Monday, November 09, 2009

"Mad Men" Season 3 Finale: Made of Awesome!

“Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, how may I help you?”

That, right there, says it all. After an often-punishing season that seemed to be building to the collapse of the “Mad Men” universe and much associated misery, Weiner & co. instead presented us with a holiday basket of a finale. I don't know if I'd call "Shut the Door. Have a Seat" the best MM episode ever, but it was without a doubt one of the most satisfying and purely enjoyable. A corporate gut-and-run that plays like a ’60s heist film! Don, Bert, and Roger allies again! Peggy, Pete, and Joan back in the SC fold! Add to that Don having to give Peggy, and even Pete (admittedly under duress), the props they deserve, Lane Pryce throwing in his lot with the Yanks and finally telling PP&L where to get off, and plenty of guffaw-inducing lines to go around (golden pork chops! nervous poodles!), and there’s really not much more that any MM fan could desire.

In fact, the Great Sterling Coup was more than most fans probably imagined even in their headiest dreams. Who among us can honestly say we saw it coming? While I recall some speculation from a few particularly prescient folks that Don, Roger, and Bert might try to buy back Sterling Cooper, I doubt anyone could have foreseen that Don and Roger would set aside their grievances with one another, that Bert Cooper would get his mojo back (a beautiful thing to see), that Pryce’s indeterminate position would prove vitally useful, and, perhaps most importantly, that Don would finally swallow his pride and acknowledge the need to make others feel valued. It was like a tonic to see the fun side of “Mad Men”—which we haven’t really seen in a while—and all of our favorites together again, humming like a newly refitted machine. Well, all of our favorites minus Sal (who seems permanently uninvited from the party, given the continued importance of Lucky Strike) + Harry Crane, who continues to stumble his way up the career ladder. Does the man’s dumb luck never run out? Personally, I’d swap him out for Paul, who at least gives me a good laugh now and again, and whom I felt a twinge of sympathy for in the moment he realized, once again, he was being left behind.

Of course we don’t get to this point without an obligatory trip to Don’s dark side. The other major storyline of the episode—the Draper divorce—not surprisingly got overshadowed by the rebirth of Sterling Cooper. Yet the two plots are integrally related, as the implosion of Don’s family life causes him to reevaluate and take new direction in his professional life. The realization doesn’t come easily, to say the least: Don’s confrontation of Betty about Henry Francis was nakedly ugly and scary, not to mention hypocritical, and his goodbyes to Sally and Bobby heartbreaking. But ultimately he seemed to accept that that phase of his life, like his time at Sterling Cooper I, is over, and it’s time to start building a new one.

As for Betty and Henry, I find their pairing somewhat more interesting than most MM viewers seem to, but not so much that I want to see it front and center next season. That said, if they do end up marrying, I wouldn’t mind seeing them pop up occasionally as a rising power couple.

Which brings me to the broader question for MM: What next? And when next? Truthfully, I have no idea. I don't know whether season 4 will pick up a few months or a few years in the future. I don't know if the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will hit the ground running or flounder initially, or how much of the growing pains we'll see. More generally, I’ve been wondering for some time whether Don Draper—and by extension Sterling Cooper—will move forward with the sea changes of the ’60s, or be left in their wake. I’m still wondering. But they have Peggy, and they have Pete, and they have a reenergized Don. And to me, that means the world is theirs for the taking.

Some favorite moments (there were so many!)

-Trudy signaling to Pete - from another room, no less! - that he's going off the rails ("Peter, may I speak to you for a moment?"), followed by him shuffling his feet like a little boy and Don smirking. It's official, I'm on team Pete & Trudy. Though it'll be interesting to see what sharing a desk will do to the Pete-Peggy dynamic.

-Pete's nervously loud "Hey everybody, Harry Crane is here!"

-Bert Cooper threatening to lock Harry in the storeroom

-Don kicking down the door to the Art Dept.

-"Very good. Happy Christmas!"

-Every line out of Roger's mouth. Does John Slattery ever not kill in his delivery?

-Every moment involving Joan

-Every moment involving Roger & Joan

-This exchange:
Roger: Peggy, can you get me some coffee?
(A beat)
Peggy: No.

ETA: Did Don really say to Peggy "I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you?" I heard "won't." But "will" makes more sense in context, and makes that scene, in retrospect, quite moving.


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