By: Daniel Reynolds
Welcome to the final stretch of the Mad Men Monday Recap. A show as deep as this one needs some diverse commentary so jump in and enjoy our irreverent breakdown of each episode.
What’s Happening on Madison Avenue?
It is worth taking a minute to discuss what happened in each episode. If you’re looking for some straight talk on what we just saw on Mad Men, read this section (and then read the other sections because, why not).
How will you face the end? Will you be like Don and just run and run until you reach some kind of peaceful oblivion? Will you be like Betty and bravely accept the things you no longer have the power to change? Or will you be like Pete and revisit the person you once were with the wisdom you’ve now gained? Which way would you choose as your end comes up to greet you?
Things aren’t ending for Pete, let’s be clear about that. He’s still a young man – despite the hair line – with a great job and a ton of upward mobility in his future. But he’s lost his way in his personal life. There’s a cottage industry dedicated to cataloguing all of Pete’s grousing. Call it the “Not Great, Bob!” collection. When Mad Men started, Campbell’s go-to complaint was his lack of respect at SC&P, always being left out of the big decisions, never being cool. But later, as idols like Don and Roger disintegrated, Pete became unmoored from time. The things he thought he wanted, the places he thought he should go, were illusory.
A cynic could suggest there’s a hollowness in Pete’s sudden onrush of feelings for Trudy. He didn’t seem to have any problem living it up in LA or New York, even as the emptiness gnawed at him. But that’s the thing that can’t be overstated: Pete felt the emptiness there. Why else grouse? He wonders aloud to his brother if his unhappiness is hereditary. He even looks one sad future in the eye as Duck rambles on in his doorway. A good time streak will only go on for so long and it can be very lonely when it ends. Is Pete running back to some wholesome nostalgia, some hopeless romantic vision of a time gone by, or is he dodging some worse fate? The amazing thing about the end of Mad Men is that we now want Pete to be happy. That’s growth, people.
Don ends the episode alone at a bus stop. Along the way, he doles out advice similar to Duck’s, with the same sort of haunted wisdom backing it. Once you start down that rode of lies, it’s impossible to turn around and go back. Don’s been looking for that home bound comfort this whole time, in ever hopeless affair, doomed marriage and, quite frankly, professional evolution. The products and work couldn’t fix the hole in him and now his Quixotic quest has him literally doling out help where he can – fixing a typewriter, gifting a car. Don tells Andy “don’t waste this” and we’re not sure if Andy will listen. People never know how the end will come until it gets there. Unlike Pete, Don remains adrift, he hasn’t grown. There is no peace awaiting him.
That’s where we get to Betty: at the real end of death. Betty’s surprising cancer diagnosis evokes more emotion than you would have thought. It feels like we’ve been dog piling on her from the beginning – childish, shrill, uncaring. But look at the zen-like peace that comes over her when she gets her death sentence. It stops you short. While Henry gets louder and hunts for answers, Betty looks her husband in the eye and tells him she’s ready to go.
There was another side to Betty, one that poked out at various times throughout Mad Men’s run. She’d shoot at birds with an air rifle, or remind us that she studied in Italy. Her letter to Sally is one last reminder that for all of Betty’s faults, she kept pushing on. She was Don’s arm candy, and then Henry’s show wife, but you have to love that she knows only Sally will be able to handle things when she’s gone. Sally is her mother’s daughter. We never, ever gave her enough (or any) credit. (Admittedly, the fat suit period didn’t help.) Still, Betty will exert one last bit of control over her life, a life that’s been dictated by family, and men, and cultural institutions. Your heart breaks when you see her in that photograph in the blue chiffon dress – she alone stood out, despite always having been defined as someone else’s.
And now we face the end, too. One more episode and then this 60s decade of Mad Men comes to a close. How will we respond?
The Symbolism Rankings
Enjoy, with minimal comment, the weekly rankings for whatever symbolism Matthew Weiner has heavily stacked into each Mad Men episode. A show set in the world of advertising is only as good as its symbolism, right?
1) Letter with directions
2) Coffee can full of money
3) Blue chiffon dress
Back in the Day
Remember the 1960s? Mad Men really values its sense of place. To that end, here’s where we make mention of whatever historical element popped up this week.
Did college-aged dude bros use the term “Mrs. Robinson” back in 1969? If you study the timeline, it makes sense. We’re only a couple years removed from its source, The Graduate, which came out a couple years earlier in 1967. This is the movie about young Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) who gets seduced by the older Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) before running away with her daughter into a life of uncertainty. You may have also heard the song by Simon and Garfunkel. She’s had a quite a run.
If you were a young man in the late 60s, there’s a tremendous chance you were drawn in by Bancroft’s saucy portrayal of a “much older lady.” (Funny aside: she was 35 when the movie came out, while Hoffman was 29; Hollywood magic!) The Graduate went on to earn seven Oscar nominations and a Best Director win for Mike Nichols. Along the way it became something of a cultural touchstone.
Anyway, Betty can definitely be classified as a Mrs. Robinson character. (Cue Glenn Bishop klaxon alarm.) Her return to college turns some heads, and not just because of her struggles with stairs. While the end of her story in this episode is very tragic, it is sort of funny to think of a nurse mistakenly calling her Mrs. Robinson and not getting the joke. Betty’s prim acknowledgement of said joke is, retrospectively, a touching moment.
So, in the spirit of, um, Mother’s Day: long live Elizabeth Hofstadt, known as Betty Draper, also known as Betty Francis. Don’t you dare call her a MILF.
This Week in Ken! (Cosgrove. Accounts.)
As the most likeable guy in the entire series, Ken Cosgrove deserves his chance to shine. Here’s where we discuss what everyone’s favourite earnest moonlighting sci-fi writer was doing or not doing on the last episode.
Look, we can say for certain that Ken Cosgrove never would have gotten drunk at a Legion hall in Kansas. He never would have had cause to openly babble about killing his CO while in Korea. And he definitely never would have gotten framed for stealing some fundraising money to repair a man’s kitchen. (It’s the most expensive room in the house!) Ken Cosgrove never would have done those things.
But dammit, Ken also would never have a car that nice to give away. He would probably never attempt to change some kid’s life. He would never have the wherewithal for any of that.
Know Your Role
Since so much of Mad Men is predicated on minute character interactions, here’s where we discuss the top conflicts that happen in each week’s episode and decide on a winner.
Don’s life, a series of strange left turns, took another one last night as he found himself stranded at a motel in Kansas. In short order he meets the kindly clerk, his dowdy wife, a shifty dude maid, and the members of the town legion. (Also, a babe shows up at the pool in a hallucinatory moment that only ever seems to happen to Don.)
Speaking of hallucinatory moments, right before all of the aforementioned happens, Don dreams of being pulled over by the police, his ultimate fear of someone – anyone – figuring him out revealed. It sets the rest of the episode on edge. The scenes with Andy, the dude maid, are filled with a weird tension; Don seems wary of the younger man’s casual charms, as if he’s seen it before. Don fights against the invitation to go to the Legion Hall, even though the motel manager practically begs him to come. And then he shies away from eye contact with a fellow Korean War vet (played by Roy from The Office, no less), as if he’ll be recognized as the con man he feels himself to be. Still, it all seems rather homey. That is of course before Don is hoisted up by these same drunk compatriots and beaten in the face with a book.
Unfortunately for these yokels, Don is harder than he looks – he also, deep down, probably feels like he deserves some punishment. (We’ll let the psychologists sort that issue out later.) What bothers him about the whole turn of events, the nice people breaking mean, the dredging up of war memories he’d rather forget, the violence, is that Don knows who the real culprit is: Andy, the restless young man. To Don, it’s one thing to become a broken older man due to events beyond your control, but quite another to think you can voluntarily torch those homeward bridges and not get burned. He knows where that course of action leaves a man. To that end, Don comes out on top; he leaves that motel having been the better man in every respect.
How’s that for one last strange left turn?
Between bouts of drinking, sometimes the people of Madison Avenue actually do some work on advertisements. Here is where we sit in the seat of the client, trying to figure out what the hell these ad guys are talking about.
We’re way outside the realms of advertising on this one. For one, Don is out at McCann – he may not even be on this earthly plane much longer. We also learn that Joan too is out, crushed by the patriarchy. Pete, though, is still thriving as only Pete can. In fact, he’s doing so well he’s practically been elected mayor. This comes as not unsurprising news, though the person saying it is news: Duck Phillips.
Yes, king of the shit hill, Duck returned last night to con Pete into a job interview. As is usual for Duck, he was talking out of both sides of his mouth (which is tough to do when you’re drinking into both sides of your mouth). You have to be impressed with Duck’s insane tactics. He manages to somehow manoeuvre Learjet and Pete into the same room so that he can sell Pete as one of his headhunting clients. It takes guts to find a job for a guy who’s not even looking for a job. Hell, Duck even smooths it over with Jim Hobart, convincing McCann into some sort of a trade. They get Learjet and access to all those powerful CEOs, and Learjet gets Pete. (And Duck gets his commission.)
The question I have is: how are all these smart people getting taken in by Duck freakin’ Phillips???
Next Episode Predictions
This is where we watch the totally opaque preview for next week’s episode and make wild guesses as to what will happen next.
That was an emotionally exhausting episode so I’ll keep things brief here. The final “On the Next Episode of Mad Men” states the one true fact of the show: it’s going to end.
So there’s Roger reminding us, “everything must go” and good Lord does it feel hard to let that sink in. We’ve gone through seven seasons, 91 episodes and just shy of eight years. Next week it’s the end, everything must go. We’ve got one week to prepare.
Note: Due to a poorly planned vacation, I will actually be missing the finale next week. So, for the loyal Monday Recap readers we’ll have a special column later in the week. I’ll probably need some extra time to summarize the whole thing anyway. Adjust your plans accordingly.
It’ll be worth waiting for. Congrats on another first-rate review coupled with keen insights. Don Draper reading The Godfather takes me back. I had high-school friends so mesmerized by that book that they read it in one sitting. Who knew what a cult following the book & more so the movie would engender.
Thanks for the kind words, Uncle Lou. I hope to have the final column ready by Wed/Thurs, but we’ll see.
In the second to last episode as Duck Phillips was told get out of Pete Campbell’s office, in the doorway, Duck looked one way before heading the other, just like his dog did when dog was shown the door.