It seems fitting that a show about advertising would end its season with everyone involved trying to sell an image of themselves — as family man, as young go-getter, whatever — that didn’t quite jibe with reality.
Mad Men wrapped up its often brilliant first season Thursday with a finale that delivered a number of big moments — including, of all things, a pitch to a client about a slide projector — but also left a lot of things dangling for next season (and there is a next season coming, probably in summer 2008).
(Spoilers coming, loaded into a Kodak slide carousel.)
While much of the season has revolved around Don Draper, he receded a bit in the finale to allow his wife, Betty, and former secretary, Peggy, take front and center. And both women experienced a life-altering revelation.
You can sort of see Betty’s wheels start to turn when her friend Francine comes over, distraught after discovering that her husband is having an affair thanks to an errant phone bill ("It was close to $18"). After trying to come at it obliquely — "How could someone do that to the person they love, that they have children with?" she wonders to Don — and getting nowhere, Betty seeks out the Drapers’ own phone bill.
She doesn’t find a woman on the list of calls; Don’s not so dumb as to do that. But she does dial one strange number — which turns out to be her therapist. Betty feels the betrayal acutely, breaking down as she talks to Glenn, the neighbor kid who took a lock of her hair. To see Betty finally let go of her emotions was both gut-wrenching and, given the context, a little bit pathetic; a prime reason for Don keeping tabs on her therapy was his belief that she’s not fully grown up, and here she can only open herself up to a child.
I’m curious to hear everyone’s take on what Betty was trying to do in her therapy session (which was a tour de force scene for January Jones). Did she figure that since what she said would likely get back to Don, she might as well indirectly tell him she was onto him? Or did she have a breakthrough outside with Glenn, to the point where she finally felt able to say something of substance?
Don seems to know something’s up as well; you could see him register the subtext when Betty told him about Francine, and he of course takes the news about his brother, the only part of his old family he held onto, pretty hard. It all pours out when he makes the pitch to the Kodak guys about their new slide projector, rejecting the Space Age angle for nostalgia ("in Greek, it literally means pain from an old wound"), complete with his own family photos as visual aids. I would have been sold too, and the touch of a choked-up Harry leaving the room was just perfect.
Onto Peggy: Maybe I’m just dense, but I really didn’t figure she was pregnant (then again, neither did she, so at least I’m not alone). And the show did a really good job of making us think it was something else — scenes of Peggy eating or thinking about eating were numerous, and we saw her channel some of her other desires into food, notably after Pete’s I-wish-I-were-a-great-hunter monologue.
The timeline feels a little bit off, but I suppose if we assume her encounter with Pete in the pilot resulted in the baby, almost nine months would have passed. The bigger question for her, though, is what this will do to her budding career as a copywriter. She really seemed to be coming into her own as she screened actresses for the Relaxiciser ads, even impressing the piggish Cosgrove, and then Don promoted her to copywriter on the spot for the Clearasil account (simultaneously rewarding her and twisting the knife with Pete a little bit more).
The question now for Peggy is whether she keeps the child, which she didn’t even want to hold, and if she does, how she hides it. Life is not exactly easy for a single, working mother in 2007; I can’t imagine what it must have been like in 1960.
Other highlights from the finale:
- Joan just can’t let it go, can she? In congratulating Peggy, she has to add, "Although sometimes when people get what they want, they realize how limited their goals were." (Hi, kettle. I’m pot.)
- Handing Pete an Ayn Rand book can’t be good, for anyone. He’s already bought into the new business equals self-worth argument Don and Duck Phillips laid out, and I can’t imagine he’ll interpret "rational self-interest" in any kind of constructive way.
- Rachel has left the country on a three-month cruise, and Cooper is not pleased, rightly (probably) calling Don on the carpet. I’m thinking her absence may have played a little into Don’s bout of nostalgia.
- The final song — Bob Dylan’s "Dont Think Twice, It’s All Right" — isn’t exactly period-correct. It wasn’t released until 1963. But in terms of tone, it couldn’t have fit that final scene any better.
I’ll turn things over to you now. What did you think of Mad Men‘s first season, and how it ended?