Monday, October 20, 2008

Mad Men: “Mountain King” Reaching A Climax

The AMC series “Mad Men” continues to impress me with its method of weaving multiple stories and characters together without being overly confusing. It also makes me feel something for almost all the people involved. In some cases I want things to go well for a character, in other cases, I don’t wish them well at all. It slowly draws viewers in. That’s the sign of a well written and thought out series. This season of “Mad Men” is one that has built up slowly over time, to the point that one feels like they are a fly on the wall, watching these people’s lives unfold right in front of their eyes.

In this second last episode of the season for Mad Men, “The Mountain King”, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) has continued in his drop off the radar as he’s still in California. Betty (January Jones) is struggling with her daughter’s behavior and her questions at home. Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) gets aggressive and as a result, gets her own office. The proposed merger between Sterling Cooper and Putnam, Powell, and Lowe is in play. And for Joan (Christina Hendricks), the tarnish is starting to appear on her relationship with her fiancé.

Don is having a crisis of sorts. He’s in San Pedro, reconnecting with Anna Draper, the wife of the man whose identity he assumed. We see Don (AKA Dick Whitman) flashing to the past, with his early encounters with Anna where she calls him out for not being the real Don Draper. He tells her the truth how he assumed Don’s identity, and they seem to become very close over the years. He even seemingly asks her permission when he wants to marry Betty, but of course it’s partly because he needs a divorce from Anna to keep things legal with the identity of Don Draper. Of course, Don will support Anna, and he also keeps the secret from Betty. Anna even tells him that she “always felt we met so both our lives could be better." But Don, looking at a book of poetry at Anna’s home called “Meditations in an Emergency,” seems to be feeling more disconnected than ever. Anna attempts a tarot card reading that she seems to imply good things for Don, yet it seems clear that Don just can’t see anything positive.

Back at home, Betty goes for a cigarette and realizes she’s a little low on them, and she finds Sally (Kiernan Shipka) smoking in the bathroom. When Betty tries to administer discipline, Sally hits Betty with a low blow, changing the subject and bringing up her father and why he’s not home. Sally also says that Don “left because you're stupid and mean," and "why won’t you let him come home?" Betty seems to be off kilter about the matter, but later, seemingly bribes Sally with a new pair of riding boots after which she tells Sally that she and Don are having problems. There may be new cause for concern, when after Sally asks to go riding, Betty stands up and both Sally and Betty realize that Betty has left blood on the couch.

Meanwhile, back at Sterling Cooper, life continues. Merger talks are in the works. Even though Don is partner, Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) says that his voting power wouldn’t have an impact, so they go ahead and vote to make a counter offer with the merger without Don’s input. Bert’s sister Alice, who seemed to be pushing Bert hard to go along with the merger, gets in a perfect zinger at Roger (John Slattery), when she tells Roger that he has "children to think of." When Roger corrects her, "I just have the one," she dryly responds with Alice's perfect, "Really?" clearly referring to his relationship with Jane.

Peggy is working on the Popsicle account with the rest of the team and comes up with the idea that really helps sell the ad program to the Popsicle people. Feeling confident, she also gets frustrated and annoyed after she gets chewed out by the copy machine repair man, who seems to assume that because she shares the office with the machines that she’s a nobody at the company. Peggy carefully ambushes Roger and states her case to take over Freddy’s office, and he compliments her on her balls in doing so. He agrees to the move, and her peers are shocked, probably jealous, when they see her moving in to the big office next to Don's. She also jokingly says to Peter that sleeping with Don is really paying off.

Peter (Vincent Kartheiser) is very upset when he learns his wife Trudy has made an appointment with Spence Chapin for an adoption. At home, he fights with her, and throws dinner out the window. But his anger with his wife comes back to haunt him, as his father in law, Tom, who is with Clearasil, tells Peter the Clearasil account is up for review, a clear threat to Peter. At this point, Peter doesn’t appreciate the blackmail attempt, so he tells Tom to just pull his account now. Peter later confides with Peggy that he’s not sure how Don will take the loss of the account.

Unfortunately, things aren’t looking very rosy for Joan. At home in bed with her fiancé the doctor, Greg (Sam Page), she makes an advance towards him, getting on top of him, a maneuver to which he is says he is unfamiliar. He wonders where she learned it, and she implies that she really has no sexual past. He brushes her off, saying he’s tired. Later, when Joan brings Greg to the office, Greg seems to pick up something between Roger and Joan, and decides to take action. He asks Joan to go into Don’s office since Don is not there, pushes her onto the floor despite her repeatedly saying no, and he forces himself upon her. Joan’s eyes go blank as she stares off at the floor. The next day, when Peggy is moving into her new office, she strikes up conversation with Joan, and Joan seems almost unsure as to how to respond about questions of her upcoming marriage. Clearly Joan is having second thoughts about Greg.

As the episode draws to a close, we see Don, walking into the surf, alone. It’s not clear to me whether he is feeling bad about himself or good. But it does almost seem like a baptism of sorts, where he is letting the waves wash over him and take away all of his sins. It’s hard to tell if it means that he wants to start a new life in California, or, if he’s just washing away a troubled past so he can go back to his wife Betty and start over.

For Don, though, the stakes are high. He could stay in California, disappear, and start over again. But if the merger goes through and he doesn’t return, he’s walking away from a small fortune. On the flip side, if he returns and the merger goes through, he could find himself working for Duck, who seems to be anxious for some payback. Betty seems not to want Don around, yet she is becoming more destructive to her so called friends because it seems she wants them to hurt as she is hurting. Are there other problems with Betty, and is her bleeding a sign she is pregnant, miscarrying, or another medical problem and will this force Don back home?

We may see Joan decide that she wants to be her own woman and not someone just attached to any man just for the sake of saying she’s married. While Greg violated her in a physical way, it may also have been an emotional attack on Joan’s own self image. Will it be a wake up call for her to change how people perceive her, and decide what kind of person she wants to become? For now, she seems to give the impression to Peggy that everything is fine with Greg, and it’s hard to tell if she’s doing that because she wants to believe it herself, or of she just wants to buy some time to figure out what to do next.

I also see changes coming for Peggy. Taking the initiative to get her own office – and a nice one at that – may give her an extra shot of confidence that may make her more aggressive. This could be a threat to her male co-workers, who seem to have underestimated her. But, was the symbolic celebration drink from the stash that Freddy left going to turn into a problem for her later on, if she thinks she must drink to keep up with the boys?

But of course, while Bert Cooper seems to make Don Draper out to be a small player when it comes to the company partnership, we all know that Don is the glue that holds the whole company, and probably the whole Mad Men story, together. Will Don’s romp in the surf wash away his past and will he stay in California and start over? Or, was he just washing away his guilt for what he’s done in the past, and will the reality of an impending merger, and possible medical issues with Betty bring him back home? The season finale next week will hopefully provide some answers.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information, here.

No comments: