Mad Men Finale: Waiting for Godot

So much for the afterglow…

On Sunday, I watched the final two episodes of Mad Men’s fifth season — Commissions and Fees and the finale, The Phantom —  back-to-back.  I had last week’s episode saved on my DVR, and I was determined to watch it before 10 o’clock on Sunday so that I could catch the finale live.  Come hell or high water, I was determined to watch at least 1 episode of this season (actually, series!)  live. Well, life gets in the way, and I ended up watching Commissions and Fees exactly an hour before the finale started on Sunday.  In a way, this was nice.  Since I’ve been watching the seasons on Netflix, I’m used to watching more than one episode at a time — it allows the episodes to flow better — like reading the show novel rather than a collection of short stories.

I couldn’t wait to see the finale, given all the press and hype over the fifth season of this show.  With all the insanity of the preceeding episodes, I was ready for a wild ride.

Womp womp.

In some ways, I think that Commissions and Fees functioned more as a finale than the finale The Phantom did.  In Commissions and Fees, the emotional impact from The Other Woman is still moving ahead full force.  We are witness to major transitions at SCDP – Joan’s indecent proposal, Peggy’s departure, Sally’s first period, Lane Pryce’s embezzling company funds.  Then we are shaken by the horrible image of Lane hanging himself in his office out of despair for his embezzlement.  This is certainly the crescendo of the season.

The Phantom, however, was almost like an afterward.  I was expecting something bigger, larger, more significant to happen, since that’s the route Matthew Weiner has been steering this season.  At the very least, I wanted Lane’s suicide addressed in bigger way.  15 minutes into the episode I thought, “okay, this is tame…something big must be brewing under all this calm…” 30 minutes later, I had the same thought.  When it got to be 10:55 and no one had died, no one got divorced or married, and no one committed any particularly seedy acts of debauchery, I thought “Huh. Okay.”

The big events of the finale:

Don’s toothache.  Apparently, the pain he feels over Lane Pryce’s suicide has manifested itself in a rotten molar.  Don has a history of swallowing his pain — like when he makes himself physically ill in Hands and Knees over fear that his identity theft has been revealed.  We get a hint that this toothache isn’t something new, as Megan tells Don to see a dentist and he replies that “it will go away, it always does.”

Pete Campbell getting punched in the face.  Even though the argument he had with his lover’s husband was slightly hypocritical (Pete’s not exactly faithful himself), it’s always rewarding to see the shit kicked out of him.

Rory Gilmore’s electroshock treatment.  We learn that Pete’s lover, Beth, is being checked into a psychiatric hospital for ECT by her husband, because she’s feeling blue.  I’d say try retail therapy before shocking your brain into a seizure, but okay.  Pete goes to visit Beth in the hospital after her treatment, and she doesn’t know who he is.  I thought this storyline was a little odd.  A nice nod to the psychiatric limitations of the 60s, perhaps, although I thought that by the late 60s, this treatment was coming out of vogue.  This reminded me a little of the relationship that Don and Betty’s psychiatrist had — like she was their little pet: “here, honey, this will make you feel better. You might not remember who I am when you’re done, but if you’re good – you get a lollipop!” I’m calling her Rory Gilmore here because she really seems like she stepped right out of Stars Hollow — she always has the same expression on her face, much like Betty.  I didn’t even realize that Beth didn’t recognize Pete until we saw his reaction to her.

Lane Pryce’s widow telling Don where to go.  Don visits Rebecca Pryce to give her 50 grand from Lane’s death benefit.  She seems unfazed by the money, and is instead more upset at Don.  She berates him for “filling a man [like Lane] with ambition.”  She’s found that old picture of Dolores in Lane’s wallet, and clearly sees that Lane was sucked into the world of infidelity when he became a part of SCDP.  Infidelity aside, I do think that Lane was the most sensitive of all the men on the show, and I like that his wife addressed this to Don.  By the same token, Rebecca did divorce Lane, so she can’t really be that upset that he didn’t sit home alone and pine for her.

Adam Whitman back from the dead.  Don Draper is reminded of his brother’s suicide after dealing with Lane.  Adam makes appearances throughout the episode.

Peggy (Don 2.0)’s new job.  We see her looking like Condoleezza Rice at her new firm, working on a Virginia Slims campaign.  She’s taking her first solo business trip, and while it’s not Paris, she’s still happy about it.  It’s refreshing to see her out on her own, away from the patronizing men of SCDP.

Peggy and Don’s meeting at the movie theater, which I thought was completely underwhelming.  Don told Peggy that he was proud of her, and the two now seem more like peers and colleagues rather than teacher/student or punching bag/boxer.  Peggy’s body language reminded me a lot of Don in this scene.

Roger and Maria Calvet having another tryst. Roger trying to get her to take another LSD trip with him.

John Slattery: baby got back. Seeing John Slattery’s heiney as he looks outward at the NYC skyline in the buff, high on LSD.  Interesting image to throw into the mix, but it suits Roger’s character!

Joan as the new partner. We see her donning sexy new cat-eye glasses (a hint that she’s replaced Lane, perhaps?) and being very vocal in a partners meeting about how this was, ironically, their best quarter ever.  I love Joan, but the outfit is a little too Jenna Jameson, and while it’s nice to see her as a partner,  I can’t help but picture Herb’s disgusting face.  Joan is upset by Lane’s suicide, and wonders if maybe, if she had returned his kiss, he wouldn’t have committed suicide.  Yuck, really?  I know that Joan has one indecent proposal under her belt, but I hope this doesn’t become a pattern in subsequent seasons.

The agency’s move to larger office space.  I didn’t care for the wide-angle shot of all five partners in the new space, looking out over the horizon.  It would make for good Season 6 promo material, but it felt contrived to me.  I also wasn’t happy with the Season 5 artwork either – the picture of Don looking at the naked mannequin was a bit too Nip/Tuck for me.

Don and Megan on “Let’s Make a Deal.” Megan’s actress friend approches her about asking Don to help her get a commercial deal.  Megan reluctantly agrees, only to stab her friend in the back and ask Don to get her the commercial instead.  Is Don rubbing off on Megan, or has she always had the potential to be a backstabbing, selfish, lader-climbing woman herself?  Interesting that Don agrees to help her, and is almost uncomfortable doing so – not because he doesn’t want to help her, but maybe because he’s afraid she will eclipse him.  Peggy did say that Megan is just “the type of girl who can do everything.”  Maybe she’s a Bionic Woman.

The final scene in which Don, after accompanying an elated Megan to her first commercial photo shoot, walks away from her and to the bar, where he is propositioned by a young, beautiful woman after ordering an Old Fashioned.  Fans of the show suspect that the ambiguity of this final scene (Don doesn’t answer the woman) suggests that Don will be slipping back into his old ways after being faithful to Megan throughout the entire season.  However, a friend pointed out today that Don’s choice of an Old Fashioned might hint that he will be acting in an old fashioned way from now on — if we associate being old-fashioned as being loyal, in a Father Knows Best sort of way. Seeing Megan on the set of the commercial, a Snow White theme, reminded me so much of Betty on the set of Coca-Cola girl in Season 1.  While Betty became too discouraged to continue pursuing her modeling career, I think that Megan truly wants to soar.  Will Don be okay with this?  Beware, Megan: there might be a fat suit in your future.

Fans are already creating Season 6 wish lists for this series on Television Without Pity.  I’m sort of reluctant to get my hopes up, since we might end up waiting over a year for next season anyway.

What do you think will happen to Don?  Were you disappointed, or intrigued, by the finale?  Since I’ve watched the entire series within the last few weeks, I still feel like I have a lot to say about many aspects of the show — but I’ll save that for a later post.

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  1. Mad Men Returns to AMC with Season 6 « Vegan Cinephile
  2. Mad Men Season 6 Promo Pics | Vegan Cinephile

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