Well, it’s almost time to bring this demi-season home. Place your bets, place your bets. Will next week’s episode bring us a cliffhanger? A placeholder? Yet another opportunity for Matthew Weiner to thwart our expectations?
In terms of characters we might be getting some final disposition on: Bob Benson was a curious addition last season—a twinkle-eyed enigma who at first appeared to be a means of injecting fresh mystery into the Mad Men landscape. He evolved into a lens through which the show could examine homosexuality in the ’60s. And now I think Bob might be poised to disappear from our lives forever, as it seems possible he’ll be cutting ties with both SC&P and Joan. How will we remember him? As a scheming fellow who hid both his agenda and his identity behind a dazzling smile. Join me in bidding him farewell with a valedictory “Not great, Bob!”
Who else is due a final reckoning? It occurs to me that Ted Chaough sure has been quiet. Are we done with him? Does he have new tales to tell? Perhaps next week will set him up for one last bug-eyed, menschy adventure in 2015.
And of course there’s Megan, who has taken her fondue pot and gone home. Will long-running speculation that she’s careening toward a violent end come to fruition? A lot of references to fire this season, with flicking lighters and parched hillsides … Megan is surely the top draft pick in the Mad Men death pool.
But as you suggested when we began this season’s TV Club, Julia, I think I’m slightly less interested in finding out what happens to these characters (though that certainly interests me) than in finding out how the show’s writers will choose to frame this whole megillah. Mad Men’s denouement will define its through-line and seal its legacy.
Consider: How will we thumbnail this show after it’s gone? It began as a one-season puzzle about a handsome man with a mysterious past. Once that arc resolved, Mad Men was forced to find a new raison d’être. It morphed into various vessels: a guided tour through 1960s history and culture, a character study of a singularly malformed individual, an exploration of the big lies at the heart of both advertising and midcentury American conformity, a brilliant dissection—as you note, Julia—of workplace dynamics.
Or maybe it’s just a high-toned soap opera with sharp dialogue, beautiful people, and fantastic sets and costumes? As such, Mad Men is forced to ramp up the dramatic stakes at regular intervals—quenching viewers’ thirst for ever-more outrageous water cooler moments. Absent those, the show risks plodding along with no urgency.
Violence is one way to memorably punctuate the action. And so Mad Men finds ways to give it to us—though rarely in the form of intentional crimes with malice aforethought. Instead, it’s a predatory lawnmower. A surprise noose. Peggy stabbing Abe. Ginsburg slicing off his nipple.
All the rumble about Megan meeting an untimely end, about the coded references to the Manson killings, about the notion that Don will tumble to his doom like the silhouette of the opening credits, speaks to our craving for these sorts of ghastly dramatics. We’ll soon find out if Matthew Weiner deigns to sate our urges.
You’ve really got to keep an eye on him,
Read the complete Slate Mad Men TV Club.