Monday, November 2, 2009

At the Mountains of Madness- Part Twelve: "the Grown Ups"

It finally happened: the rug has been yanked out from under Madison Avenue. A sniper's bullet has shattered the fun little world that Don Draper and company have made for themselves. The days of workplace alcoholism and playing grab-ass with the secretaries are over (or at least on their way out). Camelot lies in ruins and now it won't be long before Sterling Cooper follows suit. This episode has been a long time coming, essentially being an inevitability since the show started way back in 2007 and as one might expect, the vast majority of this episode (and in all likelihood next week's season finale as well) was devoted to the Kennedy Assassination.

If this were Friends, the episode would be titled "The One Where JFK Gets Shot", but unfortunately it isn't, it's Mad Men and we're going to have to deal with that. So click ahead and let's all try not get teary as we remember the episode where Kennedy got elected and everyone was getting drunk and screwing in the office, shall we?

President Kennedy's death is one of those watershed events in American history where everyone who was alive at the time remembers where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing when it happened. For most of the Sterling Cooper staff, they were at the office: Don is fighting with Lane over money things and his lack of an art director (something that he probably could have helped to prevent IMHO), Pete has been effectively demoted as Kenny Cosgrove has won the Head of Accounts challenge and has been elevated to Senior Vice President in Charge of Accounts. Peggy has dipped out for a "nooner" to quote Paul (new favorite phrase) and is in bed with Duck, who is in fact privy to the events of the day but would really like to have some sex before he gives it much thought. Also, Duck has a tattoo which unfortunately is not of a water fowl of any kind.

Most of the cast is hit pretty hard by the tragedy. This might rank as the worst day of Pete's life, losing the promotion he's been fighting for since episode one and the death of the President. He spends most of the episode in front of the television with Trudy, drinking, and who could blame him (because she's so pretty)? Pete seems to be absolutely headed in the direction of defecting and taking up with Duck at his rogue agency. Unless there's some big twist next week, expect season four to open with Pete (and maybe even Peggy) working for Duck at Gray. But who knows, maybe Lois will run over Ken's foot with a lawnmower and save the day. It would certainly be ironic considering that it was Ken's lawnmower that hacked off Guy's foot and saved Lane from indentured servitude in India.

As has been established since this season's second episode, Margaret Sterling is getting married on the day after the shooting in Dallas. The reception hall is only half full and there enough extra entrees for every guest to have seconds (you see, when God closes a door He opens up a window). Roger is doing his best to salvage his (other) little girl's big day and is actually managing quite well, all things considered. There's just the pesky problem of all the guests watching the news in the kitchen and Jane's refusal to fall in line as far as Margaret is concerned. Also, the cake is nowhere to be found. As he plops a drunken Jane ("He was so handsome...and now I'll never get to vote for him!") down on the bed, Roger makes a call to his ex-paramour, Joan. This is the second sentimental call in two episodes between two characters whose post-affair marriages are not turning out like they hoped they would.

I'm going to call it now: the season will end with Roger and Joan getting back together and Ken losing a foot.

But whither the Drapers? Betty takes the news harder than almost anyone and it serves a catalyst for their rapidly deteriorating marriage. After spying Henry Francis at Margaret's wedding, she again meets with him and their illicit almost-affair takes more steps towards becoming the real deal. While Don is still shaken by Kennedy's death, he's handling it with his trademark grace under pressure, but the developments on the home front are a bit more serious. Betty informs Don that she doesn't love him anymore and leaves it at that. An interesting parallel can be traced between Don and Betty: at the series inception, it was Don doing all the cheating and putting the marriage at risk, now at the end of the third season, Don has hung up his philanderer's costume and is settling into being an honest-to-God family man. He wants to make the marriage work. Betty is the one set on breaking up the family: she runs off to Henry while Don stays at home with the kids instead of giving Suzanne a national tragedy booty call. The episode ends with Don back at Sterling Cooper on Monday's national day of mourning to find the office deserted except for Peggy who is re-working a campaign featuring an open-top convertible. While he came there because "all the bars are closed" it's fitting that he arrives only to find Peggy, his protege. Don's real family is falling apart, the only one he has left is the one he has made at Sterling Cooper, and how long can that last?

JFK has been a constant feature of Mad Men from the beginning, nipping at the heels of the staunchly Republican offices of Sterling Cooper. In a way, Jack Kennedy was kind of the Don Draper president, being a handsome war hero with a capacity for skirt chasing and leading a double life (JFK suffered from crippling back problems dating back to his Navy days, and suffered from Addison's disease, neither of which were publicly disclosed during his lifetime). Maybe John F. Kennedy was not the scion of a wealthy Irish-American family but was in fact the son of a drunk Depression-era farmer from coal country who stole the identity of the real Kennedy during the PT-109 incident? Think about it.

Now that the Kennedy era has come and gone and Lyndon Johnson has risen to power, what lies in store for the members of our favorite fictional advertising agency and their families? Tune in next week to find out in the dramatic conclusion of "At the Mountains of Madness"!