Monday, October 27, 2008

Mad Men: "Meditations” on a Season Finale

In this episode of AMC’s “Mad Men”, “Mediations in an Emergency”, it seems that while the US is involved in Cuban Missile Crisis and the threat of nuclear war increases, there are bombs dropping all over the place in the lives of the people at Sterling Cooper.

Here’s what happened, my review after the recap:

Betty (January Jones) finds out that she is pregnant, and she doesn’t want to go through with it. The doctor doesn’t seem wiling to “help” her in this predicament. In fact, he seems to take the approach that because she is a married woman of means, she should just go along with it and everything will be OK. But it’s clear Betty isn’t as confident.

While in Harry’s office with Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) and Kisney (Michael Gladis), Ken Cosgrove(Aaron Staton) brings is their revenue projections. They speculate as to why this information is needed, and Harry (Rich Sommer) complains that the Clearasil information is missing. They also speculate if it has something to do with Don’s sudden and mysterious absence. Harry thinks Don is out there landing a big aerospace contract, while Kinsey wonders if Don is going to break out on his own. Harry is also concerned that President Kennedy's speech will run over prime time and throw a wrench into his ad spots. After Peggy leaves the meeting, she goes to Pete and questions why he hasn’t broken the news about the loss of the Clearasil account. Pete doesn’t know if he can just tell Duck that his father-in-law hates him, and Peggy urges him to be honest, and that people respect honesty.

At the stables, Betty gets off her horse – despite her doctor’s warning not to ride – and Don (Jon Hamm) is waiting. When she asks where he has been, he says he just needed time to think, and Betty sarcastically tells him that must be nice to need the time and take it, with no concern for others. He admits he was "not respectful" to her, and she says that at least his admission means she's not crazy. He wants to get back together, he wants to see the kids, but she says she can’t deal with that right now and will make arrangements for visiting with the children.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) stops by Duck’s (Mark Moses) office, and he pours him a drink. Pete tells him they lost Clearasil and Duck correctly concludes that it’s problem with Peter’s father-in-law. When Pete says he is working on replacing the account , Duck confidentially tells him about the merger and that Clearasil would have been in conflict with a British client so it really doesn't matter. He recognizes Pete’s loyalty during the American Airlines crash, and then says he says he will place him as head of accounts. He says he can do this because he will be the new president of Sterling Cooper. After mutual congratulations, Pete wonders about Don’s acceptance of this whole thing, and Duck tells him that as president, he doesn't need Don's permission to promote Pete. He also says that Don will fall in line or find another career outside of advertising because of the non-compete clause in his contract.

The next day, the Cuban missile crisis getting even more intense, Don returns to Sterling Cooper. Joan (Christina Hendricks) is happy to see him, and Don seems surprised to see Peggy come out of the office next to hers. She explains that Roger gave her the office because she landed the Popsicle account. Joan follows Don into his office and she briefly brings him up to speed, and he sets up a meeting with his team and then with Roger. As Joan leaves, Pete enters. They talk briefly about Don’s disappearing in California, and Don tells Pete hr left him there because he knew he could handle it. Pete seems surprised to hear that Don had confidence in him. When Pete says he's is very close to landing North American Aviation, Don says he obviously made the right call and said “good work.” He also advises Pete that he knows he wants everything the minute he wants it, but sometimes it's better to wait until you're ready. Pete questions - “so you think I'm ready?” Don says he is, and Pete seems energized by Don’s positive comments.

Don arrives at Roger’s (John Slattery) office, and they briefly discuss his three-week absence. Roger says he hopes Don was looking for a job since he's going to need one, but Don counters that he'll stack his absences up against Roger's any day, and that the office walls still seem to be standing. Roger agrees, but says the sold those walls to Putnam, Powell, and Lowe. Don seems stunned. Roger adds that PP&L is arriving on Friday to talk about strategy, management structure and logistics. Don asks how much, and Roger says he'll clear a little over a half million dollars. Roger also tells him that Duck put the deal together in a bar, and Don questions "Duck was in a bar?" When Don asks if there were any conflicts with the deal, Roger tells him Mona hasn't been pleasant since his engagement. Don laughs - he meant the business deal. Roger tells Don that Cooper and Alice jumped on it, and Don can go back to his office and try to figure out how much money Roger made out of the deal. As they shake hands, Roger adds. "Kennedy's daring them to bomb us, right when I get a second chance." Don says that nobody really knows what's going on.

At church, Father Gill (Colin Hanks) is giving a sermon about Khrushchev, Kennedy, and Castro and the threat of nuclear war. He tells the congregation not to be angry, even on the cross Jesus forgave his transgressors. As he says they are all sinners, they all bow their heads and pray .

Betty is at the hair salon, listening to talk about the threat the country is facing. One woman asks them to stop talking because it is upsetting her daughter. Francine (Anne Dudek) says the Times said people should tell their children and adds that her husband Carlton says he heard the market crashed because there are Russian troops off the coast of Key West. The other woman continues to tell her to cut the chatter. As Francine gets up to leave, she comments to Betty that she looks “wan”. She offers her a Miltown (tranquilizer). Betty declines and admits to Francine she's pregnant. Francine gives her a half-hearted, questioning "congratulations" and adds that her daughter was an accident and look how happy she is now. Betty says she can't have the baby and worries what she's going to do, it's not a good time. Francine tells her there is a doctor in Albany – or Puerto Rico – the latter not a good place to be right now, that can take care of it. She tells Betty sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing and wait.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Kinsey, Cosgrove, and Sal (Bryan Batt) are banging on the static filled TV in Harry’s office, worried about both the Cuban crisis and the accounting evaluation. When Harry arrives and messes up the TV even worse, they decide to find out what’s going on at the company. They corner Lois from the switchboard for information, who resists telling them anything at first because they are not supposed to talk about what they overhear. But, she tells them about the merger anyway and possible job looses due to redundancies. Clearly rattled by the news, they thank her. She says that if any of them get to stay one of them has to take her off the switchboard and they agree, even though it’s clear that is the farthest thing from their minds.

At Don’s hotel room, Betty has dropped off the kids for the evening, and tells Don to drop them off in the morning. The get room service and watch “Leave It To Beaver.” Walking past a department store window display she mulls the well-dressed mannequins. After shopping, she enters a bar, she orders a glass of water, and a gimlet. The bartender tells her that a man at the end of the bar had paid for the drink. He later approaches her and she gives him a bit of a cold shoulder, and when he asks her name, she simply thanks him for the drink. When Betty goes to the rest room. She finds it’s locked. While waiting, the man who bought her the drink approaches her and asks what she's doing here. When she answers that she's waiting, he moves closer towards her and kisses her, and she responds in kind. He opens a door to a private room, and she says she's married. Laying on a couch in the room, he begins to remove her clothes and continues to get passionate. When they are done, as she is fixing her hosiery, he asks her name. As the bartender opens the door, they are quickly exiting and he asks what they're doing in there.

At the church Peggy is dropping off some food, Father Gill asks how she is and she has discomfort with a possible nuclear war, as they could all be gone tomorrow. He says he feels like God called him to the parish to reach her, and she seems taken aback. He adds that hell is serious and very real, and she should “unburden” herself otherwise she won't know peace. She says he's upsetting her. He continues that is her guilt, she needs to reconcile herself with God or else she'll go to hell. She responds that this can't believe that that's the way God is and she leaves.

Pete’s wife Trudy is going into hiding with her parents, and she's bringing the silver just in case. She wants Pete to come but he points out the futility of going there if a nuclear war should occur. He’d rather die in Manhattan. Trudy says if he loved her he'd want to be with her, and he agrees. But he still doesn’t leave with her, only offering to help pack the car.

While Sal, Kinsey, Cosgrove, and Harry all listen to news of the Cuban missile crisis, Harry seems even more concerned about the impending doom at the company, saying that there are good canapĂ©s in the fridge and the conference room being signed out for the day. Kinsey also says they shampooed the carpets. When Cosgrove calls Pete over and asks about the gossip, Pete says he's just waiting to see what happens. Harry tells them that his dad apparently told him that regime changes are always sticky, and that loyalists get hung so it’s best to remain neutral. Harry adds that to PP&L they're all just a bunch of numbers on a ledger and they don't want to get caught on the wrong side of the bottom line. Pete adds nothing and walks away.

Pete goes to Don's office and says he's coming to Don anonymously with information. He proceeds to tell him that he knows about the merger and about Duck being president. When Don asks why Duck would tell Pete, Pete says Duck must be picking sides. Don also questions why Pete is telling him, and Pete says if he was Don he'd want to know. Don is thankful. As he leaves, Pete notes that the U.S. stopped a ship this morning and the Russians may be reconsidering now that the U.S. is making a stand.

At the Draper house Betty enters and finds a note from Don that he left with Carla for her. As she reads it, we hear Don's voiceover. He wrote the letter while he was with the kids, and while he regrets what he did, he understands why she wants to go on without him. She is thinking over his letter very seriously.

At Sterling Cooper, Don sits in on a meeting with the PP&L people and Duck, Bert (Robert Morse), and Roger. PP&L says Sterling Cooper will have some autonomy. Bert says they're not expecting autonomy, but is curious as to who is going to be running things. They respond that it’s Duck, who fakes his surprise and accepts immediately. Roger says it makes sense, and Bert congratulates him. Duck says he will treat the founding members of Sterling Cooper with the respect they deserve. The PP&L people turn the meeting over to Duck to hear his vision, and he says he's a little unprepared but that he wants to bring the company to financial maturity. This means Creative can't be running the show, and he wants to go all in with television. Bert comments that he didn't hear the word client once. Duck adds that when the economy is good, people buy things and when it's not they don't so there's no reason to give in to Creative's fantasies. PP&L calls it ambitious, but Bert wants Don’s opinion. Don says he thinks it sounds like a great agency, and Duck is the man for the job, but if that’s how it shakes out, he leaving. PP&L seems surprised, but Duck seems to enjoy Don’s reaction, calling it an outburst of Don's artistic temperament. He adds that Don loves to hear his own voice and to save the day but now he needs to get with a team, that Don he can either honor his contract or walk out the door and start selling insurance. Cool, calm, and collected Don drops a bomb of his own: "I don't have a contract." Roger nonchalantly states that since they're close he didn't think they needed one. Don rises, buttons his coat, saying he sells products not advertising, and that he can't see as far into the future as Duck but if the world is still here Monday, they can talk then and leaves.

Duck is doing a slow burn, and says to let him go and that he can hire a young gun to replace him. He also raises his voice about Don’s three weeks absence while he put together the deal, and pounds the table. Roger advises him to simmer down, but the PP&L people are slightly unsettled but trying not to show it. They ask Duck to leave for a minute. After Duck walks out of the room, Roger asks if it affects the merger, they are reassure it doesn’t, that Duck could never hold his liquor.

As Don is leaving his office, Joan tells him that Betty called and wants him to come home. He tells her to go home also, but she declines. Later, as the office has cleared out, Pete stops Peggy as she is leaving and asks her to have a drink with him. Pete clearly has something he needs to get off his chest, and he tells Peggy he thinks she's perfect. She says she's not. He reinforces that she is and that he wishes he'd picked her then, and adds he loves her and wants to be with her. She smiles a forced smile as he grabs her hand. She has something on her mind, too, telling him she could've had him in her life forever if she wanted to and she could have shamed him into being with her but she didn't. He looks confused, and she goes on to tell him about the baby. He is silently shocked when she says "I had your baby and I gave it away." She wanted other things. Pete is clearly thrown off kilter by this news. She adds, "Well, one day you're there and then all of sudden there's less of you and you wonder where that part went, if it's living somewhere outside of you and you keep thinking maybe you'll get it back and then you realize it's just gone." She apologizes, and as she leaves, she puts her hand on his shoulder.

As the story close, we see Don coming home, the kids cheering. He sits next to Betty on the love seat while the kids watch TV. At Sterling Cooper, it appears Pete is at his desk in the dark, looking like he has a rifle in his hands. Peggy lies in bed, crosses herself, and prays. At the Draper household, Don enters the kitchen, the kids are in bed. The news is on TV, and Don shuts it off when Betty says she has to talk. She tells him she's pregnant. Don looks serious and Betty seems uncomfortable. Don reaches for her hand across the kitchen table, and the episode closes as they sit there silently.

I thought this was an excellent episode, which tied together many of the events of the season. The backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis seemed fitting, as the fate of the entire country was on the line at the same time as the fate of so many involved with Sterling Cooper. And while everyone seemed to be dropping some bombs of their own, the only one that I didn’t see coming was Don’s announcement that he had no contract. It is possible that this issue came up before and I just missed it, but it was a total surprise to me and clearly a surprise to Duck and the PP&L gang. In fact, I think I enjoyed that scene the most, as Duck may be seeing his spot in the president’s chair slipping away. In all honesty, I thought for a minute that Roger and Bert held back the information about Don’s lack of contract on purpose, maybe just to stick it to Duck. While we have to wait a while for the “Monday” that Don says that will be coming, I suspect that his value to the company will outweigh Duck’s. And if Duck remains as president, I suspect his drinking will get the better of him soon enough.

Clearly there is more wrong with Betty than just her pregnancy. Her increasingly risky behavior implies more trouble ahead for the Drapers. Sure, Don is back home, and Betty has dropped on him the news of her pregnancy, but still it seems that she is not happy with her life, and there is probably more to do with it than Don.

I was also interesting to see Peggy take her own advice and tell the truth to Pete, although he seems crushed by her news. In a way, rather than confess to Father Gill, she decided to confess to Pete, because that is probably the only way she can begin to move forward with her own life. But, can Pete handle the news? I was also glad to see Peggy stand up to the priest and refuse to buy into his view of God which frankly doesn’t sound very god-like.

Pete also played it smart by giving Don the heads up. Granted, he did it only after Don complemented him, but it showed that Pete had the smarts to try to use the information he had to play both sides. By straddling both sides, he may land on his feet no matter who winds up in charge, be it Duck or maybe Don.

All in all, this was a very complex, layered episode that left me anxious for more. Overall, the series is mature, it’s deep, it’s compelling. Sadly, we’ll all have to wait a while for the new season to begin; hopefully there will be one. There really is no drama on television quite like this.

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