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“Full-on fist-pumper” finale for Mad Men, Season 3

Mad Men 3

If you follow Mad Men but missed last night’s brilliant final episode of the third season, then please skip right past this post to avoid spoilers. Thanks to sartre for letting me know about the terrific weekly recaps by Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s the opening paragraph from last night’s analysis:

Remember that feeling so many of you had when watching Ep. 6: “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” – as the John Deere mower came in contact with Guy’s foot, resulting in a bloody mess? For a lot of viewers, there was a palpable release because that episode seemed to cut out the vague, interpretive interior motivations and replaced them with, for “Mad Men,” uncommon, direct action. Well, the Season 3 finale, “Shut the door. Have a seat.” one-upped that with giddy abandon in arguably the best melding of plot-movement and existential crisis exploration of the entire season. I mean, come on – that was a gloriously fast-driven episode that brought both joy and emotional pay-off to everyone who has ground through the machinations of Don and Betty Draper this season. In fact, the finale was about as close to a full-on fist-pumper as any episode that “Mad Men” has ever aired. I can’t recall an episode in this series where I’ve paused the TV to let out a pent-up whoop of exaltation. This was a beautiful, rewarding mix of forward movement – Don, Roger, Bert and Lane conspiring to start their own agency as Sterling Cooper is sold out from underneath them – and the emotional angst of Don and Betty splitting in half.

This season had me worried from the very first episode, since Matthew Weiner seemed intent on fracturing every major relationship that held Mad Men together. There was a reckless abandon to how he stripped away the various characters’ facades and pretenses — sometimes resulting in the cruel shock of seeing favorite players jettisoned out of the Mad Men orbit altogether. It wasn’t until last week that I began to have an inkling what Weiner was up to, but was still completely unprepared for the extent of the ultimate upheaval that blew things to smithereens last night.

All the chaos of the previous 12 weeks suddenly all made sense, in an exhilarating display of plot threads being unraveled and rewoven. The disordered pandemonium in everyone’s lives reached a brutal emotional peak last week, as Betty Draper watched Lee Harvey Oswald get shot before her eyes in the seemingly cozy cocoon of her very own living room. “What is going on!” Betty shrieked, and she might well have been asking that question about Weiner’s plans for the series as much as the disintegrating world around her.

“Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold…” but at the end of this spectacular season of Man Men we see how even the fragments of the worst collapse can fall back upon each other, reordering their support in patterns unexpected and fresh. Beaten up but not beat down, facing the promise of a new beginning that might turn out better and more fulfilling than what was lost.

Heather Havrilesky
has an excellent Mad Men wrap-up at Salon [SPOILERS]:

Breathtaking, really, that each character’s deepest desires and drives could be satisfied without screwing up the story or turning it into a fairy tale. In particular, the difference between Peggy and Joan and what they each want was beautifully expressed in seconds: Roger, Joan and Peggy are hunched over the books at the old offices, exhausted from their scrambling attempts to bring as much with them to the new firm as they can before they’re locked out, when Sterling asks, “Peggy, can you get me some coffee?” Without wavering, Peggy snaps back, “No.”

Next we cut to Don informing Joan, “I’m at the Roosevelt, but I’ll need you to find me an apartment.”

“Furnished?” Joan asks without skipping a beat, in that tone of professional nonchalance that makes her such a star. Sure, Joan’s made to be a caretaker and organizer of men’s lives, but does that make her miserable? No. She absolutely glows when she’s s given an opportunity to do what she does best…

The only character whose fate feels slightly tragic is Betty. How heartbreaking was that shot of her on the plane to Reno, holding her little, worried-looking baby as Henry Francis snoozed in the seat beside them? Now Betty has the dull life and the dull Daddy of her dreams, and not surprisingly, there she is, looking as hopelessly alone as ever. (And really, someone should give that baby an Emmy for encapsulating the angst of that scene in his poor little face. Another boy goes barreling off into an unknown future with a dad who’s not his own. Is Francis even a good guy? Who knows?)

Who knows? arrrghh! we’ll have to wait another year to find out.