Mad Men, Season 3

Week 13: Are They Taking Applications at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?
Talking television.
Nov. 9 2009 1:46 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 13: Are They Taking Applications at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?

Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) and Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) in the Season 3 finale. Click image to expand.
Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) and Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) in the Season 3 finale

Well, gentlemen, this finale left me with just one question: Do you think they're taking applications at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

What an exhilarating episode. The show's best characters snapped out of season-long funks, joined forces, committed various acts of corporate skullduggery, and launched a new firm, one that—between Roger and Joan and Pete and Peggy—has more sexual tension per square foot than even Pierre hotel rooms are accustomed to. Plus we got to hear Don tell Betty what a bad mom she is. There was red meat here for every sort of Mad Men fan—except those, like me, who were still kinda hoping Don and Betty would work things out. (And those who wanted to see Sal. But fear not, Romano fans; I'll bet another round of old-fashioneds he'll reappear in Season 4, even though Lee Garner Jr. is among SCDP's first clients. Sal can be the subject of Roger and Don's first fight.)

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We can thank Conrad Hilton for Don's sudden and aggressive push to take control of the firm. When Hilton shares the news that PPL has been sold and tells Don he'll be taking his business elsewhere, Don pouts, noting that Hilton saddled him with a contract at Sterling Coop. Hilton promptly upbraids him: "I got everything I have on my own. It's made me immune to those who complain and cry because they can't. I didn't take you for one of them, Don. Are you?" This speech seems to goad Don to action, and it also reminds him of his stepdad Archibald Whitman, [pardon me, his biological father—thanks, Patrick ] who apparently once stuck it to some sort of poorly lit grain cooperative. All Don's father figures go it alone.

And so—finally!—Don stops brooding and moping and looking at old photos and caressing grass with his bare knuckles, and gets back to the business of being an ad man, selling his colleagues on the risky new venture. First he snags Bert Cooper, appealing to the old man's ego: "I want to work. I want to build something of my own. How do you not understand that? You did it yourself 40 years ago."

Next he persuades Roger, who—like several SCDP recruits—just wants to hear how much Don loves him. (Apparently, while Don has been pining for the affections of Betty, Miss Farrell, and various other mother figures, his colleagues have been pining for his.) "You don't value what I do any more than they do," Roger says, referring to PPL suitor McCann Erickson. "I value my relationship with you," Don replies. Pete, too, wants the Draper seal of approval. When Sterling tells him they want to hire him because "You'll do whatever it takes," Pete cuts him off. "I want to hear it from him." And Don gives a persuasive answer: "You've been ahead on a lot of things. Aeronautics. Teenagers. The Negro market. We need you to keep us looking forward. I do, anyway."

And, most movingly, there's Peggy, who bristles when Don assumes she's along for the ride. "You think I'll just follow you like some nervous poodle?" she asks. "I don't want to make a career out of being there so you can kick me when you fail." There's a bit of an echo there of Don's protestation to Hilton—"You wanted to kick me around, knock me down to size, while you called me 'son' "—and her words seem to resonate. Don goes back to Peggy with a more elaborate sales pitch, explaining why he needs her: "Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me. And something happened, something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do. And that's very valuable."

Question for you guys: What on earth is Don talking about here? The Kennedy assassination? Or some other, more generalized American loss of innocence? Either way, the pitch works; Peggy's eyes well up with tears when Don tells her that if she doesn't join up now, "I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you."

The SCDP conceit provides a great set-up for Season 4, which promises to focus on the fledgling firm and its struggles, with intrigue and repartee in abundance. It's easy to see now how much of Season 3 was building toward this moment: Joan's departure, Pete's demotion, Roger's ennui, Peggy's dalliances—both personal and professional—with Duck. But as plot gimmicks go, this one strikes me as a bit of a party trick: The show disassembled itself episode by episode, depriving us of the usual office hijinks, only to snap the essentials back together in the finale. Matthew Weiner has now made us incredibly excited to watch … the very same show we already loved: a sexed-up drama about a small, go-getting advertising firm led by a tall, dark stranger; a silver-tongued fox; and a redheaded bombshell. It's Mad Men: New and Improved! Seems as if Weiner and his team have picked up a few tricks from the ad execs they've been writing about.

Speaking of party tricks, this episode was called "Shut the Door. Have a Seat," and I think—although I'm not sure—that every single scene included someone saying words to the effect of "sit down." Fraysters, can I get some backup?

Patrick and John, I'll leave you to discuss the Draper divorce for now; my broken heart needs a bit more time.

In search of a golden pork chop,

Julia

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