by Josh Radde
Synopsis: The season finale begins with Don ending his business partnership with Conrad Hilton and ends with him starting a new job somewhere else; Betty wants to go forward with divorce proceedings.
Review: Season 3 of Mad Men is now in the books. First let me discuss the season as a whole before going into the finale. There were lots of great moments in this year’s season. I loved “My Old Kentucky Home” and how much fun it was seeing Pete and Trudy dancing, Peggy getting high, and Joan playing the accordion. “Guy Walks Into an Ad Agency” was another homerun. Hilarious, well-written, and some juicy character tidbits from Joan, Don and others – essentially, what Mad Men should always be about. Though some portions of the season were without much in the way of conflict, we still took in the lives of Don Draper, his family, and his co-workers. Peggy’s independence was displayed a little more each week and was never taken to a cliche level. Although her relationship with Duck was something I don’t think anybody saw coming (or wanted). Not much happened with Pete Campbell other than the fact that he and Trudy seemed to be on the same page for much of the season. There was a little exploration into Campbell that showed us how much of a child he is inside, and he also impressed Don with his ability to find new demographics and markets. Roger came on late in the season and had some redeemable episodes. His scuffle with Don was not very well executed, but scenes where the two of them were getting along were some of my favorites. Joan showed us that she has way more potential than she’s been allowed to show. She spent most of the season sidelined by her mopey, whiny husband who she finally belted in the head with a vase after 10+ episodes of being annoying. I think what I learned most from this season is how much Joan means to the show. She’s not just the best secretary in the world and a sight for sore eyes, she’s also developed into more or less the heart of the series.
I used to think Betty was the heart of the show, but that was only because she was playing a “part” for so long. After the second season finale where she had sex with a nameless stranger, she’s been pretty much a vengeance machine this whole season. Her relationship with Henry Francis, forcing Don to take in her father, naming the new baby after her father once he died to spite Don – she’s been more of a villainous this season than a loving mother and wife. And once she found out her husband was not the man he claimed to be, all bets were off. I don’t know what happens now with Betty and Don, but I am intrigued. I think I can speak for most of the viewers when I say that her relationship with Francis has been one of the sore spots of the season. It was interesting when they were flirting, but I don’t think I ever could’ve seen him proposing marriage to her coming. Betty is a complicated woman, who wants to be treated like a princess, and she found a man who wants to cater to all her desires. This will most likely end badly. I also really loved last week’s JFK assassination episode. It really pushed our characters forward and seemed like a logical place in time for them to try and find new beginnings.
That brings us to Don and the review of tonight’s episode. Say what you will about the adultery committed on this show. Pete and Peggy, Roger and Joan, Don and (insert brunette) – they always seem to have great chemistry when they’re together. Take Don and Miss Farrell. As far as affairs go, that was about as uncomplicated as it got. I know some friends of mine that watch the show were bored by Miss Farrell, however I loved how uncomplicated their arrangement was. It seemed more realistic, at least moreso than Henry Francis proposing to another man’s wife. Even if you go beyond the out-of-wedlock coupling that happens on Mad Men, it’s still a series built around chemistry. This lives and dies with Don Draper. I think that’s why season 4 of Mad Men will see our favorite characters teaming with Don to get back to what they do best: advertising. There was very little actual work in Season 3. It seemed like Don was out of good ideas because he was pissed all the time, Pete was spread too thin with far too many accounts, and most of Peggy’s best scenes happened away from Sterling/Cooper. I feel like Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Price can be a really good thing for this show going forward. No more bitching and bickering and Don trying to make people constantly work harder for his approval. Don had to tell everyone working at the new business why he needs them, and that was a really great thing to see. This entire season all we did was watch Don Draper be pissed off and shun people. It’s better when he’s working with his co-workers and not trying to hover above them.
I think you have to say that 1963 was a bad year for Don Draper. However, I think this is where we want to see him. After they packed up their offices at Sterling/Cooper for good, Roger turns to Don and asks “How long do you think it will take us to get into an office like this again,” to which Don replies “I never saw myself working in an office like this.” What we need from this series is to see Don coming to grips with his dual life, see him being a good father and the best ad man there is, as well as inspiring the people around him. Next season will hopefully get back to what we loved about Seasons 1 and 2, and will integrate some of the sheer fun that we had with the better parts of Season 3.
You can read more of Josh Radde’s Mad Men Season 3 reviews here.