The fourth season of Mad Men ended last night, after 13 episodes of following the rise and fall of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
To help make sense of it all, we have a panel of insiders from the worlds of television, advertising, and fashion—Danielle Robinson, Richard Drew, and Catie Cambria—to provide their takes on all the sex, the clothes, and of course, the drama.
They weigh in on this week's episode, in which the characters wrestle with new beginnings.
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Richard Drew: The 'Mad Men' Season 4 Scorecard
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The Atlantic Mad Men Panel: 'Mad Men': Will Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Survive?
After a blurry one-night stand and a few days in California with the kids, Don proposed to his secretary Megan in a move that left everyone shocked. I barely even knew Megan's name until this week!
For me, it's stunning how much of Don's life is lived on the fly and subject to random fate. If Betty hadn't coldly fired Carla earlier in the episode (a move which only solidified her bad mom status) would Don have even given Megan a second look? Or would he have stayed with steady girlfriend Faye, who must be feeling pretty blindsided now—and perhaps even vengeful (remember she knows Don's big secret!). I loved Faye's tossed off insult—"I hope she knows you only like the beginning of things." It was a spot-on critique, as Megan will doubtless soon learn.
In fact there was plenty of truth-telling from the Mad Men women last night: Peggy and Joan bonded over their lowly status at the firm and vented their frustration at Megan in a rare moment of female solidarity. And was Betty planning to make a play for Don in the final moments of the episode? What a co-incidence the former Mrs Draper got her times confused.
But as Betty's new husband Henry observed, there are no fresh starts—certainly not on Mad Men. Don may have moved on to Megan, but he's still the same, wounded Dick Whitman inside. And after a superlative season we're still no closer to any happy endings...
Catie Cambria (fashion publicist at Donna Karan New York): Harry screams at Betty, "You don't get a fresh start. Lives carry on." And yet so much of the season finale was about the idea of a clean slate, about the real and imagined possibilities of tomorrow.
Don, who struggled with trying to become a better and maybe even real version of himself this season, seemingly slips back into a pattern by dropping Faye and proposing (!!) to Megan. Megan ends up accompanying Don on his trip to California with the children, and she is truly wonderful with the kids—calm, attentive, and loving. I think Don falls for her precisely for that; Faye failed the "mother test," and Megan does not. Megan tells Don in bed that she "knows who he is really is," but of course, she doesn't have the slightest idea. Her worshipful and naïve love for Don is eerily reminiscent of Jane with Roger, and her quick acquiescence to his proposal left me queasy.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one. When Don tells Peggy that Megan has her "same spark" and that Megan "really admires her," you can see the anger and annoyance in Peggy's face. Megan is in hot pink, the partners clapping and celebrating for her, and Peggy is in charcoal gray, her new account with Topaz simply an afterthought. Joan and Peggy finally commiserate, and it's my favorite scene in the episode. "I learned a long time ago not to get my satisfaction from this job," Joan tells her. "That's bullshit," Peggy says, and they share a well-deserved laugh. Joan has her own last laugh—she is keeping Roger's baby, and hoping her husband doesn't do the math.
Betty is still churning with anger, misery, and restlessness; we see her lying on Sally's stripped bed, curled up in her plaid sheath and pearls, vulnerable and girlish, holding all of her sadness within herself. Her "fresh start" with Henry has not changed her or her life. When she confesses to Don, in the empty kitchen they once shared, that "things aren't perfect," you wonder if she will ever be happy.
And when the final scene flashes with Don staring awake out his apartment window, Megan lying sleeping in his arms, you wonder it again. Sonny and Cher's "I Got You, Babe," never seemed less cheerful.
Faye tells Don, "You only like the beginning of things." Maybe that's because that's when things are the most hopeful and the least tainted with reality. "Who is Don Draper?" Let's begin again in Season Five.
Danielle Robinson (account director at New York advertising company Footsteps Group): After watching Don's relationship with Faye blossom week after week, we witness his hasty proposal to his secretary Megan (womp!) during a trip to LA with the kids. Shocked by the news, Roger quips, "Megan? Out there?" pointing to her desk outside Don's office. My sentiments exactly.
After popping the question Don asks Megan, "Can you imagine the many things that had to happen for me to get to know you?" What "things" are you referring to, Don? The late-night romp on your office couch? Teaching your kids a French lullaby? Anna gifting you an engagement ring that was clearly burning a hole in your pocket? Undoubtedly, Don got caught up in a moment of normalcy that had been escaping him most of his life and he understandably didn't want to let it slip away. He even seemed to react with envy when Cosgrove poignantly refused to let the agency become his life over his wife and family ("Cynthia's my life. My actual life").
The rest of the season finale played out with less excitement than expected. Still, I couldn't help but beam with pride when Peggy pitched—and won—the Topaz Hosiery account. I particularly loved that she was wearing the product. This is an age-old "rule" of agency life that unfortunately is not closely adhered to on Madison Avenue today: Use your (potential) client's product!
Next season, we're sure to be treated to the drama surrounding Joan's pregnancy, particularly Roger's reaction to the news. After this season, I'm not sure what the writers could do to stem my dislike for Betty Draper Francis but I'm curious about how they decide to develop her character. Finally, I must make one last plea for a more diverse cast of characters. Sure, there was Carla and Toni but there was also Caroline R. Jones and Eunice W. Johnson, along with Thomas J. Burrell and Frank L. Mingo.
Past Mad Men panels:
'Mad Men': Will Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Survive?
'Mad Men': Lust and Loss at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
'Mad Men' Meets the '60s
'Mad Men': Love and Death at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
'Mad Men': Times Change, but Sadness Remains the Same
'Mad Men': The Don and Peggy Show
'Mad Men': The Rise and Fall (and Rise?) of Don Draper
'Mad Men': Bad Behavior All Around
'Mad Men': One-Liners, Sex Talk, and Nude Photography
'Mad Men': A Not-So-Happy New Year
'Mad Men': The Beginning of the End for Don Draper?
'Mad Men': 4 Takes on the Season Premiere
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