Monday, November 9, 2009

Episode 13: I'll Be There For You.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way, right? Your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA? Oh, and its probably like you're always stuck in second gear, when it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year? But don't worry - I'll be there for you! When the rain starts to fall! I'll be there for you! Like I've been there before! I'll be there for you! When your wife flies away to Reno with her new prospective husband to get a quickie divorce! When your company gets sold off and you have to start a new one! When you start up your new company in a hotel room! When you move stuff from your old office to your new one in a Velveeta box!

The third season of Man Men is over, meaning from now until next August my Sunday nights have suddenly freed up [who wants to hang out?]. And it ended with an episode that was simultaneously heart wrenching and heart warming - the ever perceptive Sally Draper made me shed a tear, and the ever witty Roger Sterling made me laugh out loud more than once. As we watched one family crumble, we saw another one take shape; the Drapers may be over after Betty and Henry land in Reno, but the Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce crew is just beginning. As the SCDP office tore into Trudy's offer of sandwiches, I couldn't help but smile along with Don - it seriously reminded me of an episode of Friends, the motley crew devouring a pizza while they jabbed away about whatever. [Though the thought of any of these folks dancing in a fountain with multi-colored umbrellas while The Rembrandts play merrily in the background is pretty ludicrous. Well except for Bert Cooper. He'd do it.]

But these people have done a lot of shitty stuff this season, so I think a reminder was necessary that we do love these characters - despite or because of their flaws. Like Don realized, we need them. Because for real, what the fuck am I supposed to do on Sundays now!?

One of the seemingly overarching complaints about this season has been that it focused too much on the domestic lives of the characters, often at the expense of their work lives. But this episode melded the two worlds together perfectly in that they didn't meld at all - instead they worked as mirrors, each shedding light on the other. Duality has long been a function of Mad Men, right down to it being one of the defining characteristics of its leading man. But in this episode it was front and center, and in its midst Don Draper might have finally proven he's a whole man.

Last week I worried for our dear Don, it seemed he might be swallowed up in the wake of the demise of both the president and his marriage. The Don Draper who lurked alone in his office on a national day of mourning was not the same one who told Peggy at the beginning of Season 2 that the best thing she could do was "Move forward." But it took another catastrophe to snap Don to his senses - Sterling-Cooper was being sold [again! As everyone in this episode was so kind to remind us], and he finally saw his opportunity to build something real of his own. Don has been haunted all season by his father's ghost, both for realz during drug trips with hippies in shady hotel rooms and in the form of Conrad Hilton who was so kind to call him "son" before he took away his business. Yet both Connie and Archie The Hallucination taunted Don with the same question: what would he be able to show for his life? Where was the tangible proof he had accomplished something?

For almost three seasons we dreaded that someone would find out about Dick Whitman, because surely that would mean the demise of Don Draper. But finally coming clean to Betty - even if it was forced - seemed to have the opposite effect. It was fitting that we saw Archie Whitman's death this episode because I think we also finally saw the death of that part of Don's past his ghost represented. By putting everything in the open Don himself was at last able to take his own advice and move forward, as his secrets were out and he was miraculously still standing. He was worse for the wear of course seeing as his wife was on a plane to Reno, but "Don Draper" as we know him was still in tact. The name "Don Draper" itself has played such a integral role this season, from the signature on the contract to Betty finding it emblazoned on incriminating documents, so it was notable that it will be part of the new company. Pete Campbell has his name being added to the SCDP roster as a "goal," but the Draper name is already there, it has survived. Archie tried to build a name for himself by striking out against his cooperative, and Connie by creating a hotel empire; but unacknowledged perhaps by even himself Don Draper has already built something of value, he has literally built a name for himself. And now he has the company to prove it.

So in yet another mirrored incident, this time of their meeting in a hospital almost 2 years ago, when Don told Peggy that "With or without you I'm moving on" I believed him. Mainly because it was clear that Don wasn't merely speaking about Peggy, he was moving on with or without Betty, with or without Roger and Bert, with or without the ghost of his father. Move forward, or as Roy Orbinson sang at the episode's end, "the future is better than the past."

Betty too is moving forward, but I'm not quite sure her future will be better than her past. She is after all going to live for six weeks in Reno so she can get a divorce from Don to get married to some dude who introduced himself by creepily putting a hand on her pregnant belly at a Kentucky Derby party. Also, she left two of her kids behind with Carla [Real talk: at this point just let Sally and Bobby live with Carla permanently because she's a better parent than either Don or Betty. She gives them chocolate milk and watches TV with them! <3] Oh, and have Betty and Henry actually seen each other for more than a total of like, 20 minutes?!

I'm all about the fact that Betty seems to have a grown a backbone in the later part of this season - kind of spontaneously, but whatevs - because her overgrown whiny child act was beyond grating. But this move is just stupid. It's so stupid in fact that when Don called her a whore, at first I was like "Word!" and it took me a second to remember that Don is actually a huge man whore himself. Yet there is something about what Betty has done that makes her weirdly unsympathetic; her "affair" with Henry [and I mean "affair" because as Liz Lemon would say, they aren't intercoursing each other] seems to have more to do with spite than anything else. In contrast, Peggy's affair with Duck seems to have brought her some of the empowerment that Betty is striving for, as it awakened Peggy to the fact that "now is her time."

Betty too seems to think its her time, but its ridiculous for her to assume that Henry is so different from Don - after a few clandestine meetings in a Cadillac can she be so sure he's the man to offer her everything Don can't? Betty and Don are both pretty selfish parents, but to see Betty on that plane with Henry and only baby Gene - who lucky him, won't have any memories of the day his daddy left! - it seemed to signal the start of her whole new imaginary perfect family. Alas for Sally and Bobby, it was at their expense - their mommy would be in Reno for Christmas just so she could eventually marry that guy from the governor's office!

Speaking of being from the governor's office, Henry's marked aversion to political scandal in the lawyer's office leads me to believe that there probably will be a political scandal when this all gets out. Henry is clearly only marrying Betty because he knows that's the way to get into her plaid capri pants, and once the scandal hits he'll probably drop her like a pound of bricks and she'll be left with nothing. Oh sweet justice! I can't wait!

Grandpa Gene once told Betty that he didn't trust Don because "he doesn't have any people." But if Henry drops Betty, she'll be the one left without any people - the dispute over their father's will has left her on the outs with her brother, she's well on her way to alienating her children, and she did a pretty swell job of scorning Don. So surprisingly, this episode we found that Don really does have people who he can turn to when things go awry, even if they're not exactly the kind Grandpa Gene was talking about. Roger and Don are saddling up to the bar together again, and its glorious, like all is right in the world again. Peggy and Don are also unlikely BFFs, and their scene together in Peggy's apartment showed their mutual respect [But plz let's never have a Don-Peggy love affair mmmmkay?]. It even warmed my heart to hear Don simply remark "Joan. What a good idea" when our favorite officer manager came back to straighten the lost boys out.

The new Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce fam seemed all warm and gooey this episode, but of course there is still plenty of drama that can get stirred up next season. Don and Roger need to continue to rebuild their friendship, Roger and Joanie are totally going to do it again, Lane is going to have to find a way to convince his wife New York is awesome, the whole Peggy/Pete/Trudy situation is always awkward and seriously, Bert Cooper could kick the bucket at like any second.

As for everyone else? Well, I'm not sure. I hope the writers find a way to keep them around, though honestly if they didn't I'm not sure I would miss Kenny and his haircut or Paul much. I do miss Sal, so I hope he finds a way to reappear, even though American Tobacco is such a large part of SCDP. But Paul seemed pretty miffed that he wasn't asked to join the new company, so I could definitely see him trying to weasel his way into it somehow. Or maybe we'll get to see some of McCan-Ericsson, or however its spelled. Who knows? That's kind of the beauty of this season finale, it opened up a lot of new avenues without doing anything jump the shark crazy, which when your show is headed into its 4th season is just the shot in the arm it needs.

But that's all for, sigh, next August. For now I'll just bask in the glow of the newly formed SCDP before all hell breaks loose. And it will, because no one put the check on that crazy lady Ms. Farrell. It didn't seem like her story was completely wrapped up, so am I the only one hoping she comes back and wrecks some havoc?

But regardless, I raise my old-fashioned to you Mad Men. It's been swell while it lasted, and I can't wait to see you in 1964. And in the meantime, can someone please give my homegirl Sally Draper an Emmy?!

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