Mad Men season 4 draws to a close and so does Angry Fellas. Join us next season for more nostalgic isolation!
Here is the story Mad Men has been leading up to all along: the story of two women who smoke together in an office, who after years of bitterness share a laugh, a bit of frustration over the utter bullshit of their daily lives. Mad Men isn’t the story about how the world changed or even how the past is the same as the present. Mad Men is the story of how people connect in moments over time and how those moments and stories change.
Consider Betty and Henry Francis. And while I can not explain Betty better than Sady Doyle does here, please consider Betty. She believed, like Don did, in fresh starts. That if you keep shoving the past behind you long enough, maybe it will change. Maybe it will disappear. But the past with her first husband kept happening, and so going on moments, on someone looking at her pregnant belly and giving her a caring glance, she tried a new future. It has worked wonderfully in some ways, but it’s not been what she imagined in those tiny spaces of time.
Consider Don, a man who lives his life outside of moments, too busy worrying about when the show might drop, when he might fail to be what he thinks he’s supposed to be. Consider how he falls into a million moments this episode in ways we never would have dreamed of a year ago. His literal falling into the bed, into the pool, in love. They won’t last, but maybe they’ll be enough to build something on, a connection. His moments with Peggy have yielded that much–maybe it will be the same with Megan. But, it seems more likely, it’ll fade. Faye, completely screwed in the end, is right about one thing: he loves beginnings.
Consider Peggy and Joan, two women who don’t have much reason to talk to each other much. They can now smoke and laugh and have fun, because it’s that time for them. Consider Joan’s moments this season: the half second it took for her to decide to sleep with Roger and the time it took for her to keep his baby. Consider how Peggy’s savvy is shown–she can now take full advantage of a word, a mention of an event, and use it to start to pull the company back together.
Mad Men is a story about the way time cycles, but it’s so much smaller than we think. It’s not about the fact that friends and I have the same “can you believe this shit?” conversation 50 years later (albeit without the smoking), it’s the way that Don and Betty’s impulsive marriages mirror each other. It’s the way that fresh starts don’t stay fresh for long. All our moments come back, again and again. That’s what we build our lives on.
Ah, Mad Men. Why do you ever have to end? While this season finale wasn’t quite as game-changing as “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” last year, it was still as amazing (and on par with most of the rest of this new season). No one’s life hangs in the balance or any other such cliffhanger contrivances, but this episode certainly left us to prepare for a bunch of things, including Don and Megan’s upcoming nuptials, Roger’s baby Joan appears to be passing off as Greg’s, and the possibility of a season without Carla (seriously, Weiner!? You wrote off the only regularly recurring black person on this show?).
There were some great scenes in this finale: There was Betty (amping up her ice queen persona to an even frostier tier), getting chewed out by both poor Carla (who finally pointed out she’s more of a mother to the Draper kids than Betty) and then Henry Francis, finally growing some balls and really letting his wife have it for her reckless choices. Yet I most enjoyed the scene of Peggy and Joan, commiserating in Joan’s office over Don’s sudden engagement to his secretary. Can’t we just have an hour of these two ladies hanging out? Hell, I’d settle for an hour of Peggy saying the word “bullshit” over and over again while Joan laughs. Speaking of bullshit, have I mentioned how sad I am that I have to wait until Summer 2011 for another season of this? This might just be the nonstop Walking Dead promos I was subjected to during this episode talking, but I anticipate for the next almost year I’ll just be walking around just a mere Mad Men-deprived zombie.
Mad Men‘s fourth season is definitely its most divisive, in that it’s the only one that has only received constant glowing praise as opposed to a church choir singing “Hallelujah” every Sunday night at 10 PM. Often, that’s a good thing: Lost‘s later seasons angered fans but shifted its storytelling in fascinating ways, and The Shield shed viewers as it morphed from a fairly standard cop procedural into a densely serialized contender for best TV series ever. But the problems with Mad Men‘s season 4 are more about wheel-spinning than artistic integrity. Readers of these recaps know that I’ve been turned off by the sleaze that infected Don’s storylines this year, but it’s more troubling that the only character growth we saw this year was from the show’s secondary characters: Peggy as a secure young creative, Pete as a determined career man and new father, Roger as a sad sack, Sally as an emerging adolescent. Its core was stagnant at best and rotten at worst.
I am slightly encouraged by the addition of Jessica Pare’s Megan to the cast. Her slow and steady character development this season has revealed a genuinely kind person with the potential to vastly improve the lives of Don and Sally. Given the psychological torture to which Mad Men subjects its characters, she may end up nutty as a fruitcake, but for now I’m hoping for something different.
And really, something different is what I’m looking for, and I’m not just talking about a set change or a random people being written out. Obviously, Mad Men is head and shoulders above almost everything else on TV right now, but — and I know how ridiculously selfish this sounds from me as a TV viewer — that’s not good enough anymore. At its best, this show takes its medium to new levels of character exploration and emotional resonance, and this season often felt like a retread of themes we’ve seen it do better dozens of times before. Honestly, if Mad Men season 5 is still going to be about Don as a self-loathing philanderer terrified that someone will find out his secret that no one cares about and Betty as an angry and hateful child whose character is written just a few degrees away from Snidely Whiplash, I’m not interested in watching it.