“From one john’s bed to the next,” and here we are, sitting in our hotel suite office ordering room service and naughty adult movies, ready to ruminate on this past Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, the season 3 finale entitled “Shut The Door. Have A Seat.” And what an episode it was…
Again, normally August Bravo would join me here, but that guy just can’t learn his lesson. Remember when he didn’t heed Peggy’s mom’s advice and moved to Manhattan and then was thoroughly raped? Well, now he’s moved to Portland and while there’s a bar on every corner and someone you can buy a hanjob or coke or both from every ten feet, apparently there’s not enough of a signal to watch Mad Men on youtube via your iphone.
A brief recap (if possible): We discover that Don has been sleeping in Grandpa Gene’s room because of the strife between Betty and himself. Conrad Hilton gives him the cold brush off and informs him that PPL is being sold, and with it goes Sterling Cooper. Don tells his would be father figure where he can stick it. Then he goes and wakes up Cooper and brings Roger Sterling back to life and gets them excited about taking back their lives and their company and starting over. Together, they begin picking out their dream team from Sterling Cooper and assembling what will be their new company as Don goes around with both his dick and his tail between his legs and learning to value relationships. And sometimes valuing relationships means knowing which ones to say goodbye to, and so off goes Betty and her new boyfriend to Reno for a “quickie” (six weeks) divorce and Don discovers that he has a whole other family. But this, you see, is just a brief recap, so, as we’re told in almost every scene in this episode, “Have a seat.”
Well, Kennedy is still dead. John John’s had to make his goodbyes, and America has not quite realized it, but everything is different now. The changes are no longer coming, they’re here.
And Don starts the episode by waking in a tomb, the former bedroom of a dead man and the newborn baby who shares his name. He then goes to meet Connie, the odd kitten who’s treated Don like a ball of yarn half the season, and really wakes up when Connie cuts him loose and then gives Don a self righteous spiel about how he’s impervious to whiners who can’t earn things for themselves. But Don couldn’t give a shit. His company’s about to get sold and he doesn’t want to go work for some sausage factory.
From there on, the episode becomes just a powerhouse of awesome, giving us some truly satisfying and exciting moments dealing with Don Draper and the exiles of Sterling Cooper as they play the phoenix from the ashes of their company, but before we go there, let’s get to what we all knew was coming, especially after last week…
“The state of New York doesn’t want anyone to get divorced. That’s why people go to Reno.”
The thing is, after last week’s episode, this season finale was all set up in our minds to be the ultimate downer as the Draper castle was torn apart and washed away, and yet, back in the office, we saw excitement and joy, and more of a sense of family than we’ve seen in a long time in the cold walls of Don and Betty’s metaphorical bedroom. Just another way this show wonderfully plays with our expectations.
So, Benjamin Light hates Betty, and I can understand why, but I can still see where she’s coming from. And I’m glad she’s going. Don remains characteristically clueless about a lot of what she wants and needs, and really, she’s the same way about him. And now that she sees him, now that he’s no longer the “football hero who hates his father,” but the son of poor co-op farmers, he’s nothing to her. Everything that his double life has brought them is completely illegitimate to her, and she longs for the silver haired loser from the Rockefeller campaign instead.
In fact, I think Betty quite accurately throws it in Don’s face when he suggests that she may have to be sick to want out of their “perfect little world.” Well, actually, he just suggests that she’s had a bad year, which she has, and that she should probably find someone to talk, which she should. But her inference is also correct, I think, when it comes to Don’s real intentions there. I can defend Betty to a point, am curious to see who she’ll become as she now enters the real world that Don and her father have essentially protected her from up until this point, but she has been, and in this episode especially, a bit of a stone cold bitch.
“Why are we in the living room?” Bobby Draper asks, and he’s right. It’s the scene of Betty’s ultimate fantasy world and in it, the cathedral to which she can have those fantasies now ends as the family breaks up. This was easily one of the most heartbreaking scenes on TV, and so harsh, so cruel, so real. Don suggests this new status quo is only temporarily and Betty emphatically shakes her head no. And then there’s the kids, the real victims of the way people treat each other, and as Light suggested to me the other day, though it’s not said, you almost feel that for all the coldness they sometimes get from their father, they’d still prefer it to freezing to death with their mother.
As much of a fan of little Sally Draper as I am, the lasting image from that scene for me isn’t just Betty shaking her head no, but it’s Bobby’s ceaseless clinging to his father, clinging to his world that he barely understands as it all falls away. Oh, the fathers and sons this season. Don and Bobby, whom Don rarely shares moments with, honestly. Don getting kicked out by his pseudo-paternal figure, Hilton, which starts flashbacks of the loss of his real father (or real step father, whatever), Archie Whitman.
Which brings us to the night before the Draper family ended in their living room, when a drunken Don invades the master bedroom in the house, that his wife and their newborn baby now occupy alone, and he pulls Betty out of sleep and onto her feet, confronting her with what he’s only just learned about: Henry Francis. Don has the greatest line of the season when it comes to Betty: “Because you’re good… and everyone else is in the world is bad.” Don’s cruelty is usually cool, measured, but when he delivers these lines, it’s like he’s finally releasing some pent up venom. But it almost goes to far and we’re taken back to his imagined origins in the late night reverie from the season premiere, as he becomes his father, Betty becomes the whore, and then there’s the baby crying. It’s arguable in that scene that Don is confronted with a subtle choice as you half expect him to hit his wife: Does he want to be Don Draper or does he want to just another dick?
Which takes us back to the offices of Sterling Cooper, the kind of place that Don never expected to work at, but where he thrived, or, where he’s thrived for the last three years. With PPL being sold off and the SC along with it by their new British masters, Don is awake, and on his way to wake up Bert Cooper…
The dialogue in their scene is perfect, and I love that Cooper, who’s always kind to Don and his talents and his mysteries, and who purrs like a fat old wise and eccentric housecat with a bit of a Japanese fetish, lets Don know flat out that he doesn’t think he has the stomach for the reality of the future Don wants so brutally to regain control of…
Cooper: “Young men love risks because they can’t imagine consequences.”
Don: “And you old men love building golden tombs and sealing the rest of us in with you.”
But something begins in this scene, the start of building something, a bridge out of their indentured servitude and Cooper hits Don with one of those harsh realities he’s going to have to face: He can’t do this on his own. He’s going to need Roger Sterling.
And let me just say: Fuck Yeah, Roger Sterling.
When the highpoints of this episode was literally everything that came out of his mouth. Don and Cooper both make their pitches to Sterling about taking the tough road and starting something new and Sterling breaks it to Don: You don’t care about people. And maybe that’s why you’re so bad at being real with them. And Cooper hits Sterling with some real talk too: You need the excitement and danger of this business to survive and feel alive like you’re used to. Retire now and you might as well move into a plot in the ground with your child bride. It’s funny how enduring Jane has somehow purified Roger in our eyes, made him possibly realize that Joan is the woman for him, not the girl for him like Jane is, and put him on a better path.
From there, they go to Pryce and put forth a plan: He’ll fire them, thereby releasing them from their contracts, in exchange for shared power in their new company, and over the weekend, they’ll assemble a dream team to take with them along with any clients and supplies they can swipe from the office. And the show literally explodes into life. It became the gathering of the dream team from something like Ocean’s 11 or the start of a mission from one of those crack team of guys going on a mission World War II or something. It was perfect and it was exhilarating.
And it was a great moment for the characters to confront their own failures and move past them, to be happy beyond them. Don especially, as he does the walk of shame, first treating Peggy like dirty in assuming that she’ll just follow him blindly so he can beat her about as he pleases and then getting told off by her as she finally stands up for herself to him.
And then Pete, whom Don actually has to compliment for his eye towards the future. He’s not just wanted, he’s needed in the new company, Don tells him. And thankfully, along with Pete, will come his perfect partner, Trudy.
Sorry, August, but I guess Ken Cosgrove doesn’t make the cut.
Sadly, they took Harry Crane along too, but maybe since they’re literally sifting through the ashes of Sterling Cooper, maybe they’ll blow a little of those embers into him and ignite some potential. Or maybe he came along just so Cooper could deliver my actual favorite line of the episode, telling Harry that if he turns him down, he’ll spend the rest of the weekend tied up in the closet.
And, of course Joan is back. They’re all brilliant actors and they’re staging what could be a fascinating play, but they need a director, they need someone to coordinate them and make their needs accessible. And of course Roger knows that Joan is the person to do that.
But alas, no Sal. But in a small way, that could be a good thing. Sal may not be able to come back to the new company and the show in his old capacity, but more on that soon. Cause there’s always this:
Fuck doors. Fuck yeah.
And then there’s Don’s return and appeal to Peggy. He stops treating her like his former secretary. He stops treating her like just an employee. He actually sees her as a person. Possibly through a mirror, but still, he’s awake now and really looking at her. He’s really to lay down his sword and shield in front of her and stop holding the fact that he’s a man over her as something superior. I think one of the most realistic and truthful things Don has ever said is when he told her that she’s just like him, she’s his anima, and together they both can conjure the words, the “asa nisi masa,” if you will.
“Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me, and something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that, but you do. And that’s very valuable.”
When he says that, it’s not just to her that he’s confessing things, it’s to himself as well. Peggy ventures a guess that if she turns him down, he’ll cut her off forever and, baring his soul to her, he says it’s the opposite: “No. I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.” It’s telling that the most touching scene of the episode isn’t between Don and his departing wife, Betty. It’s between Don and himself/Peggy.
But of course Peggy is her own creature as well, and I think everyone, not just Don and Pete, are going to see it. So classic was Roger asking her for a cup of coffee and her flat out saying, “No.”
But then the long night of the weekend comes to an end and the sun comes up on Monday morning and the all stars of Sterling Cooper are gone, spirited away to their new home, an office in a hotel suite. In fact, really, all of Sterling Cooper is gone, shredded to pieces in the night…
“Good morning! Hello Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Pryce. How may I help you?” It’s nice to meet you.
“Very good. Happy Christmas!”
“He didn’t even leave a note!”
Still miss you, Sal, but you’ll have to change or die, as is often the case with history. As the always explosively brilliant Karina Longworth suggests when talking about the end of the episode as the camera captures the joy on the faces of the new SCDP employees/refugees:
The glow in the room that’s reflected on Don’s face in that shot—that is only there because they are all there, because he needs all of them to do his job, and vice versa. It’s arguable (probable, for all the lines like “we don’t have art”) that Sal could be back in Season Four and SCDP (and the show) would be better for it. But his sham marriage may need to fully deteriorate before he belongs in that hotel room.
One can only hope that Sal embraces his sexuality and himself and comes back into the fold as a contracted big time commercial director. Wouldn’t that be wonderful. Also, Fuck Lee Garner, Jr.
This episode was everything I could ever want from Mad Men. Much like us here at Counter-force, sitting her in our hotel suite/bloggitorium, at least when I’m doing my song and dance, we’re obsessed with the future. But we see it through the multi-colored lenses of the past. The past was bombs, the present is rubble, and the future is fireworks and we’re looking up at the stars, to dangle as many silly pyrotechnic metaphors in your face as I can.
The Beatles are coming. Vietnam is coming. The world isn’t done being changed and the light from the future can’t be fully seen yet, but for now, in the world of Mad Men, the characters are happy. Excited. Don Draper has perhaps finally said goodbye to Dick Whitman and is ready to move on. Trudy is showing up with sandwiches. Joan’s husband can hopefully only be guaranteed a nasty ending. There’s Peggy/Pete stuff on the horizon. There’s Joan/Roger stuff on the horizon. And there’s always fucking Jai Alai. We may never seen Suzanne Farrell again (though she’ll live on in Twix commercials). Or Paul Kinsey or Duck Phillips or Ken Cosgrove, for all we know. But what happens in this world and in Don Draper’s life could be anything.
Especially when Don places that call to Betty. He won’t fight her. She can have whatever she wants. And he hopes that she finds out what that is. “Well, you’ll always be her father,” she pathetically replies with, but I think it was meant to be a kind statement, something Betty’s always been foreign too. She’s going to leave two older children with a vastly better mom, Carla (so classy, Betty), and take baby Eugene, her youngest child and ball and chain from the past, to Reno with her new boyfriend.
And Don’s going to crawl off into the city, heartbroken maybe, but feeling lighter and hopefully optimistic. We have a general idea of the future he’s going to see, but he doesn’t, and he’s excited for it. And we’re going to go with him.
And, wonderfully, Roy Orbison is going to sing a song about the whole thing. August and I had a great time talking about Mad Men and hopefully you enjoyed it too. And hopefully it’ll only get better since, after all, “the future is much better than the past.”