Monday, October 18, 2010

Mad Men “Tomorrowland” Recap & Review: Dull, or Genius?

All photos from AMC

It was either the dullest Mad Men of the season, or the episode was genius. It was dull as viewers likely expected some big, earth shattering event – like a suicide or a death of a major character. Instead, we find that Don Draper (Jon Hamm) has decided to get married to his secretary, Megan (Jessica Paré), something that wasn’t all that usual in that day, in fact it was almost expected. And that is the genius part of the episode – I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for something gut wrenching to happen and it never did. The whole season seemed to be building up to a shocking, dramatic ending and many viewers sat through the episode waiting for it, the anticipation only getting greater as the clock ticked away. The big event: Don, a guy who finds it nearly impossible to keep it in his pants, decides to tie the knot and this will likely cause a whole host of new problems next season. A happy Don Draper is a complete 180 degree swing from the Don Draper that we saw sobbing at his desk after hearing that Anna had died, and it is nice that he seems to have found someone who makes him feel truly good. We can only wait to see how long that will last.

Don’s big decision comes after spending time with his three children in California where they visit Disneyland. Betty (January Jones) has fired the maid/nanny Carla (Deborah Lacey) because she allowed Glen to say his goodbyes to Sally (Kiernan Shipka). This means Don no longer has Carla to take with him to watch the kids while on the trip. Lucky for Don, his secretary Megan was ready and willing to take her place. It was plain to see the writing on the wall when Megan comes into Don’s room to let him know she’s going out with a female friend to the Whiskey A Go-Go, and she is in a spectacular dress and looks fabulous. I think Don's eyes would have popped out of his head had his kids not been there. He also sees she has a wonderful way with the kids. He later takes the kids to visit Anna Draper’s home, and sees the "Dick + Anna '64" message he painted on the wall, admitting to Sally that Dick is a nickname. There, he is given the diamond ring the real Don Draper gave to Anna. You can see that the gears are working in his head.

Meanwhile, back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) gets a lead on a possible account in Topaz pantyhose. She and Ken (Aaron Staton) work to land the account, which they later get because Peggy has a good understanding of the product and how women use it. By the way, earlier in the episode, the SCDP partners approach Ken about leveraging his father in law to help them get the Dow Chemical account, and Ken flatly refuses, somehow trying to give them the impression it’s not like him to take that low road.

Back home at the Francis household, Henry (Christopher Stanley) has heard about Betty's firing pf Carla from Carla, who tells him Betty refused a letter of recommendation. Henry has a beer in his hand and clearly looks like he’s already had a few. (Betty is an expert in driving men to drink.) Betty's rationale is that she "...wanted a fresh start" but Henry is irate, saying "There is no fresh start…lives carry on.” It may be a sign that while the season is over and that people may expect a fresh start next season, things will likely be the same for everyone, especially Don, who seems to be looking at his upcoming marriage as a new, and clean, beginning.

Lane (Jared Harris) promotes Joan (Christina Hendricks) to Director of Agency Operations, but there is no money for a raise at that time. She says, "Well, it's almost an honor," and goes back to delivering mail, something she must do since most of the office seems to have been fired to keep down costs. Later, we hear her talking to her husband Greg (Sam Page) via phone and is telling him she is pregnant. Oh boy, is Roger in for a surprise; it seems Joan didn’t really get that abortion.

Back in California, Don leaves the kids in the hotel room alone and heads over to Megan’s room. (I kept waiting for something bad to happen to one of those kids while they were alone in the room, but nothing did.) When Don and Megan spend the night, it’s clear that she has him on the ropes. I laughed when Megan was clearly self-conscious about her teeth and Don was not bothered by them at all, seeing that some fans of the show have made Megan’s teeth a point of ridicule. Don is roped in even further when, in a restaurant, Sally knocks over a milkshake and spills it. Don’s response is to get angry, and Megan stays cool and calm and quickly handles the matter. She’s got him now, hook, line, and sinker.

When they return home and after Megan spends the night at Don’s place, he asks her to marry him, the ring that the real Don Draper gave to Anna serving as the engagement ring. She seem speechless at first but then quickly agrees. I find myself getting more suspicions that he played right into Megan’s master manipulations, and his desire to be happy and to have someone love the kids has clouded his judgment.
When he gets to the office the next day, he gives the news to a stunned Roger (John Slattery), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Lane, and Joan. He later gives the news to a shocked Peggy, who came in to tell him he landed the Topaz account. Don tells Peggy that Megan has the same “spark” as Peggy, and that Megan admires Peggy as much as he does. Later, Peggy and Joan bemoan the developments: Peggy has a new client yet her news was overshadowed by Don’s engagement and Joan tells her she got a promotion – in title only. The both share a laugh over it.

But Don’s not laughing, as now he has to give Faye (Cara Buono) the news that he has found someone and is engaged. Faye is clearly devastated by this news, and tells Don that she hopes his fiancée knows he only likes “the beginnings of things” before she slams down the phone.

Later, Don stops by the empty Ossining house in order to meet with his real estate agent, and sees Betty there getting a box of items that were left behind. They share some memories about the house, and Betty adds "things aren't perfect" at the new home. She seems shocked when he tells her about his engagement to Megan, and then gives him gracious congratulations and also the Ossining house key.

As the episode closes, back in his apartment, Megan sleeps as Don lies awake, staring out the window.

While the episode was anticlimactic, Don’s impulsive engagement to Megan may have more serious repercussions than he thinks. Faye knows who he really is, and will her anger over his impending marriage cause her to use that information against him? Is Megan as harmless as she seems, or is she using Don as a means to an end? Will his marriage make his life more stable and help Don to purge himself of his demons and his past, or is he just buying himself a little happy time? Did Don have subconscious reservations about Faye, a career woman who seemed uncomfortable - and useless - with his kids, and did he not want to get into a relationship with another cold fish like Betty? Was Faye getting fired from her job and her telling him they were now free to have an open relationship the thing that made him feel like he was not in control of the relationship and being pressure by her? Was Megan just in the right place at the right time, the person that Don could feel like he could control and would be a wife to him and a better role model as a mother for his children than Betty? Or, does Megan have a master plan all her own and is she using Don? Have he and Betty finally buried the hatchet? Has Don really learned from all his past mistakes, and does he genuinely want to change his drinking and philandering ways in order to settle down? Has Don found his own version of Tomorrowland or, like Disneyland, is he just in a life that can only work in a fantasy? Don staring out the window at the end of the episode gives me the feeling that he’s still unsure. And that’s the genius of the episode. Even with no real shocking dramatic event taking place, we are still left with more questions than answers, and still find ourselves, like Don, roped in for more.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was also expecting the worst to happen, and the episode did seem to drag until Don asked Megan to marry him. All I thought was that Faye was going to have her ob daddy take Don out...or, she would end up in the looney bin after risking her career for him.