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Mad Men: Meditations in an Emergency (season finale)

by Allison Waldman, posted Oct 27th 2008 10:04AM
Jon Hamm -1(S02E13) In 1962, President Kennedy threatened to fire the missiles of October, facing down with Russia over the nuclear launch sites in Cuba. On last night's season finale of Mad Men, creator Matthew Weiner actually pulled the trigger and set off a few carefully aimed rockets guaranteed to alter the future of the series. It was a stunning climax to the second season and if you were hoping for some big twists, you got them.

With little fanfare, Don came back from California. He appeared at the riding club where Betty's breath was seemingly taken away by the sight of him. No explanation. No excuses. And with a new sense of power, Betty wasn't ready to welcome him home.

She continued to give him that cold shoulder, in the great tradition of the Hitchcock blonde, and while Don was contrite, you have to think he assumed that his appearance there would have been enough to win her over. It wasn't. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances.

That spotting by Betty last week was exactly as I suspected, she was pregnant but didn't know it. And when the doctor confirmed the truth, she did try to go horseback riding to bring on a miscarriage. Was that guilt in her eyes when Don approached her, hat in hand, ready to make up, admitting "I was not respectful to you," Don's way of saying he was unfaithful? She seemed unprepared to face him then, and thus put him off.

If there was any story in last night's show that really was fraught with questions, it was Betty's. She doesn't want another baby. She euphemistically asked about getting an abortion -- falling onto the word "options" -- but the doctor wasn't forthcoming. Most women in 1962 weren't getting abortions unless they were unmarried girls. Francine suggested Puerto Rico, but that was out because of the proximity to Cuba. Perhaps some doctor in Albany? "It's not a good time," says Betty, and that says it all. Francine advises her to just wait and see what happens.

Betty, though, needs to do something. She follows through on her season-long teasing -- the auto mechanic, the stable guy, Jimmy Barrett -- and has a one-nighter. It's a carefully chosen man, someone anonymous. Ironically, he's a Don-alike, a man in a grey flannel suit. The impromptu sexual encounter in the men's bathroom of a Manhattan bar struck me as her way to punish Don, even if she never tells him. She never gives her name to him because she never wants it to come back to her.

Ultimately, Don worms/wins his way back to the family by doing what he does best. He closes the deal. In typical Don Draper fashion, the way back into Betty's life -- if not her heart -- is with words. He writes her a letter, using the images of their children sleeping and referring to the crazy world in which they live that might end at any moment, and it gets to Betty. When she finally confronts him at the kitchen table, we're not sure if she'll confess to the one-nighter or the pregnancy. It's the latter and Don's response speaks volumes. He offers her an open hand, taking hers and silently they agree to make a go of it again.

My favorite twist of the show, though, took place within the confines of Sterling Cooper. Duck really believed he had pulled it off, the deal with Putnam Powell and Lowe, which would put him in charge of SC. In the conference room, he lords over Don and diminishes the importance of "creative." Don, who had been tipped off about Duck's installation as head honcho by Pete (of all people!), was ready with a response.

He's ready to take his half a million dollars -- about $20 million in today's money -- and leave SC. Don is like JFK facing down Kruschev; he's not blinking. He says, "I sell products, not advertising." The key to the scene is that Don knows he doesn't have a contract with SC; Duck was counting on him having a non-compete clause in that presumed contract. This changes everything for the Brits. Yes, indeed. By the way, didn't you love that smirk when Roger confirmed to Duck about the contract status that they were close, so there was no contract.

For Peggy, it had to be a victory of sort that Pete turned to her for business advice. But later, with Father Gill filling her head with thoughts of confession being a necessity lest she wind up in hell, Peggy decides to confess to Pete. But would she have confessed about having given up his baby if he hadn't tried to stir things up with her again? Peggy truly does want other things in life. Like Betty, having Pete's baby was "not a good time." She's a character that actually makes choices, like Don. I loved it when she told Pete she could have had him and chose not to. What a woman!

Roger Sterling is a complete narcissist. When faced with the end of the world -- "Kennedy's daring them to bomb us, right when I have a second chance" -- he sees the world only through his selfish eyes. How dare JFK muck up his plans!

There's great uncertainty going into the next season. There's real worry in the office, especially when the executives are counting on Lois, the switchboard operator, for scuttlebutt. They're all now worried about redundancies. That was a great reminder of the British version of The Office.

Overall, it was a superb ending to a complicated, great season. The only thing missing, for me, was the Joan situation. After her rape last week, I wanted to know what she was going to do next. My guess is what I wrote previously -- she's not going to do anything. In that way, the nuclear explosion was really in the penultimate episode on the floor in Don's office.
How do you rate the season?
Four stars - the best678 (71.2%)
Three stars - very good254 (26.7%)
Two stars - so-so16 (1.7%)
One star - forgettable4 (0.4%)

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Gray Flannel

Season 3: I want the Brit-merged SC to grate on Don Draper so he can go out and start his own shop and hire Peggy and Joan and Freddy Rumsen and who-knows-who and poach a few clients, too. Automatic tension and conflict. Pete is conflicted because he wants to re-join Draper but the Brits keep upping the ante. More conflict. Sterling and his new bride hit the rocks. He's Roger Sterling, after all. As a guy who's been in the biz longer than I can believe, I've known Don Drapers. He's a classic entrepreneur. Continually reinventing himself. A guy who wants his name on the building. And maybe Don tires of one-dimensional Betty's new-found proclivity for affairs of her own and he winds up with...Peggy! I LOVE this show.

October 30 2008 at 2:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff N.

What a great season finale. Mad Men is the best show on TV. And yes, I loved it too when Roger confirmed that Don Draper had no contract.
Duck was not a happy man.
So what year will season 3 pick up on? 1964? Maybe 1965?

October 29 2008 at 12:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
litehousebeacon

My favorite line was, "I don't have a contract." I did pretty much the same thing Adam did. I pointed at Duck when they cut to him, and the look on his face, and laughed, mockingly.

October 28 2008 at 11:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KevinInChains

great, great, great....and as soon as Betty slept with the guy from Chuck, all i said was whats good for the gander is good for the goose. The whole Pete/Peggy thing was kinda suprising to be honest...i didn't see that whole thing coming. But great show, great series...cant wait til next year...which ever one that is...im guessing early 64.

October 28 2008 at 2:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Karen

I thought it was a very satisfying finale.

I don't think that Pete will end up with the baby. The baby is not the one at home. She gave it up and when we come back it will be two years later. I think that story line ended with the speech from Peggy. I do think Pete and Trudy will be divorced when they come back.

Duck will be gone. Joan will have married jerk doctor. Betty will have had her baby...or lost it.

Best show on TV!

October 27 2008 at 6:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
AL

According to an online inflation calculater, $500,000 in 1962 is the equivalent of about $3.4 million in 2007. Not even close to $20,000,000.

October 27 2008 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to AL's comment
Jeff N.

I could still be happy with $3.4 Million dollars. I'd give it a whirl. ;-)

October 29 2008 at 12:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jarrett C

I agree that the one story arc that I was left unfulfilled on was the Joan story...if they'd have addressed that, it would have been a perfect season finale.

October 27 2008 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris Shifty

Third season is likely for June/July. Breaking Bad returns in March and should end in late May. AMC will be having year long original programming pretty soon. Which is great for us.

Loved the meeting at the end, wish it was longer. These meetings at Sterling Cooper are so short (well its TV). I think Duck will be the one selling insurance when the show returns (hopefully 1964/65). MW did state that he won't foucs that much on the Kennedy Assassination, its been done to death in his eyes and he couldn't bring anything new to it.

Anyway can't wait to see where things go (how long until Peggy is running the place?) and glad to see the show gained more attention this season.

October 27 2008 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
George

Great to see Ryan McPartlin (Captain Awesome from 'Chuck') as Betty's one-night stand.

October 27 2008 at 1:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to George's comment
Jim

Nice catch! I didn't realize that was him.

October 27 2008 at 2:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gray Flannel

Good casting. He looked like the equestrian twit's fashion-model brother. Country-club Betty goes down with a pretty-boy to get even. Yeah, her husband was a cheat and and a liar. But now she's "even"? Really? Don needs a real woman and she heads more sessions with a shrink, parenting classes (probably weren't available then)...and a job. Even a job-ette.

October 30 2008 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bret Henson

The first thing worth mentioning about the season finale is the title: "Meditations in an Emergency", which refers back to the first episode when Don sent a book by that name to an unknown friend. Later it is revealed who he sent the book to. Meditations in an Emergency was written by the sixties American poet Frank O'Hara. The key passage is from the poem Mayakovksy, quoted by Don in a voice-over from the first episode, :

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

But this also refers to the key theme of the episode: The Cuban Missile Crisis. We see everybody's reaction to the very real fear of a nuclear attack. All of the characters really are afraid they won't live to see the next day, and from what I have heard first hand from people who lived through that, they really were concerned they might not be alive the next day.

The first major plot point is Don's oblique, Clinton-esque confession of his infidelities. Betty seems to accept this, and we see that Don evidently made the right decision by coming up with some manner of confession. I think many in the blogosphere had debated whether he should confess to continue to stonewall. Now we know-- he wasn't getting anywhere by continuing to insult Betty's intelligence.

Later, we see the creepy Father Gill delivering a sermon exhorting his parishioners to prepare themselves, blah, blah. You have to wonder why Peggy keeps going to church, since she obviously doesn't buy into it. Later on, when he starts getting on her case, her reaction was basically the same as mine: Mind your own frikkin' business. Ugh.

Does Betty's 'Looking for Mr. Goodbar' moment come as a big surprise? Probably not, although at first I thought it might be a flashback to when she first met Don. Given some of her previous flirtations, you could probably see that coming. And it doesn't seem like she has too much to feel guilty about, given Don's behavior. I have a feeling we might see more of this kind of thing from Betty when we jump two years ahead next season.

Possibly my favorite scene from the last two seasons: The meeting to confirm the merger, Duck's big moment. He will be president of Sterling Cooper, or so it appears. Seems like the alcohol made Duck a lot more assertive, and possibly a lot stupider. His main point is that a larger company will get better prices on advertising, making Creative irrelevant. And Don will have to find another profession if he doesn't like it. Oh, wait.. Don doesn't have a contract? Oops! If Duck wasn't drinking so much, maybe he would have known that. I loved the way the Saint John Powell just dismissed him--"He never could hold his liquor,". I'm guessing that the merger will go through, and that Duck is history. But I just loved the way Don handled that.

Also, looks like Pete made the right choice. You could tell he was uncomfortable with Duck, and that he respects Don. The key point is that Pete wants to succeed, but on his own merits, and not by being Duck's sycophant.

Something else that you could see coming- Pete getting real with Peggy. But what she said in return will have a lot of implications for next season. My guess is that Pete will somehow manipulate it so that he and Trudy can adopt Peggy's illegitimate baby. But who knows?

So to conclude, I'm we all agree that it is killing us that the season is over. But such is life.

http://brethenson.blogspot.com/2008/10/notes-on-season-finale-of-mad-men_27.html

October 27 2008 at 12:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bret Henson's comment
drklrdbill

Who did he mail that book to? I seemed to have missed that somewhere this season? Thanks!

October 28 2008 at 2:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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