Ghosts of Easter

Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t feel the urgency to write about Sunday’s “Mad Men” finale right away — it means I won’t go crazy with waiting for the next season to begin, right? (Probably not; my must-see TV has just become “The Daily Show” and… that’s it.)

I can say with certainty that episode was not what I expected. I know many were disappointed by the pace, and I think I was one of them. I’m still not sure. I don’t think every single episode should have characters who commit suicide or prostitute themselves for new accounts, but the whole thing, on first viewing, felt like a dud to me. This show has episodes that sneak up on me on second or third viewings, so maybe this will be one. I heard it described as an epilogue, and that seems accurate.

I’ll get my gripes out of the way first. If I had a wish list:

  • MORE PEGGY. (Caps-lock intentional.) The theater scene was sweet, but the Peggy subplot feels to me, still, like the abrupt abandonment of a main character. I’m always concerned — at work, in my personal life, in society — with equitable allocations of resources. The last episode had way too much Glen time; this one had too much everything else time. Probably Megan. Not that those story lines aren’t important, but I feel there’s a tendency to linger on them, when lingering isn’t really necessary.

That’s not to say I’m not on board with Peggy’s decision to leave and grow in a new place; I am. In that sense, abruptness was a benefit to the storyline. As much as we saw the hints this season, we felt as blindsided as Don did by her decision. Beyond that, though, Peggy’s growth has been absolutely fascinating to watch, and I’m fairly certain her growth didn’t stop as soon as she stepped on the elevator at SCDP that last time. We had a glimpse, one small glimpse, of a new grown-up Peggy in a red power suit, and it’d better not be the last we see of Peggy in her new office.

  • Less obviousness. I thought the scene at the hospital where Pete visits his mistress was nicely acted, but too much exposition. This show has always been good about showing, not telling, but I think this season that’s changed a bit. What saved the scene for me was how nicely it was written and how well Vincent Kartheiser and… that Gilmore Girl performed it. (I’m too lazy to look up her name, but I think she is one of the most beautiful people in the history of people. No wonder he’s smitten.) Pete Campbell — what a year! On that note, electroshock therapy. Really? I know it was being done, but anytime a show, a book, or a movie resorts to amnesia subplots, I jump ship. Lazy writer’s way out.
  • Fewer Adam sightings, or at least more subtlety with them. The first few were affecting; the last, at the dentist’s office, just seemed too weird. Or maybe it just didn’t move me because the show already has gone down this road of Don’s visions before. No new ground.

All in all, though, I disagree with the “nothing happened this episode” comments I’ve heard thrown around on Twitter. A lot of setup happened, maybe too much. “Change isn’t good or bad; it just is,” Don said once, but how much change can one man handle? How much guilt? “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition,” Lane’s widow tells him. We don’t get any indication beyond the unintelligible Adam Whitman sightings that her words are having any effect.

As with most things on this show, I suppose the lack of exploration is intentional, and we’ll be paid off for our patience next season. Maybe it’s meant to show that Don has shoved the recent events into the deep recesses of his mind where he shoves all bad things — toothache, anyone — but how long will that tactic work for him? We have Joan’s stiff upper lip quivering until she finally breaks down for a minute in Don’s office, but really, I hoped for more this episode about how Lane’s associates are dealing with this.

One thing did clarify for me during this episode: Roger Sterling is too much a hedonist to leave this earthly life behind willingly. (I was among those worried last season that Lucky Strike, midlife crisis, etc. would prove too much for ol’ Rog, and he’d take a dive off SCDP’s tall tower.) When he lures Megan’s mom to his hotel room, he comments about suicide: “You’d have to be so sure you were going someplace better. I think that place is here.”

I don’t have any speculation about what the (beautifully shot) closing scene of Don leaving Megan’s shoot and winding up in a bar filled with beautiful women means, but I’m looking forward to Season 6. Overall, I thought this season was fantastic, but I’ll admit I’d love if the next season was a little lighter. I’d love to be able to sleep again on Sunday nights!

Disagree with me in the comments, and if you want recaps that are always better than mine, I highly recommend NY Magazine’s Vulture blog.

Edited to add: I would be remiss if I did not mention how much I enjoyed the closing song — and Roger’s trip. 🙂

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Laws of motion

Uh, wow. So far my posts have come easily, but I have a feeling this one will be harder. Welcome to your weekly installment of WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN!?!!! After turning it over in my head for an hour before bed last night, I’m still not sure what I want to say, but I set my timer for 20 minutes, so we’ll see what happens.

Lane, obviously, is the place to start. Along with many others, I called that move awhile back, but it was still hard to watch (and surprising in its details). I am fortunate not to have had any close experiences with suicide, although I’ve interviewed a few surviving family members for news stories over the years. I think “Mad Men” told this story well: The inner turmoil that only bubbles to the surface in glimpses that can be chalked up by observers to “a bad day;” the unanswered questions. “It’s a resignation letter. Boilerplate.” What must his state of mind been, at that point? Was he trying to tell Don he was right? To torture Don? Was it simply one formality of by-the-books-except-that-once Lane Pryce? Don will draw his own conclusions.

I’m still feeling unsure about the necessity of showing the body. It had disturbing effect, that’s for sure. I thought a more powerful image, in terms of shock value, was Don reverting to his farm-boy ways and charging into that office to cut down the body. A full-on embrace of Lane was so different from the way he handled his brother’s suicide. I guess Lane’s body was a necessity to give us that image.

When I ventured onto Twitter after the show, a few messages I saw said, “That’s on Don.” Well, no, not in my opinion. Lane’s actions — his initial crime, his cover-up, his decision to take his life — those are his own, not Don’s. Don acted as a partner should, and really with more graciousness than he should have in the face of Lane’s “you took more than your share” accusations. Of course, there was irony in Lane forging the signature of “Don Draper,” a name that Dick Whitman stole in the first place, but one crime doesn’t excuse another. Should it have made Don more sympathetic? As he told Adam, Dick Whitman died a long time ago. (Feel free to disagree with me.)

In my opinion, Adam’s grievances with Don were much more legitimate than Lane’s. But again, Adam’s actions were still his own — not Don’s fault, as much as he might blame himself. Is his cutting down of the body indicative of how Lane’s suicide will affect him differently than Adam’s? Last season was so much about Don’s actions and their consequences: His stolen identity, his drinking, his recreational sex. This season has been Don’s reactions to others’ actions. We still haven’t seen enough of that, and I’m counting on a crazy-intense season finale of reactions: Peggy’s absence, Joan’s promotion, Lane’s suicide.

A few leftovers:

  • Speaking of Peggy, not a single mention this whole episode?! You owe me, Weiner.
  • Interesting dynamic between Don and Joan (and the rest of the partners, for that matter) during the opening meeting. Tell us how you feel, Don.
  • Oh, Betty. A hug! You can do it! Do Betty’s warm-fuzzies toward Sally still count if they were spurred out of her internal sense of competition with Don’s “child bride”?
  • As usual, I’m sort of “meh” on Sally and Junior Weiner’s escapades, but they did illustrate just how adrift Sally is. For all Don’s failings, his passive attitudes toward his kids might be the worst. Yes, he had a couple bad days of epic proportions, but even on his good days, Sally (and those other two) are afterthoughts to him. I’m not sure whether his offer to drive Junior Weiner home was an attempt to be more involved or simple to get the hell out of Dodge and distract himself for four hours, but I’m guessing the latter.
  • “What happened to your enlightenment?” “I guess it wore off.” Roger! I can’t quit you.

I went 10 minutes over my self-imposed time allotment, and I’m still not sure I said anything insightful. Set me straight in the comments. To my friend Michele: If DISH drops AMC, I’ll see you in your living room on Sunday night!