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Mad Men, to the tune of Roy Orbison’s Shahdaroba

In television on 11/17/2009 at 10:21 am

This tip of the hat to Mad Men’s Season 3 finale, which aired on AMC last Sunday (Nov. 8), is a week late. Or is it? Depends when you watched it.

Well, okay, this is late because I’ve been writing and rewriting it for a week, not just because of the usual dithering, but for the sheer joy of rolling it over in my mind. Which of the blistering moments were the worst? Probably Don to Betty: “You’re a whore.” Which were there best? Probably the polite razor swipe of, “Very Good. Happy Christmas.” Most painful? Every moment on that sofa with Bobby and Sally the “you’ll have two Christmases” speech.

I have resorted to this because, well, directly after I watched the finale — Close the Door, Have a Seat — I beetled into work looking for the closest MM watcher. But he held up a finger and wordlessly shook his head, the international sign for “I haven’t seen it yet. Do not discuss in earshot.”

I turned to Facebook and got two more Mad Men fans launching best-defence-is-a-good-offence strategies: “Watching it later this week. No spoilers.” Another demanded “24 hours.” It was gratification so delayed as to be denied.

Oh sure, I got my fix. Alan Sepinwall at the New Jersey Ledger has made an art of Mad Men debriefing. His dispatches are brilliant, his readers’ comments almost as good. Have a look.It’s not as thought delayed TV viewing is a new thing. There are DVRs, possibly even VCRs (yes, I’m laughing at you, a little) and also network videoplayers and sites like Hulu, plus file-sharing sites where one can download and, increasingly, iTunes. Watch any time!Which is all great. But it’s not quite the same as when we all stayed home to watch the last season finale of Lost and swarmed each other the next day, going, “Kate? And Jack? And Juliet? And Sawyer? Oh my GAWD!” Not a Lostie? Then perhaps you can apply this heightened state of TV-watching euphoria to American Idol or even So You Think You Can Dance. It might only be people in the media who call this a watercooler moment. I’ve never actually had a conversation standing by a watercooler, so let’s update it and call these our waiting-at-the-printer moments. Well, I’m standing by the printer and I’m waiting. Hellooooo?

***

Yes, I will eventually get to the Mad Men finale, but before that, let me just detail my Mad Men procurement experience. Videotron and Bell continue to ignore the great value and, I think, demand for the AMC cable channel, which carries Mad Men but is not carried by either of these dominant TV providers in the Montreal area. CTV, then it’s sister A channel, then Bravo carried the first two season, but declined to carry the third.

I watched episodes on iTunes the morning after broadcast on my iPhone, an experience best described as intimate but ruined not a little by the inches-wide screen. It was however smoother than the herky-jerky playback when viewing the episodes on my laptop. Shelling out $2.49 per episode made me grumpy, but not as grumpy as the playback.

Judging by the comments on iTunes, I was not the only one plagued by jerky playback, but no one proposed a solution other than buying newer computer equipment. Thanks. I’ll get right on that. After I pay my exorbitant cable bill and top up my iTunes account and go to confession for even thinking about turning to a file-sharing site which, while I don’t judge others for resorting to, I still hold to be theft.

I do, however, have one good thing to say about iTunes other than, of course, that they at least make the episodes available. After trying to play back the third last episode and finding the dialogue audio track missing, I vowed to try once again to attempt to figure out how to reach an actual human or even find an email address to request help, but iTunes beat me to it. There was an email in my in-box advising that a problem in my last transaction had been detected (for me and others) and that I had a fresh download waiting for me at the iTunes store. So thanks for that, iTunes.

***

And now to the episode itself. It is not only too late, but also too little to say Close the Door, Have a Seat was a great end to a great season of Mad Men.
First of all, special thanks to Matthew Weiner, exec and writer, for not leaving us with a cliffhanger. The future is still uncertain, but another show might have ended this season with merely the intent or threat to change. This finale set the pieces of Don Draper’s personal and business lives on a new board and the new game is ready. How will things change? And will they really change? And will I stop asking rhetorical questions?

The episode ends with wonderful, luxurious ambiguity with Roy Orbison’s Shahdaroba. It starts out promising “the future is much better than the past” and “in the future, you will find a love that lasts”, but ends with “When your dream dies, and your heart cries, Shahadaroba, fate knows what’s best for you.”

Let’s do a roll call:

Betty Draper (January Jones) is done with husband Don (Jon Hamm), jetting off to Las Vegas for a six-week “quickie divorce” with new friend Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley). But how will her unhappiness be eased by going from one man who sees only her glacial beauty and excellent hosting skills to another?  Don’s philandering and the cigar-box evidence of his other life wounded Betty, but only aggravated her own need for … something. She will become liberated, but mostly from the idea that men are the problem.Henry urged her not to ask for any money from Don, promising to take care of her and her three children. It’s 1963. Oh dear. I pick politics as the pumpkin that will become her chariot ride to the ball. She dabbled this season to get close to Henry, she will continue as his covivant and it will not only transform her but put her in circles that will overlap with Don’s.

This episode is Don’s comeuppance. He is humbled by every woman in his life. Betty leaves him, Peggy refuses to jump at his offer to join Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and even daughter Sally scalds him when, after he explains he’s not really going, “just living elsewhere”, she screamed, “That’s going! You say things you don’t mean. You can’t do that!” All Don’s worst fears have been realized. His secret life is now known to his wife and at least one of his superiors-cum-partners and he has lost his surface-perfect marriage (though even Betty concedes “You will always be their father”). A man who lives by facade who loses the facade either seeks a new facade or faces himself unmasked. When Don gets surly after Conrad Hilton (Chelcie Ross) warns him of the impending sales, father-figure Connie (oh please bring him back) chastises Don for being anything other than self-defined, leading Don to a flashback of his hated father refusing to sell his wheat for too low a price. Galvanized, Don pitches the idea to buy Sterling Cooper by admonishing Bertram Cooper’s (Robert Morse) passivity: “Who the hell’s in charge? A bunch of accountants who want to turn a dollar into a dollar-ten? I want to work! I want to build something of my own!” More portents of real change follow when Don’s appeal to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) describes the new post-JFK-assassination world: “There are people out there who buy things. People like you and me. And then something happened. Something terrible happened and the way they saw themselves is gone. Nobody understands that, but you do.”

Other characters are changed utterly: Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) finally gets to hang up on his now-furious viper of an ex-boss, Saint John Powell (Charles Shaughnessy) with: “Very good! Happy Christmas!”Unchanged but restored: Don makes peace of a sort with Roger Sterling (John Slattery), which is lovely because they work so well together.

And Joan (Christina Hendricks) is back. This show has always been about Don, the hollow man seeking first to hide his hollowness and now to fill it with substance and righteous action. But the backbone of the show is the women and their evolution. Betty is heading for a breakdown or a breathrough. This job grants Joan a reprieve from her also disappointing marriage to a failure of a doctor who’s now Vietnam bound. Peggy is standing on her own, has told Don she will neither be the dog he kicks nor, very amusingly, the girl who will get Roger’s coffee. Ever.
Speaking of Peggy, what of her new beau, Duck Phillips (Mark Moses) and his own aspirations? How will he take the news that he’s lost Peggy to his enemy? Moreover, what will become of the abandoned Sterling Cooper crew?

And what of those others who were so glaringly absent from the finale? What does it mean that in the raid on Sterling Cooper, the art department’s was the only locked door? The art department headed by Sal (Bryan Batt), let go because he was gay and was accused of hitting on the man who heads the cigarette account that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce must keep? Don kicked in the door, but can that be seen as breaking down the metaphorical door? They need Sal (and we love Sal). But can they accept Sal?

Also missing was Don’s latest teacher squeeze, left outside in the car after he forgets her a couple of episodes back when Betty confronted him with the cigar box. And not only the teacher and her shades of Fatal Attraction, but her no-good brother, who has one of Don’s business cards. You know that card will turn up in a police station or a morgue.
Sing it Mr. Orbison: “Shahdaroba, fate knows what’s best for you.”
What did you think? How did you watch Mad Men? I’m a the printer and I’m waiting, but also checking comments here.
— Denise Duguay

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