Establishing Shot: You Only Live Twice
The biggest crime Megan Calvet has committed was marrying Don Draper. On paper, she seemed like the perfect match, an amalgamation of all the traits that Don liked in his women on the sly (read: Anyone But Betty). Megan was young, independent, sexy, confident, who had an intelligence and strength that seemed beyond her years. But at the end of the day, she will never escape that most horrid of titles: Mrs. Draper.
To chart the relationship between Don and Megan would bear too much of a resemblance to the Dow Industrial over the last number of years: inexorable highs, improbable lows, and a shaky optimism built without much glancing at the past. In "The Phantom," this season's closer, we see Megan at the end of her rope. A fitting conclusion to a series where she was held down and fucked on a suddenly dirtied white carpet, abandoned in Plattsburgh before being chased around her apartment like an animal, whose idea of having a dinner with her husband is interrupted by throwing her share at the adjacent dinning room wall. I'd quip that the only thing healthy about this relationship is each other, but Don's lingering abscess blows that to hell, too.
Megan knows what she wants (to act) and Don knows what he wants of her (a measured subservience) but he knows that he can't get it without letting her have some semblance of happiness (hell, she's told him as much). But Don, like Megan's own mother, believes this is a temporary situation. Smile and nod and say you're supportive when she goes on her "auditions," but don't allow her to work if she actually gets a part. Let her be an "artist" if she can still come home at night. Give her just enough that she won't realize she's under his thumb. The bug is temporary; the sentence is permanent.
When Don meets Peggy in the movie theater (more on that later), he mentions how the people he mentors only reach success once they leave him. He views this as a slight and a slight alone, a character flaw of the other that is in no way reflective of himself. Which is sad, really, especially in the show's final few minutes. After taking a look at his wife's reel in a nod to the first season's triumphant "The Carousel," Don gives his wife what she wants. But with that power he walks off the set to the James Bond music he's always deserved when scoring him.
While others get to experience the experience of another life, as promised in the Nancy Sinatra tune's chorus, Don is easily on his third iteration. But this one seems to be repeating itself. Suddenly the images of Lane bring back thoughts of Adam Whitman, the estranged younger brother he coldly tossed out of his life in season one. Once again, he gets his wife a job on a commercial and it leaves him angry and powerful, looking to use that edge on someone who doesn't share his bed at home. Roger remarked in last week's "Commissions and Fees" that he's seeing the old Don again. Sterling said it as a compliment. We know it's a condemnation.
The Close-Up: Live and Let Die
A quick personal note. I unfortunately had surgery early last Monday which precluded me from writing a review of last week's devastating "Commissions and Fees," let alone doing anything other than lying in bed with an ice pack and blowing through the first two seasons of “Game of Thrones.” I'll mix in some of the other characters and where they are at the end of the season to make amends.
This episode dealt primarily about the temporary and the permanent. A fitting season finale, really.
Pete Campbell is a shitty Don Draper clone. He's getting all the steps down, but like most of his adult life, he's giving the script a read-thru with no real idea of how to fill the role out. He has the wife, the kid, the house in the 'burbs, and a messy, stupid affair with his train buddy's wife. Pete falls for her in a way that Don rarely did (only Rachel Menken got the desperate treatment that Pete gives to Beth) and tries to spin it into some sort of romance. Upon having their second (and final) tryst before Beth's electroshock therapy, he coos, "And what if you forget you love me," forgetting that, uuuhh, she doesn't love you, guy.
This mentality makes his earlier lascivious flirtation with the high schooler in this season's "Signal 30" a bit more palatable. In mentality, he's no better than a teenager, throwing his love around in extremes. None, of course, is saved for his wife, Trudy, who, like Megan, has only been herself. Pete dreams of escaping with Beth to sunny California while Trudy shows him an image, just as idyllic, of their new pool out back. But Pete knows that his life will never be as sunny as that image. His moving and honest monologue to the re-programmed Beth says nearly as much. Not that Pete should be surprised. In the pilot, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," he says to his fiancée, "of course I love you. I'm giving up my life to be with you, aren't I?" Little did he know how right he was.
Peggy Olson, on the other hand, is the lucky child. She's inherited all of Don's good qualities with very little of the bad. Peggy's new position is flush with responsibility and respect. Look how she pushes around those losers who dare to throw her crap copy in her spacious solo office! Notice how terrible Ginsberg's pitch to Topaz is! See how she's given the responsibility of naming a new line of cigarettes after SCDP was dropped by Lucky Strike! Watch as she goes to the movies to "shake out the cobwebs" and runs into her mentor doing nearly the same thing, taking this unexpected reunion in stride! She's apparently even kicked smoking! And after all of that she is rewarded with her first-ever plane trip, all expenses paid, to watch dogs having sex. Ah Virginia, how Slim you are. And sorry to all of those well-wishers who thought SCDP would buy Peggy back. She's in a better place now. Permanently.
Poor, poor Lane Pryce, a man far too British to succeed in America. A fact that his wife holds against Don when he drops by to offer condolence the only way that poor farm boy knows how: through money. And money was the root of all Lane's evils. It was the cash he fronted to start the business that never fully accepted him; the taxes on that money for The Queen that he never wanted to send; the bank roll needed to keep up appearances for his wife Rebecca and son Nigel. He was a man whose greatest asset at PPL was doing exactly what he was told. In fact, his bosses thought so little of his guile that they told him that exactly, to his face, and meant it as a compliment.
Right after his forced resignation meeting in Don's office, Lane ambles to his chair and turns to face the New York skyline out of his window. To the left sit two trinkets. Look at how Big Ben is blown out by the sheer stature of the Statue of Liberty. It clearly demonstrates the power that the States had over our British ex-pat, but it is also indicative of Lane's failure. A French import, she had turned into one of America's most identifiable and beloved attractions. Meanwhile, the greatest heights Lane reached in this country were literal, aided by a noose in that same office. Rest In Peace, Lane. You never even got to see the Mets win the World Series.
Talk about a world in flux. As Lane makes his way out of the mortal coil, Sally Draper suddenly enters adulthood. In an episode marked with incredible visuals from cinematographer-cum-director Chris Manley, the dialogue provided by the original writers André and Marie Jacquemetton as note-perfect, especially for Sally's awkward pseudo date with Glen Bishop.
Sally has been acting more grown up as the season has progressed, but only when she's thrown into a scary, adult situation does she realize just how far she has to go. The boy she thinks she might like has a shitty mustache, their date is across the Park with all those bums, she's bleeding from her vagina in a public toilet. When she goes running home to mommy -- giving the hateable Betty a sick satisfaction I immediately wanted wiped from her stupid face -- it's an indication that she's on the right road ... but not quite there yet. Little does she know that this is a good problem to encounter. Kids grew up so fast back then, didn't they?
The last time Sally saw Roger Sterling, he was seeing the back of Megan's mother's head bobbing up and down. Little has changed with Roger when Marie makes her triumphant return. He still dreams of romantic escapes with women he shouldn't be with, still longs for the openness allotted to him by LSD, still uses room service as a pick-up line. But for all of the happiness Roger derives from the drug (the buck-wild, howling at the moon-esque lift it gives) he has to know that bad trips do happen. ...Right?
Joan Harris has an interesting relationship to her mentor, the deceased Lane Pryce. Similar to Peggy's rise in the wake of Freddie Rumson, Joan now steps up as a full-fledged partner and the monetary conscious of SCDP. Considering how she attained the position of partner through Lane's advice (and her extremely high class prostitution) it strikes me as severely sad that she feels grief over his death because she never gave of herself to him. Now she essentially has his job, managing the surplus of funds aided by his own death (how wonderfully ironic that the only time SCDP becomes profitable is through the death of the company's penny-pincher?) without any of the respect he garnered. While she's gained monetary traction to aid in her single-mother situation that plagued her at the season's onset, she's not been afforded the same gains in respect. The gateway to Jaguar — and a more stable firm — ran through Joan. Unfortunately, it went straight through her legs.
B-Roll: For Your Eyes Only
- Of all the striking images in this episode (the birdseye shot of Roger and Marie in bed, Don's final look, Adam's arrival and the shape of his neck) what got me the most was just how old SCDP has become. Everyone in suits, everything stodgy, everyone in glasses designed in 1954. We were offered just a brief glimpse at Peggy's new world, but what a marked difference, isn't it? Bosses in sweaters and blazers, a more creative casual that befits the times. I've long been a proponent of the Dinosaur Theory (if you're old, you will die) and when Joan put on those school marm glasses, I let out a gasp. I boldly (and incredibly erroneously) asserted that SCDP would go down in this season finale, but with the expansion of the agency with a sudden cash flow to bolster it, I have a feeling that the impending crash will come later, and grander, than anything that could occur here. Remember, an agency was killed and restarted in 42 minutes at the end of Season 3. Anything is possible. Except the oldies winning.
- Welcome back, Jay Paulson! Your Adam Whitman is as doe-eyed and dead as ever. Has there been a more indelible and affecting cameo performance in this show's run than Paulson's Adam? Like Megan and Betty, Adam's only crime was being Adam Whitman.
- Ah, the "partial nudity disclaimer" game. A reason to treat every scene, regardless of its contents, as some sort of striptease. Thought it was going to be Rory Gilmore's glorious sideboob (the second-most underrated of boob, succumbing only to the rare bottom boob) but it had to be Roger's ass. Enjoy your time in the sun, ladies. By the looks of Don Draper's eyes, think we'll be bathed in female skin a lot over Season 6.
- Jesus Christ, Pete, can you learn a lesson without getting punched in the face? It's really hard to be on Team Campbell with you acting like such a louse this season. But I still love ya, buddy, you morality-lacking dipshit. Then again, your hero Don only remembers people he drove to hanging themselves when confronted by seeing someone who hanged himself, sooo...
- For the numerologists out there: the Pryce family lived at 12C, a measurable step-up from Adam's lowly room at 5G, which doubled as the title of the episode where he offed himself.
- Sterling's Gold: The namesake wins line of the night with, "Stop being demure. You're already on the bed."
- Sterling's Copper: worst line of the night goes to Adam Whitman, whose "Don't worry. I'll hang around" shows that in the afterlife, you don't become less of a hack. Jesus. I still can't believe Don didn't heckle him.
- This week's "Holy Shit, Is That On The Nose Or What?": Don has a lingering pain that he assumes will naturally get better on its own but his negligence almost costs him significant personal injury. This parallels everything he's ever done on the show, ever.
- This week's "Holy Shit They Use That On The Nose Line So Incredibly Well": when Pete self-analyzes himself and comes up with this gem, "A temporary bandage on a permanent wound." Yeesh. That's what goosebumps are made of.
- As I've recently moved to a new apartment in old Brooklyn town, I could not watch the show as I normally do: in standard definition with my mom. Instead, I watched in gloooorious high definition at Inclusive staffers' Matt Lubchansky and Jaya Saxena's place with many of their wonderful friends. It included this wonderful cake from Victoria, who also gave me the Betty/Megan modeling parallel earlier. The cake looks like it tastes: magnificent.
- When Stan Rizzo commented "I'm getting tired of this dynamic" when Ginsberg and Don had the same fight for the fifth time after the Topaz pitch, Lub said, "is he Abed now?" I had to take a knee. #sixseasonsandamovie
- Holy shit DAWN HAD A LINE!!! Remember at the beginning of the season when the show was like "heeeyyy, black people exist and THINGS ARE CHANGING" and then decided to politely ignore her for about ten episodes? Yeah. That was a great move. I understand the idea of sacrificing time from other characters but, man, just have her walk into a room with a danish or something. Otherwise the show is posturing, using her as a prop to goad less-sensitive clients and characters to say horribly racist things so we can collectively sit and poo-poo them. But to simply use her as a cardboard cut-out to assuage race relations on the show without actually letting the character do that herself? That's nearly as senseless as the remarks made against her in the conference room. I expect better, "Mad Men."
- That line about the world having too many ballerinas? Coooooold blooded. Imagine if Betty was raised in Quebec? She'd be marching into Austria by now.
- Just want to thank y'all for coming along on the ride with me. These are some dense, long pieces I cook up for this show, mostly because I think the art deserves such a write-up, and I can't believe people actually read along. They have been a joy to write up, even as I sit here at 3:30 AM with an ice pack still applied on my person. Maybe there will be more recaps of other shows in the future? But probably not Breaking Bad, cause I don't think writing "HOLY FUCK" 400 times counts as a proper critical response. And now, for the final time this calendar year....
- Next Season on Mad Men:
Don falls back into a hole as SCDP rises and falls within the year (the same with Don's marriage); Lane Pryce guests on "The Walking Dead"; Adam will return with some better material, hopefully; Peggy will take at least one other plane ride/see one more dog sex session; Pete will stop getting punched in the face, 'cause seriously dude, c'mon; Baby Gene will finally talk (h/t to Danielle V.); Sally will turn 14, immediately get on The Pill, and start the revolution; the actor playing Bobby will be replaced by a mop, no one will take note; Ken Cosgrove will be paid $500 to change his signature haircut, will make a great piece for The Atlantic out of it; Paul Kinsey will be hired on "Lost In Space," claim he's doing "important work, you just don't see it"; Bert Cooper will gain his own office but lose his shoes; Sterling will don face paint and meet Joe Friday; Joan will show Nixon how to screw everyone to impose your will; I'll remember the redhead friend's name ... you know, the skanky one; Chauncey will make his triumphant return, being held on a leash by the Russian fresh from the Pine Barrens.
Images courtesy of AMC / Lions Gate Entertainment