Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Missiles Fly in Mad Men's Finale

Mad Men, like The Sopranos, is often slow-paced, letting tensions play out over time. Which makes it all the more incredible when all of those tensions pay off so well as in Sunday night's explosive finale. The episode is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, best to parallel all the character crises that have built up this season. As most of the country panics about the end of the world, Don, Betty, Pete, and Peggy face military stand-offs of the metaphorical variety.

Betty's missile silo comes in the form of an unexpected pregnancy. Estranged from Don and unhappy with the two kids she already has, Betty uses some quality 1960s code words, "It's not the right time," to look into her options. Don sort of admitting his affair with Bobbie Barrett doesn't make the decision for her, but it does lead her into her biggest plunge out of her role yet: a bathroom tryst with a complete stranger. Betty's gone through a lot of changes since she told an 8-year-old she had no one to talk to last year. Maybe this signals an even more evolved Betty in season 3. But whether moved by Don's touching note or just needing someone to help her raise the baby, she lets Don back home. Like with the US and Cuba, the immediate crisis may have ended but the uneasiness remains.

Then there's the season-long cold war between Don and Duck, which comes to a head at the meeting to officially merge Sterling-Cooper with the three-name British company (I'm not learning the name until I'm sure they're staying). At the meeting, Don doesn't give a fancy speech (like last year's classic Wheel pitch) but undermines Duck through a to-the-point resignation and a great exit. The look on Duck's face when he finds out Don doesn't have a contract is priceless, but the horrified look of the Brits as Duck goes into an alcohol-fueled meltdown is even better. It certainly feels like karmic payback for what he did to Chauncey. This scene left Duck's future, Don's future, and the future of Sterling-Cooper all completely up in the air for next season. But regardless of what happens, this battle clearly goes to Don.

Despite Don's multiple crises, Pete may have been this finale's stand-out. Pete's always been my favorite character for his unabashed sleaziness. He's always dependable to screw someone over for his career and to act like a child. Yet even when abandoning his wife for another woman in an emergency, he shows more maturity than it seemed he had in him. He's offered the two things he's wanted most since the pilot: Head of Accounts and Don's approval. Yet though he was willing to blackmail Don for the job last season, he risks it to warn Don of Duck's plans. In the process, he shows a quality it didn't seem he had: loyalty. Way to go.

But the best and most hotly anticipated scene of the night is where Peggy finally reveals to Pete and explains to us what happened to their baby. Father Gil sees the missile crisis as an excuse to get Peggy to confess her secret to him. She doesn't bite, but does take his advice to heart when Pete declares his love for her. As usual, the scene's power rests in the subtext. Pete's shock to find out a baby Campbell exists after being unable to conceive with his wife. Peggy, after growing into a successful ad woman this season, letting herself deal with the secret she worked so hard to hide away, and FINALLY saying that she gave the baby away (so it was not one of the many children in her sister's home after all).

As Cuba stands down, the end of the emergency only leads to continued unease and uncertainty. Don and Betty's marriage, the ad men of Sterling-Cooper, and Pete and Peggy's relationship are all very much undecided. But as unresolved as it may be, this finale did address nearly every major issue of the season (sorry to those wanting more on Dick Whitman). As the high point of a very strong second season, this closer proved why Mad Men is one of the best shows on TV.

1 comment:

marboro said...

he three-name British company (I'm not learning the name until I'm sure they're staying).