Mad Men Airs Sunday nights at 10/9c on AMC
Episode: “Meditations in an Emergency,” the season finale
Synopsis: As the Cuban Missile Crisis looms overhead, Sterling/Cooper is in the midst of a merger with Putnam, Powell, and Lowe. Don returns to New York just in time to see Duck Philips made president of the new company. Betty learns that she’s pregnant. Peggy gets some further tongue-lashing from Father Gill.
Review: The Cuban Missile Crisis serves as a nice backdrop for this episode. We get to see some old footage of Kennedy during this time period and the tone of the crisis also sets up some good tension that carries throughout the entire episode. Some characters are pretty un-phased by the Cuban crisis, it’s only because they have their own problems to deal with.
“Meditations” serves nicely as a season finale. Everything we’ve been wanting to see this season is revealed. Peggy finally has a long overdue talk with Pete. Don returns to New York and openly embraces Pete’s skills as an ad man. Pete, in return, opens up to Don about some interesting news. We kind of saw this coming, I guess. We knew it would come down to Pete, Don, and Duck in some combination, forming an alliance, and that happens this episode.
And Betty. Phew. She does everything a pregnant woman should not do, but she’s always fun to watch.
Season Review: Sometimes TV shows fall into a “sophomore slump” where they try to over-reach and improve over the first season, and inevitably they are guilty of simply trying too hard. In recent memory I can think of season 2 of 24 which saw Elisha Cuthbert’s character get attacked by a cougar at one point, which was just the cherry on top of the over-wrought season. Heroes killed the momentum created by its first season by introducing some lame plots involving amnesia (Peter), going back in time (Hiro), introducing annoying characters (the Mexican wonder twins), and alienating characters we already liked (Sylar). However, Mad Men didn’t fall into this trap. It actually starved us for more, which season three will be more than happy to deliver I’m sure. There wasn’t much in the way of development for Pete and Peggy’s relationship this season, but the entire season led up to their final scene. The scene is subtle, quietly romantic, and intriguing. Peggy’s final monologue is heart-wrenching and honest, and Pete’s reaction was the perfect mixture of confusion and sadness. Vincent Kartheiser and Elizabeth Moss are two talented actors, and I hope we’ll see their relationship grow more, despite the speed bump thrown their way at the end of season 2.
The merger had a promise of cutbacks in the office, which I hope leads to at least one of the four Sterling Cooper guys (Sal, Ken, Harry, and Paul) being fired. Nothing against the actors, but they just got far too much screen-time this season. If I had to pick, I’d fire Harry because he’s the most selfish and Don doesn’t like the TV Dept. I wish there was more Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Roger (John Slattery) this season. With both of them engaged to different people, some interesting detours have emerged in what should ultimately end up with Joan and Roger realizing that they belong together (or at least belong in bed together). We saw a softer-ish side of Joan this season and I think we’ll see more of her and what should be an abusive marriage as the series plays on.
Jon Hamm proved this season (and with a nice guest host appearance on SNL) that he’s an eclectic talent. Hamm, who was basically an unknown going into season 1 of Mad Men, is now a household name. If Jon Hamm’s “John Ham” ever becomes a product on the market, I think Don Draper is the person who could convince me to buy it. This season saw some maturation for Don. At the beginning of the season he couldn’t get an erection with Betty until he started fooling around again, and didn’t even realize that this had anything to do with guilt. Finally getting caught in his elicit affairs was eye opening for Don, who went to California and re-evaluated his life. He returned with a new-found love and respect for his family, and season 3 should show us more of him putting the pieces of his life back together again. After Peggy telling Pete about the pregnancy, the one scene I’ve been dying to see since season 1 is Don telling Betty about his previous life. We still wait for that, and the more we wait the sweeter it shall be.
January Jones completed her season 2 tour-de-force in the final episode. I don’t know how an actress can train herself to be as blank-faced and seemingly emotionless as January makes Betty, yet we feel and see every emotion she’s hiding. There’s something truly scary about Betty underneath the surface, her and Don are, as my girlfriend put it, “emotionally retarded,” and watching Don and Betty mend things together will be interesting. Betty evened the playing field a little bit in the finale and made it so now they both have something to hide.
As a family, the two of them are not ideal. As entertainment, they are sublime.