Well, that was a bracing hour of television, no?
Before we get into the jarring changes of the status quo, let’s review what has happened so far…
- Episodes 1 & 2 – The Nutcracker, a heart attack, a hawked violin, and Don’s drowning in the arms of the endlessly fascinating Sylvia Rosen (yawn!)
- Episode 3 – Pete tries to score tickets for Hair, which leads to Trudy threatening castration.
- Episode 4 – Harry has his achievement by day, while Joan takes on the New York Club Scene by night.
- Episode 5 – An assassination leads to asinine comments, a screening of Planet of the Apes, and a mad dash for peroxide and diet pills.
- Episode 6 – All communication at SCDP breaks down as Joan reads Don for FILTH, and Don and Ted make decisions for Peggy.
- Episode 7 – Hello SCDPCGC!
- Episode 8 – Drugs!
- Episode 9 – Ball tickling, mixed signals, and lusting over ex-wives’s assets.
- Episode 10 – California, Avon Calling, and Drugs!
- Episode 11 – Sally Draper always has a habit of walking in on people having sex. Rude!
- Episode 12 – Enough with the Rosemary’s Baby references!
All right here we go…
Before we begin this recap, I wanted to take a moment to alert you that next Monday, I will be launching a special series of mega-recaps that I’m calling “Summer of Reruns.” Basically, I will be taking the column to turn our attention to a previous TV show (some great, some not so great, but all worth looking at) and examining what made them special and how they are influencing current television.
For example, as I was watching tonight’s season finale of Mad Men, and witnessing a certain scene (which we’ll talk about in a minute) I suddenly came to a bizarre but apt conclusion: The story of Don Draper over the course of 1968 is an inverted retelling of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
Debuting in syndication in 1976 and running five episodes a week, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a soap opera spoof created by mega-producer Norman Lear (All In The Family, Maude, The Jefferson) and writers Gail Parent and Ann Marcus. The series centered around a very normal housewife (played by Louise Lasser) who had a very small view of the world even while crazy things were going on around her (such as her grandfather was a flasher, her best friend was ditching her husband for country success, her daughter witnessing the murder of the Lombardi family, etc.). At the end of the first season, Mary finds herself on The David Susskind Show where she is interviewed about the events of the first season and she has one of the most harrowing breakdowns ever seen on television.
The reason this clip came back to my mind is that Mary, like Don Draper, is a figure that can not accept change that is going on around them. Looking back on that first season of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (which can be found on DVD and is a very bizarre viewing experience but filled with great performances from its cast), the story of Mary Hartman parallels the story of Don Draper’s slow descent into the morass of 1968. And like Mary, it culminates into a breakdown of Don Draper in one of the worst ways possible. (And as a bonus, both shows have the eldest daughter of the family witnessing something horrible, be it a massacre or a parent’s infidelity.)
Everyone was getting their licks into Don in this episode: from Stan, who was pissed that Don stole his idea of going out to Los Angeles to set up a satellite shop; to Sally, who basically is turning into her father with a cold cut down (“Well I wouldn’t want to do anything immoral. You know what? What don’t you just tell them what I saw?”) while she gets her schoolgirl chums drunk; to Ted, who has been bearing the burden of Don’s abuse; to the Partners who have once again acted without Don’s knowledge and dealt with him once and for all; to Megan who has finally had enough of everything. It’s interesting to see that every time Don has a moment of clarity, so to speak, and he tries to do the right thing it eventually comes back around and bites him in the ass. His helping Ted out led to him bungling the Hershey’s pitch (in a very subtle breakdown of emotional honesty, that was brilliantly played by Jon Hamm) which led to the breakdown of his and Megan’s marriage.
Speaking of people who have been disappointed all season, Pete has been disappointed by the lack of recognition and respect that he has been getting from everyone. And while Bob Benson has been pulling a Single White Female with Pete all season (up to and including embarrassing Pete with the Chevy men, and wearing Pete’s traditional blue suit), his chum Manolo may have messed everything up with his actions in the “disappearance” of Dorothy Campbell. While the death is tragic, it is a mixed blessing to Pete and allows him to go to California (“You’re free, of everything” says Trudy as he says goodbye to her and Tammy – which was perfectly played by Alison Brie and Vincent Kartheiser).
But if Bob thinks he’s going to get off scott free with playing Pete Campbell like a chump then he needs to be careful when trying to insert himself in the affairs of Joan and Roger. That hilariously awkward Thanksgiving dinner was a treat watching Roger and Kevin interact as Joan smiled while Bob carved the turkey. Now that Joan has slightly thawed towards Roger, what’s not to say that she might find out some incriminating truths about her new pal? The possibilities are endless.
Speaking of endless possibilities, SC&P’s Los Angeles branch has been dangled in front of the viewers for long enough so it is refreshing to see that it is actually happening (you will recall that show creator Matthew Weinert has said repeatedly that one of the overarching themes of the show is how California emerged at the end of the 1960s as a land of opportunity while New York fell into decay). And while the move west is a godsend for Pete (who’s free to find out what’s out there for him without his family hectoring over him) and Harry (now that the LA office is a reality, it will not take long for him to ask for a partnership), it’s an escape hatch for Ted Chaough; an escape from that evil temptress Peggy Olson. Sashaying into a meeting dressed for sex (or at least, a bus and truck tour of Sweet Charity), she finally got Ted to take her. Unfortunately he’s so guilt-ridden that once again decides her fate. If anything, this season has also been a sad decline for Peggy; while she has been getting more and more work and respect, the men in her life have been making the choices for her – from Ted and Don’s merger, to Abe forcing her into a place she hated and then dumping her, to Ted playing with her heart and trying to be “nice.” But there was one moment of salvation for her…
… she finally gets to wear the pants around the office. Placing bets now that she gets Don’s office. (You will recall that she got Freddy’s office in Season 2 when he was fired.)
Finally, we get to see Don do something absolutely shocking. He tells his kids the truth about himself by taking them to the whorehouse where he grew up. With Don out of the firm, and on the outs with Megan, who knows what the future holds for him? Personally I would love to see some mild form of redemption for him. Mind you I would love to see him alpha-male his way back into SC&P and dick-slap them all into submission for what they did to him but who knows how that would go. If anything this sets Season 7 up at a dangerous and exciting place.
A few random thoughts to close…
– Not to get to analytic of the costumes (because there are other blogs that do it better than I ever could), but I did gasp at Peggy’s breakup with Ted because of the fact that it’s the same dress she wore when she interviewed with him.
– Once again the show loves dualism such as repeating shots (the shots of Ted in bed with Peggy and then Nan were identical) and costumes (Jim Cutler’s ensemble when the partners fired Don was a drained out version of Ted’s signature blazer and turtleneck combination).
– While Vincent Kartheiser has been doing stellar work this season, the addition of Harry Hamlin as Jim Cutler has been one of the best additions to the main cast in a while. I love the fact that Cutler is so above all the fray, that he’s an inscrutable foil for Roger.
– Speaking of dualism, I will admit I squealed when they re-created the show’s iconic logo with Peggy at the end of the episode.
– And to hit us over the head with dualism, and with California, what better way to end this season with this song, which is sung by one iconic West Coast singer, and written by another iconic West Coast singer? And what’s great is that it’s the perfect ending song for Don, Peggy, Pete, and even Sally.
So, what do you think is in the cards for Season 7, which has been reported to be the final season of the show? Sound off in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Screen Grabs courtesy of AMC.