Mad Men Finale: The Email Chain
After watching the final episode of the current season of Mad Men, I quickly took to Facebook chat to have the usual episode breakdown with my friend Chris Bentivegna. The discussion proved to be very lengthy so we decided to wait until the next day to reconvene, and let the episode set in a little more. We also decided to take our discussion to an email chain where we could write at more length than Facebook chat. What follows is the several emails we sent back and forth and the conclusions we drew from them. (Chris also writes a Boston sports blog over a BostonsBettah.com that I’m sure he would love for you to check out)
Chris: Well well Brooksie, another season of TV’s best show hands down just ended and that crazy bastard Matthew Weiner has done it again. We had all these questions about the direction this show was going and how relationships were going to end up and all that stuff, and all Weiner did was turn the show back on its heels and give us the Don Draper “look” over “You only live twice”. How we got there this week wasn’t nearly as simple as that though. I took 40 minutes breaking down Don’s last 15 minutes of the episode before I even touched Pete’s arc or Joan’s arc or had to see Roger Sterling’s bare ass in front of a window. Also if you can explain to me why that and why Peggy looking out the window to see two dogs fucking was in the final montage, you might be a smarter man than me.
By the way: Everybody who watches Mad Men has basically agreed it’s the best show on TV right now, but I get the sense that it’s also drastically under-watched. Agree or disagree?
Justin: Completely agreed with you Chris on the drastically under-watched bit. But I’m quite fine keeping this little gem to myself and my fellow fans. I think the most important thing you touched on is the reversion back to earlier Mad Men days. In the first part of the episode we see the characters acting mainly how they have all season. Don once again not totally focused on his work. Pete Campbell stepping into Don’s shoes of not only being at the forefront of the company, but cheating on his wife with a legitimately crazy woman. I think the reversal of Don and Pete’s roles have been very pivotal to this season so far. The amazingly framed scene while they are previewing their new SCDP office space perfectly portrays the difference between Don and Pete. Pete mentions that he will have the same view as Don, and Don quips back that he really doesn’t care. This is the fundamental difference between the two of them. Pete trying so desperately to be as good as Don through his love of work, and Don’s lackadaisical view towards all things work and office. As we discussed last night after the episode first premiered, the turning point of the episode is most definitely the dentist office scene where Don dreams of his deceased half-brother Adam. All of the role-reversing that we’ve seen previously in this season was swept out the door. Pete see’s his mistress’s husband on the train and envisions him as just another Don Draper, an unfaithful husband who only cares about himself, and also someone Pete despises. The final scenes of the episode are what really hammer this reversion to the old school Mad Men home. Don gives Megan what she wants, a spot in a commercial to further her career in the “arts.” But Don needs to get what he wants in return. In the final scene in the bar when Don gives the girl “The Look” puts the final nail in the coffin of the faithful and monogamous Don Draper.
I feel like I jumped around there a lot and I’m sure you can elaborate on and clean up some of the connections I’ve made. Don’t even get me started on the last montage yet, as I have no idea what was going on except that fact that there was most definitely large amounts of LSD involved. Give me your take so far and any other revelations you’ve had on the genius of Matt Weiner.
Chris: One thing that overall changed this season is the fundamental question of “Who is this show about?” For years it has been a show about Don and Peggy and the defection of Peggy to another ad agency sure will tamper that. I know you’ll be happy about Peggy being back in the finale and the fact that she was in that ending montage hammered home the point that she’ll still be important in the show. I still can’t figure out for the life of me what the …um… doggy-style she saw outside her window means because we know it means SOMETHING because Matthew Weiner and his team are way to smart for it to not mean a single thing.
But anyways, the show has shifted more to being about Don and Pete and everything came into fruition this episode. Pete has wanted to be Don as long as we can remember WITHOUT ACTUALLY BEING DON. He thought he was a better man because he didn’t lie about his name or go around sleeping with many different woman. He did his job, he felt he did his job better than Don and thought he was better than Don so he was always trying to one up Don in the world of advertising.
Now, this season comes along and Don seems happy (although as we learn he isn’t) with his life, he cares less about work and cares less about Pete. Pete on the other hand, has finally stepped through the door, he finally has a hand in big decisions all season long, and yet he seems like the most depressed character all season long that you and me both had him on suicide watch the entire season. Pete finally basically gets to be Don and HE DOESN’T LIKE IT. He always has to be better than Don and he cares way too much, which is the fundamental difference between the two characters. The moment on the train when he yells at Beth’s husband for basically being an asshole is something that he would love to say to Don. He thinks Don is a bad person, and yet all season long he has been acting in a way he thinks Don would act. The Joan arc comes to mind. He thinks Don would do something like that although we as an audience knows Don is a much better person then he is perceived to be.
The train also puts Pete back into his place. He gets knocked down by “Don” and is completely unaware why he is being told to do things giving a “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM” to the conductor? Combined with the previous scene where Don once again doesn’t care that Pete will have the same view as him just pisses Pete off.
Quick question, is the new office above or below the previous office because if it’s below isn’t that a little bit more symbolism for Pete Campbell? He has the same view as Don, only Don has the slightly better one.
Justin: I believe it is above, at least that’s the feeling I got from the view. It will be interesting to see, now that the office is divided into two floors, which characters end up on which floors. Matt Weiner could chock those choices full of symbolism. I really enjoyed the Don/Pete connection of this entire season, it was refreshing and added a completely different element to the show. I’m very interested to see where they take Peggy’s character. Ever since she left the office, she hasn’t been a major facet in the episodes like she usually is. The fact that she was included in that strange ending montage does give me hope. She looked very happy and content with her life in that final scene as well as an independent woman, and I’m sure Weiner will build on that.
Joan for me is the exact opposite. Where Peggy sets out to improve herself and do well for herself, a sort of selfish ideal, Joan constantly seeks to please others. Through her actions the season with the Jaguar deal, and now from last night’s episode where she told Don she could have saved Lane if she had just “given him what he wanted.” I really do think Joan wants to be an independent woman, but time and time again we have seen her go back to her old ways.
As for Roger, I think he’s off in his own little LSD embellished world. I think the real world has become almost boring to him. He practically begs Megan’s mother Marie to take LSD with him, mentioning that he needs to remember how good the world is or some other existential mumbo-jumbo. Previously we’ve seen Roger as the fun-loving member of the office, but this season, like many of the other characters, we’ve seen a completely different side of him.
That brings me to another point. Was this season all about showing a different side of each character? Or at least a change?
Chris: Hmm, that’s an interesting idea. What was refreshing about the way that Weiner approached the characters this season is that it wasn’t like typical television of film where the changes are so abrupt and sudden that it throws people off. I wouldn’t say characters changed per say, but rather we have developed different perceptions of them as viewers as well as characters have reached a certain level of self-actualization. Don started off seemingly happy with his life and being a husband and expecting it to be like a normal marriage where he is happy and Megan is happy and they are happy being in a marriage and all that couple stuff, but that’s not Don. Four seasons of the show have told us that Don is happiest when he allowed to be “Don” and drink and work and smoke and womanize and come home to a woman who is also happy. Don basically determined that this season is that the Don everyone loved and hated at the same time is the Don who he wanted to be, and I’m fine with that.
Roger is off in his own little world and that is worrisome for his character in my opinion. Roger feels like he could just fade into the background of the office like Cooper and just pop in every now and then. He just doesn’t seem like he cares anymore. I guess its been that way for a while, but there are really no more stories we care about with Roger so what’s his point.
Pete I still think doesn’t know who he is. I know he had that long speech to Beth in the hospital that made it seem like he knew what was going on, his fight on the train shows that he is back to the Pete that isn’t happy with who he is. That sounds like someone who is lost.
Joan’s perception change was most surprising. She was always the “powerful” woman on the show and the most “man” like woman who knew how to get what she wanted and be independent and such. At first with the Jaguar situation, it seemed like she was doing just that doing what ever means necessary to get power in the office. However, her demeanor in the finale made it seem like a character who just wants to please men to be like them. Peggy on the other hand wants to be a woman on the same level of men. A fundamental difference.
Justin: I think you hit on the final points right there. Where we saw the characters during this season and where they are possibly heading for next season.