"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mad Men: Meditations in an Emergency

The storm clouds swirled on this exciting season finale of Mand Men. As the terror of the Cuban missile crisis thrums below the surface, everyone copes with the prospect of the end of the world in his or her own way. The entire episode has a nihilistic vibe to it, with characters weighing each moment against the idea that it could be their last.But worrying isn't just for global affairs: the ad men of Sterling Cooper are also fretting about big changes a little closer to home.

While the men in the office are riveted by the TV set, following every move President Kennedy makes, they are also concerned about the big merger. How will it work? Will anyone get fired? Meanwhile, Peggy and Betty each use impending doom to confront and attempt to make peace with their own issues. It's a doozy of an episode and plenty entertaining, even if it may be one of the gloomiest ever.

Betty Draper: The night opens with Betty at her doctor's office gazing at a picture of deer. An interesting image for a woman about to find out she's pregnant and immediately inquire about an abortion. From there we travel with Betty on the kind of cathartic journey that's been bubbling up in her for two seasons now. She smokes, she drinks, she broods — even when Don shows up with his tail between his legs, she doesn't skip a beat. When he tells her he had to get away for a while to think she responds flatly, "Must be nice, needing time and just taking it, all on your own terms." Oh, snap. Take that, Don. And then she drops the kids off with Don and has sex with a stranger at a bar. I got the sense that she finally understands her own discontent. She seems to place the source and no longer feels like she's the one going crazy. She takes control. It's an extremely satisfying finale to Betty's story this season (though maybe misguided).

Peggy Olson: Peggy also faces her past head-on this episode (amazing what the threat of nuclear war will do for one's emotional development, isn't it?). Father Gill lays a humongous pile of guilt and shame onto Peggy, hoping she'll make things right with God ("Don’t you understand that this could be the end of the world and you can go to hell?"). I half expected Peggy to mumble something like, "Thank you Father" and shuffle away — but she doesn't! She stands up for herself and her ideas: "I can't believe that’s how God is." She's bright and perky when Don returns, informing him right away that she landed the Popsicle account. Later, when things get really dark, she responds to Pete's declaration of love (also: OMG Pete declares his love!) with the truth about his baby. The look on Pete's face is priceless when she confesses her entire ordeal and how a piece of her is gone forever. And now Pete's the one crying and Peggy is calm and resigned.

A few more thoughts:

I am curious about Pete giving Don a heads-up about Duck becoming president of the new merged Sterling Cooper. In the previous scene between Pete and Don, Don gives Pete some new respect for handling things in Don's absence. Perhaps Pete feels like he's closer to Don's level and gives him the information about Duck because, as he says, he'd want to be in the know if he were in Don's place. It's an interesting change of pace, the two of them on the same team.

There's something comforting about Joan and Don back together in the office. Like the old Mad Men coming full circle. I liked Don's line to Joan about Peggy, "So, other than her office and new haircut is there anything else I need to know about?" (Also, again with a cute dress on Peggy! Love it.)

Isn't it just like Don to get to drop out of work for three weeks and when you return you've made half a million dollars? Oh, and your wife takes you back after years of cheating and lying. Life goes well for that guy.

I thought Betty and Francine's conversation about the possibility of Betty having an abortion was fascinating. Even though it's illegal, the women still talk about it as a viable alternative.

I love the scene in which the guys corner Lois the phone operator and pump her for information. Can you imagine people listening in on your office calls?! I think the ominous way she delivers the news is so perfectly gossipy: "There are definitely going to besome . . . redundancies."

What did you think about Don's letter to Betty? Romantic? Sweet? Too little, too late?

And how about Duck? After all that work on the merger and then he flips out when Don stands up to him.

So, I'm not left with too many crazy cliffhangers this time around, which is kind of nice. The biggest one is Don's future at the agency. It will be interesting to see what goes on with Pete's marriage, and the dynamics between Pete and Peggy in the office should be pretty awkward going forward. Season three will be interesting!

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