Monday, November 9, 2009

Sterling Cooper Draper Price

It's odd to think of an episode that saw the dissolution of the Draper marriage as being one of the least depressing episodes of the season, but after the downward spiral Don and everyone else has been on of late, a fresh start seems like a good idea. And Mad Men's season 3 finale was certainly a game-changer. With most of the main characters from Sterling Cooper (sorry, Kinsey & Ken) heading into a new agency and Betty heading to Reno, season 4 looks likely to be nothing like the first 3 years, which should make even the most strident season 3 haters excited about what's to come.

After the past two seasons, we know the drill: Mad Men slowly and frustratingly puts its pieces into play, letting it all explode in the final few episodes. And we had already gotten a ton of pay-off this year, between the phenomenal episode 2 weeks ago in which Don confessed his past to Betty, and last week's equally instaclassic in which JFK's assassination led everyone to rethink their lives. Well, those thoughts clearly lasted, as many big changes occurred this week.

All things considered, the Brits haven't had too large of an impact on Mad Men this season. Moneypenny, who initially seemed a kind of British Pete Campbell, has had practically no role. Price has had more of an impact, but still didn't irritate Don nearly as much as Duck Phillips ever did. Still, it was clear that the British storyline would have its resolution this season, and sure enough, the sale of Sterling Cooper was announced right off the bat (and goodbye Conrad Hilton. I can't say I'll miss you).

What I hadn't guessed was that instead of a repeat of last year's finale we'd get something different: a new agency headed by Don, Roger, Cooper, and more surprisingly Price. Most of the fun of the episode (that's right, I used the word "fun" in describing season 3 Mad Men) came in watching the recruitment, providing a number of nice moments between Don and his would-be proteges. Pete, whose need for Don's approval fueled so much of season 1, finally got his much desired pat on the back as Don praised his ability to anticipate future needs. And Peggy finally told Don off after all the many times Don yelled at her this year. It all led to a very nice scene of Don begging her to join, but who else thought Peggy might blow the whole thing by telling Duck first?

Still, as much as I loved Cooper's threat to lock Harry up if he didn't join in, the best recruitment had to be Roger's call to Joan, finally getting her back in the mix. These past few episodes it seems the writers realized fans demanded more Roger and Joan, and made up for it big time. Very welcome to have her be the one answering the phone to first say the new agency's name, even as they work comically out of a small hotel room. Hey, it's a hell of a lot better than Michael Scott Paper Company.

I should mention the other big storyline of the finale: Don and Betty's road to divorce. I guess it's been so inevitable that it didn't even seem too sad, though we did get a rare side of Don as he grabbed her and (almost comically hypocritically) called her a whore. That can go right up there on the Don's Proudest Moments list with "you people." Speaking of Sal, I'm hoping his lack of appearances since his firing doesn't mean he's really off the show. SCDP's going to need an art department, after all.

I'd also like to pause and note the writers managed to go THE ENTIRE SEASON without referring to Peggy and Pete's baby (at least not in words). Though it was delightfully uncomfortable when Trudy came to visit the office and Peggy had to thank her for the sandwiches. There was also no Duck Phillips this episode, so if he has some evil agenda beyond grossing America out with his relationship with Peggy, it's still yet to come.

So, there may have been no one scene that instantly made the season, like Pete and Peggy's talk or Duck's conference room storm out from last year or Don's "The Wheel" pitch from season 1. But what we got was a thoroughly satisfying episode that tied up most of this season's storylines with a promising fresh start for next year. I know Mad Men's taken some heat on the internet for this season, but for all its ups and downs I'd say the past three episodes more than made up for any shortcomings. And I'm certainly eagerly awaiting the official launch of Sterling Cooper Draper Price.

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