Spoiler Alert: 'Mad Men' Season Four Finale Shocks
By AOL TV Editors Posted Oct 18th 2010 08:15AM
Say what you will about Matthew Weiner and his 'Mad Men' staff, but that team sure knows how to craft a season finale. Season three's finale, which had the Sterling Cooper Draper team going off on their own, was a tough act to follow -- one of the series' high points. But the season four finale, 'Tomorrowland,' didn't disappoint, serving up its own emotional bombs and shocks and setting the table brilliantly for what's to come next year. Can we fast forward to 2011 now?
Want to see what Don Draper, Betty, Joan and Peggy had up their sleeves? Read TV Squad's Maureen Ryan's take on 'Mad Men' After the Jump >>>
Of course, he's still sporting the slick hairstyle and the crisp white shirts. And of late, he's got that Draper mojo back with clients (well, with one potential client).
But the man who returned from Draper's West Coast trip is Dick Whitman. Or rather, he's now a freer, lighter combination of both men.
Think about Don's face in the scene in which he proposes to Megan: There's something open, sweet and hopeful about him. He's vulnerable and sincere in ways that he only ever was with Anna, whose death nearly crushed Don earlier in the season. Jon Hamm's body language in the scene is that of Dick Whitman, who has just fallen in love for the first time.
Sure, Don has been in relationships before. But has Dick Whitman ever truly loved anyone but Anna? Has he truly fallen for someone before, head over heels? In 'Tomorrowland,' he does. He glows.
The magic of the lyrical 'Mad Men' finale was that it beautifully conveyed that sense of falling in love -- the feeling that time stops and the world only consists of two people who share an exquisite connection. In this hushed, quietly paced episode, we were inside Don/Dick's head and heart as he fell for Megan. The finely calibrated moments, the pure intimacies -- they all disarmed us just as Megan unwittingly disarmed her man. Who could resist?
Who could blame Don/Dick for falling in love with Megan? She's kind, sweet, smart, funny, beautiful, great with kids and she speaks French! Even the kids wanted to marry her by the end of that trip to California.
But as much as it pains me to inject a note of reality into Don and Megan's delightfully dreamy romance, it must be done. Do people marry their first loves? They generally don't. And when people get engaged after only a few weeks of dating... well. It could be a warning sign. Or it could be a giant red flag. Or not. It's very hard to say, but Dr. Faye has been right about everything so far, and when she asserts that Don only likes "the beginnings of things," it's worth paying attention to that.
That's usually been Don's modus operandi, but there was a lot of Dick in this scenario. Going to California always brought out that hidden side of Don, one that has been coming to the fore ever since Betty opened that locked drawer last season. In the season 4 finale, during a crucial scene in Anna's house, Don even told his kids who he really was, in a manner of speaking. A lot of the old walls have crumbled, and Don can finally believe that his kids (and Megan, not to mention Peggy) will love him, no matter what his name is.
In our recent podcasts and in recent 'Mad Men' reviews, I've been saying that I hoped season 4, which has been so wonderful, wouldn't fizzle out. It didn't. Though the office developments mostly wrapped up last week, there was much to enjoy in this quiet yet deceptively active finale. The compelling and nuanced 'Tomorrowland' was a fine ending to the season.
Though I said last week that I wanted "fireworks," that probably wasn't the right word. My basic desire was for the episode to have some kind of emotional impact, and 'Tomorrowland' surely did. Many of us had predicted a merger with another agency or a big client swooping in to save the day. But we didn't get that, which was, in itself, a win (any development that we can easily guess isn't the most creative choice).
But the season was really, in the end, all about who Don Draper was and what he felt comfortable sharing, if not in interviews, in life. And it was hard not to root for Don once he'd found happiness, even if the logical voice in the back of my brain was agreeing with much of what Peggy and Joan said once they heard the news.
Maybe this season finale didn't have the memorable sales pitch Don delivered at the end of season 1 or the giant shakeup that ended the third season. But 'Tomorrowland' did have two quite competent pitches (Don's to the American Cancer Society and Peggy's to Topaz), Don and Megan's winning romance, Don's proposal, Betty's firing of poor Carla, Don's breakup with Faye, Peggy and Ken winning the Topaz account, and of course, there was huge news about Joan.
She did indeed keep Roger's baby, and she's passed it off to her idiot husband as his child. Who knows, that lie may even work. But more importantly, it's thrilling news for her. Joan decided, in the end, that this might be the only child she'll ever be capable of having, and, because she's Joan, she'll figure out a way to make it all work.
What was interesting about 'Tomorrowland' was that very little of it was set at the office, and yet season 4 was so strong because so much of it chronicled SCDP drama. Events set in motion there or playing out there led to some of the most taut and fascinating developments on the show. But it somehow felt right for this to be an episode that was mainly about Don and his womenfolk. The relationships he's in are the signposts that tell us where he is in his life, and he needed a whole hour (if not more) to sort through his various relationships.
Jon Hamm may well submit 'The Suitcase' as his Emmy episode next year, and there are of course other candidates to choose from thanks to his stellar work all season. But he did some of his best, most moving work in this episode. I found a lump in my throat in his scene with Peggy, when he told her how much he (and Megan) admired her. You got the sense in that moment just how enormously grateful Don felt to have these two women in his life -- Megan, who supplied the love, support and sexual connection that he always craved, and Peggy, a trusted colleague and friend who understood him more deeply than anyone but Anna.
The season began with a reporter asking, "Who is Don Draper?" He is, if nothing else, loved. And that's a far cry from the man we met in season 1, who wasn't truly known by anyone, except perhaps Anna.
Another thing we learned this season? Faye is usually right about everything. She predicted that Don would be married within the year, and in the finale, she said Don would feel better if he laid to rest and/or accepted his past. Well, yep, all that was true. And that worked out well for Megan, not Faye.
I truly don't think that Don meant to use Faye, though he did get a lot of free therapy (and hot sex) from her. He truly felt bad when he dumped her, though I've been saying for weeks that her appeal would fade fast for him. Megan has a worshipful, eager side that Faye does not, and Faye was simply terrible in her "mother audition" with Sally. That probably sealed Faye's fate weeks ago. Don doesn't just want a mother for his children, he also wants a mother for himself.
In contrast, the moments that clinched his love for Megan were probably a couple of small incidents in that California coffee shop. When Don spotted his happy, calm "family" at the booth, the look on his face said, "I want to go to there." And when Sally knocked over the milkshake, she, Bobby and Don all braced for the kind of outburst they would have gotten from Betty. Nothing happened, except that good-humored Megan dealt with the crisis swiftly and without fuss. Didn't we all want to marry her in that moment?
And yet. Come on, weren't all were vicariously living through Peggy and Joan when they had their impromptu gossip session? I wanted to pull up a chair and a drink.
(Sidebar: This may be one of my favorite scenes in the whole damn series. First of all, like so much of the season 4 goodness, this was four years in the making. We know that these women will always be very different people with very different priorities and opinions. But the upside of the firm shrinking down to a skeleton staff is that Joan and Peggy have no one else to hang out with, and this is news that simply must be discussed. The sheer terrificness of their final exchange will live on for months in my brain. Right there in Joan's office, they summed up the entire philosophy of the series: Joan - "I learned a long time ago not to get all my satisfaction from this job." Peggy - [Delicious pause] "That's bullshit!" Of course, both Peggy and, to large extent, Joan, get most or all of their satisfaction from work. And it's exciting to see them find common ground in admitting that they're both taken for granted.)
Where was I? Yes, what they said. Megan is much, much younger than Don and though she's smarter and has greater ambitions that Jane Siegal, well, who is Megan? She's utterly charming, obviously resourceful and happily well-adjusted, but how well does Don know her? How much does she know about Don?
As I said, Faye's been right about everything. Is Don in love with the idea of being with Megan? Five, 10 years from now, will he be as faithful and devoted as he is on the day they got engaged? If past is prologue, then, if we're brutally honest, that's unlikely. Don certainly may seem transformed and infused with a new vitality -- but has he really changed? That may well be the central question of the series, so it's unlikely to be answered for good right now.
Who knows, anything could happen, and it's hard to bring logic into a swirling mass of giddy romance. We're often reminded that Betty is just a child, but Don, when it comes to emotional maturity, may well be younger than Megan. He's acting like the teenager that Dick Whitman never got to be, but he's a middle-aged man with a lot of responsibilities.
As far as that's concerned, those Draper kids might have a shot at normality with a stepmother like Megan. She's so clearly exactly what those kids need. But is Don going to be another of her kids, or his equal? Has Don just gotten himself engaged to a hot, sweet, responsible babysitter?
And if she wants a career, how does that work? Will they work in the same firm, on the same accounts? There's just a lot of uncharted territory, and it's no wonder that Megan hesitated before replying to Don. I actually thought for a second there that she might be about to tell him no. Given how level-headed she is, even she has to think this engagement might be too sudden to be right.
"I think in my heart it was an impulse, because I knew what I needed to do to move forward," Don said in his pitch, but he was really describing so much more. Perhaps the Megan proposal wasn't unlike the New York Times letter -- partly pragmatic, but partly a risk taken in order to change things up. Marrying Megan may not make logical sense, but Don is an instinctive man. I'm sure he looked at Megan in that coffee shop and said, "Why the hell wouldn't I marry this woman?"
Of course, love does come into it. Don has always been, underneath all the layers of Draper armor, a creature of sentiment. His best work has always relied on nostalgia, memory and a yearning for connection.
And in the pitch to the American Cancer Society, he shows how far he's come -- and who he still is. He understands the younger generation enough to know that they're no different from anyone else. They'll respond to ads based on love, loss and fear of death if they're cloaked in the appropriate language for that age group. That pitch was all about the melding of Don and Dick -- the logical, clinical intelligence of Don married to the emotions of Dick, who lost both parents and felt alone and unloved.
There was always something coming between Dick and the people he loved, and it wasn't just a cigarette. Unlike the teenagers who'll no doubt respond to those ads, Don isn't mourning his childhood anymore. Like those teenagers, Don doesn't want to die.
Unlike the Don of a few months ago, this man has something to live for.
More thoughts, bullet-point style:
* Betty. I've never liked her less than I did in the scene in which she fired Carla. The most heinous thing about her behavior was her condescending, awful statement about Carla's own children. The debate in the blogosphere about Betty will never end, and in a Twitter discussion over the weekend (inspired by a link to this excellent piece by Emily Nussbaum), I shared some thoughts about the way her limited appearances this season have made her seem, quite frequently, even more one-dimensional and shrill. The writers clearly made a choice to show us Betty mostly through Sally's eyes, and as a result, we've often seen a shallow, unkind, vindictive and petty Betty. I recognize that there is more to the character, but we've rarely seen those nuances of late. So in the knowledge that nothing I say will change anyone's mind, let me state for the record: Yes, I get it, she's a sad, lonely, frightened person, a child trapped in the body of a woman. That's been the narrow narrative with Betty for four seasons now, and it changes so little that I am frankly bored with her. Once in a while, however, the writers give her a new note to play, and we got that in the final scene with Don and Betty. To see her try very hard not to flip out and freak out about Don's engagement, to see her try to be happy for Don, as much as that cost her, was definitely a step forward. It was also proof that she should keep Dr. Edna on the payroll as long as humanly possible.
* Roger: Still the king of the killer quips. I think we've quite consciously not been told Megan's last name all season (if we have I certainly missed it), and Roger's not the kind of guy to learn anyone's name if he can help it. So his "Who the hell is that?" was priceless.
* Henry: He's wearing the expression of a man who knows he's made a terrible mistake. Betty would not write a letter of recommendation for Carla? That's sheer vindictiveness. Henry thought he was rescuing a brave princess. Little did he know what he was really getting himself into. I almost thought he was going to tell Betty to move to Rye without him.
* Megan's teeth. I feel fairly sure that Matthew Weiner threw a mention of Megan's teeth into the episode just to supply the Firewall and Iceberg podcast with additional opportunities to discuss Jessica Pare's teeth.
* But seriously, how great was Pare in this episode? She and Jon Hamm had chemistry to burn, and she managed to be both sexy and sweet -- not an easy combination to pull off. How adorable was she singing a French lullaby with the kids? Yet she was also a bit of a sassy smart aleck to Don ("Do you think I should be involved in those kinds of high-level discussions?"). Given how multilayered Megan is already, I look forward to further exploration of this quietly confident woman in the future.
* Harry: Who knew he'd turned into such a horndog? He's kind of gross now, let's face it. From the man who ran out of Don's Carousel pitch in tears -- that's how upset he was about his one office indiscretion -- to the man who will clearly put the moves on any single hot woman that crosses his path, well... for shame, Harry Crane! You have a family!
* "Who's Dick?" "That's me." I know I said it above, but Don admitting his true self to his kids, even on that limited basis -- that's big.
* Sally: That kid has had one hell of a tough ride this season, and as she matures, I can only imagine that things will get worse between her and Betty, who fears her daughter's sexuality as much as Betty's mother must have feared her daughter's. One reason for Don to stay with Megan is that she's great with the kids and could well be a stable and kind influence in their lives. Sally could really use that, given that she's lost her home, her nanny and her only friend.
* Peggy: Our Pegs has really come into her own, hasn't she? She bears the look of a woman who's got a good man in her life -- and her bed. I certainly hope we see Abe Drexler again, though Peggy may well be playing the field when we meet her again. In any event, the student has learned well from the master. She came on with just the right amount of confidence in the Topaz pitch, and her glee at winning the account was delightful. Can I just say again how well Elisabeth Moss played that scene in Joan's office, as well as the moment between Peggy and Don? Terrific stuff. One last appreciation -- it was hilarious when Peggy shot Ken a look after he pitched a tagline. Cosgrove. That hack! Stay out of creative's way!
* Joan! 'Mad Men' typically skips several months between seasons, so I'm going to speculate that we'll see a very heavily pregnant Joan when the show returns next year (by the way, an official season 5 pickup hasn't been announced by AMC, but I'm sure one is coming any day). I'm just thrilled that we'll get to see Joan go on that journey of motherhood, and I'm also pleased that she and Peggy have reached detente, even if they're not officially friends. Whatever they give Christina Hendricks to do next season, there's no doubt she'll do it spectacularly.
* Ken: He tried to draw a very strict line between his personal life and his work life. We've seen how well that works in this world. It doesn't. You're either all in or you're all out, and, like everyone else, Ken will be expected to lean on his personal connections to land accounts. And if he doesn't like it, I'm sure he'll be reminded of how much fun he had at his previous job.
* Faye: Girlfriend has a way with a comeback. "So you're not going to take out an ad in the New York Times saying you never liked me?" Oh snap! Faye was a rebound relationship for Don, but damn, she could be a kick.
* Bert: Gone? Apparently he did take his shoes, his Rothko and his crossword puzzles and go home.
* Questions for next season: What, if anything, will Don tell Megan about Dick Whitman? He didn't start their engagement with a lie -- he quickly corrected himself about the ring and told a version of the truth. But how much more will she learn (not that I think it will matter much to her)? Where will Don and Megan live? I think if we've learned anything, it's that Don is not meant to be a suburban guy. My guess is: They'll take nice apartment in the city, with perhaps a little country place for weekends with the kids. And please, let Megan furnish both places. If I never see that depressing bachelor pad again, it'll be too soon.
* More speculation about next season: I think it's realistic and smart for the show not to have one big account save SCDP. It'll be interesting next season to meet a new array of clients and employees, assuming the firm lands some business in 1966.
* If 'Mad Men' comes back in 1966, that's the year I was born. So things will finally get interesting! Ha.
* Final thought: Thanks for reading this and for sharing season 4 of 'Mad Men' with me. I've greatly enjoyed everyone's feedback all season. And by the way, if you spot typos, please point them out gently. I'm posting this at 4 a.m. Thanks!
Follow @MoRyan on Twitter and Read All of Her Columns on TV Squad
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