Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Mad Men" season finale recap: "Shut the Door. Have a Seat."

WARNING: Below is a recap of the third season finale of "Mad Men." Read no further if you've not seen it.
Peggy: What if I say no? You'll never speak to me again.
Don: No -- I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.

Roger: How long you think it'll take for us to be in a place like this again?
Don: I never saw myself in a place like this.

Don to Betty: I hope you get what you've always wanted.

Wow. Just wow. With so many changes -- so many old chapters closed and new chapters opened -- the third season finale of "Mad Men" felt kind of like a series finale, didn't it? I mean, I know the show's been picked up for a fourth season, but there was just such a sense of closure to this episode, I almost would be OK if this were the last we saw of Don, Peggy and the rest of the gang.
In this episode, appropriately titled "Shut the Door. Have a Seat," we saw Don and Betty finally (I think) put their ailing marriage out of its misery. We saw Don, Bert, Roger, Lane and a chosen few others bail the sinking ship of Sterling Cooper to create their own business. We saw Joan cleverly being drawn back into the fold. And we saw Don finally giving the two women in his life what they wanted: he sets Betty free, and lets Peggy know how truly valuable she is.
I'm not really sure where the show will go from here but, much like the redistricting storyline on "Friday Night Lights," I feel the creation of Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce will help reinvigorate an already solid show, bringing in new problems and new possibilities.
I know it's Matthew Weiner's inclination to jump his story ahead at least a few months and at most a few years every season, but I hope season four doesn't take place too long after the events of this episode. I really want to see the details of what happened after that giddy first day of working out of The Pierre, don't you? If season four starts with everything hunky dory all of a sudden (or with the band already broken up and seeking new jobs after their little venture's collapse), I'll be vastly disappointed. But I don't think that will happen, do you?
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on the season three finale of "Mad Men."
* Well, let's begin from the beginning, shall we? How devastating is it that Don had to find out about PPL's sale from Connie, his onetime client and father figure? I have to wonder, was Don right about Connie? Was the entrepreneur playing with Don to see how he'd hold up? Was he a sadistic jerk? Or can we take his actions at face value? Perhaps he did reject Don's campaign because he genuinely felt Don failed to listen to him. And perhaps he was trying to be kind by tipping Don off about PPL. After all, that advance knowledge does give Don a running start at formulating a new company. The show lets Connie remain a cipher. And kudos to Weiner and co. for managing to not only make a fictional character out of a real life, well known person, but for also making him so surprising, complex and enigmatic. Much like the venture in this episode, the storyline was a gamble. Hopefully, Don's gamble will pay off as well as Weiner's has.
* OK, let's talk about the whole Betty-Don breakup storyline. When the show begins, Don is sleeping in Gene's room in the attic, but still living at home. Though Betty is resolute in her desire to leave him, Don keeps refusing to admit the relationship is over. Even after his blow-up upon learning about Henry (from Roger of all people - this really was Don's week for getting bad news from distressing sources), Don tells his children that the split from Betty is "only temporary." By episode's end, Don has finally decided to let Betty go. Maybe the catharsis of leaving Sterling Cooper before it turned into a place he hated opened Don's eyes. Perhaps it helped him see that, just like him, Betty didn't want to go down with the ship. She was sick of just letting her life happen to her. She needed a fresh start as badly as he did. So, are Betty and Don really done? I hope so. They've been almost splitting up for three seasons now. If the show keeps teasing a break-up, then shoving them back together again, it will just be frustrating. I have a feeling that the show will try to keep Betty on somehow, but in what capacity? It will be interesting to see.
* By the way, how devastating was it to see Don light into Betty about Henry Francis? I had such a mix of emotions during that scene. It was kind of a relief to see Don finally call Betty on her hypocrisy. Of course, Don is also a hypocrite, calling Betty a whore for her relationship with Henry, after he's knocked extramarital boots on both coasts and in a few places in between. But Jon Hamm and January Jones are so good in this moment. Hamm in particular has been nothing short of spectacular in these past few episodes, as the veneer of Don Draper has chipped away, leaving wounded, angry Dick Whitman exposed to lash out at the world. And lash out he did, dropping all the denial about the death of his marriage and tearing into Betty for all it's worth. Bravo!
* As usually happens when Don's life is falling apart, we got an Archie flashback, about how Archie's attempt to strike out on his own as a businessman led to (I'm assuming) his death by horse, right in front of the eyes of young Dick. Is that what Don is secretly scared will happen to him now that he's declared his own independence (well -- not literally. But you know what I mean)? Or is it some kind of foreshadowing that the business is doomed? We'll see.
* Don might have lost Betty for good, but he did win back one of the women in his life. When Peggy balks at Don ordering her to follow him to the new business, Don takes a gentler approach, going to her apartment and telling her how sorry he is for his behavior, and how much she means to him. Elisabeth Moss is so wonderful in this scene, as she quietly loses her icy veneer in the light of Don's tenderness. When she suggests that a rejection of Don's offer will mean losing him for good, the tears in her eyes and voice just about break your heart. That's why we're thrilled when Don seals the deal by telling her that he'll always want to work with her. Sniff.
* Though the other "getting the band back together" scenes weren't quite as emotional, I did love Don finally admitting to Pete that the younger man has been a step ahead on so many things, and the firm needs his vision. Because, for all his faults, Pete really is the idea man he's always seen himself as. It was nice to see Don finally recognize that. I also loved Pryce's gleeful reaction upon getting fired and the glorious sight of Joan, sashaying into the Coop and quickly figuring out how to steal all the information necessary to start the new business. But, when the gang couldn't get the art department door open, a part of me hoped that Sal would bound in like Superman and declare "Never fear! I have a key!" Alas, since Lucky Strike is the cornerstone of the new business, that could never happen. But I can dream. Besides, the sight of Don kicking in the door was almost as good.
* Of all the reactions to the realization that Don and co. have flown the Coop (yes, I have been waiting for an excuse to use that one all season), the most quietly devastating was that of Paul Kinsey. When he opens the door to Peggy's office and realizes that the guys asked her to join the new firm and not him, his whole body slumps. He's not surprised, having figured out long ago how superior Peggy's talent is to his own. But it still hurts. Nice work by Michael Gladis in this brief moment.
* Speaking of which, is this the last we've seen of Kinsey, or of Kenny and his haircut? Will they get hired into the new business if it takes off? Or will the guys opt for more non-traditional thinkers like Pete and Peggy? I'm thinking the latter though, if that's true, I'll sort of miss Kenny and Paul. But I'll learn to live without them.
* I know they had to take Harry, but he's such a jerk. Here's hoping they'll quickly dump him and hand over the TV department to Joan. We know she can handle it.
* I don't know what Pryce was happier about -- the fact that he got to stick it to those jerks at PPL or that he was finally rid of the odious Moneypenny.
* I'm sad that we won't get to see how this risk pays off for nearly a year, but at least "Mad Men" left us with a few good Roger-isms before heading off into the sunset. My favorite? Roger trying to make Pryce comfortable during the discussion of the sale by cooing "Don't act like a stranger. We've got tea!" I also loved his reaction to Jane's obsessing over JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald -- "Most interest that girl's ever had in a book depository."
* Well, that's it for me. I've enjoyed writing these recaps. Please join me next season!


Bill Scurry said...

If this opens the door to a longer engagement with Lane Pryce, so be it. It was very satisfying to see faithful Pryce stick it to St. John by retorting "Very good -- Happy Christmas!"

I kept getting an "Ocean's 11" feel from getting the team together. I just knew there was going to come a moment hen Roger was going to say he knew just the Gal Friday to run the new shop.

Lee said...

Sorry, but I have a hunch that they will, indeed, pick up a few years ahead. Weiner is gunning for a fast-forward to shorter shirts and some sideburns. If he can trash that Sterling Cooper set like that, he's possibly tiring of that period. Just a hunch.

Anonymous said...

I don't think they'll jump ahead more than a few months...Too much historical context here...April 1964 was when the Surgeon General issued the first warning that Cigaretet smoking was harmful to your health...WIth Lucky Strike as their keystone account at the new agency, how they deal with that could be a seminal moment in the success or failure of the new venture.

Anonymous said...

"She (Betty Draper)was sick of just letting her life happen to her." So, what does she do? Hooks up with another guy who's wants to call the shots. Wake up Betts and smell the coffee!

Robert said...

I'm really looking forward to season 4. This is such a wonderful set up, although Betty, Kenny and others might not stick around...

author said...

Great recap. I was pooh-poohing this season all along, but it really picked up and redeemed itself in the last few episodes. I still can't believe Don and Betty split. Good idea about Joan taking over the TV dept and I, too, loved the "we have tea!" line and the other one when Harry was all confused and Roger sarcastically told him, yes, this is all a joke, surprise.

MsRaeNYC said...

I’m with you on this one; there was definitely a sense of finality and even though I would cry if Mad Men ended at this point, story wise, I’d be (85%) okay with it. My prayers for Mr. and Mrs. Don Draper to split up have finally (and hopefully) been fulfilled! Granted, what Peggy did was wrong (and remember that guy from the bar last season?), but Don has no room to talk when it comes to infidelity (I wonder if teacher-woman will come back at all). I would actually like to keep seeing Betty and Henry starting their new life together. And I got to see a side of Don (as you mentioned, Dick Whitman coming out of the shadows) that I don’t think I’ve fully experienced before (yay for Peggy).

I’m excited that Joanie is back in the picture and you’re right; there couldn’t be a better time for this to happen. Funny they should bring Conrad Hilton in; I’d always wondered about him and how he became such a successful hotelier in my days of hospitality (and wondered how someone like Paris could be remotely related to him). But don’t let’s start on celebrity lifestyles at this moment. I think he WAS trying to help Don out by letting him know about the McCann deal. I really hope that we get to see the new agency struggle and develop—it’s too early to flash ahead to some happily ever after, even if it’s temporary.

There were so many great one-liners (moreso than usual) in this episode (Harry: Are you kidding? / Roger: Yes, yes we are. Happy Birthday!) and you make many more good discussion points—we should really get on the phone soonish and discuss some more as I’m leaving work now.

MsRaeNYC said...

Dang it! I meant what Betty did was wrong, not Peggy! I guess I should have previewed before hitting "post."