Mad Men s4e13: Tomorrowland

“But I think, in my heart, it was an impulse. Because I knew what I needed to do to move forward.”

Ahh, the curveball season finale. As we all know, Don Draper is the reigning king of the fresh start, always moving forward and all that garbage. But life really isn’t conducive to clean slates as Henry makes crystal clear to Betty, along with those of us living on planet earth know intrinsically. One of the show’s central themes is prominent in this episode.. can people really change? Or is it all just a blip?

image courtesy of IMDB

This is and is not the Don Draper we’ve gotten to know throughout the series thus far. When it looks like he’s going to come to terms with his own identity in some meaningful way, he veers sharply left (and imitates Roger by making an impetuous and capricious move) and proposes to Megan. The hell? True to form, I guess.

Betty certainly thought her life would change when she married Henry. Sure, things are different, but it’s not all that she envisioned. As her journey continues, she’s learning that life is less and less the ideal iconography she was pitched and the only thing you can really control is your perspective.

Bets, you can move out of your house and leave Ossining, but your problems are gonna follow ya if you don’t look inward and work on that shit. Her fresh start with Henry hasn’t radically changed her nor her life, and a new house in Rye won’t do that either. At least she’s with a man who will communicate with her exactly what is wrong with her actions, and call her out on her bullshit instead of just disappearing, but it’s up to her to do the work.

Now that Don’s not around to blame for her erratic/childish behaviour, she’s gotta learn to adapt and be an adult. Henry has precisely no time for her impulsive shitfit re:Glen and Sally being friends which is probably for the best. Firing Carla inadvertently draws Don closer to Megan too, ha.

And man, Faye didn’t deserve such shit treatment. She really got a raw deal, but I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Don lost interest episodes ago, and it doesn’t look like he was ever really that into her; she’s not the right person for him. But getting some fucking phone call like “oh yeah bee-tee-dubs I met someone and am suddenly engaged PEACE” is crushing, but she blasts him with a truth H-Bomb before hanging up.

“I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”

image courtesy of Imgur

Let’s be real, the Hobo Code stuck with him. Dude is always looking to hop that midnight train going anywhere; Faye represents facing his issues and working through his Dick Whitman/desertion garbage feelings like a real life person, whereas Megan represents a clean slate and bright-eyed optimism that only youth can foster. Poor girl doesn’t know what she’s signed on for..

I’m drawn back to the season premiere, and that reporter snapping Don out from his thoughts; “Who is Don Draper?” Good question. He’s tried to make himself a better man this season, but suddenly jerks to the crutch of the Fresh Start(TM) personified, Megan. The first time I watched this finale, that ending gave me whiplash– but going back and examining the earlier episodes, it adds up pretty neatly. All along there were these little snippets planted that she’s the shining star for Don; the Pond’s focus group, being naturally nurturing to Sally, actually getting what The Letter was about.. etc. The pieces are all there.

Megan’s on the level. Maybe she’ll be the one to accept Don for who he really is, to love Dick Whitman and all that mess entails, allowing him to get on with it sans too much manpain. And hey, maybe he’ll do it right. He tells her he feels like “himself” around her, the best version of the man he aspires to be in the day to day. Maybe she’ll coax more of that out into the open.

At the end of the day, Don is someone who needs to be needed, and Faye didn’t really deliver that; Megan does just that little bit. He also needs someone who will nurture his kids in the way that Betty simply can’t at this point, in a way that he’s unable to as well; since he grew up with no loving mother figure, seeing that in Megan is magnetic.

image courtesy of Slant Magazine

She also didn’t have a fucking meltdown over a spilled milkshake, which Betty certainly would have done. Between Megan’s sunniness and Don’s slight ability to even acknowledge his past to Sally (“that’s my nickname sometimes” re:Dick and Anna on the wall) and have it go well, Don seems on top of the world.

It’s an optimistic ending for a season fraught with such darkness, yet I can’t help but wonder how pristine that slate will stay as lives move on. Fundamentally, people don’t change– not wholly.

Peggy and Joan share a moment over the absurdity of the engagement; Peggy signed the first bit of new business with Topaz that day, but natch.. that’s not as important as getting married. Those dudes are all just between marriages, after all.

image courtesy of Roger Ebert

And it didn’t slide past Roger that Don did the exact thing he was judged harshly for back in Season 2, either. Granted, Roger reacts much better than Don ever did— and there’s absolutely fuckall Don can quip back about it.

Don and Betty have one last encounter in the house on Bullet Park Road, and it’s a bittersweet adieu. It’s also one of those rare moments where she softens towards Don, and they have an easy interaction; she’s vulnerable about how things aren’t ideal in her life. Don lets her know that he’s engaged, and even in her sensitive state, Betty manages to not say anything shitty which is pretty good progress.

She does ask if it’s to Bethany Van Nuys, and Don is essentially like “WHO??

image courtesy of Tom + Lorenzo

Adios, house; thanks for the memories. Onto the next one.

The finale closes with Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” as Don stares off into the void, his new fiancée asleep on his chest. Natch, the first thing I thought of was the always relevant Groundhog Day, the tale of a man trapped in a fucking time loop with endless fresh starts as he relives the same day over and over.

And once he gets it right, he breaks the loop and can live happily ever after.. but only after something like 100 goddamned years.

Here’s hoping Don gets his shit together sooner than Bill Murray. As a man who’s started over quite a bit, maybe he’ll stick the landing this time.

That’s a wrap on Season 4, kiddos! Stay tuned for Season 5 reviews, starting soon.. will Don do it right with his marriage this time? Will Pete’s hairline continue to evaporate? Will Peggy be running the place by the time we return? Will trash Greg do the math on Joan’s baby??? Do people really change or is it all just smoke and mirrors?

Mad Men s4e12: Blowing Smoke

“I bet I could get a date with your mother right now.”

Ah fuck, this is the episode with THE LETTER. Iconic Don Draper shit, kiddos.

image courtesy of YouTube

Turns out desperation truly reeks, as Don takes meeting after meeting and is met with continual rejection, a feeling he ain’t used to in the slightest. SCDP is teetering on the edge without Lucky Strike, and everyone in Manhattan seems to know it.

Hey, remember Midge? One of Don’s OG boho mistresses, she happily runs into him in the lobby of the Time Life building, but all is not as it seems. Don’s genuinely happy to see her at first, this familiar link to who he was just a few years back.

When he told her that he had been expecting to run into her in The Village, maybe he was hoping they would reconnect or have a catch-up sesh about all the seismic changes in his life this past year; he seemed crestfallen to learn how far she had tumbled, and that her reasons for seeking him out were motivated by cash. Ugh.

Turns out Midge is married to some idiot and lives in a real shithole now, with no use for a check. Said dolt lets it slip that she sought Don out and didn’t just happen to be in the Time Life building that day.. thanks, heroin.

Don gives her some cash for a painting, staring at it once he gets home, lost in the void. Maybe he’s not that dissimilar from the trapped junkie who sold it to him; someone willing to whore himself out for cash from Lucky Strike. Seeing Midge could be a partial wakeup call for him, maybe an extreme glimpse at what could’ve been had he not cut back on his boozin’ earlier this season.

image courtesy of Uproxx

Snapping out of the void, Don starts writing. After all, part of Don’s entire life mantra includes “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. Midge’s knob of a husband informed Don that the painting is an after-image– what she sees when she closes her eyes. Time to change the after-image of SCDP post-Lucky Strike.

Tearing the pages out of his sobriety journal, he’s set on moving forward and can’t seem to shed that dark period of his life quickly enough. In the process of creating this defiant statement, Don ditched an honest part of himself with his journal’s pages to make way for this very public (and fundamentally faux) declaration of independence.. looks like he’s done dabbling with authenticity for the time being. Nothing like splashing out for a page in the Times, huh?

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

I mean, GODDAMN. Natch, the other partners do not react well. Don didn’t sign their names, nor did he tell anyone about his plan. Then again, it seems to have done its job; the phones are ringing off the hook at SCDP, and it’s not all bad news.

Both Don and Betty act out of self interest in this episode, damaging others in their wake. Sally is growing up and becoming more of her own person, to Betty’s chagrin and vague confusion. Sally is absolutely a different person than Betty is at this point, and she has limited context for how to relate to her daughter outside of Dr. Edna’s sessions.

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Sally and Glen have stayed in touch, and sneak off to hang out in secret as kids sometimes do; Betty finds out and has a fucking meltdown. In a fit of bizarre jealousy over Sally and Glen, she announces to Henry that it’s finally the right time to move. Poor Sally.

Paired with Lucky Strike leaving, Don’s tobacco tantrum on a full page of The New York Times gets a lot of people laid off.. Faye Miller included. Time for all the partners to pay up, let people go, and keep the lights on. The junior partners have to put in 50 grand apiece to keep the company afloat, and Pete doesn’t have that kind of cash. Turns out it’s not that big a deal, as Don pays Pete’s share; a very generous nod to his discretion with that whole Dick Whitman mess.

“I heard from all my clients this morning, mostly out of morbid curiosity. But one thing’s for sure, they’re not talking about Lucky Strike anymore..”

Everything is uneasy, but in the midst of it all, Megan lets Don know that she ‘gets’ the letter and what it symbolises; one of the few times that day that Don breaks his Draper façade. And, Megan is the other person in the office aside from Peggy who comes to Don with something resembling a positive reaction, some form of understanding what exactly it is that he’s trying to pull. It feels different that day at SCDP.

And she’s right, Don does stand for something.. even if it’s through the guise of an ad rooted in a self-serving motive.

“I thought you didn’t go in for those kinds of shenanigans.

Mad Men s2e10: The Inheritance

“It’s not easy for anyone, Pete.”

An LA trip is looming! Looks like Pete and Kinsey are going to Los Angeles, due to a hookup from Crab Colson. Time to hit up the JPL Rocket Fair. The Space Race is on!

Trudy is strongly suggesting her and Pete adopt a baby, and he ain’t having it in the least. His WASPy mother certainly won’t have it, after Bud let that tidbit ‘slip’; Pete retaliates by cooly letting her know her assets are in the toilet on his way out. So bitter, but his parents never seemed to treat him all that well anyway.

Betty’s dad had a stroke, turns out it isn’t the first time either. Thanks, Gloria. Betty phones Don and they drive to NJ together the next day, keeping the appearance of normalcy as best they can. Gloria answers the door in an outrageously absurd cocktail dress with a mammoth foofy hoop skirt, 1955 incarnate.

Every scene with the Hofstadts is strange, with an easily detectable tense undercurrent between everyone. It’s a family on paper, but there’s no discernible warmth to speak of; Betty is excluded from things here, just as she’s excluded from her own life by Don. Maybe her father Gene — apparently a strict, traditional guy.. fining his kids for small talk — is what she wishes Don would be like around their kids. (Y i k e s….)

Her family resents her for moving out of NJ, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve given her any reason to stay. Her brother William is a fairly unpleasant guy, making jabs about New York and Don having mad cash. Rude. He also sheds a little light on how Gene’s been acting as of late, apparently he’s been ‘off’ for a while now. They are both concerned about Gene, and show it differently. Betty slips into the childlike loving daughter persona, excited about milkshakes and the like, whereas William tries to be in charge.

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image courtesy of BurnThisMedia

But Gene’s got Don’s number, and berates him in an outburst during puzzle time.

“Who knows what he does, why he does it. I know more about the kid who fixes my damn car. Nobody has what you have. You act like it’s nothing. He has no people! You can’t trust a person like that.”

That night, though they share Betty’s childhood room, Don gets to sleep on the floor. They disrobe in silence, and a few hours later, Betty comes down to the floor with affection. She realises she holds the cards right now, and uses it to her advantage. They have a midnight bang on the floor, and Don wakes up alone in the AM.

Gene is all mixed up at breakfast, and mistakes Betty for her (dead) mother and gropes her right there in front of everyone, the harsh morning light filtering in. Everyone is in shock, Don is completely horrified; good lord that’s a lot to handle. Gloria insists they have another doctor’s appointment lined up. Good GOD.

Thankfully Viola shows up to talk some damn sense. Turns out Betty’s childhood nanny still pops in to take care of the house, and Gene. Instead of just acting like things are normal when they’re anything but, Viola sees through it.

Viola: “He’s very very sick.”

Betty: “You don’t know how nice it is to hear someone say that.”

Viola: “The minute you leave, you’ll remember him exactly the way he used to be. It’s all good outside that door.”

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image courtesy of Coco hits NY

Viola reminds Betty that it’s her responsibility to take care of her husband and her children, for they are hers. It’s OK to move forward and to love what you have, to remember the better times, but all it does is remind Betty that everything is in shambles. She breaks down and cries, truly at a loss.

Back in Ossining, Don gets the boot from his house; Betty curtly tells him that they were only pretending. Things are still as they were, so he heads to the office a day earlier than expected. Everyone is throwing a baby shower for Harry, another guy who’s uncertain about the reality of kids as much as Pete.

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image courtesy of Imgur/my own nonsense

Bert Cooper pops into the shower for one of the more bizarre moments of the day.. and everyone raided the store room with ‘gifts’ for Harry and Jennifer’s impeding arrival. Kenny gifts him with a massive stack of Playboys, as you do.

(Offices in the 1960s aren’t that dissimilar from offices today; any excuse to have a party where you eat some form of trash cake from the grocery store.)

Don changes up the plans and decides he’s heading to LA with Pete, axing Kinsey from the trip. Roger gives him his blessing with a vaguely icy exchange; things aren’t exactly healed there just yet.

Joan gets to publicly ask for Kinsey’s credentials back during the baby shower, and relishes it. Kinsey frames it well to Sheila, trying to mend their spat earlier in the week when Pete let it rip that he was headed to Los Angeles. He made it sound like it was his idea to ditch the LA trip (LOL) and ends up heading to Mississippi to fight for civil rights alongside her, likely irritating the shit out of everyone around him.

Everyone’s loaded on punch post-shower, heading home for the day, yet Pete lingers. He’s a little tweeked about flying to LA since his father died on American Airlines Flight 1, but that’s not really the root of his issue(s). He may never truly grasp why he doesn’t get what he feels entitled to, and on top of that, he may never understand how grim it is for everyone who doesn’t have what he has in the first place. Pete’s got some privilege, everyone. Peggy handles his “woe is me, first world problems of the now” drunken schpiele fairly perfectly. She is friendly and cordial, actively listening, but keeps him at arms’ length. Probably a good idea, Pegs.

Hey-o, Glen Bishop shows up at casa Draper, having run away from home a couple of days ago. Glen has been crashing in Sally and Bobby’s playhouse in the back yard. He hasn’t seen Betty for ages, and is in need of some kindness and attention. He insists that he’s there for her– “I came to rescue you. We can go anywhere, I have money!” His name is Don, etc.

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image courtesy of BurnThisMedia

Once Sally and Bobby get home, she does the right thing and rings Helen Bishop knowing she’d be worried about him. Betty endures his child wrath as he spots his mother in the foyer, feeling betrayed and shrieking that he hates her. Betty responds calmly with, “I know”. Maybe it’s some catharsis for her, some link to the way she thinks Don feels about her. She accepts it.

After things quiet down, Betty and Helen Bishop have a moment in the kitchen. Helen admits her shortcomings as a mother in the wake of her divorce and new boyfriend carousel, which compels Betty to share the news with her. After all, Helen is a divorcée; Betty confides in her that Don isn’t living with her anymore. She’s unsure if it’s forever at this point.

Helen: “Is it over?”

Betty: “I don’t even know.”

Helen: “That’s the worst. For me, it wasn’t that different without him there.”

Betty: “Sometimes I feel like I’ll float away if Don isn’t holding me down.”

Helen: “The hardest part is realising you’re in charge.”

On the plane, and true to form, Don just wants to watch the city disappear behind him. Time to get the hell out of Dodge for a bit to recalibrate.

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image courtesy of Fanpop

(Fun fact, the guitarist from The Tornadoes is George Bellamy– the father of Matt Bellamy of Muse fame. Not bad!)

Mad Men s1e13: The Wheel

One of my favourite episodes of this series, The Wheel is a sincerely magnificent episode of television. It’s nearing Thanksgiving 1960. Rachel Menken is on an ocean voyage to Paris for a few months, Don finds out via Cooper and his light ‘cowboy’ jab as Cooper knows pretty much everything. Don has no interest in joining Betty’s family for the holiday, and Betty doesn’t understand why he can’t make her family his, and is at her wit’s end. The struggle is real.

A visibly shaken Francine pops by, and confides in Betty that she’s found out that Carlton has been banging around in the city, and right before a huge family holiday to boot. Francine confides in Betty because she thinks she’ll know what to do, and Betty is alarmed at her implication. It seems so obvious to Francine on the outside, and if Carlton is doing it, what’s to say that Don isn’t doing the same?

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image courtesy of TomandLorenzo

(Real talk for a hot second though, who would fuck Carlton anyway? He gross.)

Betty knows deep down that Don is unfaithful to her and won’t admit it to herself, but for what? Out of pride? Wanting to keep up the illusion of the perfect life? She’s been told all along to want this and to be that perfect wife, but is that really any way to live life?

Self-deception never ends well, as reality will always barge in to fuck things up. She seeks out the phone bill to see if he’s been ringing any ladies, and instead finds a more intense form of betrayal. Don has been calling her therapist to get the scoop on everything she’s been yapping about during her sessions, keeping tabs. She’s both relieved and infuriated.

Doctor patient confidentiality wasn’t a thing in 1960, apparently. When Don comes home later on that evening, Betty tells him about Carlton, pointedly saying how awful it is to do something like that to the one you love, asking how can someone could do something like that to the one they love, to gauge his reaction.

“Who knows why people do what they do?”

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I SEE YOU, DON.

Don immediately changes the subject to the whereabouts of their photo slides, and maybe they have an offscreen night of looking through memories together. Sounds nice on paper; but Betty knows it’s hollow because of what she’s found out re:Don’s calls to the shrink, and that their life will most likely be used as part of a pitch.

So naturally, Betty stirs the pot at her shrink’s office. She decides to drop the “my husband is having an affair” bomb not even yet admitting to herself that it’s true, but as she says the words she feels it. I love the crafty switch of her saying this to the shrink, and then at some point in the future Don will be calling him, so he’ll know that she knows. The seed was planted with Francine’s visit, and the wheels in Betty’s head start turning.

“The way he makes love, sometimes it’s what I want.. but sometimes it’s obviously what someone else wants. I suppose it means I’m not enough.. but maybe it’s just him.”

Absolutely spot on, Bets. She’s slowly coming into her own sort of sentience, gradually becoming the person who is strong enough to get on with it and get out of a bad marriage. Breaking out of denial is the first step, gotta yank your head outta the sand.

Let’s talk about the importance of photos in life for a hot second. There’s a scene with Don and Harry latenight in the office; Harry having told his wife about bonking Hildy for whatever reason so he now lives at SC, and Don having just learned his half brother hanged himself and promptly boozing it. They speak about cave paintings and photography, and how these are evidence of someone being there for future generations to see and to wonder. The impact of these things on the time to come.

My apartment is absolutely blasted with photos, its walls adorned nearly everywhere you look. Family, friends, people long gone and the places that I love, beautiful things. Anytime I feel discombobulated, all I have to do is glance at my walls and I am right back to where I need to be again. I am home. Photos are grounding; the very physical essence of connections you have with others, with places, with a time in your life. You can revisit it all.

And this Carousel pitch, it’s fucking iconography right before our eyes.

Fun fact: I have never watched this scene and not cried. Home run. To me, there’s nothing more innately human than seeking out those movie moments in real life, capturing them. Looking at pictures and knowing that whatever you’re doing is OK.. You are OK.

(I also love that Don does exactly what he tells Peggy not to do in a pitch, re:using Latin and sounding like a Valedictorian..)

Pete’s father in law is really hammering him to knock up Trudy, which is sort of terrifying and wildly inappropriate. As he sits down with Pete and states that he wants to treat him as a son, Pete takes this to mean some new business; after all, the guy is an exec at Vicks Chemical, and he wants to look good for Don and Duck. Having a baby isn’t exactly on Pete’s radar right now, and instead, he gets Clearasil.

Don loops in Peggy for Clearasil, and Pete is pissed.. Don therefore promotes her to Junior Copywriter. The way she wrangled the radio auditions with Kenny is pretty impressive as well– here’s a woman finding her way in a man’s world, and owning it.

At the same time that she gets a new office and promotion, she gets a baby she doesn’t want, and it belongs to Pete Campbell. Christ on the Cross, this is my actual real life nightmare, being on an episode of TLC’s I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant. The way she acts about learning she’s pregnant in the ER and how she acts post-birth are telling; she’s far more interested in getting on with her life and getting back to work and her new copywriting job. Her name is Don.

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No thx.

image courtesy of Imgur

There’s this elaborate fantasy of the man Don wants to be, but back here on earth it’s stark, desolate; false starts and empty promises. He portrays such an idealistic existence in the Carousel pitch, but the reality is that he’s disconnected and unreachable to those that should be closest to him. He learns his half brother committed suicide via a phone call with an uninvolved hotel manager. His lover has bounced on some Euro cruise. He’s cruelly alienated his wife.

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image courtesy of Imgur

Betty undeniably has nobody to talk to, so when she spots Glen in the bank parking lot, she expresses her profound sadness to him. It’s upsetting to watch; her desperation and longing to connect with someone is palpable. When the show began, her and Don’s marriage was ostensibly broken beyond repair, and now the cracks are turning into canyons.

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“Adults don’t know anything, Glen..”

image courtesy of Imgur

Don is a man living on the outskirts of his own life, a truly isolated guy on the outside looking in, but this season finale shows that perhaps he yearns for something deeper. Coming home alone to an empty house with Betty and the kids already gone for Thanksgiving, he slumps on the stairs as the idea of his loving fantasy life evaporates. He knows it’s his own damned fault.

He started this episode not wanting to spend time with his family and being flippant about joining Betty and the family for the holiday, and he ends it being unable to spend time with his family. As much as this guy wants to escape all the time, he profoundly yearns to come home to a place where he knows he is loved.

Is it too late? Can he really connect with Betty and be a legit family? Can he be a damn person already?

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image courtesy of Imgur

Time for a brief hiatus between seasons. But fear not, I shall return! Thanks for following me throughout Season 1 of Mad Men. More to come.

And hey, you can find everything I’ve written thus far over here. Adios for now!