Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review: Mad Men "Tomorrowland"

Non Spoiler Review:
At last we reach the end of season 4, and Mad Men does not disappoint. SCDP continues to spin under the loss of Lucky Strike, having failed to secure any new business in weeks. Betty and Francis finally make the move out of the Draper house, but not before Betty unleashes a final wave of bitchiness. Don takes the kids to California, which prompts one of the most memorable Mad Men shockers.

This finale was packed with great character moments and closure for several story lines playing out over the course of the season. Like last year, we are left not knowing what direction season 5 may take, but Henry Francis sums it up best—"There are no fresh starts. We just keep going."

Spoilers Now!
Despite Don's radical moves last episode to distance SCDP from big tobacco, the firm has failed to acquire any new clients, aside from a meeting with the American Cancer Society which is pleased with Don's new outlook. However, this plot line moves no further than their initial meeting, and we have no indication of where it might lead.

Peggy, however, takes the initiative when a pantyhose firm fires its old creative, so she and Ken pitch to the owners and win them over big time, acquiring the account worth half a million dollars. Don is very pleased with his protege and congratulates both for breaking the firm's losing streak.

Betty and Francis are about ready to move, so Glen drops by to say good-bye to Sally before the kids vacation in California with Don. Carla opts to allow him to say his farewell despite Betty's directive otherwise, which leads to the inevitable when Betty comes home early and finds Glen in her house. They have a nasty confrontation in which Glen tells it like it is—"Don't be mean to everyone because you're unhappy." That prompts Betty to retaliate with Carla by firing her on the spot and not allowing her to say good-bye to the children. We came very close to a Carla throw down with Betty, but missed out on that, sadly enough. Betty then tells Don he's going to have to find someone to look after the kids or cancel the trip, like he always does anyway. Yes, Betty has reached the apotheosis of bitch.

Don won't cancel, though and gets the bright idea to hire Megan to come along with them as nanny. Oh no! Until that point, things seemed to be back on track with Faye, too.

Don takes the kids on a great trip, including to Anna's house, where the kids find the wall he and Anna painted at the beginning of the season. "Who's Dick?" Sally asks after seeing the signature. "That's me. That's my nickname," Don admits after a moment. It is a very touching scene, and we wonder how much he will continue to reveal to his children. Ironically enough, Anna's niece gives him Dick Whitman's engagement ring. Anna wanted him to have it.

Megan is a hit with the kids, especially when Bobby spills his milkshake all over her and she brushes it off with not even a glint of anger. She is the anti-Betty. This does not go unnoticed by Don. She teaches the kids songs and carts them around more like a mother (oh no!) than a nanny. 

Megan goes out with a friend in California and is dressed to the nines. Don hears her come back in the evening and goes for a visit, and we all know what will happen. They end up in bed together, and in the morning as they have their post-coitus discussion, Don starts babbling about how he's been thinking of her since their first hookup, and then abruptly proposes to her! 

This was where I was thinking—dream sequence! But no, it's real, and Megan accepts and calls her mother in Montreal (yes, she is a good Canadian girl who wanted to make it big in Hollywood but for her crazy teeth) and Don is elated, and we, as the audience, are realizing this is a very long dream sequence.

Back in Manhattan Don makes his announcement to the partners about his marriage to Megan. "Who?" Roger asks. God bless him. The news is quite astounding to everyone, and the look on Joan's face is priceless Joan. Peggy is shocked of course, but classily wishes him luck. "Don't worry about me," Don assures her. Very nice.

Peggy is a little miffed that she's saved the company but Don's marriage totally overshadowed everything. She bitches to Joan and the two of them share a very nice chat where they gab about the men in the company. Joan received a name only promotion to Director of Operations, with no raise. Joan advises Peggy to find her happiness outside the company like she does. "Bullshit," Peggy retorts. And the two share a laugh. Also very nice.

That leaves Don to wrap up some business, including a call to Faye to go for coffee. She knows what's going on, and asks if this is it, and he tells her he's met someone. When he reveals he's engaged, Faye gets in some good parting shots. "Make sure you let her know that you only like the beginnings of things." We will miss Faye.

Later, at the Draper house, Betty is finishing up, suffering a lot of nostalgia and feeling very alone. Henry was thoroughly pissed with her firing Carla, and Betty says she did it because she wanted a fresh start. He shuts her down very quickly. "There are no fresh starts." She wanders the empty house and lies down on Sally's bed.

Hahah. No. We shall never see her again. His secretary, of course. To her credit, Betty does not freak out. They depart on amicable terms, though Betty confesses things aren't as good as she'd hoped they'd be.

We get a shot of Greg in Viet Nam on the phone with Joan who is laughing about Don's marriage as if he's the first man ever to marry his secretary. Greg asks about the baby (!) and yes, Joan has kept Roger's child! I half expected a bomb to come through Greg's window just then, but that's not how Mad Men generally works. 

We leave Don and Megan in bed together, with Don staring out his window, and probably thinking about what he's done, while we are taken out of the season to the tune of "I Got You Babe."

What Worked:
This was another perfect cap to the season. Most of the characters all received a moment in the spotlight, even Francis, chiding Betty for acting so foolishly to fire Carla. He always turns likable when we least expect it. 

With a new marriage, Joan's pregnancy, and SCDP's fate in doubt, we're left with lots to build on for season 5. But most important, Peggy and Don's relationship has solidly evolved to a new level and there is no going back. He has continued to treat as an equal and a confidante, and the only opinion he really needs. She's reached a level of respect where she can simply close the door to his office and expect to have a private discussion with him.

Joan and Peggy's renewed friendship, even if for a moment, was very satisfying. The relationships between the women are very important, and provided a nice cap to the scenes from The Beautiful Girls. And, oddly enough, I found myself really liking the Peggy/Ken team-up. He really treated her with respect. 

I might have said Don's abrupt proposal didn't work, but in hindsight, it was pure Don Draper. Megan's treatment of Sally at the office was a big hint to what was coming. She's all the aspects of motherhood he wants for his children, coupled with Betty's beauty, and Faye has proven fatally that she is not a good mother. So he made the choice in the best interests of his kids for good or ill. If this means that he will take Sally to live with him, then perhaps it's not all bad in the long run.

This season has been about Don attempting to integrate more of Dick Whitman into his life. At each moment he backs away, and Faye's encouragement to let go of his facade was probably the death knell for their relationship. With Megan he can start from scratch with another person who is not privy to that secret. But, as we learned this season, the secret is what always comes back to destroy the happiness in his life. He will always be running. And we're left to wonder if all the gains in his personal life and healthy outlook have been thrown to the wayside like the pages in his journal last episode.

What Didn't Work:
I really hope Faye is not gone for good. She's too good a character to let disappear as so many Mad Men players have. And I don't want her to just appear as a cameo, like Midge or Duck. 

Roger survives still! I really hope that his knowledge of the Lucky Strike account does not go unrevealed. He needs some comeuppance for betraying the firm for his own vanity.

It will be unfortunate if Bert is also gone for good. SCDP has been irrevocably changed over this year, with a stronger Pete and weaker Roger, no Bert, and a direction that is going to take it far from its Lucky Strike days.

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