Throughout the fifth season of Mad Men, our writers will dissect and discuss the happenings of each episode. These discussions will contain spoilers from the most recent episode. In other words, read at your own risk.
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George Morris: Hello, gang! I’ll take the reins and bat leadoff this week. That noise you hear is the air leaking out of the balloon that was Season 5. Yeah, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that something even crazier than usual didn’t happen during the season finale.
The more I think about it, the more at peace I am with the ending. I enjoyed the way things went because it showed SCDP moving on without the ‘P’, how Pete Campbell still feels alone in the world and even updated us on an old friend.
Sure, the easy thing to talk about is Don because he’s the MAN and his toothache-inspired delusions were the underlying theme of the episode. However, I want to start with the return of Peggy Olson. Come on, you didn’t think she would be gone forever did you? She seemed oddly content in her new position of power and was rewarded for her new efforts with a deluxe trip to dog-humping Virginia. When she went to the same mind-clearing/focusing afternoon movie as Don, I smiled to myself (mostly so Vinny wouldn’t see it). It’s what I always wanted from Peggy. She had the freedom to call the shots and utilized a classic Draper move by getting away from it all for a little while. I think Peggy made the right choice, or at least it seems that she did. What was your take?
Vinny Ginardi: I had a similar reaction, George. As a finale, I was a bit disappointed with this episode. That’s not to say that this episode was bad or anything, just that it didn’t stick out with me the way that I had hoped that it might. I have felt throughout that this was Mad Men’s best season overall (which is really saying something) and was looking for some sort of iconic final chapter with this episode.
Still, there were some great segments to this episode. The image that sticks out most to me is Don walking away from Megan’s set. Obviously we got an extended glimpse at this for a reason. Don walks away from the bright, colorful set (having Megan whenever he needs) and into the darkness (his future where he will be on his own for much of the time). I feel like his conversation with Peggy helped him make the decision to get Megan that acting gig. Don mentioned how when you help someone succeed, they move on. Peggy responds, “Don’t you want them to?”. It’s here Don realizes that while maybe it’s not the decision that will benefit him the most, helping Megan pursue her acting career is what will make her the most happy.
MC: This is an episode I like more as the days go on. Throughout most of the episode I sort of had that same “this is just another great episode but nothing special” feeling mentioned above. Then that last few moments happened. Don walks away from Megan, his princess now dressed in a ridiculous commercial princess dress, and things get darker and darker until he’s at the bar. Then the beautiful woman approaches him and asks, “My friends was wondering, are you alone?” Don, ever cool, doesn’t acknowledge her right away. He leans over and lights his cigarette, puts the light away and turns his head to meet her eyes. Cut to black.
BOOM! Something about that moment, the way the show spent a whole season dealing with loneliness and then ending on that question, the surreal atmosphere that built up, the complete lack of resolution, just punched me in the gut. It was such an instantly iconic snapshot of our enigmatic protagonist and the brilliance of the show. Sure, the finale wasn’t on another level like, for example, Breaking Bad (my favorite show) finales are, but it was a good episode with a killer final reel. Mad Men is more cerebral than visceral and it’s also more like real life than, again for example, BB. This ending encapsulated how that can be a slight let down while being immensely brilliant.
Guess I rambled a bit so I’ll be brief with the Pegster. Loved her return in this episode because the season has been so crushingly bleak and it’s nice to see a character who’s doing well. Peggy finally seems to be getting the respect she deserves and she finally gets to be Don at her new firm. The movie theater scene, where Peggy and Don are sitting together like equals, was a nice sign that things have turned out pretty well for everyone’s favorite movie theater perv.
GM: We’re left in an all-too-familiar position with this show. Until season six begins, we will be left wondering in what direction the action will go and that is damn exciting. As was previously mentioned, Don has been put in a position that could be resolved in any number of ways. Sure, the most logical solution is for him to return to his straying ways and get some fresh tail. What keeps us fanatics on our toes (and probably the actors as well) is the fact that I can see Don just as easily returning to Megan and encouraging her acting. We saw how inspired Don was by watching the film reel of Megan’s audition. Perhaps he realizes what beauty and innocence she still has and how that is good for his soul.
Aside from the ending, the two things that stayed with me the most were Adam Whitman’s appearance and Pete and Beth’s hospital meeting. Have we seen the last of Dick Whitman’s long-dead brother? Methinks so because of Lane being gone as well. The show just wanted to throw another wrinkle into the fold with that one but I felt I should mention it. As for Pete…I was somewhat proud with how he handled the whole scrambling/erasing of Beth Dawes’ mind. Might we see him finally realize he has everything he thought he wanted? Or will the new apartment that Trudy finally will allow him to have make him even more depressed and vacant? Pete has been at a crossroad for an entire season and there is no resolution in sight. At least we all got to see him get his ass kicked yet again (this time by two people!)
VG: Overall, I didn’t like how the Pete-Beth story line was handled. I understand that her storyline had to end somehow because we couldn’t have Pete obsess over her next season too, but was electroshock therapy really the best way to get her out of the picture? Seemed like sort of a cop out to me. Unless of course the writers are attempting to turn this in to a 50 First Dates types of a situation where Pete will continue to pursue her only for her mind to be erased from time to time. Wouldn’t that be ideal for Pete anyway? He’s clearly afraid of anything concrete, so having a fling with a women who will be forced to forget him from time to time seems all too perfect.
Anyway, I want to reflect on the season as a whole for a minute. I mentioned earlier that I felt this was Mad Men’s best season, but one thing did concern me. At the beginning of the season it seemed like there would be a strong focus on the Civil Rights Movement, but that story never really developed past the first few episodes. Cresci, do you think that will play a bigger part in the next season or did we just see a glimpse of it earlier in this season to give us a snapshot of what the outside world looks like in relation to our characters?
MC: First I want to address George’s thoughts that Don, watching Megan’s reel, “realizes what beauty and innocence she still has and how that is good for his soul.” I think that’s all then undermined by the fact that she, like anyone else he works with, can be bought. She’ll do a shitty commercial (playing a childish version of a “princess”) to get what she wants. To chase the happiness Don referred to as “the moment before you need more happiness.” Not saying Don’s going to have an awesome threesome. Just saying he’s realizing Glen was right about everything turning into shit.
I want to talk about Vinny’s Civil Rights thought process so I’ll keep the Pete-Rory Gilmore thoughts to a minimum. I love these writers and they gave Pete a fantastic monologue about using “a temporary bandage on a permanent wound” but the electroshock turn was a fucking cop out. It was such a convenient way to wrap up that story line and it just felt forced.
I think the Civil Rights opening was both a mislead, in that the plot wasn’t really a plot, and an awesome signs on the things to come. This season was so focused on the ever widening generation gap and the way the changing times really were different from the smooth talking, fast drinking, old white male dominated ways of the 50’s and early 60’s. Those were the days that Don Draper and Roger Sterling were kings. The sort of men Pete and Peggy model themselves after. They that model of person doesn’t really exist anymore. I was having lunch with my Grandmother today and I always use it as an excuse to learn more about life in previous decades (I’m a history buff). She said something that stuck out to me after telling me about how the 50’s were her favorite decade. She said “After Jack Kennedy was shot things didn’t seem so peaceful and quiet anymore. They never did again.”
The Gang: We hope you enjoyed this season of Mad Men as much as we did. See you next season!