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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

October 18, 2010 at 9:59 AM

One last “Mad Men” Monday

So, this is the way “Mad Men” Season 4 will end — not with a bang, but a whimper. Am I alone in feeling a little let down by last night’s finale? Did last season’s perfect finale (and the others, when I think back — didn’t Season 2 end with Don’s great “I don’t have a contract” moment?) set the bar too high? Not that “Tomorrowland” last night was any hardship to watch, but it just felt like a good episode, not the right note on which to end the season until next summer.
Don’s had a remarkable arc this season; dipping down into despair and clawing his way back up again with little help but his own immense smarts and a grown-up woman who loved him. And what does he do, now that he’s finally in a healthy relationship with a woman who’s his professional equal and who understood (to an extent) his secrets? He gets engaged, seemingly instantly, to his pretty young secretary; breaking Fay’s heart and causing her to utter the trenchant yet true line “I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.” I still find Megan, sweet as she is, to be a bit of a cipher; was the comment in a recent episode that she wanted to be a copywriter sincere, or part of a ploy to capture Don’s attention? (I’m not sure why I can’t tell — is it the actress’s fault, the writing’s fault, or that Matthew Weiner doesn’t want us to be sure? There are few accidents on this show.) And Don’s fallen for her mainly because she’s exquisite but not Betty, she’s not challenging, and she’s good with his kids. (Imagine how Betty would have handled that milkshake mishap.) The whole thing feels like a Roger move, although Don’s clearly sincere; Jon Hamm made Don’s sudden infatuation quite touching, and it’s no coincidence that he seized onto Megan right when he seemed to find some peace with his past (I loved the note of quavery courage he brought when saying “That’s my nickname” to Sally.) “I Got You Babe” notwithstanding; I don’t see this ending well. Perhaps Megan and Roger’s wife Jane will form a support group.
And at work, I expected something a little more dramatic than Peggy and Ken’s modest new pantyhose account. A quarter-million in billings won’t save the company — though it’s certainly encouraging, and reverses the grim trend they’ve been on — so we’re still left dangling, though less precariously than before. Nice to see Peggy handling a pitch so competently, and sad to see her moment of glory completely undercut by Don’s news. Loved that Roger didn’t even know who “Miss ____” (sorry, I can’t remember Megan’s last name) was, and that Peggy was so shocked that she didn’t congratulate Don, who instantly understood her reaction. All this led to my favorite minute of the show: Joan and Peggy, kvetching and smoking and, ultimately, giggling together. Nice to see these two, so often adversaries, having a moment of bonding.
Speaking of Joan and Peggy, the two of them have something in common now: a secret Sterling Cooper (Draper Campbell Pryce) baby. Looks like a lot of us were correct: Joan didn’t have that abortion, and clearly intends to pass off the baby as Greg’s. (Let’s hope he’s as good at math as he is at surgery, and that the kid isn’t born with grey hair.) Which sets up a potentially fascinating scenario: a pregnant Joan at work, receiving congratulations from colleagues who wouldn’t think twice about the baby’s parentage, as she’s a respectable married woman — but Roger, watching from across the room, knowing the truth.
Betty had a chance to throw in one more monstrous-parent move before the season ended (firing kind, patient Carla, who’s been Sally and Bobby’s nanny since they were babies), but her character seems to be flailing; Weiner seems to have not known what to do with her this season, and other than some hints that there’s trouble in the Betty/Henry paradise, we’ve seen little of her. Betty was once the character we loved to hate; now she’s hateful but no longer interesting. Other characters who suffered this season: Pete, whose plotlines kept getting lopped off; Harry, who never got a plotline at all; and Bert Cooper, of whom I devoutly hope we haven’t seen the last. (Maybe he forgot his shoes at the office?)
And so the season went out on Don awake next to a sleeping Megan, the woman who said “I know who you are now,” when she doesn’t actually know him at all. (Interesting that Don told her that he feels like himself when he’s with her — “the way I always wanted to feel” — but which version of himself would that be?) I wonder if what happens next might have been predicted by the brief, electric exchange between Don and Betty near the end of the episode. “Things aren’t perfect,” sighed Betty, ostensibly referring to the new house. “So you’ll move again,” said Don breezily. I think he will.
And what did you think of this episode? How do you feel about this season’s closing notes? Who will you miss most during “Mad Men’s” long hiatus? (For me, Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks — and John Slattery’s way with a line.) And to all who’ve read and especially those who’ve contributed thoughtful comments to this Mad Men blog — thanks so much; it’s been a lot of fun and I’ll miss our Monday chats. Be back next season!

Miss you, Don. (Jon Hamm in “Mad Men”; photo credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.)

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