Mad Men, Season 4

Week 13: Mr. Draper's Wild Ride
Talking television.
Oct. 18 2010 1:04 AM

Mad Men, Season 4


Week 13: Mr. Draper's Wild Ride

Still of "Mad Men." Click image to expand.
Mad Men


John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

So I know from having read the elaborate theories our commenters posted over the last week—complete with careful analysis of a season's worth of foreshadowing and thorough research into the history of the American Cancer Society—that I am not the only one who was expecting a very different season finale than the one we got. I presumed that this episode would focus on the fate of the teetering firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Instead, Don went to Disneyland, took a few meetings, did a cannonball, and proposed to his secretary. Julia, you like to tease me for being too hard on Mad Men whenever it heads to the West Coast, so I'm looking forward to your spirited defense of the show's latest visit. But man, it's going to take some serious persuading to get me to come around on this very strange episode of our beloved series.

Throughout this season, our friends at SCDP have struggled to balance their work lives and their personal lives. To some extent this has been the central theme of Mad Men from the beginning—our hero, after all, is an ad man whose biggest account is himself. But more than any previous season, this one saw the men and women of SCDP attempting to draw a line between the demands of office and home. The aim of this episode seems to have been to show us just how badly many of them have failed. Well, except for Cosgrove. At the outset of the finale, he flatly refuses to help the firm land Dow Chemical by calling in a favor from his father-in-law to be. "I'm not Pete," he says pointedly. He's also not Don (engaged to his secretary) and he's not Joan (pregnant with the boss's love child).

Julia, I fully intend to bellow a loud toldja! in your direction before this post is done, but before we turn to the bun that is still very much in Mrs. Harris' oven, let's talk about Don. What are we to make of his whirlwind romance with Megan? A few theories as to what got into him:

1. Don's not ready to be Dick. Before he leaves for his trip, Faye—poor Faye!—encourages Don to come to grips with his past, suggesting that his anxiety isn't just about the fate of SCDP; it's also about the lie he's been living since Korea. Don flirted this season with coming clean about his identity and indeed told Faye his secret. But the NAA investigation put a very real scare into him, and the consequences of admitting who he is still seem too dire for him to bear. He clearly wanted his children to see the home that Anna Draper lived in, but that's as far as he'll go with them for now—Dick is just a nickname. The engagement ring he offers Megan belonged to "someone very important to him." Faye now knows a good bit about the real Don. Megan, as Don notes, knows nothing about him. I thought Faye's comment to Don during their heartbreaking phone break-up was astute: "You only like the beginning of things," she says. Faced with the choice of grappling with his past, or starting something exciting and new, he can't help but opt for the latter.

2. She's great with the kids. This was of course set up several episodes ago, when Faye failed and Megan succeeded in comforting Sally during her unannounced visit to the office. We were treated to more of Megan's effortless parenting skills in this episode. Don seems wowed by her reaction to the proverbial spilt milk—whereas Betty would have snapped (as Don himself does), Megan mops up the spill, quieting the bickering children and mesmerizing Don with her unperturbed manner. Don has been very sweet with his children throughout this season (I loved his horseplay with them in the pool, and his mock-order that they carry his tired body to his hotel bed), and their happiness is clearly very important to him.

3. With so much else in his life in flux—his business, his very identity—he wanted to ground himself again. To marry a beautiful, confident woman who is devoted to him, dazzled by him, and who is just independent enough to intrigue him. She's not childlike, like Betty, but she's not as brassy as Faye.

4. He doesn't mind her teeth. Me neither.

Julia, Mike: Do you buy any of these theories? I'm not sure I do. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bowled over by all this, but I'd also be lying if I said I liked it. Michael, you noted last week that Mad Men has been playing a bit fast and loose with its character development this season. I was sympathetic to that complaint last week and am even more so now. (I say this as the son of parents who honeymooned at Walt Disney World; I know the theme parks can be romantic, but come on! Am I the only one who was waiting—praying—for that marriage proposal to be revealed to be a dream sequence?) I also thought that through all those laps in the swimming pool, all that journaling, Don was changing. But the shotgun affair with Megan felt like a big, disappointing step back for me—the sweet nothings he offered her on the balcony and in bed reminded me, unpleasantly, of the nonsense he spouted at Miss Farrell last season.

Meanwhile, back at the office … Peggy lands a $250,000 hosiery account. Big whoop. Glad to see the cold streak broken, but what of all the dire talk of hole punches and tape dispensers last week? SCDP can't live on a single pair of panty hose. I feel let down by not learning more about the fate of the firm.

Julia and Michael, I'm curious what you guys made of Betty in this episode. I've never been a big Betty fan, but I found myself feeling bad for her tonight. Her gripe with Carla was legitimate, I thought, even if her dismissal of Carla was out of line. (Would you want your babysitter letting your daughter hang out alone in her room with Glen?) Her husband gives her a hard time (while hogging the fainting couch), her kids come home from California whistling Frere Jacques, and her ex-husband brings news of his engagement. Is the series being a little unfair to her?  

OK, Julia, are you ready? Here goes: Toldja! Dr. Greg seems content not to do the math, visions of Joan's even bigger hillsides dancing in his head. I can't wait to see the look on Roger's face when he finds out. But it's going to be a long wait.

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