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. 🙂