Monday, November 9, 2009

At the Mountains of Madness- Part Thirteen: "Shut the Door and Have a Seat"

There was speculation around the blogosphere this past week that since last Sunday's Mad Men dealt almost exclusively with the JFK assassination, this week's season finale would essentially act as a coda to the season and serve to further deal with any loose ends left after "the Grown Ups". Boy oh boy, did this episode prove us wrong. Instead of another hour of Don Draper and friends moping around being sad about the president being killed, we were treated to some of the biggest movings and shakings of the plot in the series' three seasons. By the hour's end, the status quo has been entirely uprooted for Don both at work and at home and things are never going to be the same.

So what exactly happened and what is in store for us next summer?

The episode opens with Connie essentially firing Don, or "letting him go" to put it in a slightly more cordial way. The reason? Well, the firing has been a long time coming, I'm frankly surprised it took until the season finale to tie this plot line up, because Hilton has been disappointed with his surrogate son's creative output (even though we the viewers know that it's been awesome). He uses the old "it's not what I wanted" excuse. Hey, Connie- who's the advertising genius in this relationship? More than all that though, Connie has caught wind that Sterling Cooper's British overlords Putnam, Powell, and Lowe are being bought by McCann Erickson (the scumbags who tried to lure Don away in Season One) and for this reason he wants to jump ship. Don and Connie initially bonded over being self-made men who rose up from the ranks of the common people to rule over the phonies born into privilege, but now it seems that Connie is no better than any other millionaire hotel tycoon and Don accuses Connie of building him up just to knock him down. He's confirmed my suspicions and now the "Don works for Paris Hilton's great-grandfather" plot line has been resolved. Let's move on, shall we?

Don's been sleeping in baby Gene's room for the past few weeks as Betty doesn't love him anymore. This is of course significant because if you ask Sally, that room is haunted. Betty goes with Henry Francis to discuss divorce proceedings with a lawyer, and since she can't prove Don's numerous infidelities (by all accounts it looks like Don would have more evidence on Betty, going to a divorce lawyer with your adulterous lover is either a sign of stupidity or an utter lack of self-reliance) she's going to have to temporarily move to Reno to get things under way. The kids don't take the announcement of divorce very well, Sally especially though Bobby Draper even gets some good screen time in this episode, and seem to side with Don, but wouldn't you? Don initially seems powerless to stop Betty and resigns himself to letting her have her way, that usually seems to work with her. But soon enough, Don gets some inside information by his once and future bro Roger (more on that later) that Betty has been alleycatting around with Henry Francis. That trollop! He gets liquored up (as one does in such situations) and confronts her about it in the middle of the night. He vows to not give her a penny and to keep the kids; he'll ruin her for this. Maybe if Don hadn't reformed himself (again) as a contented family man when he found out about this he might not have freaked out so much. But on the other hand, this isn't so much about Betty cheating on him as it is about her destroying the tidy little world he's created for himself. Marrying the spoiled little rich girl, churning out a couple of adorable little moppets, and buying a house in Westchester is the cornerstone of Dick Whitman's Don Draper persona and now she's gone and ruined the whole thing. He's been kicked out of the house before and he could probably tolerate Betty having a man on the side, but leaving him for some asshole from the governor's office? Fuck that!

Of course Don comes to let Betty have her way, telling her that he hopes "she gets what she always wanted". Good one, Don! Let her guilt tear her apart!

I for one am sort of intrigued by the way the show has approached the Betty and Don divorce plotline. For a program that effectively acts as a revisionist take on the 1960's, exposing all the un-PC and ugly goings on of American society at the time, I find it odd that a the story of a woman divorcing her cheating husband in a time when divorce was still greatly stigmatized for women is treated so negatively. I'm not against it, I find it a refreshing take for the story and am glad the show hasn't spiraled into "you go girl!" back-slapping. It's also consistent with Betty's character, most importantly of all.

Aside from the fall of the house of Draper, the big big big new development at season's end is of course the goings on around the offices of Sterling Cooper. With the news that PPL is being sold and Sterling Cooper is going to be absorbed into their rivals McCann Erickson (unless they're sacked like old man Cooper is bound to be) the old guard of Don, Coop, and even Roger hit the ground running with a plan to buy the company back from their British oppressors and restore it to its former glory. In their conspiracy they decide to include Lane Pryce who is sick and tired of being kicked around by the home office and is now in full-on good guy mode (I told you it would happen!). In return for his financial wizardry, Lane asks to be made a partner in the new firm- Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce! The tetrarchy decides to get themselves fired (courtesy of Lane) and steal all of Sterling Cooper's best talent and accounts. The first piece that falls into place is the new firm's Head of Accounts and who better to fill that position than another discontent Pete Campbell!

After being passed over for the promotion at the end of the Accounts contest with Ken, Pete is shopping around for new jobs. While at home faking sick, Pete is surprised by a visit from Roger and Don who ask him to climb aboard the defection train to Freedomville. I for one think it's great and extremely satisfying to see Pete finally get his. Every time it's looked like things were going his way, they're snatched away from him. No character has gone from Draper enemy to ally ("heel to face") as often as Pete and because of this I think it makes his final victory all the sweeter. Also, it makes Trudy happy and therefore makes me happy.

Peggy is also being recruited by Don for the revolution and she's initially hesitant to do it. After all, she's been treated like Don's homonculous ever since he elevated her to copywriter status and he's been keen to keep her loyal and subservient to him since then. Peggy's also felt, with plenty of cause, that Don takes credit for her good ideas and punishes her for the ones that don't go anywhere; therefore- why take it anymore? After all, she's got a pretty sweet offer from her sugar daddy Duck. It looks like Peggy will go with the man named for a water fowl until Don shows up and sincerely apologizes for the way he's treated her. He's losing almost everything he values in his life, he can't lose her. As he tells her, he sees her not so much as an extension of himself as he sees himself in her. I would assume that being the spawn of a no-account farmer and a whore with nothing to your name is somewhat equivalent to being a woman in the world of early 60's advertising. And with that, Peggy's on board.

I for one would like to know what ever happened to Duck. I was really hoping that his bring Peggy over to Gray was part of a revenge plot against Don. "You fool, Draper! Now your apprentice has turned against you and are under a three year contract with an agency that doesn't appreciate your talents! At last I have my revenge! Mwahahahahaahaha! Now I will eat your grey flannel suit!"

When the conspirators discover that they don't know where anything is kept at the old office when they plan to steal it, Roger has only one call to make. And with that, Joan is back to work and all is right in the world. I must say that during her big entrance after the "who knows where all the stuff is?" scene, I almost stood up and cheered.

Also, Harry is recruited. I like him. I really thought Sal was going to be back when they needed to break into the art department but it turns out a few good kicks to the door will do. Ken is of course left behind. And poor, poor Paul...

And so with that, the midnight gang's assembled and the new staff of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce takes up in their new hotel room office. Will they still be there next season? I loved that this season ended on something of a high note, with the new agency taking off and Don moving into his own place in the City. If you'll remember, Season One ended with Don alone in his house with Bob Dylan playing, a victim of his own deception. Season Two had Betty telling Don she was pregnant and now they had to stay together. It was refreshing for a sense of triumph to pervade the finale, even as the Draper family fell apart. The cloud of the Kennedy era seems to be lifting and a bright new future seems to be in store for our heroes! What could possibly go wrong?

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next year for more Madness!