I'm so glad you guys liked the episode as much as I did. And you're right: No matter how familiar the setup, Season 4 won't be the same old same old. SCDP is likely to be scrappier, more unsteady, more modern, and more intense than Sterling Coop. (Also, I don't buy the theory—floated widely in the Fray—that SCDP was founded so sloppily that it will face a legal challenge from PPL next season. The corporate wrangling we saw in the finale may have been implausible, or it may be an accurate rendering of a less litigious time. But whatever the case, there is no way Matthew Weiner will bog Season 4 down in a mess of legal troubles.)
One bright spot we haven't mentioned yet: the decision to elevate Lane Pryce to partner—and series regular. As Pryce, Jared Harris gives one of Mad Men'smost quietly thrilling performances, conveying real pathos as a man whose ambition is forever thwarted by his propriety. Pryce is, in some ways, a lot like Don: He's an outsider suddenly presented with a chance to reinvent himself. He also fits nicely into your brilliant breakdown of Mad Men's workhorses and show horses, Patrick; he's a workhorse all the way, and it's satisfying to see him get some recognition. I expect we'll see Weiner do more with this theme, since it's a way for him to tackle one of his true subjects: the fall of the old-WASP class system and the rise of … well, something more like a meritocracy, anyway.
John, I, too, wondered why Don caved and told Betty she could leave the marriage and take the kids. You suggest he's found new contentment with his work family, which I think is plausible, but Frayster Caprivi, noting the timing of the call, had another suggestion:
Trudy walked in with the sandwiches for everyone and Don must have realized that Betty would never care enough to do that act of kindness for him let alone the whole team. I think he sees the contrast so clearly that he understands once and for all that Betty is not capable of any depth of caring for anyone else but for herself.
Sort of plausible, no? Don has always been more in love with the idea of Betty, and the impeccable family he thought he'd created with her, than with the woman herself. For years, he's beaten himself up (well, a little) about letting her down. Her dalliance with Francis knocks her off the pedestal she sits on in Don's mind, freeing him to let her go. Could the sight of sweet, invested Trudy have been a catalyst? Why not?
As for the scene with Sally and Bobby, it was heartbreaking, outdone only by one of the episode's final moments: Betty on a plane to Reno with Henry Francis and Baby Gene, as Bobby and Sally are left to snuggle with Carla, at home on the Ossining couch. Henry's lawyer said she'd have to stay in Reno for six weeks. Does that mean the kids are home alone—well, parentless, anyway—for Christmas? For all Betty's cruelty, though, you can't really blame her for leaving Don. I loved how she recoiled at his condescending suggestion, when she asks for a divorce, that she see a doctor, "a good one this time": "Because I'd have to be sick to want out of this?" Don has lied and cheated for years; if she wants out, good luck to her. Given her scant knowledge of her second-husband-to-be, I'm afraid she'll need it.
One final note on the flashbacks: I detest them, but I thought there was an interesting shift in tone. For a long time, Archie has seemed dismissive of Don's career in these dream-visions. But in the finale, Don seemed inspired by Archie's bold, cooperative-shunning maneuver; it's only when Archie caves and agrees to sell his grain for rock-bottom prices that he gets kicked to death by a horse. Somehow, over the course of the season, Don seems to have squared his ambitions in advertising with his humble origins; even Roger notices, "So you do want to be in advertising after all." I'm not sure how it happened, but let's hope this means Don can put his spectral Pops to rest.
Take another swig from that moonshine jug, gentlemen. It's been delightful to discuss this show with you—and all the amazingly keen-eyed viewers in the Fray. Patrick, let us know when next you're in town so we can arrange the exchange of all those old-fashioneds.