Posted in Television

“Mad” Thoughts

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We’ll have to wait to see how it all turns out.

“Mad Men” finished Part One of its final season on Sunday, and the biggest surprise was that even at this late date, there were still surprises. Bert departed this earth in more permanent fashion than the Apollo 11 astronauts, Joan bit the hand that fed her, Don acknowledged the need for female equality and Roger confounded all expectations by riding to the rescue.

It’s no secret that “Mad Men” suffered a significant energy drain after Season 5, subsequent to two superlative episodes in which Joan slept her way to a partnership and Lane Pryce committed suicide. Since then the show has been mired in indifference—while the characters’ hair styles and clothes changed, their attitudes and behavior remained the same, even in the face of the vast cultural shifts of the ’60’s. “Mad Men” seemed to be devouring itself by repeating Season 2 and 3 plot lines, but with far less wit.

This season saw the agency fraying at its core again, this time with Don’s forced absence, Pete and Ted’s exile to California and Jim Cutler’s clashes with Roger. It really wasn’t much fun. One of the few things I did enjoy was Freddy Rumsen’s fronting for Don in pitching ideas to Peggy. Even so, you had to question her acumen if she believed he had dreamed up these radical approaches on his own.

Things started perking up when we learned the depth of Don’s need to belong through his work. When the partners listed their conditions for his return, I said out loud “Don’t do it.” How much humiliation can they lay on this man, and how can a partner be made to report to an underling anyway? But it was worth it for the payoff when he ultimately tipped his hat to changing times. His “Maybe they should” to Peggy’s objection that Moms don’t take precedence over Dads in her Burger Chef presentation was an eye-opener.

On the other hand, I’m liking Joan much less these days. She and Don always seemed to have each other’s measure–two of a kind, both knowing the score. But she boarded the Jim Cutler train, ostensibly because Don’s problems resulted in the agency’s inability to go public. In reality she bought Jim’s brand of salesmanship over Don’s skill in selling by creation. And this wasn’t the first time—her failure to believe in Don’s ability to win the Jaguar account on the brilliance of his concept alone led her to that car dealer’s bed. For better or worse, she’s a partner who’s about to secure her financial future by selling her share to McCann. She’d hate to hear this, but Joan now resembles one of Ms. Magazine’s early icons–the woman who’s figuratively becoming the man she always wanted to marry.

Peggy remains the most interesting “Mad Men” character. I love how she’s continuing to grow into her own as her relationship with Don consists of less mentoring and more peer-oriented coaching. That they could flip roles for the Burger Chef presentation spoke volumes. Their dance at the end of “The Strategy” was lovely: she, exhausted after rethinking her presentation from the ground up, resting her cheek on his chest, and he, kissing the top of her head like a proud Papa. I’m still rooting for the two of them to walk off into the sunset in the series finale to start their own agency.

In non-news, Jim Cutler is such a snake, though I enjoyed his voting himself out to receive that big payoff. Kudos to Harry Hamlin for consistently maintaining that ever so condescending tone in Jim’s voice. Regardless of what McCann says, Ted Chaough is expendable. And Harry Crane, try as he might, will never make partner.

I’ll miss Bert Cooper. Originally I thought Robert Morse’s casting was simply an in-joke, given his role as the first J. Pierrepont Finch in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” But I came to enjoy his version of Bert’s zen, and wished that we had had more of him. However, I was delighted to see that he may yet be proven wrong about Roger.

Roger Sterling is becoming a mensch. He knows Don’s value, and contrary to Bert’s assessment, can indeed lead and make the tough decisions. His position hasn’t been easy since Day One, what with his father being THE Sterling in the agency’s name. And after the old man’s death trying to be on equal par with Bert, who heartily disapproved of so much of Roger’s life—the womanizing, the expensive divorce from Mona, the second marriage to a trophy wife. Now, without his father’s ghost and Bert looking over his shoulder, Roger’s in charge—or is he? Don’s always loathed the idea of working in a factory like McCann Erickson. Will this latest move prove Don’s fears to have been justified, or will it turn out to be what Roger envisioned?

Like the old Brooklyn Dodgers, we’ll just have to wait ’til next year.

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3 thoughts on ““Mad” Thoughts

  1. I have watched Mad Men faithfully – even through the “bad” seasons. I enjoyed this season, and thought Burt’s send-off song and dance was terrific – more so after I read the interview you posted on FB. Sunday’s episode = Jon Hamm = terrific actor. I was especially touched by that phone scene between Don & Megan. The January 7 will be here before we know it!

  2. I totally agree, Paula, that the office stories are the most memorable aspect of “Mad Men,” even if the period attitudes have you grinding your teeth. But they’re wonderful—Harry bursting into tears during Don’s “Carousel” presentation, the 1960 election night drunk with Sal and Joan acting out Paul’s play (and Sal copping heterosexual cred in the meantime), the runaway John Deere mower and the weekend gathering of the core team to steal client information before Lane fired them all.

    Don is evolving. I thought the break-up telephone conversation with Megan was a terrific piece of writing and acting, and its understatement was a great contrast with the rest of the episode. The two of them in almost unspoken fashion acknowledged that their relationship had just petered out. Unlike the end of this first marriage or his relationship with the Linda Cardellini character from last season, Don’s is now accepting the inevitable. He’s less needy. I suspect if there’s ever another Mrs. Don Draper, she’s the one who’ll last. If Dr. Faye returns next year, she may have a shot this time.

    As far as Bert’s finale goes, yes, I think it was intended in part as a well-earned send-off for Robert Morse. But I believe it was really meant to show how Don saw him, as something of a free spirit not scarred by the business he was in (In reality this wasn’t entirely true. I remember how shocked I was when Bert didn’t shoot down Pete’s proposal to have Joan sleep with the Jaguar dealer—he only insisted that the choice should be hers). It was also a great contrast with how Roger, when he was tripping, saw Bert’s picture on a $20 bill. It’s too bad Bert’s been somewhat marginalized during the last two seasons. I would have liked to have known more about him. Maybe we’ll get a flashback to when he and Roger’s father started the agency and how/why Bert lost his balls (literally). We’ll just have to wait and see.

  3. I thought this was the best episode of the season. It mostly focused on intrigue in the office and those episodes are usually better. Loved how the different groups gathered around the television to watch the moon landing. It was an amazing moment, although as I apparently mis-remember it, I thought we only had live audio, not video. I was busy turning the handle of an ice cream machine, visiting a college friend who was in grad school at Michigan State. Janice, me and a dozen of her Turkish grad student friends making our dessert by hand and watching men step on the moon.

    What has been disappointing about the past two seasons is that the characters weren’t moving forward. Don reverted to the womanizing drunk. Roger was stuck in a rut. Joan was a partner without a voice. Peggy seemed to be going places, then plummeted down to earth. Betty lost weight, but reverted to her old crazy, bitchy self. And so on.

    The past few episodes, however, there was progress! Don seem to be coming out of his funk and actually showed a bit of caring for the feelings of others, as when he helped Peggy make the presentation instead of giving it himself. Peggy is beginning to believe in herself. She certainly is dressing better.

    What do you make of Bert’s song and dance as he shuffled off to Buffalo? I could see it as a tribute to Robert Morse’s career, but as part of Mad Men, what was it about? Best I could do was think it was saying the creative side of the business was more important than the money side. Roger wanted the merger to keep the company together with his vision of it, not Cutler’s, not just for the huge payout. Don got Ted to come back by arguing Ted would be able to do creative, rather than business operations; that Don’s creative side and Peggy’s in person visits to Burger Chiefs were more important than Cutler’s computer analyses. It even put down the visiting son’s comment on how many millions were wasted on the moon landing while everyone else was so focused on the thrill of the accomplishment rather than its cost.

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