Mad Men s5e13: The Phantom

“Stop being demure, you’re already on the bed!”

And here we are, another iconic season finale. Do people ever really change? Is that all there is? And so on. Will Roger drop acid with Marie? Will Peggy get her dolt copywriters to churn out good work at CGC? Will Pete get his existential dread in check? Can Don keep it in his pants? These are the days of our lives.

are you alone?? || image courtesy of

Turns out Beth is married to a total dick! Shocking, I know. Howard’s taking her to the city for shock therapy, and Pete happens to be on their Manhattan-bound train. They have an illicit bangarang in a hotel room, and Pete manages to sneak in a visit to non-remembering Beth to drop some truth bombs.

“He got involved with another man’s wife.”

“Why did he do it?”

“Well, all the regular reasons, l guess.. He needed to let off some steam, he needed adventure, he needed to feel handsome again. He needed to feel that he knew something.. that all this ageing was worth something because he knew things young people didn’t know yet. He probably thought it would be like having a few tall drinks and feeling very, very good. And then he’d go back to his life and say, ‘that was nice.’ When it went away, he was heartbroken. And then he realised everything he already had was not right either and that was why it had happened at all. And that his life with his family was some temporary bandage on a permanent wound..”

Let’s be real, none of Pete’s confession is breaking news. #thingsmensay and all that. What counts is that he’s facing the truth about his own shit both openly and voluntarily; nobody backed him into a corner. It seems as if he’s gone through his fancy bag o’Pete Campbell tricks; bitching, fantasising, banging around, pout-y resentful, etc etc.. and now there’s fuckall left to do but admit that he has some heavy shit to confront. It’s Pete Campbell conceding that he’s super damaged and confused, and it’s the most self-aware thing he’s ever done on the show to this point.

Megan is floundering with her auditions, and seeks out Don’s help to land a part in a Butler shoes commercial– he’s inherently reticent to throw her name in the ring, though he wasn’t bothered by the glaring nepotism of making her a copywriter at SCDP. And even though it sucks to tell her no, he has a point. You DO want to be someone’s discovery, not somebody’s wife. On top of that, her acting career also ain’t on his terms which he can’t quite grasp; that’s what happens when you help someone. They succeed and move on.

at last the 2nd floor is real! || image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Completely rattled by his laughing gas ghost Adam dentist visit, Don fucks off to the movies where he runs into Peggy. Along with his earlier visit to Rebecca Pryce to deliver a postmortem check, Don is reminded of how effortlessly the people in his life can leave him in the dust at a moments’ notice.

Both Rebecca and ghost Adam treat him with understandable hostility (“it’s probably difficult for you to believe, but it was even more than $50,000 that already belonged to him, so don’t leave here thinking that you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself” and “it’s not your tooth that’s rotten”.. fucking hell), but Peggy shows him genuine kindness and interest. Not everyone bounces after all, Don.

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While Don mulls over submitting Megan for the ad, I’m taken back to The Wheel. Looks familiar– here’s Don Draper in a darkened conference room as a projector flickers images of the wife who’s slowly but surely slipping away. But even though he never quite knew how to captivate Betty, in this instance he’s able to give Megan exactly what she wants; even if it leaves him feeling a touch used and distant from her.

Maybe Don does that favour for Megan out of wanting to show kindness to someone close to him, unlike the way he pushed both Adam and Lane away with both hands. He’s not great at being close to people out of straight up fear, but baby steps in the right direction can’t hurt, even if it’s not necessarily the right fix longterm. Popping Megan in for Butler has healed the problems in their marriage for the moment, that old temporary bandage on a  permanent wound, but now Don will probs be on edge thinking that Megan will bounce like Peggy. The transactional nature of his band-aid scrubs some of the joy from their marriage, in the same way that Joan can no longer take a particular type of pleasure from fending off flirty advances at the office.

Don begins this season doting on Megan and unable to entertain the idea of stepping out; shit between them ain’t perfect, but his visceral reaction to that fever dream says it all. And now, he ends this season walking off shrouded in shadows as Megan gains the spotlight in dazzling technicolour. Gimme an Old Fashioned.

image courtesy of Tom and Lorenzo

Even though Megan knows Don’s Dick secret, she doesn’t really know what he actually needs on any kind of deep level; it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love him, more that she simply doesn’t get the guy. He doesn’t know what he wants, but he is wanting. Lane’s suicide would of course have a profound impact upon Don for a few reasons, something she should have picked up on. And Don ain’t blameless here either– he obvi has trouble understanding women and what they want and need in a relationship. Sure, they have clear chemistry, but is it sustainable in the day to day?

~Are you alone??~

Asking a truly isolated guy if he’s alone, what a hoot.

Let’s see if Don fucks it all straight to hell. And as always, thanks very much for reading! I’ll resume with Season 6 reviews soon!

“You hate him because he voted for Goldwater.” || image courtesy of Tumblr


Mad Men s5e8: Lady Lazarus

“Have you seen those pictures of earth from space? .. Do they make you feel small and insignificant?”

image courtesy of TheBigLead

The concept of Suburban Alienation has been pretty heavily explored throughout Mad Men thus far, and it’s about to catch up with Don with nary a suburb in sight. We also see that Pete Campbell’s dull train rides are getting under his skin. He gets to know some doughy dolt named Howard; natch, he’s casually cheating on his disproportionately hot wife.

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After their onetime spontaneous bang and brief pillowtalk, Pete becomes consumed with this fantasy of Howard’s wife Beth. Maybe she does help him to see the world a little differently, inspiring him to think a touch deeper.. or maybe she’s just tapping into his innate desire to feel needed. And in a first for Pete, he learns that he’s pretty much powerless to hold onto her. Beth is a lady who is able to make whatever their faux-relationship may or may not be dissolve as naturally as rolling down her fogged heart-drawn car window. Pete feels just about as lonely as the Earth looks from space in that moment.

image courtesy of Uproxx

Beth echoes Trudy’s good looks, acts fairly frosty à la Betty, but is independent like Pegs. She exudes the same Betty vibes of a bored/trapped housewife with no legit access to her aspirations and passions, stuck in an episode all about just those things.

(And on a sidenote, seems like Beth has done this before– hookin’ randos at the train station. Get it, girl! Howard suuuuucks.)

Megan is pretty much Don’s dream lady, but in fulfilling all that junk for him she’s put her own shit on the backburner. Turns out she still wants to be an actress, and has been auditioning on the sly. Desperate to bounce from SCDP, she wants to pursue her dream but needs Don to OK it first. Don saw what happened with Betty not being able to follow through on what she wanted with her life, so he’s pretty quick to agree with Megan re:her quitting SCDP.

Rewind to the Codfish Ball with Don and Megan blowing up Heinz together, working flawlessly as a team/power couple that anyone would envy. That marriage/work moment is everything Don could have dreamed of and more, a sky-high blip from which things could only careen straight back down to hell.. and how.

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Unfortunately for Don, this dynamic is not designed to last; and realistically, what is she supposed to do, anyway? Work with him legit forever? Nope. Megan musters up the courage to deal with her feelings head on. She admits to both herself and Don that she doesn’t want to work in advertising (although she has innate talent), but she would rather be an actress and have her own career; one that’s separate from Don, which is totally normal. Feeling better at failing in an audition than she did succeeding with the Heinz idea says it all.

And how does Don react to the news? On the outside, he’s understanding and perhaps supportive. This is hundreds of miles away from how he would have reacted with Betty, even going so far as to admit to Roger that he doesn’t want Megan to end up like her; bitterly unhappy and unfulfilled because he held her back. (Don’t do what Donny Don’t Does, Don.)

Surface niceties aside, Don can’t help but feel a tremendous dogpile of deep disappointment, melancholy, and abandonment within his bones. When Megan leaves SCDP for the last time as an employee, sweetly ensuring Don she would see him at home, he stares down the empty elevator shaft and something feels acutely wrong. Though it’s not something he can articulate just yet, that backhand of existential dread hits him square in the solar plexus. It’s a mere moment, but you know things won’t be the same ever again. Stare into the abyss and the abyss stares right back atcha.

Rattled and lured by his office bar’s gravitational pull, booze is the way he chooses to deal with it for the time being. When Don takes that drink, he looks noticeably worried and a little weathered. A goddamned mess in contrast to how bright and happy he looked with Megan in their shared Heinz success, and even during that silly Cool Whip play-acting.

Not to mention that generally Don is the one who does the bouncing.. so when Megan splits, it throws him for a loop. The power dynamic shifts to her favour and he’s uneasy about it.

Why does Megan pick what is probably the least mainstream accessible track on Revolver? Because it’s what’s next, the ever-evolving culture that will pass him by if he doesn’t wake up; he’ll be a man out of his time. The 60s are about to explode into psychedelic fun mania both music and style-wise.

As the episode ends, Don picks up the record needle and abruptly stops the music. He shuffles to the empty bedroom in silence, back to being adrift at work once more. Megan’s been keeping him straight at the office, but what now? Will he lose Megan to a strange new acting world he knows practically nada about?

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Will that frightening moment be Don’s undoing? He’s been so Good(TM) up to this point.. Tomorrow Never Knows, indeed. Megan and Beth have bounced, leaving Don and Pete in their wake feeling equal parts isolated and confused. Time to get on with it and get with the times, fellas.

“Why do they give you a glimmer of hope in the midst of rejection? A little thread to hang on to, a misplaced word, a suggestion of the future..under a court of law, it would look like an accident, but it’s not. Why do they get to decide what’s going to happen?”

“.. They just do.”

Mad Men s5e7: At the Codfish Ball

“No matter what, one day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away..”

“.. Wings, daddy.”

Here’s some of that good old deep-rooted dissatisfaction and the ever-present yearning for more.. TALE AS OLD AS TIIIIIIIME. This pair o’themes are on display in this delightful episode. There’s a bunch of semi-fulfilled and partially crushed dreams here. Peggy comes to the realisation that she may indeed want to get married, and then .. sort of gets it but not entirely. Megan longs for creative success, subbing in advertising for acting, and when she really succeeds it still ain’t quite right. Sally gets to hit up the eventually disappointing grand staircase-less ball in the mod dress she wanted, but not the gogo boots and makeup.

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And of course we have Don, thinking he is about to pounce on the opportunity of a lifetime at said ball; he bags Heinz, but ends up being cast aside from the big corporate fish due to the reverberating consequences of The Letter. Natch, nobody wants to work with a guy who would fuck them dirty like that.

There’s Peggy and Abe, with her modern sensibilities in competition with her Catholic upbringing. When Abe insists on a dinner together, Pegs is rattled; sounds like bad news to me too. But Joan puts the marriage proposal bug in Peggy’s ear.. when it turns out all Abe wants to do is shack up.

image courtesy of BurnThisMedia

Peggy chooses to be with Abe because he’s modern and not like those other dolt dudes who expect her to be a certain way because of ~Society~, but now she has to actually live with the fact that.. he’s a modern guy. Grappling with being a modern 60s career gal on an explosive upward trajectory and the future she’s Supposed To Want is no easy task. But hey, moving in together is pretty awesome too– as Joan kindly points out, reassuring Pegs it’s the right choice for her.

Joan: “Sounds like he wants to be with you no matter what.”

Peggy: “I thought you were going to be disappointed for me..”

J: “I think it’s very romantic.”

P: “It is, isn’t it? We don’t need a piece of paper! I mean.. not that marriage is wrong or anything.”

J: “Greg has a piece of paper with the US Army that’s more important than the one he has with me.

P: “.. I’m sorry..”

J: “It is what it is.. I think you’re brave. I think it’s a beautiful statement. Congratulations!”

Obvi, the dinner at their newly minted shared space with Mrs. Olsen did not go well. And it’s not that shocking that the woman who claimed moving to Manhattan meant certain rape would be less than supportive of Peggy and Abe’s choice to live together In Sin(TM). Yikes on bikes. Admittedly, I think Peggy was trying to do the right thing and attempt to have an adult relationship with her mother where she doesn’t have to lie about her life, but some people are just stuck in their ways. Not much she can do about it.

image courtesy of LowBrowMedia

At a fancy client dinner, Megan gets wind that SCDP is about to be fired; she and Don close that Heinz deal expertly. It’s also probably the first time this season we see Don actually, you know, working. Fuckin’ finally.

Though she’s very talented at this gig, Megan definitely wants more; her father expresses his disappointment at her giving up the acting dream to this job and this shortcut life with Don. All Marxist and pretentious academic junk aside, Emile ain’t wrong.

You can see it on her face when Peggy is genuinely thrilled for her re:Heinz; Megan’s got some lingering discontent and indifference to the whole schtick. If this type of professional success is ‘as good as it gets’ according to Pegs and Megan feels this nonchalant.. that’s not a great sign of things to come. Here’s that enormous, central theme of the series.. is that all there is?

On top of all that– since she’s Don’s wife, the reaction is sort of overblown. Peggy even remarks on it, saying that when she did that very same thing with a great campaign that the men in the office didn’t really bat an eye. And the nightmare fight Don and Megan had in the previous episode stemmed in part from her wanting to be seen as more than Mrs. Don Draper, home and office wife who just does whatever the hell he says. If this happens again and she has another idea that’s not in line with what he’s thinking, will he have another fucking meltdown?

And Megan’s tag for Heinz, ‘some things never change’, is true of all our characters. Try as they may to throw on a fancy persona, they’re all the same people deep down. Don as the ever-glib brilliant adman who’s now happily remarried is still a human mess just below the surface. Roger is charming and magnetic as ever with Sally, until Marie catches his eye and he’s gone in a flash to get blown. Pegs wanting to shack up rather than get hitched, though at the end of the day maybe she DOES want to be married after all. Megan knocks it outta the park with Heinz, but deep down she would prefer to be IN that commercial.

Don really did fuck it up with The Letter, as Kenny’s father in law Leland Palmer succinctly points out. Don’t bite the hand, Don.

image courtesy of Reddit

And here’s Sally wanting to be more grown up, but then sees something TOO grown up when she walks in on Roger getting his knob enthusiastically schlobbed by Marie. Pretty much nobody but Roger’s had a good night at this ball.

image courtesy of The AV Club

Ringing Glen, he’s at the communal phone of his boarding school in absurd flasher gear of a winter coat (and apparently nothing else) on the phone to Sally, asking.. How’s the city?

Dirty, indeed.

“He’s at Dow Corning– they make beautiful dishes, glassware, .. napalm..”

Mad Men s5e1 & e2: A Little Kiss

“You think he’s looking at your breasts?? He’s looking at my calendar!”

Hello hello, and welcome back! I’m really looking forward to writing about this season, because season 5 is where shit starts to get dark. Right out of the gate, there’s talk of death, intense bitterness, underlying messes, how nothing is as it seems.. with a nice dash of good old daddy issues and Fragile Man Feelings. We pick up a few months after the conclusion of season 4’s Tomorrowland, Memorial Day Weekend 1966.

Staking your own spot in the world is at the forefront of this episode, with our main characters desperate to mark their territory. Pete vs Roger (and the fight for an office sans support beam), Megan showing off her marriage (and dope-ass home), Joan finding her identity through work (and not just being a mother), Lane and his place in the USA.

image courtesy of Amoeba

There’s a lot of Don and Megan in this episode, and they’re both starting to realise exactly how little they actually understand about one another. Don, as he is wont to do, assumed Megan would be simple and uncomplicated; turns out she ain’t no Canadian Barbie, she’s a real person. Ssssssshocker. The man is seething over the surprise party she threw for his 40th, especially inviting everyone into their home and the iconic Zou Bisou Bisou. As a happy go lucky girl, Megan can’t fathom the idea that Don would never want a birthday party, much less a big ol’ surprise involving making him the center of attention.

“Don’t waste money on things like that.”

“It was my money, and you don’t get to decide what I do with it.”

“Well, could you please not use it to embarrass me again?”

“I know why you’re upset.. you’re 40!

“I’ve been 40 for half a year.”

“When is that gonna stop? Only you know that. This is your birthday now.”

“Fine, I don’t like my birthday. I told you, I never had it when I was growing up and I’ve never wanted it since.”

“You never had a birthday? Didn’t Betty ever throw you a party?”

“No, because I forbid it.  I don’t need to be the center of attention.”

“You love attention!”

Well, the good news is that Don was up front with Megan about his Dick Whitman. And we all know that Don loves attention as Megan astutely points out; but he covets control, and wants attention on his own terms. Tale as old as tiiiiiime..

image courtesy of AMC

Switching gears, Lane finds a dude’s wallet in his cab, within which is a photo of busty Dolores; when Lane rings the owner, she’s the one that answers. He’s very flirtatious on the call, the man Lane imagines himself to be, suave and daring. Reality slaps him in the face when a disheveled fat dude in a hat that looks like it got run over by the E train comes to pick up said wallet. Boner killer.

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Lane’s pining for something he doesn’t have, something he got a taste of last season with his Playboy Bunny ladyfriend. He fancies much more than just being the office middleman. I feel like that’s a big part of why he lets everyone out of their contracts to create SCDP in the first place– he wants to be one of the power players, the execs who get the gal and the cash and the respect and the power.. much like Don supposedly has.

And instead he has his vaguely severe wife, piles of bills, and he feels powerless. The titty photo is what he longs for, but like much of everything else in his life, is denied him. His effervescent longing gives him the get up and go. Lane has always been a man who feels desperately out of place, ironically looking to Don who’s pretty much in the same boat. Little does he know it’s mostly an illusion of happiness on Don’s front.

That 40th birthday party is the ultimate illusion of happiness, partly shattered by Peggy throwing some particularly uncouth Heinz-related shade. We see Pete’s suburban dreamhouse in Connecticut, a city boy woefully out of place in the wood-paneled country. He really thought that he wanted the life Don had back in 1960, and now that he’s got it (complete with a near-identical hideous knotty pine kitchen) it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Trudy hasn’t quite yet returned to her effortlessly chic self post-baby, and as usual Pete has no earthly idea what he wants, just that he yearns for so much more of it.

Joan is at home with her newborn and mother in tow, yearning to head back to work and to feel relevant again. Being a mother isn’t enough for her to feel needed, to feel important; and the private barb SCDP throws at the racist Y&R hiring policy doesn’t help, thinking they’re looking to replace her.

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Looks like Roger and Jane’s marriage has run its course, with the amount of seething tension between them. Seems nice on the outside, but there’s no depth there.. more on this shocking story at 11. Roger is being rapidly outpaced by Pete at the firm in terms of bringing in new business, and he feels somewhat listless as a result.

Almost every character’s story centres around those fantasies of happiness. Let’s be real, we can all concoct a perf Happy Ending(TM) in our imaginations, but then we get to live with the messier (and oft disappointing) realities that come with it. Everyone coveted the gorgeous, immaculate white carpet Megan saw in that interior design magazine, but the reality is that they all wound up with the filthy version in Don and Megan’s place that survived that birthday party.

“Well, I want you to be happy. Somebody should be. You know, two weeks ago, Jane asked me, “Which one’s Mussolini?'”

The Leftovers: a Nihilistic, Tighter Lost

What are the lies we tell ourselves every day? The lies that help us heal, move on, to feel okay? There’s a fuckton of those in the above shows.

Spoilers ahoy, kiddos. Time to yap for a bit.

image courtesy of The Verge

Alright.. I have an undying love for the show Lost. Is it a perfect series? Hell no, but it’s a show that crafted real characters, emotional drama, iconic moments, and a whole new world to explore. It’s aged really well, in my opinion. The Others! The Dharma Initiative! WE HAVE TO GO BACK! The numbers! What the fuck is in that hatch? THE CONSTANT. Time skipping to the 70s! Oof. I can go on and on.

The finale is polarising (and Across the Sea remains forever fucking awful), but I am firmly in the camp that loved the damn thing through and through. Such a satisfying emotional conclusion to these characters’ stories, and The Leftovers came to the same type of incredibly gratifying conclusion.

This show runs a touch contrary to Lost, depending upon whom you ask; the fascinating bits aren’t really the mystery itself, but rather how the characters live with said mystery, though Lost got there eventually. What’s the fun in laying everything out boilerplate, anyway?

The Leftovers has the typical Lindelof thematic strings; existential loneliness and finding purpose, daddy/mommy issues, daily lying to oneself, very handsome men crying, moving on and letting go, faith versus science, damaged people just trying to make it work. The tone is overall darker, and I feel like that’s a given. How would a world that suddenly and inexplicably lost 2% of the population evolve? Shit would be weird. As the episodes progress and it gets farther away from Perrotta’s source material, it becomes exceptionally more bizarre as it bursts and blooms into this wholly mesmerising viewing experience.

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As an HBO bonus, there’s titties and asses galore (and a commando jogging Justin Theroux in sweatpants). It’s a win-win at 28 hourish-long episodes. Lost had some definite wheel spinning going on in Season 3 (Jack’s fucking tattoos) and the first half of Season 6 (Christ, that trash temple, what the fuck). The shorter season structure on HBO allows a more efficient viewing experience, and more effective storytelling.

Simply put, both Lost and The Leftovers are about broken people trying to get on with it. Jack Shephard can’t let a single goddamned thing go, but he eventually gets his shit together and moves on (which is probably the most succinct summary you’ll ever find of that show). He saves the world and sacrifices himself in the process.

And unlike Jack, Kevin Garvey isn’t destined to save the world — only himself.

Does Kevin have something fundamentally broken inside him? Sure, none of his family departed, but it seems the Sudden Departure itself cracked him wide open. The metaphor manifests in the penultimate episode of the series, where Kevin literally faces his issues head on– his twin brother. He happens to have the nuclear football key planted inside of him, and Prez Kev has to kill International Assassin Kev in the process of getting to the damn thing.

Apparently, it’s the Fischer Protocol; an ethical deterrent for the President so he doesn’t blow up the goddamned world, since the prez has to kill the person who has the key in order to get it out. All orchestrated by Secretary of Defense Patti Levin, no less.

Let’s backtrack for a hot second. Patti, the monkey on his back, follows him around for much of Season 2 and in order to rid himself of her and move forward from that guilt, he has to kill her in this hotel world. First, she’s masquerading as a senator; he kills her, but apparently she’s got a double. Second, she’s a little girl– Patti at her most innocent, purest. Watching Kevin push her into a well is tough, heartbreaking. The third incarnation of Patti is her Guilty Remnant self, the one Kevin knew. He approaches each of these with empathy, but carries out his grisly task every time.

Oof. Typing that out sounds absolutely fucking ridiculous. But man, there’s a few episodes of The Leftovers that absolutely should not work on paper, but are pure magic onscreen. There’s a tinge of supernatural with Kevin’s ability to die, visit the other side, and return relatively unharmed. Season 2’s International Assassin and a tidbit of the s2 finale have him working through his issues in the ‘hotel world’, which is pretty much an in-between place; an afterlife. These episodes are the show at its strangest, emotional best.

The themes that spoke to me the most were about how we all cope in the face of loss and the glaring black hole of the unknown. What does it truly mean to be okay? Can we ever actually be okay again after a great loss, or is there just a new normal? Or is life just an emotional roller-coaster, where we vacillate between happiness and self-destruction to push it all away?

Take a gander at Kevin’s journey across the seasons. He’s a broken and generally dissatisfied guy, who is offered love, family, and peace at the end of both seasons 1 and 2, yet he invariably goes on to blow his happiness straight to hell. Then there’s Nora, for whom the idea of moving on and being okay after her family’s departure is an enormous source of guilt and conflict. Despite her departed husband being a shitbird, all she wants to do is wallow in those feelings, pushing Kevin away in the process.

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On a grander scale, these themes manifest in the small-town apocalypses of seasons 1 and 2; how the societal sweater of Mapleton and Jarden progressively unraveled via the wildly conflicting coping mechanisms of their denizens.

Not unlike Jack and ~The Island~, Kevin craves returning to the ‘other side’ to feel powerful and alive, since he can’t seem to grasp that in his real life no matter how hard he tries. The whole series he struggles with just wanting to go home, to be with his family.. and once he gets there, it’s never enough. Kevin yearns for more, lying to himself along the way that what he already has is the key though he knows that ain’t true. Guess it took losing Nora and that great love for a decade and a half for him to get it together and see what was in front of him all along. He blew up his afterlife in the process and eliminated that escape.

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But hey.. did Nora go to that trash dimension and fuck off for ~15 years? Or did she make it all up as an elaborate method of moving forward and forgiving herself?? I’m still on the fence as to whether it’s an intricate lie she concocted to move on with her life, but goddamn. And either way Kevin would’ve believed her.

What a ride. It’s a beautifully written and executed show, real damn good, Perfect Strangers included. I’ll definitely be revisiting this one.