Mad Men, Season 4

Week 13: Was a Shark Jumped?
Talking television.
Oct. 20 2010 3:46 PM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 13: Was a Shark Jumped?

Don Draper from "Mad Men." Click image to expand.

Agger, I can't improve upon your Glen theory—everything makes so much more sense to me now. But before I sign off for this season, I have to share one last observation about the finale. I wish I could claim I noticed this myself, but this one comes courtesy of Slate contributor Rob Weintraub, who wrote to me yesterday to flag one of the few scenes we've yet to run through our fine-toothed combs.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

When Don, Bobby, and Sally return to the hotel from their trip to Anna Draper's house, they find Megan and Gene at the pool. (Brief aside: On revisiting this scene, my anti-Megan stance softened slightly. There are greater men than Don who would propose to her merely on the strength of how well she wears that bikini.) Bobby and Sally already have their bathing suits on under their clothes, and prepare to jump in the pool. "I'm going to be a shark!" Bobby declares. The children and Megan try to persuade Don to join them for a dip, but he refuses, claiming he's too beat. Instead, he retreats to his hotel room, where he briefly indulges in one of his signature brooding sessions. But before we know it, he's back at the pool and in his trunks. "Hey, can I throw some herring to you two?" he says, then leaps in.

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Rob's impression, formed after a single viewing, was that Don had jumped over Bobby, who at the time was pretending to be a shark. Don jumped the shark! Could it be that the writers of the show were making a very subtle joke? Acknowledging the firestorm that would greet Don's swoon for Megan as well as the difficulty of keeping a series exciting—but not absurd or unbelievable—through four long seasons? I forwarded Rob's e-mail to Julia, who took the theory a step further: If the writers were acknowledging this challenge, might they also be suggesting that they are more than up to it? Julia noted that after plunging into the water, Don proceeds to pick up his son and chuck him through the air. The shark has jumped Don! The Mad Men writers haven't jumped the shark. The shark is their plaything. They own the shark. They can make the shark do whatever they please.

Crazy? Probably. After I got Rob's e-mail I rewatched this sequence. The arc Don's cannonball traces does go over Bobby, technically, but Bobby isn't in the same plane as his father—it's more like Don jumps past his son. And Bobby isn't doing anything particularly sharklike in the moment—no outstretched-hand-as-dorsal-fin action to speak of.

So maybe we're reading too much into this. But hey, that's what we Mad Men fans do best. Julia, Michael, I wish I could say goodbye with the stiff upper lip of old-soul Glen Bishop, but I'm more sentimental than that: It's been an honor—a full-fledged one, not an almost-honor like Joan's new title—sharing this space with you this season. Despite my crankiness about the season finale, I'm still very much in love with this series. I'm already looking forward to next summer, when we can debate Megan's steak frites preparation, Glen's improving 40-yard dash time, Joan's suddenly hawkish stance on the escalating conflict in Vietnam, Roger's notes for Sterling's Platinum, the meeting of the Five Families convened by Mordecai Miller in re: a certain ad man, and the astonishing growth of Olson & Cosgrove.

Till then,

Best wishes,
John

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