Getting the band back together (UPDATED)



UPDATE: Go now and read the Daily Beast’s interview with Matthew Weiner. He’s unquivocal about the fate of some of the characters,  unsure of some others.

I gorged on Mad Men and meatballs last night, making supper while catching up on three previous episodes before  the second showing of the season finale on AMC…

I was surprised to see a story arc that was so clearly headed for one disaster or another end on such an upbeat note. And what it signifies, it seems to me, is the triumph of the demands of the show’s  internal narrative over realism.

Over the course of the season, the S-C team we’d come to love was falling apart. Joan was gone, Sal was gone, Peggy was sleeping with Duck and would, obviously  eventually go to work with  him. Set against the Kennedy assassination and then the murder of Oswald, a disintegrating S-C was clearly being set up as a microcosm for America. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, etc. etc.

The only real question was just how bad things were going to get. As NYMag wrote in their setup for last night’s show, any of the following could happen: Betty could die, Peggy and Duck could get married, Don could get fired, Don and Betty could break up, baby Gene could die. Add Roger’s uncertain ticker to all this (he could die!), the fact that Bert Cooper is ancient (he could die!)  the teacher’s epileptic brother (he could die!) and it seemed pretty certain that someone was going to die. You know, parallels with Kennedy and all that.

Except somewhere along the line, the writers lost their nerve. No one died. Yes, Don got fired, but in a good way. Duck’s professional inducements to Peggy will go unrequited. Don and Betty broke up (again), but you know her fling with the creepy political operative isn’t going to last.

And so it ended instead on a note far more jolly than we had been given any right to expect. The core of the show is back together, in a startup no less, jammed together in a hotel room and flying by the seat of their pants, just like when they were young and ambitious. Trudy brought sandwiches, Don and Roger made up, Don and Peggy made up, and Don even told Betty he wouldn’t fight her, which is sort of like making up. All that’s left for next season is for Sal to get the call to come and run the art department, Burt Peterson to get his old job back, and for Adam to come back from the dead.

It’s not that I didn’t like it, but it struck me as altogether too satisfying. Life just isn’t like this. In real life, people you care about deeply leave you and don’t come back. At work, people get demoted or miss promotions, they leave for other opportunities or just to save face, and life goes on. It sucks, but that’s what it means to live a life. The preposterous deus ex machina of Lane Pryce’s power to sack them all only underscored how much the show turned into a soap opera last night. Apart from Don and Betty’s relationship, the only real tension driving next season will be the divisions between the chosen core of the new firm, and the resentments over those who were left behind.

For a show that has so clearly telegraphed its socio-political thematic ambitions (treating old-style ad agency Sterling Cooper as a microsm for the old America that is dying, giving way to the rambunctious sixties), to set a narrative of rebirth against the Kennedy assassination seems a bit perverse. In fact, what was so remarkable about this last episode is how quickly Kennedy’s death has been forgotten, or at least shunted to the background. I expected that the widespread sense of America’s imminent collapse would have been paralleled by the declining strength and courage of the male characters themselves, but instead we were treated, in the last few episodes to a bunch of scenes of the men looking at the shaky women and saying “everything’s going to be ok.”

Of course, we know it won’t be, not for a long time. America is heading into the most intense six years of its history, and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Campbell  will be right in the thick of it.

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Getting the band back together (UPDATED)

  1. I see your point. It's like Weiner is rebooting the show to start over again and it makes me excited.

    I was enjoying the episode as it happened because it was back to focusing on the ad agency, which is what I enjoy most about the show. I think I also liked this episode because it moved quickly compared to quite a few of the other episodes.

    As for Pryce, I've really enjoyed him more as the season has gone on. He's slowly becoming one of my favourites and I'm glad that he is a member of the new firm.

  2. Yeah, don't get me wrong… I'm super excited about the next season. I do think that the tensions between the old and new agencies could really drive the broader themes, if they are played out right. And I agree with you about Pryce, he's a great addition. I loved it a few episodes ago when he said to his wife, "I've been here for ten months and nobody has asked me where I went to school."

  3. Fair point about it being too cute..but i will offer a dissenting opinion

    1) To keep the historical parallel America continued to steam ahead economically and politically till probably the very early 70's, I would call the 72 the pinacle, so the rebirth is proabably a fair statement on the writers part.

    2) Don's matra, move forward, consistent with the action

    I thought the divorce scenes were well done. I think Betty was shcked that her daughter blamed her. Don hit the nail in his speech, except for the last line (which was over the top and hard to see how they ever recover from that).

    Oddly, the Henry Francis/Betty raltionship is chaste. All we have ever seen is her turn him down. Odd to see that move to marriage, and it will be even odder to get Betty's reaction, her with young Gene, why did she take the baby and not leave it at home with the other kids. 6 weeks till she can sign the papers, which person will back out?

    So it was a surprisingly upbeat ending to a very dark season. But the show is often about rebirth, redemption and reinvention. This is consistent with that.

    • I agree, that scene on the pane with Henry, Betty, and Gene was very odd… the one possibly ominous note in the episode. I really wasn't sure what was going on there.

      • Ummmmmmmm – Should we not assume that she is breastfeeding baby Gene?
        Sure – using formula is part of the norm now, but back then?

        • Fair nuff. But formula was quite popular in those days. And we have seen scenes of Don making formula for the baby in previous episodes. And you dont think the Betty character would be one of the first to abandon breast feeding if she could?

          • Hmmmmm – It is much easier for me to picture Betty breast-feeding (while smoking, naturally) than it is for me to see her skimp out. And I wouldn't attribute so much to her personality, as I would to the medical beliefs of the time. What was the medical knowledge/norm for breast feeding during that era? How old is Gene at this point? 6 months or so?

  4. Maybe there will be a long period that takes place off camera between season 3 and season 4 and we come back in 1970.

    • Hmm, they set it up as only 6 weeks of residency in Reno and then a divorce between Don and Betty. I think they will go to 1964. Momentous year culturally with the Beatles on ed Sullivan in february 64 I believe.

      Too many good things to pass by in 1964



      The Beatles
      The CIvil Rights Act
      The Rise of Malcom X
      First Us government statement re smoking being hazardous (hello lucky strike)
      Intro of the Mustang
      First Rolling Stones Record
      Goldwater…Rockefellar runs against him…hmmmhow is that going to play with Betty since Henry will be gone
      The infamous Daisy Ad (johnson against Goldwater)
      Martin Luther King gets Peace Prize

      Too much to miss. New small agency required to take advantage of all of the changes, the big guys wont keep up.

      Think about Campbell, ahead on youth, "negro market" (my how wording has changed), aerospace….rebirth and reinvention. Should be interesting

  5. For Pete's sake. This is a TV show. In real life, several more of the characters would have gone their own way, but the writers needed to keep them around for next season. It's a different type of reality.

    That being said, I like the faster pace of last night's show.

    • That’s what I meant when I said that it represents “the triumph of the demands of the show’s internal narrative over realism.”

  6. Loved the final show of the season – it tied up a bunch of loose ends (it is just not right without Joan and Sal!) and added a few new wrinkles – the Betty/Henry story is going to blow up – she's pretty but it's true – she only wanted the material things that Don will provide – her interactions with her children consists of telling them to go to bed, play outside, or go and watch TV. Interesting how Pete's wife Trudy is right in there helping 'her man' (unlike Betty who has never been the less bit interested in anything at Don's work, other than getting dressed up to go to dinner. The new agency allows Don to be Don which is going to be great!! Yes, I know it is just a TV show, but one of the better ones currently on.

  7. One of those detailed questions Weiner, the creator, apparently agonizes over.

    • In the episode where she gives birth to baby Gene, the admissions nurse explicitly asks if she will breastfeed and Betty immediately replies no. Formula was definitely the way of the upper middle class in 1963.

  8. one point: each episode of mad men costs a staggering amount to produce. a lot has been made about whether or not there would even be another season of the show, given that the money men at amc hadn't/haven't green-lighted it yet. but the season finale embedded parallel solutions, one commercial, the other artistic. with respect to "realism", the joyless dirge of season 3, for a show that's essentially a soap opera, was a bummer. thank god that was put to a provisional end. artistic solution, check. SCDP is leaner and far more economical. commercial solution, check.

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