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June 11, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Mad Men Monday: The season ends

No major shockers in last night’s season finale of “Mad Men,” but after the last two episodes (Joan’s indecent proposal; Lane’s suicide), I was fine with the season ending quietly. And it seemed to take Don back to where we first saw him, way back in the first scene of Season One: sitting in a smoky bar, drinking an old-fashioned, attracting admiring looks from women. The Don back then had a pretty, dissatisfied wife at home; the Don now has one, too. Don then was haunted by the secret of his new identity; Don now, after Lane’s death, is still haunted by Dick Whitman (in the face of his dead stepbrother Adam, who kept popping up throughout the episode). Don then was casually, constantly unfaithful to his wife; Don now, asked by a pretty woman if he is alone at the bar, takes a minute to respond, and we don’t hear the answer . . . yet. “You Only Live Twice” played as the final credits ran; perfect for a man on his second life, trying to get it right, but constantly compromising.
One big compromise this episode: Megan, who seemed to diminish before our eyes. Early in the season, Don seemed almost in awe of Megan and her ease with people (how she handled his children) and with the business of advertising. Now she’s a stay-at-home wife (like Betty), who gets petulant when he doesn’t call (like Betty), and who has a career dream that doesn’t seem to be working out (like Betty, who was briefly a model). I’ve wondered all season whether we’re supposed to believe that Megan is a talented actress — I think Jessica Pare is lovely but limited, so it’s hard to tell — but I think we got the answer last night, in Megan’s mother’s acerbic but possibly accurate statement that her daughter has “the artistic temperament,” but isn’t an artist. That would explain why Megan isn’t getting any roles, why we never see her working to develop her craft — and why she had to beg Don (double-crossing a friend, along the way) for a model-like role in a commercial. Don was incredulous — this isn’t art, he reminded her — but later, viewing her screen test, seemed to feel sorry for her; the way you feel bad for something pretty that’s been broken. He got her the job, stopped by the set to see her glowing with happiness, then strolled away from the soundstage, leaving the color and light behind him, looking gaudy and insubstantial. Did he lose respect for Megan, and will his answer be “Yes, I’m alone” to the woman at the bar, taking him back to the man he once was? I think so.
Also reverting to his Season One persona: Pete, who’s finally getting that apartment in the city — the better to cheat on his wife (who, I think, knows it). His scenes with Beth, both before and after her shock treatments, had great poignancy; Pete, talking to a woman who didn’t remember him, was finally able to be honest about his own misery — he’s unhappy with his marriage, unhappy with his wife, and “needed to feel that all this aging was worth something.” Pete fades in suburbia, becoming something pale and lifeless; he needs the city to feel powerful — to make him feel like a man. We’ve seen Pete getting punched in the face three times this season (a truly excellent season by this measure, by the way), but I think that final scene with Trudy was his way of getting up off the ropes and asserting himself. He will not be molded into the husband Trudy wants; he will, perhaps, become another man with a double life.
Was it just me, or did everyone look a little older in this episode? Don, brought down by a (metaphorical and real) toothache, wasn’t quite his glamorous self until the final scene; Pete seemed particularly pale and tired-looking; Joan, in her librarian glasses, seemed to have aged since Lane’s death; even Peggy (a welcome sight!), in a new career-lady suit, looked a little older and wiser. (Nice scene with Peggy and Don, in a movie theater where Peggy was taking a little break to recharge from her new job. “Someone told me this works,” she said, smiling at Don. It was a calm, relaxed hello and goodbye, in contrast to the emotionally charged scene in Don’s office two weeks ago. Will we see her in season 6? I hope so, but I wouldn’t bet on it.)
I loved the shot of the five partners, seen in silhouette from the back, as they looked over their new office space upstairs. (Will that be next season’s poster?) Joan has smoothly turned into Lane (even the glasses); Bert Cooper seems newly engaged; Roger’s been revitalized by LSD and an affair with Megan’s mother; Pete’s standing at the brink of a new life; and Don . . . well, that’s where we’ll leave him, at that dimly lit bar, smiling enigmatically at the stranger beside him. Like a man with a secret.
And that’s a wrap; I have postcards to write. It’s been a pleasure to return to Mad Men Mondays this spring; many thanks to all who’ve read, commented, and made this something I looked forward to every week. Back next season, whenever that may be!
Pete, Don, Joan, Bert, Roger . . . until we meet again. (Photo courtesy of AMC.)



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