became Roger Sterling last night. He officially became passé, ridiculous, an object of mockery from the women in the office. He made an impulsive and stupid decision with one woman, completely screwed over another, and made peace with the one who's been in his life all along.

I don't want to break down every element of the episode, but just for highlights:

-- Betty firing Carla was heartbreaking. Even though I've been a defender of Betty's despite her behavior this season, that was too much to handle. It was heinous. Don's anger was wholly and completely justified.

-- However, we then see Betty in a completely different light by episode's end. You see exactly how in love she is with Don and how not in love she is with Henry. You see how childish she still is. You see her rocking that incredibly fierce purple jacket. (Only I would notice that.) And you truly pity her because at the end of the day, she's not really at fault for how her life turned out. She's been screwed over by men (her father, Don, Henry) at every turn.

-- Don's been spiraling out of control all season, headed towards...something, but we could never figure out what. And then he impulsively proposed to his secretary (!) and screwed over a woman he's in an incredibly stable relationship with. In other words, he became Roger Sterling. And no one likes Roger Sterling anymore, so what's to be said for that?

-- GO PEGGY! What an amazing season for our girl. She got all her problems aired out in The Suitcase, got the recognition she needed, and proceeded to kick ass the rest of the season. Landing that account was a work of genius that proves that if Don is now the Roger Sterling, Peggy is the Don Draper. It felt so good to cheer for her, too.

-- The scene in the office with Joan and Peggy was honestly one of the best scenes in the show's history. From the first line ("What could possibly be on your mind?") to the shared laughter at the end was just beautifully acted, written, and one of the most empathetic scenes we've ever seen. But something to note: even when they're sympathizing with each other, Peggy still does not congratulate Joan on her new position. They may be closer than ever, but Peggy still sees herself as above Joan.

-- Dr. Faye Miller may be one of the best people to ever walk through the Mad Men, naturally, she'd get treated like utter crap. That phone call was heartwrenching to watch, because honestly, she did absolutely nothing wrong. She was exactly the right woman...and Don would never be with her. How incredibly sad.

-- Roger's reaction to the news of Don's engagement is fascinating. He went from "Who the hell is that?" to "Congratulations!" so quickly, and I wondered why. Then I realized: he saw Don's engagement as a validation of what he did with Jane three years ago. He wanted to be proven right after all this time.

-- I wouldn't be surprised if we have a bigger time leap next year. The one thing Mad Men has never done with a major character is show their wedding. I don't see how this would be any different. We'll see them again either when Don and Megan are married or when their engagement is over. No other option.

That's a lot more analysis than I planned on writing, but I hadn't quite realized how much there was to ponder. Now I'm wondering about you guys' feelings. What did you think of the episode? Where do you think we're headed next year? Is next year the show's last? (My opinion: yes, sadly.) Take it all to the comments!

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