So that happened.
Written by Duana
Lainey called last night around 9:30 and I cautioned her that I couldn’t talk long, Mad Men was soon. I remember saying, in so many words, that I felt ‘nervous and anticipatory’. She knew what I meant but we still marveled over it – that a television show fictional, no less, can elicit this kind of reaction. It was in my head all day long. How are they going to take care of this?
And then, I am later than usual in getting my thoughts together on this finale episode, less because there are so many and more because I can’t think of what to settle on. Because to be honest, I didn’t truly feel like we went on a ride. Did you? Everything that happened in this episode we’d been prepared for - coached into, even. And while it made me feel good, making the correct assumptions (however, an eight year old could have told you Joan was going to keep! the baby!), I didn’t feel breathless, swept away, in the way that I wanted. Last year when they stole all their accounts to start SCDP I was HOLDING my breath the whole time. This time…less so.
So Don goes on a trip to California, as he promised Anna he would, and count me surprised that he actually brought baby Gene with him. But he can’t bring Carla along to help anymore ( a scenario which sounds like a spin-off of its own.) I can’t be the only one who actually thought the firing of Carla came too late – I thought Betty would fabricate a reason months ago for Carla to be ushered out of the premises. However, for those who really relish the Mommie Dearest in Betty, it’s out in full force here. Her reasoning for letting Carla go is as oblique as her resentment towards Glenn – only that other people are not permitted to be closer to her children than she is, which would make sense if Betty were a smothery, too-close mom.
But we well know that’s not the case. Still she doesn’t ever like to be shown her own errors, and becomes prickly when Henry yells at her. And then I wonder – what did he expect? When did he hope Betty would become more loving? More warm? We haven’t seen anything of Henry’s family, except his mother early on (and his grown daughter, so briefly, last season) but whom is he expecting Betty will model herself on? And what’s going to happen, over in Rye, New York, now that she won’t?
Instead, Don magically takes Megan with him to California, and we’ll get to that non-accidental phrase in a minute, but meanwhile, he leaves SDCP flapping in the wind, essentially.
The advent of Ken Cosgrove in this episode really surprised and, frankly, irritated me. So first he doesn’t want to trade on business with his pa-in-law. Fine. He’s different from Pete, I get that. Except of course that Pete has been extremely successful in his ventures at and with SDCP, and he and Peggy have been developing, all the way from the ham episode, a decent synchronicity in the way they work.
So why does Peggy choose Ken to go with her and grab the Topaz account? He’s fine, of course, and he gives Peggy her chance to shine, but given that it didn’t provide us with anything new – except the knowledge, which we already had, that Peggy can cement an account essentially on her own – I didn’t get as much from it as I could have, though I loved the shot, initially awkward-looking, where Peggy races across her office to Ken and he lifts her up…neatly displaying her Topaz stockings. Nice one.
Otherwise, it’s quiet enough at SCDP that Don can not only pick up and leave, but take Megan with him for a week. And you know what’s coming, almost immediately. I don’t know if he let Dr. Faye in on his plans, but she should have seen it coming too. And she will wonder, lying in bed at night, resentful that her pillow is tearstained, what she should have done. Would it have been better not to push Don to ‘let people in’? She will comfort herself that Don swore he wanted an equal, someone as smart as herself, but will know in her darkest heart that part of the reason she never got further with him was that she was so stiff and awkward with Sally, that she never wanted kids. Essentially, the message she sent to Don – or at least, believes she sent – is that she can’t accept him for who and what he is, now that he has a secret about his path, and children, who aren’t a dirty little secret, but are treated as though they are.
And charming Megan, with her promise not to push Don intact, with her unassuming nature and delightful little French songs, doesn’t see them as a secret. Doesn’t see a spilled milkshake as anything but that – implied, from her perch at the ripe old age of 25, that everything will be easy and delightful and fine – she shows Don the easy, palatable package she can be, and he buys in, wholeheartedly, somehow convincing himself that this idyllic family picture, swimming in the sunshine, is what Anna would have wanted.
We’ve become so accustomed to Don scowling as his regular face, that the smiles and elation he presents when he and Megan announce their news looks manic, and unfamiliar. (Jon Hamm’s close-kept smile is one of the reasons he looks so disconcerting on 30 Rock). He is diving into his delusion that this will work out, one hundred percent – Megan doesn’t know any better, of course – and is determined not to see any downside to it. Even when he calls Dr. Faye, he knows better than to tell her the truth, but his childlike faith that it’s all going to work out forces him to blurt out the truth, wounding her when he knows he shouldn’t.
Only Peggy gets him to acknowledge the truth – as only Peggy ever does. But his answer, while enough to get her out of the room, isn’t enough to really satisfy her question of ‘what just happened’ and thus, thus is my glorious silver lining, because how long have I waited, have we all waited, for the beauty of Peggy! And Joan! Bitching together over cigarettes? Not just the two of them in the same room, but that thing that happens with unexpected friendships where you actually don’t need to say too many words, because you’ve gotten so familiar with each other’s faces over the years that not saying the words is actually far more expressive, and you just sit there and relish the unexpected delight, especially in a time of worry or surprise, of someone else’s thoughts coursing along the same path as your own. And I don’t hold out a lot of hope for more of this, since we’ve always been told that in Mad Men, the women’s relationships are really dependent on the relationships the men around them have…
…but also because Mad Men tends to pass time between seasons, which means I would bet money that we will come back to Mrs. Harris – promotion and all - about to give birth, if she hasn’t already. And why, why was I denied the chance to see her tell Roger that she and Greg were expecting? I would have loved to see his face and so would you.
And finally, we’re back in the little kitchen in Ossining, Betty and Don lifting a glass together one more time, and her face grows both softer and sadder than we’ve seen it in entire seasons, as she realizes this time of suspended animation is gone. Don is moving on, the house is sold, the dream she promised herself when she was only a little younger than Megan is lost forever. She wonders, as she tells Don “things aren’t perfect” just how much she would have to grovel to unpick everything she’s done, and she has that horrible affliction of human beings – to forget how bad things once were, in relation to how they now are.
A lot happened this year, all of our characters grew closer together, ever-more-determined to create a family at work, since they almost, to a person, don’t have one at home. But instead of showing me the path they’re going to set off upon, Mad Men leaves me, knowing well that so many of the things I want to see will happen now, immediately after the cameras stop rolling, and they will have to catch me up in ways that I’m sure I will see as creative and endearing..later. Right now though, I feel a little bit bereft – and unsatisfied.
Then again – Sally now knows that Don is sometimes called Dick.
Finally, and in defiance of my word count, I cannot thank you enough for your support of these recaps and for being so charming and forthcoming with your opinions. I am in awe of you and so delighted to have been able to do this. Thank you.
Photos from Neilson Barnard/Gettyimages.com