Was Mad Men’s Season 4 Finale a fitting close to a spectacular season?
And one that moved us quickly through the growing pains of the new business, and the renewed lives of the characters we love. Some managed to uncover new versions of themselves, or as Don might say, at least they’re trying.
The world around them may be changing, and not to their liking, but do they see it? Will they meet it head-on, eventually, as the 1960s undergo rapid change? Will they face reality or live in their version of a Disneyworld delusion?
Then again, what could be more appropriate for Madison Avenue Ad Men? And the women? Don’t they seem more grounded, calling bullshit to the old games, and promising something new?
Kudos to Matt Weiner and friends
So what do viewers want in their season finale?
The unexpected. Hooks to hold us until next year. Surprising scenes, laudable lines, a bit of karmic retribution and nothing tied up too neatly in a bow. And that’s what we got in Episode 13’s “Tomorrowland.”
Don is the survivor, the struggling hero, trying to meld his painful past and his tenuous present. He sums it up in the beginning of the show:
… I do what I need to do to move forward.
Yes, he does.
That may have been his line to the American Cancer Society, explaining why he took out the full page anti-smoking ad. But it’s Don being Don. Doing what he has to do.
And this finale?
If the season opener rocked us, this episode moved us along with endings and beginnings, with an assortment of goodbyes – some definitive – others, that will never be entirely resolved. Farewell to Anna, the dead spouse stand-in. Adios Betty, evil ex-wife. And Don, in profile, lost in thought. And making tough choices.
In a nutshell: Hello Faye, Goodbye Faye, Hello Megan, and more
Faye in the first minutes, and Megan as we’re closing? Yes, indeed. Perhaps this is why that chemistry was so noticeably off. Faye had something of Betty and nothing of Miss Farrell or Anna – insufficient warmth that Don is drawn to, and where Dick feels at ease.
- As for Peggy, she nailed an account on her own, and this entire season has seen her coming into her power.
- Joan? Yes, she’s kept the baby, and chatting it up with hubby Greg in Vietnam. He’s a proud poppa-to-be, cocky and convinced it’s his.
- Betty breaks records for her bitchy moves and impulsive behavior: she’s making Henry miserable, moving the family out of town, and fires Carla in a tantrum over Glen. There goes the only real caregiver her children have ever known.
I want more Betty – at least – to get inside her. Maybe in Season 5?
For all the foreshadowing of doom, the agency looks like it may dig its way out – thanks in part to Don’s bold move (and the American Cancer Society), and Peggy breaking the “no new business spell.”
Whirlwind romance, a woman scorned?
With Carla fired, Don’s trip to California with all three kids requires help. And there’s Megan as luck would have it! And she’s off to the West Coast with the Draper clan. She’s energetic and caring with his kids, and let’s face it – she’s just the right combination of sexy and vulnerable. With her, Don feels the sense of family he misses. It’s a whirlwind romance, and where better than land of make-believe?
Don says it himself:
Did you ever think of the number of things that had to happen for me to get to know you? But they happened, and they got me here.
Does he come out and reveal his story? Not exactly. He hints, but can’t quite do it, and Megan doesn’t seem to feel a driving need to know.
What she does know is she’s the winner of the prize, the Don Draper doll with kids attached. But she’s happy for now, though we know that life with Don will never be smooth sailing. Hell, he dumped Faye in a flash! And aren’t we a little worried about how darling Dr. Miller might react in the future? Doesn’t she hold the cards that could kick Don out of the game?
Mad Men’s usual symmetry and parallels?
The season opener stunned us with Don’s viewpoint – chaos, disorientation – and the realization that Don Draper doesn’t know who he is. Throughout the season, Don and Dick get to know each other, though it’s striking how much more relaxed Don is in California. Perhaps the association with Anna?
Our hero even goes so far as to take his kids to her house as it’s being sold. (Nice corresponding goodbye at the former Draper homestead. Both are empty, though Anna’s home is so much brighter.)
Sally sees “Anna + Dick ’64” painted on the wall. She asks “who’s Dick?” and instead of lying, her father finds a way to offer the truth in a poignant moment of moving forward emotionally:
That’s me. That’s my nickname sometimes.
And let’s not lose the beauty of the colors and lighting. (Thank you, Mad Men, for these subtle pleasures.) Did you note the clarity as Don is readying to call Faye and kiss her off? The technicolor tones when he is in California?
And let’s hear it for taking us to Disneyland! What could be better for a mix of Don’s make-believe and his reality?
And Montreal Megan’s mighty moments?
She knows her target audience… Look at how Don’s children take to her. The ease with which she holds the baby, and then manages him so calmly at poolside.
And the milkshake scene? Genius. Can’t we imagine Betty flying off the handle as a routine sibling tiff ends up in a small mess? Megan doesn’t cry over spilled milkshake, or anything so minor. If it wasn’t love for Don before that move, it sure was after!
More Megan mastery
Another nifty nuance? Megan’s flaw which she reveals in a tender scene with Don. She is bothered by her overbite and less than perfect smile. “I love your teeth,” says Don, who seems to melt at the disclosure. He may appear picture-perfect on the outside, but he knows he’s flawed. He’s more able to “be himself” as he says, with a woman who doesn’t require a perfect pedigree or persona.
Is Don in love? Maybe just a little. But he knows a good thing when he sees one. He wants a home, a family, roots. And Megan will be the better mother, the compassionate lover, the undemanding wife – everything Anna was, and Betty was not – certainly in recent years.
Closure on Anna, closure (maybe?) on Betty, closed door on Faye, and open the door to a far from provincial Megan, French speaking and all. And what could be more symbolic than placing Anna’s engagement ring on Megan’s finger?
Great lines, satisfying scenes
There were memorable lines galore in this episode. Among them:
Glen to Betty: “Just because you’re sad doesn’t mean everyone has to be.”
Don’s accountant: “Don’t you want to go home someday and see a steak on the table?”
Joan to Peggy on Don’s engagement: “They’re just all between marriages.”
Henry and Betty’s deliciously telling exchange:
I want a fresh start.
There is no fresh start. Lives carry on.
Just once could you take my side!
No one’s on your side, Betty.
And isn’t that exactly where Mad Men’s writers have deftly led us – through Don’s spiral downward, and his slow climb back? Not all the way, but he’s “improving – trying at least.”
And Betty? She jumped ship, and is slowly drowning. The scene in the kitchen as she and Don share a moment, an affirmation of their history, boasts brilliant body language. He leans in warmly, yet his hand (and his heart) are out the door. She lets down her mask, and recovers neatly as she realizes she’s made her bed. They both leave, walking away in opposite directions.
As things stand, Don has a shot at some happiness. Betty? Not so much. Get back on Dr. Edna’s couch, Mrs. Francis!!
Leave us hanging? Yes indeed. It may not be Who Shot JR, but the closing scene is back to darkened lighting, Don’s village apartment, and his doubts.
We’ve had several great images of Don in profile, thinking. Very Rodin. We know his inner voice is processing. We know he’s feeling his way.
Still, as Megan sleeps comfortably, he stares out the window. Wasn’t it only the week before that he was in that same place, waking to Faye?