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Mad Men 4.13 - No, seriously, who IS Don Draper?

A lot of TV critics spent much of last week trying to work out what would come to pass in this season's final episode of "Mad Men," but I can honestly say that I didn't give it too much thought. The most I did, really, was reflect on how the season of "Mad Men" ended, which only served to leave me thinking, "Okay, there's no the end of Season 4 is going to leave me as excited about next season as the end of Season did." And I was right: it didn't...but that doesn't mean that Matthew Weiner didn't still do yet another fine job of setting the stage for the series' next go-round.

Maybe it's just the cocktails talking, but since this is the season finale, I don't think there's any point in going through the episode scene by scene by scene, so let's just look at the various events that went down, along with their repercussions:

: I think we all knew they were more or less doomed from the moment Don sexed up Megan in his office, but, man, it just got more and more depressing to watch them interact, especially knowing that Fay had basically betrayed her principles for the sake of their relationship. Her speech to him before she headed off on her flight underlined yet again how much she cared about him. I really do think that Don wanted it to work out between them, but as he proved last week with his letter to (and, of course, on probably a hundred more occasions in other episodes), he's a man who does things on impulse, rarely bothering to concern himself with the possible repercussions. I can't imagine that their final phone conversation will prove to be the last we see of Fay, but if it is, you can't say she didn't get the best possible last word, snapping, "I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things."

: As soon I saw Don start talking to Megan, I said to my wife, "Oh, God, don't tell me he's going to ask her to watch the kids for him..." But, of course, he did. I knew that the fire between them was destined to be rekindled at some point during the trip to California, but, really, did anyone anticipate that it would all go down so fast? Even when Stephanie gave Don the ring, I couldn't imagine that he and Fay would ever actually make it to the altar, but, Jesus, it never occurred to me that, before episode's end, the ring would be on finger…and, yet, looking back at the episode, it’s very easy to see how Don got so caught up in it all.

First and foremost, Megan loves the kids and the kids love Megan. Don’s initial line when he walks into the room to a French chorus – "You said you didn't have any experience, but you're like Maria von Trapp!" – was hilarious, but it still wasn’t as funny as the expressions on the faces of Sally, Bobby, and Don when Megan kept her cool after Sally’s milkshake spillage. On top of that, she’s gorgeous, smart, and respects what Don does, all of which are important qualities. Still, let’s not kid ourselves: it’s the way she handles the kids that seals the deal.

In the midst of post-coital bliss, Megan tells Don, “I know who you are now.” Except she doesn’t. Not , anyway. But she’ll no doubt find out at some point in the future. Maybe Betty and Fay can fill her in…?

: I thought it was pretty bold of Don to admit to Sally that the “Dick” painted on Anna’s wall was actually him, even if he did soften it somewhat by adding, "That's my nickname sometimes."

: The thing that struck me the most about the meeting was that, although Pete’s obviously proven himself as a businessman, he’s still a really shitty wingman. (“I have to say, it’s very interesting!” Gimme a break.) I liked the look of “gee, I never thought of that” which appeared in all of their eyes when Don suggested the idea of playing to the sentimentality and self-obsession inherent in all teenagers.

: I loved her line about being promoted to Director of Agency Operations without being given any sort of raise to go with the title ("Well, it's almost an honor”), but although I’d wondered about whether or not she might’ve kept the baby, I had to laugh when my wife said, “Her husband’s a doctor! How can he not know from her due date that the baby isn’t his?” Hey, nobody ever said he was a good doctor. Plus, who knows what she’s told him about how far along she is?

: For someone who didn’t seem to be much more than Pete’s nemesis for the past season or two, the dude really came into his own this episode. First, he showed serious cajones by standing up to Don and Roger and basically saying, “My marriage is more important than this company,” and although they might not have been happy about it, you could see from Don’s expression and Roger’s actions (which were partially obscured by his quick jab at Ken’s masculinity) that they both respected his decision. On a related note, he proved during his trip to Topaz with Peggy that, unlike Pete, he’s prone to respect and appreciate his coworkers rather than be jealous of them: she clearly showed him up with her knowledge of pantyhose, but in the end, all that mattered to him was that they got the client.

: Such a rollercoaster this week for Peggy, winning the client, only to find out that Don was marrying his secretary who…ouch…”reminds me of you.” That has to hurt. You know it's bad when she seeks solace in Joan's office...and, seriously, how funny was Christina Hendricks' delivery of the line, "Whatever could be on your mind?"

: I don’t even know why Harry’s there anymore. He’s in charge of TV advertising, for Christ’s sake. He should be one of the biggest people in the firm, and yet he was relegated to the kind of comic relief we’d come to expect from the late Ida Blankenship earlier this season. Here’s hoping he makes a comeback in Season 5.

: I secretly call him “Li’l Jackass” and I’m confident that he’s a budding sociopath, but damned if that hug between him and Sally wasn’t the cutest thing ever…and damned if he didn’t give Betty the verbal smackdown she’s deserved all season. (“Just ‘cause you’re sad doesn’t mean everybody has to be.”) I hope Sally ended up buying him something after all.

: Anyone who didn’t yell or at least mutter “that bitch” under their breath when Betty fired Carla just isn’t human. Unbelievable. What do you think the odds are that Don ends up hiring Carla back? (Or will Megan just turn into a happy homemaker?)

: Despite the incredibly bitchy move of firing Carla, lest she continue to “poison the well,” it was hard not to feel at least a slight pang of remorse for Betty when she was lying alone on the mattress. After Glen scored his verbal victory, Henry shot her between the eyes with his one-liner: “No one’s ever on your side, Betty.” By the end of the episode, it had gotten so bad that she was even willing to admit to Don that “things aren’t perfect,” and when she visibly flinched when he said that he’d met someone, I got the feeling that we were seeing the opening moments of what will come to be a downward spiral for Betty in Season 5, much like the one Don dealt with in Season 4. Of course, I could be wrong...but, then, we won't know for another year, now, will we?

See you in 2011, folks!

Mad Men 4.12 - A Certain Kind of Girl

Mad Men 4.11 - Too Little, Too Late

When I saw that this week's episode was entitled "Chinese Wall," I found myself overwhelmed by a sudden wave of deja vu. "Now, wait a minute," I thought. "I know damned well that phrase has been utilized before, because I posted the video for Philip Bailey's when it happened." And, indeed, that was true: Faye made the reference back in .

If you're not familiar with the term, it's an expression which, according to the never-fallible Wikipedia, means "an information barrier implemented within a firm to separate and isolate persons who make investment decisions from persons who are privy to undisclosed material information which may influence those decisions." In this case, the wall in question has been constructed by Roger, and he's put everyone else on the other side of it.

And, now, on with the episode!

Hey, look, Peggy's hanging with the lesbian from and her pals, including the guy who pissed her off with his writings a few episodes back. I guess all is forgiven now that he's asking permission to quote her, since she immediately brings him back to her pad (I was disappointed, though, that Peggy's reference to her roommate didn't result in an appearance from Carla Gallo), and a good night evolves into an even better morning. We're seeing a whole new Peggy, people!

Ray Wise in the house! Ken Cosgrove and his fiancee are having dinner with her parents - yep, Mr. Wise is her dad - when he gets word that Lucky Strike is moving out of business with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. As you can imagine, this information scares the heck out of him...so much so, in fact, that he rushes out of dinner and into the waiting room at the maternity ward, where Pete is waiting for Trudy to have their baby. Pete's immediately on the phone to Don, and although he interrupts his makeout session with Faye to take the call, the topic of conversation instantly puts a damper on his libido. The next thing you know, everyone who's anyone - minus Lane, of course, though it's acknowledged that he's been duly informed - is at the office, ready to pounce on Roger the second he walks in. He claims it's an impossibility and immediately calls Lee, except we know from his comments that he's clearly talking to him.

Don heads back to his place and immediately starts drinking, and you know ain't a good sign. He acknowledges that he's more or less dreaded this possibility for quite some time, but although Faye tries to remind him of how valuable a player he is, Don dismisses her level of concern, saying, "I'm not at that point yet." Clearly, he's not going to go down without a fight. Pete's father-in-law, meanwhile, is almost immediately dismissive of any chance of the firm's survival, basically saying, "Ah, well, you had your fun, now back to the real world."

Should I feel sympathetic for Roger? Well, I did, at least a little bit. It's not his fault that Lucky Strike decided to pull out, and I can't blame him for not wanting to admit the loss to the firm, but at the same time, he's clearly getting in over his head with this chicanery, getting a highly warranted smackdown from Joan for keeping his mouth shut when something could've been done to save the situation. After she once again relents and lets him swing by her pad, they share a sweet embrace, but even though he's pretty pitiful when he departs from the premises, she's seriously disappointed the next day by the fact that he's continuing to weave his web of lies, and the awkwardness between them is palpable. I don't think she'd betray him to them, mostly because it's not like they could save the account at this point, anyway, but his actions are putting her job in jeopardy, too, and I think it's pretty well established how much she enjoys her niche at the firm. For his part, Roger seems to have been temporarily swayed by the arrival of his book. Maybe he'll be inspired to become the ad man he once was...?

After Bert and Don give the State of the Union address, the feeling on the floor is that everything's more or less under control, but Don's not pulling any punches when he sits his team down. The best moment, though, came when it was just him and Peggy. They've definitely got their own special relationship now...if, uh, not quite as special as the one she had last night, which has put her in a stellar mood. Unfortunately, it's pretty transparent to everyone around her, which results in Stan being an Alpha Male to the Nth degree. What a jackass that guy is. Still, even his minor-league attempt at getting revenge on her for her rebuffing of his advances didn't do any damage: it takes more than a little lipstick on the teeth to stop the creative force that is Peggy Olson!

Don's pissed about Glo-Coat jumping ship - though he at least has the common sense to forewarn his secretary that she needs to make sure he doesn't overdo his angry drinking - but he's taking his anger out on Pete, which may or may not be warranted. Yes, Pete's mind is elsewhere, but this strikes me as residual anger and Don's general tendency to view Pete as less competent than himself. Even so, it proves perfectly timed when Ted Shaw shows up at the maternity ward waiting room, unabashedly trying to woo Pete over to the Dark Side.

Don didn't keep to his three-drink maximum, but at least he didn't go overboard. It's enough for him to upset Faye with his suggestion that she betray her ethics by providing him with inside information about other agencies. To his credit, he looks appropriately guilty as she storms out, but it's too little and far too late. More on that in a moment, but first let's look in on the next meeting with the partners. You know things are bad when Don's defending Pete, but it's inarguable that Roger wanted the glory but dropped the ball. Bert's last word was priceless: "Lee Garner, Jr. never took you seriously because you never took seriously." ...

By the way, I just have to make this observation: I can't recall hearing the name David Montgomery mentioned before, and it seems a little too convenient that he's suddenly such a major plot point in the efforts to save the firm.

As soon as Don's secretary stuck around, I knew it wasn't going to go well, though I have to be honest and admit that they did keep me guessing throughout the scene. No matter what that guy does, I think we all want to root for him to do the right thing, and it seemed for a moment that he might, with the conversation staying on matters of business much longer than they usually do when he's in such situations. Heck, I even briefly theorized that his would do the right thing, keeping things strictly business. But despite Don pointedly saying, "I don't think this is a good idea," it a good idea pretty damned quickly. Dammit, Don, you just can't resist fucking things up, can you? So, of course, he gets home to find that Faye has decided to go all in with their relationship and give him the help he's asked for. Once again, he looks appropriately guilty at the end...but, once again, it's too little and much too late.

Mad Men 4.10 - Do You Promise Not To Tell?

Mad Men 4.9 - Here's to you, Mrs. Blankenship...

Another week, another great episode of "Mad Men." The show has really settled into a solid groove of awesomeness over the course of the past several weeks. Not that it isn't always pretty darned awesome, but ever since , it's been good.

Given the title of this blog, I feel obliged to start things off by discussing the late, great Mrs. Ida Blankenship. I've spent much of this season under the presumption that Bert Cooper would be the one to die in the saddle at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Not that I'm rooting for Robert Morse to leave the show, but it just seemed like we hadn't been seeing a whole lot of him this year, so I thought that perhaps that Bert's days were numbered...and maybe they still are, but I certainly never expected that Mrs. Blankenship would beat him to the punch.

Of Mrs. Blankenship's death, Roger quipped, "She died as she lived: surrounded by the people she answered phones for." Similarly, the character departed in much the same way that she existed: as a punchline. There was some straight-up "Weekend at Bernie's" schtick going on in the background as Don desperately tried to maintain his meeting with the gentlemen from Fillmore Auto Parts, and even though that isn't necessarily the sort of thing that I expect when I tune in to "Mad Men," it doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it. If I laugh harder at a Don Draper line this season than "I'd have my secretary do it, but she's dead," I'll be very surprised. Still, Mrs. Blankenship's demise did also lead to a sad, sweet moment from Bert, when he poetically described her as "an astronaut," and it served to remind Roger of his mortality, which ultimately found him living life to the fullest...but we'll get to that.

Don's relationship with his hot blonde doctor has obviously progressed rather well since the end of last episode. Back then, he wasn't willing to take things beyond the back seat of the cab, but now they're indulging in a bit of early afternoon delightful at his place. There's a lot of flirting going on, but the depth of the conversation remains relatively limited, as evidenced by her refusal to be as open with her goings-on as he is with his. I have to admit, though, that as soon as she made reference to a Chinese wall, this is the first thing that leaped into my mind:

I wasn't terribly surprised to discover that Sally had essentially run away from Betty, seeking solace in the arms of her father. She's always felt closer to Don, and as Betty has become progressively more evil toward her, it was only inevitable that she'd press the issue about living with him. Having her there during the whole Mrs. Blankenship saga only added a further element of silliness to those goings-on, but things got more serious as the episode progressed. It's clear that, aside from Don's dalliances with the opposite sex, he and Sally get along very well together, and she's clearly doing her best to win her daddy over with her cooking (the bit with her accidentally using the rum as pancake syrup was priceless). Indeed, I'd guess one of the primary reasons for her explosion in his office was less to do with Faye trying to interact with her and more to do with the frustration of not knowing what else she could possibly do to show Don that she wouldn't be any problem if she lived with him. Watching all of the women congregate in the doorway as Betty prepared to take Sally away was one of the most depressing shots in the show's history, and I kept waiting for Don to say something about maybe having Sally live with him full time...but it never happened. Damn you, Don Draper...

Speaking of Faye, I was surprised both at Faye's reaction to the Sally situation at Don's tenderness toward her. Despite the fact that Faye's made it sound as though she and Don aren't exclusive, it's clear that both are taking this relationship rather seriously, even if neither of them are necessarily willing to commit to it 100% quite yet.

The Roger / Joan storyline this week was extremely interesting. I laughed at poor, deluded Roger trying to defend his book's quality in his first scene of the episode, and his delusional state continued as he unabashedly flirted with Joan when she came into his office. She wasn't having it, though, and we soon discovered that at least part of the reason for her tepid reaction was that she'd just learned of her husband's imminent departure to Vietnam. It was a sweet gesture on Roger's part to gift her with a massage, but, again, she went frosty when he dared to ask her to dinner. It isn't until after Mrs. Blankenship's death and the obvious affect it has on him that she finally agrees to go out for a meal, and they have a pleasant enough time together, though you'd have to be a fool to think that he really meant it when he said that he didn't expect anything to happen.

Similarly, though, it's not like they could've predicted that they'd be mugged after leaving the restaurant, resulting in such a tremendous surge of adrenaline that they'd succumb to their passions once more. I liked the way how, come the morning, Joan was willing to concede that there was a moment. If she's willing to admit that much to Roger, then it was clearly more than a moment. She knows him well enough to know that, by even acknowledging that there was one, he's never going to give up on trying to capture that moment again...and again and again and again.

All told, I found Peggy's storyline the least gripping of the episode, but it did serve to once again remind us that, although she doesn't suffer fools gladly when it comes to her romantic relationships, she does learn from her mistakes: even though Abe may have put his big, fat foot in his mouth when he mocked her premise that sexism and racism were inherently similar problems in the workplace, he still managed to open her eyes to the issue with Fillmore Auto Parts and try to do something about it. I still don't know what to make of her new lesbian buddy. Peggy definitely doesn't seem interested in crossing over to that side of the street, but it's hard to imagine that they're just bringing her around to show that Peggy's open-minded.

It was, as I said at the beginning, another great episode. What were your thoughts about the teaser for next week? I have this sneaking suspicion that Betty's having Sally institutionalized...but maybe that's just me.

Mad Men 4.8 - Power of the Poontang

Mad Men 4.7 - If it's Sunday night at 10 PM, it must be May 25, 1965

Tonight's episode of "Mad Men" was one of the strongest offerings of the season, once again focusing on the unique relationship between Don and Peggy that's been a hallmark of the series since the very beginning. He used to be the lord of the manor and she used to be as meek as a mouse, but Peggy's come a long way, baby, and Don...well, he's still got his title, but his power would seem to be somewhat on the wane. This week, the two went head to head, and while neither necessarily came out a victor in the end, they both learned a great deal about each other in the long run.

First, a look around the office. The gang's all geared up to watch Sonny Liston battle Cassius Clay for the second time in their respective boxing careers, which places the precise date of the episode as May 25, 1965. As it happens, it's also Peggy's birthday, and since she's 26, that means she was born in 1939...and, as it happens, on the same day as and the late Dixie Carter of "Designing Women" fame. Just an FYI. Before they can embark on their fun-filled fight extravaganza, however, they've got to present Don with their pitch for Tourister, which involves the then-mostly-unknown Joe Namath. It's pretty funny, but Don all but sneers at it, saying, "Endorsements are lazy," once again confirming that, for all of his gifts as an ad man, he's destined to become a dinosaur sooner than later if he doesn't change his attitude. And make no mistake: Don does an attitude, snapping at Peggy, "I'm glad this is an environment where you feel free to fail."

Ouch.

Peggy retreats to her office, where we find that good ol' Duck has remembered Peggy's birthday, which is more than Don's don. Duck's present to her: business cards with her name on them as well as a possible new title, provided that she's willing to join forces with him. It sounds like a great idea at first, with his pitch about how it's going to specialize in women's products and his excitement over the likelihood that Tampax will be one of their first clients, but then things start to go south as it becomes evident that Duck's been let go from his firm, probably because of his severely increased drinking habits. Peggy shifts from excitement to concern, Duck moves from business into personal, and when he begins to drunkenly plead with her to see him, she takes the opportunity presented by her co-workers entering her office and hangs up. I'm sure I'm not the only one who knew we'd see Duck again before episode's end, but I can't say as I quite expected to see him doing what he tried to do.

But we'll get to that.

Although it didn't have anything to do with his earlier annoyance, Don soon has a decidedly legitimate reason to be in a bad mood: he receives an urgent message to call Stephanie in California. Stephanie, of course, is Anna's niece, and Don knows full well that the only reason she'd be calling him is to tell him that Anna has succumbed to her cancer, which is why he can't bring himself to call her. Instead, he decides to blow off the Liston / Clay fight - much to Roger's annoyance - and drown his sorrows in the Tourister campaign...oh, and also in lots and lots of liquor.

Peggy, meanwhile, is preparing to leave for her romantic birthday dinner with her boyfriend when she has a close encounter with Trudy Campbell in the ladies room. I thought sure Peggy would tense up, but, no, she keeps pretty cool through the conversation...right up until Trudy offered the pitying closing comment, "26 is still very young." Another "ouch" line, to be sure. Before Peggy departs, she makes the foolish mistake of swinging by Don's office, something the others on the team know is a bad idea and pointedly avoid going anywhere near. Sure enough, Don drafts her to stick around and come up with some better ideas for the Tourister campaign, forcing her to call her boy and tell him that she's going to be late for dinner, at which point we discover (even if she doesn't yet) that he's tried to surprise her by inviting her entire family out for the dinner as well. Whoops.

Peggy presents her new ideas. None of them meet Don's approval. She's pissed. He's pissed. Things only get worse between them, and it descends into a yelling match, in no small part because Don's continuing to toss back drinks. Peggy's boyfriend calls to find out where the hell she is, and she tells him she's finally going to be heading to dinner...but, then, she changes her mind and decides that she isn't. Soon, there's an explosion of emotion in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, with Peggy's boy breaking up with her over the phone (and in front of her family, no less!), an angry bitchfest between Peggy and Don over who deserves credit for what, and Don screaming at the top of his lungs, "You should be thanking me every morning when you wake up, along with Jesus, for giving you another day!" It's brutal, but it's been building for several episodes now, and it's good to finally see these two get it out of their systems.

What brings Don and Peggy back together into civil conversation is, of all things, a tape recorder. In the process of trying to record his ideas, Don stumbles upon one of Roger's memoir sessions, and he finds them so funny that he calls Peggy back into his office to listen. We really only learn two things of note - Mrs. Blankenship used to be quite the hellcat, and Bert Cooper may be working with limited means below the belt - but it breaks the ice between Don and Peggy once more and results in the two of them going out for dinner and, later, drinks. The subsequent conversations between Peggy and Don were sweet and enlightening, with a lot of lovely little moments, including Peggy's awkward laugh when Don tells her how his father died and Don's warning comment, "You don't want to start giving me morality lessons." I knew that Don had visited Peggy in the hospital, but was it ever actually clarified outright that he knew that she'd had a baby? He obviously does, but I just didn't remember that he'd been definitively aware of it.

You know, you just don't get enough full-fledged vomiting sequences on television these days, but Don's was a doozy, though what I think I loved most about it was Peggy's look of legitimate fascination when she looked over at the urinals. Lord knows how long we would've had to endure the sounds of Don's retching, however, if Duck hadn't turned up to try and take a dump in Don's office, an event made all the funnier by the fact that he was actually in office when he was trying to accomplish the act. Duck definitively confirms himself to be a dick by besmirching Peggy's reputation, while Don, God bless him, steps in and defends Peggy's honor. Not very well, admittedly, but you have to give him credit for trying. I was shocked when Peggy left with Duck, but I breathed a sigh of relief when she soon returned, explaining that she'd gotten rid of him.

"How long are you going to go on like this?" Peggy asks Don. At least until he makes that phone call to California. After a long night spent with his head in Peggy's sympathetic lap, dreaming of Anna's ghost, Don wakes up and finally makes his call to confirm that which he'd already known...and when he gets off the line, he immediately breaks down in tears. Peggy is stunned at first, then quickly sobers and becomes sympathetic. Through his tears, Don claims that the person who has died was "the only person in the world who really knew me," to which Peggy replies, "That isn't true." I think it's notable that, true or not, Don does not argue this point.

Although Don tells Peggy to go home and get some rest, she instead goes to her office and crashes on the couch. Bad move: her boorish co-workers wake her far sooner than she'd have preferred. She finds her way back to Don's office and is taken aback at how fresh he looks, but we're not: he's vented his emotions, he's sobered up, and he's got a great new idea for Tourister. She's not quite as enthusiastic about it as he is, but she quickly concedes its worth, leading to the sweetest handhold between two TV characters that I've seen in a long time.

You know, in Season 1, it would've been too easy for Don to sleep with Peggy, but in Season 4, given how much she's matured as a person and how far down the ladder he's fallen, call me crazy, but I actually think these two characters would be a potentially perfect fit for each other.

What say you?

Mad Men 4.6 - Life? Don't talk to me about Life...

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