By John Andrew Fraser
Sooner or later, everything ends. Sometimes it ends while you’re sharing a plate of onion rings with your family at one of New Jersey’s best diners. Sometimes it ends with life simply moving on as people slide into new positions recently vacated by others, like the world is some kind of complex ecosystem. And sometimes it concludes with the Hollywood ending you always wanted and you die surrounded by the empire you created as cops rush the scene. Mad Men ended tonight, and many will say that the golden age of television drama ended with it. To an extent that may be true—I don’t know that we’ll necessarily see a show quite like Mad Men (or The Sopranos, or The Wire, or Breaking Bad) ever again—but there is still great television being made right now and there will still be great television in the future. But Mad Men was unique in so many ways—it meandered, it took its time, it often confounded viewers, and it was never afraid to get weird. It was one of a kind, and for that reason, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that its finale was totally unique as well.
Don never made it back to New York (at least not on camera). He found out Betty was dying and seemed to make a half-hearted plea to raise their sons, but as soon as Betty reminded him that he wasn’t a big part of their lives to begin with he almost instantly seemed to know that she was right. Instead, he finally makes his way to California and meets up with Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie (and I have to admit that I did not expect to see Stephanie in this final episode). He joins Stephanie on some kind of self-help yoga retreat in the California wilderness. She’s given away her child, just like Peggy, and the kid will grow up without his mother, just like a young Don Draper/Dick Whitman. Don seems eager to try to shed the last vestige of his past when he offers to give Stephanie Anna’s ring. “Move forward,” he tells her (the same advice he gave Peggy in the hospital after she gave birth), but Stephanie isn’t taking his words of wisdom, “I don’t think it works like that,” she tells him.
I’ll be honest, at this time, I’m not exactly sure what Don found on that retreat, or if he even found anything at all. It’s almost like when Tony Soprano looked out over the Las Vegas desert while high on peyote and screamed, “I get it!” Did he come to the conclusion that he was just like Leonard, the everyman who should be happier—the guy who said his family looks at him, but never really sees him? And if Don did reach some kind of epiphany, would he really just turn around, turn it into an advertisement, and sell it back to McCann? Did he even dream up the famous coke commercial to begin with? Or did he think “I’m just like this guy Leonard, people can’t really see me for who I am, I don’t even know if I can see myself for who I am, I’ve failed with my family over and over again, but my one real talent is creating advertisements, it’s what I do, and I have to go back with this idea.” My guess is that this is going to be Matt Weiner’s version of The Soprano’s cut-to-black finale—fans will be debating what that final scene means for years. And there’s no clear answer (or at least to me there’s no clear answer), which makes it both great and frustrating at the same time. For eight years, Mad Men has been asking us whether people can change, now it’s all over—my feeling is that it’s pretty optimistic in its belief that people, in general, can change. But what about Don? I’m still just not sure.
The rest of the episode seemed far less ambiguous and almost a little tidier than I expected. Joan’s boyfriend, Richard, leaves her because he still can’t grasp the concept that she’d rather work than travel the world with him—so she starts Holloway & Harris, a production company where she won’t have to answer to anyone. When we last see Joan she’s using her babysitter as a secretary and running the operation out of her home, which may seem small time, but it’s worth remembering that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s headquarters was originally located in a hotel suite. Something tells me that Joan is going to be just fine. Roger seems happy too. He’s going to marry Marie Calvet. The absurdity of this situation seems to suit Roger well. Even he’s amazed at how little anyone cares, and he gets one last “Roger joke” in as he refers to Marie as his mother as they sit together in a café. I don’t know that I have much faith in Roger and Marie’s relationship long-term, considering what we know about both characters. Nevertheless, I think this was a fitting way for Roger Sterling to go out.
My guess is that fans of the show felt that Peggy and Stan also went out in the best way possible. There has been undeniable chemistry between the two ever since they were naked in that hotel room together back in season four, so it’s not exactly surprising that they’d end up together in the finale. Call me unsentimental, however, but I was a little lukewarm on the pairing (I didn’t hate it, I was just lukewarm on it). I just couldn’t help but watch the scene when Peggy and Stan confess their love for one another and think that it was a little beneath Mad Men (although the fact that it didn’t come across as a typically graceful confession was pretty great). Two weeks ago, I was left thinking that all Peggy really needed in life was her octopus painting. Her ending wasn’t bad, it just was more traditional than I expected, but that’s also okay—Peggy Olson has always been the character that Mad Men has viewed with the most hope. It makes sense that she’d get the happiest ending.
It’s hard to believe that it’s all over. I’ve heard many people say that to watch Mad Men is to look back on your own life, and it’s true. When this show premiered eight years ago I was graduating from high school! Since then there have been graduations, birthdays, and funerals in my life. I’ve moved to New York, left, and moved back again. I remember first watching “The Wheel,” while I was on a transcontinental flight back to America in 2009. It’s great how the characters changed, but always seemed to grow into different versions of themselves. And this is what happens in real life too! Take a look at an old year book, or a photo album, or an old picture on facebook, and you’ll see the same thing—you’re still you, but you’ve also changed. I keep thinking about Betty’s letter to Sally last week as the perfect illustration of this. On one hand, she acknowledges that she understands Sally and that she’s no longer afraid for her. She tells her to embrace the adventure. On the other hand, a large part of that letter is devoted to telling Sally how Betty wants to look at her funeral—Betty’s definitely changed, but she’s still Betty.
I’ve watched these characters make progress and then backslide so many times throughout the years that sometimes I almost feel like I can see little parts of myself in them. That might sound weird, and I don’t think that by watching Mad Men I’m fulfilling some kind of fantasy where I get to see myself on t.v. (I’m pretty sure I’d never want to see that), but it has led me to grow more attached to Mad Men than perhaps any other show I’ve ever watched. When you strip everything else away, the big ideas that Mad Men dealt with—personal identity, happiness, and fulfillment—are so universal, it’s hard not to relate at least a little on a personal level. For eight years, fans of Mad Men tuned in to watch something that they knew was special and unique. So many times it swung for the fences and delivered great moments. You almost want to buy the world a coke just thinking about it.
- True story: I’ve basically given up drinking soda, but today my roommate was drinking a can of coke and for some reason I just felt compelled to go out and buy one too. I guess the moral of the story is to never discount real-life foreshadowing?
- I loved that when Pete told Peggy that she’d be a creative director by 1980 and that someday people would brag about having worked with her, she responded with the classic Pete line, “a thing like that.”
- For some reason the line that made me laugh the hardest this week was when Joan asked Ken how his son was doing and he responded, “He’s kind of weird actually. We think he might have problems.”
- Weiner really spread the love in this episode. Nearly every major character showed up (even Ken Cosgrove and Harry Crane). Some were speculating that this last episode might only focus on Don, but that clearly wasn’t the case.
- So that’s it. We’ve reached the end of the road. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my Mad Men season seven recaps. Even though I’ll miss writing these, I won’t miss staying up until all hours of the night on Sundays. In closing, I’d like to thank everyone who has read and commented, and I’d also like to thank Colin for allowing me to post on his blog.
By John Andrew Fraser
As Mad Men’s final season draws to its halfway point, it’s only fitting that many of the show’s characters are looking back on the choices they’ve made as they continue to try to move forward into a future that looks absolutely nothing like the world they once inhabited in the early 1960s. Above all else, ‘The Strategy’ is an episode where Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, Don Draper, Joan Harris, and even Bob Benson examine the choices they have made and the choices they will continue to make. Specifically, they consider how many of these choices—most involving their work lives—have effected their family lives.
There’s a reason why I listed Peggy’s name first in the above paragraph, as she is very much the center of this episode. It’s been well documented that Peggy has had a pretty horrible season thus far. She’s been underappreciated at work, and she seemingly doesn’t have many people to turn to in her personal life. Things don’t start off much better for her in ‘The Strategy’—she’s pitching a commercial for Burger Chef to a visiting Pete Campbell. The commercial is selling pure nostalgia—a woman bringing a fast-food meal into her home to feed her family—the kind of thing the old Sterling Cooper used to do so well, and Peggy nails the pitch. Pete is impressed, but he still thinks that Don should be the one to present the idea to Burger Chef. As far as we’ve come in the Mad Men universe, it’s still a man’s world. Pete even describes Peggy by saying “you know she’s as good as any woman in this business.”
Peggy looks like she might be on the verge of a Michael Ginsberg-style breakdown after this most recent setback. She’s unsatisfied with her original Burger Chef idea and ultimately decides to abandon it. She’s waking up in the middle of the night to piles of scattered research papers and calling Don on Saturdays to complain that his ideas aren’t good enough. Finally, the two meet on a weekend night in the empty SC&P office and it’s here that they, perhaps out of a feeling of mutual loss and frustration, start to remember why they made such a good team in the first place. This scene reminded me of the brilliant season four episode ‘The Suitcase,’ but in reverse—Peggy is spiraling downward and Don (even though he has plenty of issues of his own) is there for her in a time when she probably needs it the most. Don might be the only person in the world who truly gets Peggy, and Peggy might be the only person in the world who truly gets Don. When she tells him that she just turned thirty, that she’ll never be the mom in the Burger Chef ad, and that she doesn’t even know if that kind of mother or family even exists anymore, Don must agree with her on some level. After all, that family never existed for him. It’s only fitting that the two start dancing to Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way,’ after all, both Don and Peggy have done things their own way, but sometimes things can be lonely at the top.
‘The Strategy’ also marks the return of Pete Campbell and Bob Benson (Beloit College, Wharton MBA, Don Draper-esque fraud). While Pete’s in the tri-state area to visit his old family, Bob Benson’s in town to start a new one. In a business full of opportunists, Bob might be the biggest one of them all. After learning from a Chevy-executive that SC&P will be losing the XP account and that he’ll be moved in-house at Buick, he asks Joan to marry him, even though dating women isn’t exactly Bob’s thing. “GM wants their executives to maintain a certain type of image,” Bob explains to her. According to Bob, “it would be realistic,” (Bob might be an opportunist, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be a romantic). There’s an underlying feeling of sadness to all of this, especially when Bob reminds Joan that at her age she might not get a better chance to take her son and live in a Detroit mansion. But while guys like Bob Benson (and Don Draper) thrive on fraud, Joan’s looking for something more authentic, even if it means that her son might not ever have a true father figure. Bob cares about family for the sake of work, Joan cares about family for the sake of family—that’s the choice she’s made.
Speaking of kids without father figures, Tammy barely recognizes Pete when he returns home to Cos Cob, and Trudy is nowhere to be found. Work (plus some of his other choices) has pushed Pete to California, and now he’s very much a stranger in his own home. When Trudy does finally return, Pete illustrates his frustration by sticking a beer bottle into a cake that’s sitting out on the counter. It’s not quite a nail in the coffin, but I’m pretty sure Trudy’s getting that divorce she wanted. To make matters worse, his messy family life and his duties at the office don’t allow Pete to spend much time with his new girlfriend, Bonnie, and she ends up going back to California early. In the end, he’s really only left with SC&P (kind of like Peggy).
In the end, this is what makes ‘The Strategy’s’ final scene so perfect. Peggy’s new pitch involves selling the idea that Burger Chef is a place where people can go to commune. It’s a place where you can forge a bond so deep that your dining partners become your family. It’s only fitting then that Peggy, Don, and Pete—three of Mad Men’s most interesting, complex characters—end this episode by sharing a meal together at Burger Chef. Both Megan and Bonnie have left for LA (on the same flight no less), but Pete and Don are left behind with their work family. These characters share connections that run so deep—Don is Peggy’s mentor, and Pete and Peggy literally had a child together back in season one. The three of them might not have a lot right now, but they have each other. Once again Mad Men has given us something that looks a little bit like hope. Is it going to take that away from us next week?
By John Andrew Fraser
Normally, an episode of Mad Men will follow two or three (or maybe four) of the show’s characters through their respective worlds over the course of a couple of days, or a week, or some other roughly equivalent amount of time. Sometimes very little seems to happen to these characters on a surface level during this amount of time, but there will almost always be some thematic element that ties these stories together. Characters’ lives will run parallel, or contrast, or connect in some way. I’m not quite sure that ‘The Runaways’ is that kind of an episode. From the beginning, it was almost bursting with plot points, and a ton of characters were involved. This made for a sometimes chaotic, yet very entertaining hour of television. You know something weird is going on when there’s a scene involving a threesome on Mad Men and it doesn’t even come close to the episode’s craziest moment.
Lou Avery is even more lame than we could have possibly imagined. I was a big Underdog fan growing up, and I can tell you, Scout’s Honor is no Underdog. Who wants to watch a weird monkey cartoon when they could watch an awesome dog fight crime? When Lou weirdly equates himself to Bob Dylan after the rest of the creative staff finds out about his cartoon ambitions, it only makes him look more pathetic.
Remember two weeks ago when I suggested that the girl who approached Don during his business meeting with a rival ad agency might have been Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie? Turns out I was wrong, because Stephanie shows up in this episode seven months pregnant and looking like she belongs on Marigold Sterling’s commune. Apparently, you could take cross-country flights like it was nothing in 1969, because when Stephanie calls Don at the office, he tells her to go to Megan’s house in Laurel Canyon and to wait for him. On the surface, Megan does all the right things when Stephanie shows up. She cooks her steak, gives her clean clothes, and lets her take a bath, but there was definitely still the sense that Megan couldn’t wait to get Stephanie out of her house. She’s hosting a party for her acting friends, and she doesn’t want Don’s messy past to get in the way. Ultimately, Don never even gets to see Stephanie. She’s probably the most literal runaway in this episode—it appears she has tuned in and dropped out—but really this episode is full of young people thumbing their noses at the older generation, from the “flag-burning snots” that make up SC&P’s creative team to Sally Draper.
Speaking of Sally, she sure knows how to land a blow where it will hurt the most (and in this way she’s probably more like Betty than she’ll ever admit). After Betty rightfully gets upset with Henry for leaving her in the dark with regard to his political views on Vietnam and for generally treating her like a child, she receives a call from Miss Porter’s—Sally’s bruised her nose (while sword fighting with golf clubs…). When Betty starts to lay into her daughter, Sally points out that Betty would be worthless without her perfect looks. This had to cut Betty deep, after failing to be the perfect mom on Bobby’s field trip earlier this season and then leaving Henry hanging at the progressive dinner here, she must be wondering, “what exists beyond life as a trophy wife?” I’m interested to see where Betty goes from here. It’s becoming increasingly obvious to her that she’s not content with her current life and that no one really values her. Maybe she’ll go to work with Francine.
Back in LA, Megan gets to have her party. Everyone’s getting high and listening to Blood Sweat and Tears until Harry Crane shows up. Don’s tired of watching Megan dance with some other guy, so he asks Harry if he wants to go out and grab a drink. At this point, we’re about forty-five minutes into the episode, but that doesn’t mean that Matthew Weiner and co-writer David Iserson can’t drop a bomb on us—Harry tells Don that Lou and Jim Cutler are actively pursuing Phillip Morris’s Commander cigarettes and that if they land the account, Don will be out of a job at SC&P, since he famously told off American Tobacco in the New York Times after Lucky Strike dropped SCDP as a client back in season four. Don is so floored by this news that when he returns to Megan’s later that night, he can’t even seem to enjoy a threesome with Megan and her actress friend, who looks like Julianne Moore. Don’s mind is on work. Plus, he really wanted to hang out with Megan and Stephanie while in California, the extracurriculars with Megan’s red-headed actress friend aren’t going to fill that hole.
Sensing what’s on the line, Don shows up to the Phillip Morris meeting unannounced. Even though neither his “partners” at the agency nor the Phillip Morris guys really want him there, Don pitches himself as the ultimate tobacco salesman, someone who saved cigarettes from the gallows. Someone who told off American Tobacco, which just happens to be Phillip Morris’ biggest competitor. Whether this pitch works for Don or not remains to be seen, but it might be the most “Don Draper thing” he’s done since about season four.
Okay, so I saved the weirdest for last. I always thought that Michael Ginsberg seemed like kind of a strange guy, and some of his comments have been especially off-color this season. When he sticks tissue paper in his ears in an attempt to drown out the computer’s humming, he looks like the alien he always claimed to be, but nothing could have truly prepared me for Ginsberg’s fate in this episode. It was crazy enough that he felt like the computer was going to turn everyone in the office gay and that he tried to have sex with Peggy, but the “nipple gift” has to rank right up there with Mad Men’s weirdest moments—it’s alongside Peggy stabbing Abe with a makeshift bayonet and the lawnmower accident in the season three episode ‘Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.’ This has to be the strangest way that a character has ever been written off a show, and poor Peggy, as if her life hadn’t sucked enough already this season, she had to be the one to call the mental facility to come take away one of her co-workers (plus, she had to look at a severed nipple).
Lou Avery and Jim Cutler might be the closest thing Mad Men has ever had to bad guys. I kind of liked Cutler’s final words to Don, “you think this will save you?” It seemed so evil and a little over-the-top for a show that doesn’t usually do those kinds of things. But I can’t say that I’m not eagerly anticipating some kind of ultimate showdown between Don and these two. Lucky for Don, he’s known the secret of tobacco all along—it’s toasted.
By John Andrew Fraser
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey hit theaters on April 2, 1968—about a year before this episode of Mad Men takes place. In that film, monkeys gathered around a mysterious black slab as they learned to use bones as tools. That same black slab reappears in one of the movie’s final scenes as an elderly Dr. David Bowman reaches out to touch it while he is on what appears to be his death bed. That monolith was infinite, just like the one Lloyd, the Lease Tech guy, describes to Don.
Like 2001, ‘The Monolith’ is full of little nuggets concerning man’s past, present, and what exists beyond. When Lloyd asks Don for a light he muses, “the perils of technology; man can’t make fire.” Ginsberg’s angry because SC&P’s new computer is presently pushing the agency’s creatives to the side. Meanwhile, Roger and his daughter gaze up at the moon, and she wonders if we’ll ever put a man up there.
While the episode’s title is obviously referring to the large, upright slab that is the agency’s new computer, it’s also a reference to the large and increasingly impersonal corporate structure that has taken over at SC&P this season—of which the computer is really just the latest symptom. Volatile creative geniuses, like Don Draper, have been replaced by adequate, yet boring, middle managers like Lou Avery—not only at SC&P but all over corporate America. After watching ‘The Monolith’ it’s hard not to think that everyone at the agency is really just a cog in the machine. After a certain amount of time, they’ll all end up in the dump right next to a pile of out-dated IBM models.
It didn’t take long for Don to break the rules at work. To be fair, Jim Cutler and the other partners seem like they’re trying their best to make him fail. Don is the kind of employee who doesn’t receive agency-wide memos, he’s basically left to play solitaire in his office by himself all day, and when he is finally given an account, he’s forced to work under his former-protege who currently hates him. When he goes to Bert Cooper with the idea to present to Lease Tech while their in the office installing the computer, Bert basically tells Don that he’s about as valuable to SC&P as Lane Pryce’s rotting corpse. That’s the last straw—Don’s pouring out the coke and downing the vodka.
Perhaps the one partner who could have actually helped Don through his rough couple days at work was out of the office dealing with his own problems for most of this episode. The apple sure doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Sterling family. While Mona was rightfully turned-off by her daughter’s commune lifestyle, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised (given the commune-like atmosphere in his own hotel room) that Roger decided to stick around and smoke some weed with Margaret and her cult friends. After awhile, I almost felt like Roger was just going to stay on the commune and leave the ad world behind (would anyone at SC&P, besides Don, really even miss him at this point?). But after he sees Margaret sneak off with some hippy in the middle of the night, his paternal instincts kick in, and he tells her that she needs to be at home with her son. But Margaret’s just like her dad. He was never there for her when she was a child, so why does she need to be there for her kids? Roger suggesting otherwise just makes him a hypocrite. Who’s to say that if Roger Sterling hadn’t been born thirty-years later that he wouldn’t be living on a commune in upstate New York too? Where do Roger and his mud-stained suit go from here?—maybe to beat up some rednecks in a bar?—I’m guessing that the answer isn’t going to be good.
Despite all his stupid decisions, on some subconscious level, maybe Don knew he wanted to save himself from officially getting fired from SC&P. He calls Freddy Rumsen—maybe the only guy capable of talking some sense into him. Freddy’s hit rock bottom. He’s the ultimate cautionary tale from advertising’s golden age and he can see that Don’s halfway down the same path. He delivers a harsh but necessary message to Don, “start from the bottom, because that’s really all you can do at this point,” and the episode ends with Don promising Peggy his twenty-five tag lines by lunchtime. I think that there’s something to the fact that Don promises the tags, rather than I actually delivering them.
As we’ve learned from Mad Men and its predecessor, The Sopranos, real change is often difficult and painful to achieve. Don Draper spent a lot of this episode back-sliding, but things seemed to end with him preparing to get back on the right track. But how long until someone finds that empty bottle of vodka in his office? How long until there are more empty liquor bottles in Don’s trash? How long until Lloyd tells someone about his strange encounter with boozy-Don? How long until Don’s replacement is no longer Lou Avery, but HAL 3000?
By John Andrew Fraser
It’s almost always frustrating when reality fails to match up with our hopes, dreams, and the images we construct for ourselves in our minds. I bet Don felt like Megan would be happy to see him when he surprised her in California. I bet he visualized his return to SC&P as some kind of triumphant event where he’d come riding in on a white horse and drop-kick Lou Avery out a thirtieth-story window. It seems pretty clear that at least a part of Betty Draper dreams of becoming the perfect mother. Unfortunately, in ‘Field Trip,’ none of these things work out the way these two characters had planned. In fact, they don’t work out at all.
Megan is happy to see Don at first, but things quickly turn sour when she finds out that he’s really in Los Angeles to check up on her per her agent’s request. She expects the worst from Don when he’s back in New York by himself. He’s always away from the phone when she calls the office. When he calls back it’s always quiet—her guess is that he’s probably off cheating on her while consuming copious amounts of Canadian Club whiskey somewhere in a midtown Manhattan hotel. Megan’s about a season too late with the accusations of adultery, but somehow when the truth comes out about why Don’s never around his office phone it’s even more painful. The fact that Don had been lying to her about his work situation for months, the fact that he clearly doesn’t want to move to L.A. to be with her, makes her reevaluate everything. Last week, honesty led Don to the smallest ray of light. This week, it threw him back into the darkness. Maybe this is where it ends for Don and Megan.
Meanwhile, something sparks inside Betty while she’s having lunch with her old Ossining friend, Francine. While both used to be housewives, Francine’s now working as a travel agent, a job she calls a “reward.” Betty responds by claiming that her place is at home with her kids. Apparently, she really sells herself on this idea, because as soon as she gets home she volunteers to go on a school field trip with Bobby’s class to an upstate New York farm.
Everything about the trip feels weird. Betty’s sitting on the bus talking with her son about the Wolfman and Dracula. Bobby’s teacher isn’t wearing a bra. The class gets off at the farm, and Betty volunteers to drink cow’s milk straight from a pail. What?! Betty’s actually being a pretty good mom for once, until she lashes out at Bobby during lunch time for trading her sandwich for some gumdrops. Betty wanted so badly to prove to herself that she really was a good mother, but in the end, the reality of it is that she just reverts to being Betty.
I give Don some credit. He could’ve used his fight with Megan as an excuse to go on a forty-eight hour bender or something, but when he gets back to New York he seems clear-headed and hungry. He’s still being courted by other agencies, and in this episode he finally gets a formal offer from one. This matches an offer he gets from a random blonde girl who claims to know him (random question: Was I the only one who thought that this girl looked exactly like Anna Draper’s niece—I believe her name was Stephanie—who we met briefly in season four? I was sure it was her when she appeared onscreen last night). I thought Don might take the bait (from both the girl and the new agency), but he really just used the offer as leverage during an impromptu meeting with Roger. Don wants to come back, and maybe it’s because he doesn’t want his BLT to get cold, but Roger tells him to return on Monday.
But on Monday Don is that kid who invited himself to the party (rather than the guy strolling in on the white horse). He’s the man in the corner who’s left alone while everyone talks
behind his back. Ginsberg and Stan might be happy to see him, but the partners are not thrilled to say the least. Jim Cutler even thought that they had fired him. Ultimately, the partners decide to bring Don back, not because they particularly like him or respect him, but because it would take too much money to buy him out (and the agency’s eyeing a new computer!) His return is based on several conditions, however: he’s not to be alone with clients, he must stick to the script in meetings, he can’t drink in the office, and he has to report to Lou. Oh yeah, and he gets to take the office where Lane hung himself. Can Don Draper really change? We’re about to find out.
From Don’s first day back, to a possible Stephanie sighting, to Betty and Bobby’s country excursion, much of ‘Field Trip’ seemed like it took place in a weird kind of off-kilter reality. Sometimes when you step away from things and later return, everything seems like its upside down. I guess it’s only fitting then that this episode closes with Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 were 9.”
By John Andrew Fraser
Don Draper’s apartment is kind of like mine. Alright, his is way nicer, but we both have cockroaches that periodically scurry around our kitchens, and judging by the fact that he’s eating a meal that consists of Ritz crackers, I’d guess that our cooking abilities are roughly equivalent as well. Last week Don enlisted Freddy Rumsen to be his mouth while he was on leave. This week we learn that Dawn, his old secretary, is his eyes and ears at SC&P. He’s also taking lunches with other ad agencies, although they’ve heard the news—he broke down and cried in a meeting about chocolate or something like that.
Speaking of SC&P, things seem more fractured and disorganized at the office than ever. Is it possible that the sum of the agency’s parts no longer add up to a greater whole? The communications between California and New York are disjointed at best, and everybody seemed to want to fire their secretary in this episode. I noticed this last week, but I think it’s worth saying now—It really feels like all the old SCDP partners are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Obviously, Don’s out of the agency completely, and I don’t think we got one scene with Roger in the office last week. This week Jim Cutler tells Roger that he doesn’t want him to be an adversary (a.k.a. step aside old man). It’s worth asking just how long it might be until Roger and Bert Cooper are put out to pasture just like Don.
Yet, as SC&P might be beginning to burst at the seems, Joan and Dawn come out as real winners in this episode. Joan got no love last week, but finally Jim Cutler (of all people) notices that she has actually been working two jobs ever since she became a partner—she’s head of the secretaries while managing accounts. Cutler gives her a second floor office and tells her that she can pick someone new to head up the secretaries. Dawn was a perfect fit for this position and the scene where she inherits Joan’s office was one of the episode’s best. Lou Avery sucks (he can’t even buy his wife perfume when he’s supposed to), but Dawn might never have gotten that promotion if Lou didn’t blow up at her for not being at her desk when Sally unexpectedly arrived at the office. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.
While things were looking up for Joan and Dawn, Peggy still seemed to be stuck in the mud. For a second, I thought she was going to have another breakdown like the one at the end of last week’s episode when she found out that those flowers she thought were from Ted were actually for Shirley, her secretary. Nobody at SC&P really seems to be on Peggy’s side anymore, and she’s become increasingly isolated, drinking and brooding in her office during the day like she was channeling the ghost of Don Draper. So many fans thought that Peggy would be the female character on the show to finally break through the glass ceiling at the agency, but at this rate I wouldn’t be completely surprised if she ended up pursuing something else entirely as the series’ ended.
While the office politics were interesting, the real emotional core of this episode for me involved the scenes between Don and Sally. Those who thought that Don’s confession and cautious glance he shared with his daughter at the end of season six would magically mend the cracks in their relationship were wrong. Mad Men and real life don’t work that way. However, even though the two characters still have a lot healing to do, there was progress here. While Sally catches Don in another lie, when she visits the office and finds out that he no longer works there, he owns up to it and tells her that he was fired for telling the truth about his past at
a very inappropriate time. The two also speak openly about his affair with Sylvia for the first time. When Don asks Sally what he should write in a note to her school explaining why she would be late getting back, and she responds “tell the truth,” she’s talking about so much more than just the letter. At this point, it seems like Sally sees her dad for who he really is, flaws and all, and although she may be disappointed, she has gained a tentative level of acceptance. When she says “I love you” to Don at the end of the episode, it might be the most uplifting moment Mad Men has had in about two seasons.
Overall, I’d say that ‘A Day’s Work’ left me feeling a little more optimistic than last week’s ‘Time Zones.’ Still, there were a ton of death references to work with here. The reason that Sally pops into Don’s life is because she’s attending her roommate’s mother’s funeral in the city (and Don appears to be weirdly interested in the fun, eral). Pete Campbell (who seems a lot more like the old Pete Campbell in this episode), says that ever since he moved to California he feels like no one notices him. “It’s like I’ve gone to heaven, or hell, or purgatory,” he tells Ted. Ted’s response?—“You’re going to die someday. Just cash the checks.” What’s all this setting us up for? Mad Men is a pretty morbid show most of the time, so I don’t know if we can really even guess yet. But for now, it’s just good to know that on Valentine’s Day a simple and genuine “I love you,” is almost always more meaningful than the stuff that the Don Draper’s of the world try to sell us. I think even Don himself realized that on some level tonight. That’s progress, right?
By John Andrew Fraser
At this point, I’ve read a couple reviews of Mad Men’s first episode of its final season in which critics have said that ‘Time Zones’ reminded them of the series’ pilot ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,’ but personally, this episode made me think of the season five finale ‘The Phantom.’ The overarching theme of that episode was that Mad Men’s central characters were pursuing something that they could never achieve—perhaps something that didn’t even exist. Don was chasing happiness, which he hoped to find in his new relationship with Megan. Roger was chasing meaning, which he hoped to find through LSD, and Peggy was chasing a fresh start to her career, which she hoped to find at rival ad agency Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough.
In ‘Time Zones’ we see more clearly than ever that the show’s main characters are still chasing meaning, happiness, professional success, and personal fulfillment in their lives, but are all on the verge of despair because achieving these things proves to be so difficult for them (the exception to this is Pete Campbell who strangely seems at home in laid-back California). Peggy now has to deal with creative director Lou Avery who doesn’t seem to care at all about the quality of the work Sterling Cooper & Partners produces so long as it’s done on time. Joan still has to combat everyone who doesn’t take her seriously, whether it be someone from Butler shoes or a business professor. Roger has turned to having what appear to be recreational orgies in a hotel room, and when his daughter tells him that she forgives him for all his wrongdoings at brunch, he can’t even summon a half-way appropriate response. But the character trying to fill the biggest hole is obviously Don. He has no job, his wife lives across the continent, and Don even admits to a stranger on a plane that Megan knows that he’s a terrible husband at this point. “I really thought I could get it right this time,” he laments.
What about that stranger on a plane (who just happens to be played by Neve Campbell)? For me, this was the episode’s most interesting and odd scene. Did Neve Campbell’s widow character really exist or was she a figment of Don’s imagination? After all, her entire story seemed to be littered with references to Don’s past and present. She cryptically says that her husband died “of thirst,” and that his business sent him to a hospital to try to help him. She thought he was getting better, but the doctors told her that he would be dead in a year “they all would be.” She had just scattered his ashes at Disneyland, the place where Don proposed to Megan.
So what could all this mean? Obviously, I think there’s a lot of room for interpretation. On a very surface level maybe the woman’s husband was an alcoholic. Maybe Don knows that his drinking is slowly killing him, and the widow’s husband is serving as a mirror. I think Matt Weiner was probably going for something a little deeper here, however. As previously discussed, Don, Peggy, Roger, Joan, and basically everyone else on this show are driven by their thirsts—their desires to chase toward these phantom ideas like happiness and self-realization that always seem to slip from their grasps. Maybe it’s this thirst that will ultimately do these characters in as the series draws to a close.
Even though nothing totally awful happened to any specific character in this episode there was an underlying feeling of dread throughout the whole hour. While characters rarely die on Mad Men the show creates a feeling of impending doom that is unlike anything else on the air right now, and the final scene where Don and Peggy both have breakdowns that mirror one another scored to Vanilla Fudge’s “You Keep Me Hanging On,” highlighted the episode’s overall mood of despair. But on the bright side, Don was the voice behind Freddy Rumsen’s awesome Accutron watch pitch—somewhere a creative genius still lives in the shell that is Don Draper. Can he find a way to harvest that spark over the next thirteen episodes? Can he find anything close to fulfillment or peace? That final scene seems to suggest that the answer is “no,” but who can really tell at this point?
It’s 1969, but things are far from groovy. Throughout the 1960s America chased idealistic (some would say phantom) dreams that ultimately gave way to general disappointment in the 70s. Based on what I saw in ‘Time Zones’ many of Mad Men’s characters look like they may be headed toward similar disappointment in their personal lives as the decade (and the show) draws to a close.
The Killing, the show that started AMC original programming’s downward trend, is being brought back from cancellation…again. Ryan Reynolds sums up my feelings about this perfectly. Netflix has decided to bring back the now twice cancelled show for six episodes in the hopes that it can finally connect with some sort of audience. It’s a low risk-high reward pick up for Netflix, who used the same resurrection technique to successfully bring back Arrested Development earlier this year. But, do I even have to point out the difference in quality between those two shows? I guess I just did.
Now I’m not going to say that The Killing has no chance to succeed. It was originally marketed as a modern Twin Peaks and never came close to being that type of phenomenon. However, Netflix could be the perfect platform for a show like this, a serialized long form drama that could be both easier to digest and more enjoyable through binge watching instead of as a weekly installment. Think: A homeless man’s The Wire (Like reaaaaaaally homeless). Once again it comes back to quality, is The Killing good enough for anyone to care about six more episodes?
Family Guy got cancelled twice by FOX but now anchors the network’s Sunday night lineup. Somewhere in that same span Seth MacFarlane went from writing episodes of Johnny Bravo to hosting the Oscars and dating Khaleesi. Futurama had a short lived second life on Comedy Central, but never recaptured its original success. As I mentioned earlier Netflix revived Arrested Development earlier this year with some mixed reviews, however, the shows popularity and talks of a movie and/or another season are as alive as ever. These shows all have two things in common: they’re comedies with legitimate cult followings.
Unfortunately for Netflix, The Killing is not funny (on purpose at least) and has little to no following. The six episodes will reportedly finish the series and include the original stars. However, there’s no indication that this will work out…at all. I don’t need to see the future to predict that The Killing will soon become another random choice lost in the seemingly infinite (read: too many) list of mediocre Netflix titles.
Its all over. Let it sink in. While it’s unclear who will miss Breaking Bad more: us as viewers or AMC as a top tier network, it’s crystal (blue meth) clear that Breaking Bad is one of the most influential shows in the history of television and not just for its content, but for its presence.
Breaking Bad was a little known show playing second fiddle to AMC’s critical powerhouse Mad Men for its first two and a half seasons or so. I mean Hal from Malcolm in the Middle playing a drug lord? Get right out of town. Cut to: Bryan Cranston winning the first of three straight Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Combine this with consistent and positive word of mouth/social media hype, an easy way for interested viewers to catch up before the new season (borrowing Netflix from your friend who pays for it) and boom: you have a TV drama that’s a pop culture phenomenon by the time season five premieres–the likes of which we hadn’t seen since The Sopranos cut to black in 2007.
Breaking Bad was a serious underdog to become a hit when it premiered but started to gain buzz at the perfect time. Viewers wanted the constant and instant stimulation that has become so common in today’s society from television, and they got it with Netflix and other video on demand options. Binge watching is a huge part of television watching culture, and Breaking Bad is the shining example of how big a show can become because of it. The season 4 finale garnered a (large at the time) 1.9 million viewing audience. Last nights episode? 10.3 million. What?! Cut to: Vince Gilligan thanking Netflix in his Emmy acceptance speech. The difference between Breaking Bad and other great binge watching shows is that it was satisfying as a weekly installment, even after a viewer caught up with Netflix. Watching it live (or a few minutes behind) was still an event every Sunday this season, something that was becoming a thing of the past for dramas, especially ones with commercials. The Wire (widely considered the greatest TV drama of all time) was not nearly as popular until after it was off the air, when it available to be watched in binge form. No one got together with friends on Sundays to watch The Wire in the early to mid 2000s, it just wasn’t a thing to do, it wasn’t an event.
Breaking Bad’s ability to maintain viewer interest as both a binge watching show and as installment came down to its consistency. That’s the main argument Breaking Bad has in the “Greatest TV Drama of All Time” discussion, it was more consistently good than any other show in the history of the medium. Quick: What’s Breaking Bad’s worst season? Weakest episode? Couldn’t tell ya. There was no definitive point that had viewers wondering if the show was on the verge of infamously “jumping the shark.” The Wire had season 5 and The Sopranos had season 4, which both had audiences thinking “is this the same show I’ve been watching this whole time?” Whether or not its better than The Sopranos and The Wire is a debate that will be had for years to come (can we for once breathe for a second before we decide the newest great thing is automatically the best?), but it was consistently episode by episode, season by season better than both.
Breaking Bad ended its run better than most shows do (just ask a Dexter fan) it didn’t take too many chances or leave the ending ambiguous, it was straightforward, gave some needed closure and ended in a way most viewers wanted. I’m not going to say it was perfect (as some have) because it wasn’t, but it kept with its consistent nature, and that alone was enough for a series finale. It brought back scripted event television, if only for one night, in a time when no one watches stuff live anymore and made you forget that Homeland also premiered last night (Whose idea was that by the way?). And with that, we close the book on Breaking Bad and look forward to Aaron Paul continuing to be one of the most like-able celebrities on the planet.
AMC was hoping that their new Detroit based cop drama, Low Winter Sun was going to be hit. They believed in it enough to market it as the next Breaking Bad and used its acclaimed and highly rated methamphetamine drama as a lead in. They tried showing Breaking Bad’s scenes from the next episode after the start of Low Winter Sun, to force viewers to watch for a few minutes. They even gave a summary of the first two episodes hoping that giving audiences the Cliff’s Notes right before the third episode would spark interest. (Spoiler: It didn’t) You’re not fooling us AMC, we can smell your desperation from here.
Despite AMC’s efforts, in just three episodes Low Winter Sun has failed. Ratings have gone from okay to downright laughable. While this may seem like just another bump in the road for the still popular network, AMC has struggled with adding new dramas since The Walking Dead premiered in 2010.
Mad Men and Breaking Bad put AMC on the map as a respected cable network for original television drama. Those two shows are not only two of the greatest dramas of all time, but complement each other nicely, as they are successful in different ways. Mad Men won four straight Outstanding Drama Series Emmys, but has never had an actor/actress from the show win one, and has never had high ratings. Breaking Bad came on slow but has become a cultural phenomenon, has five acting Emmys (3 for Bryan Cranston, 2 for Aaron Paul) but has never won the Outstanding Drama Series (hopefully this will change next month). When the network added The Walking Dead in 2010, it instantly became their highest rated show and is now the highest rated on all of television. Suddenly AMC could do no wrong.
Sure, AMC still has three of the biggest shows in television, however, their recent string of failed dramas (three straight to be exact) is not to be ignored. Especially considering Breaking Bad and Mad Men are on their last seasons. The Killing
was cancelled and brought back so AMC could save face but still no one cares or watches it is headed for another cancellation, Hell on Wheels is an okay fourth or fifth best show on a top cable network but that’s all and now Low Winter Sun looks like the biggest failure out of all of them. If their original series continue to fail to garner interest, AMC’s prowess as a quality cable network will continue to fade, until they decide to just show movies all the time again. Just kidding, but it could happen.