Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From Manhattan to the Moon: Mad Men's mid-season finale and its mixed bag

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2014 at 3:28 PM

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD ... Mad Men
's demi-finale Waterloo has offered some brilliant and touching moments — and a few signs of serial senioritis. To offer a mid-term report, I consulted my cohorts in the Mad Men Round Table Facebook Group — some of whom have jobs that veer into the same territories of an advertising agency — to weigh in on a few key points during the episode. See if you agree.

What didn't work (or is questionable at best):

Talking points: Some conversations felt forced. Some stuff felt thrown in while crucial topics have been shelved. Thankfully, the heavy handedness isn't as evident as the Sopranos' last episodes — yet. "I was confused by Sally's storyline in this episode and I'm wondering if it is a setup for the final half season," said Round Table administrator Amanda Brown.

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Mommy issues:
Peggy is dealing with her loneliness and maternal yearnings — addressed tenderly in a scene between her and neighbor Julio —  but not once has she shown an inkling of regret or interest or any hint at all of pining over her own ambiguously adopted child? Should the child languish in the subtext? 

"Peggy's amnesia about her child has been one of the main things that has bothered me about her character for the run of the series," says Michael Martz or Martz Creative. "The only time that child comes up is when she tells Pete about it much later. I find it pretty unrealistic that she's never been shown to even wonder about her child's life, let alone be a part of it. That kid got written off the show faster than Rita's kids did on Dexter! (which, of course, is a terrible, terrible show that I shall never mention again.)"

Another valid viewpoint comes from Laura Anne Cameron: "I think Peggy's denial is believable. I think to dramatize her wondering about the baby would seem too bizarre and maybe maudlin, but we get her guilt especially now with the neighbor boy and her comments in regards to Burger Chef and being the 'voice of moms' — 'What do I know about being a mom?'  For us the viewers, The 'right thing' would be to own up to it, but for Peggy, the 'right thing' is to keep moving on her chosen path."

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Joan, why you so mad at Don? Since Don's return to the firm, Christina Hendricks' exec has acted like she smells rotten eggs whenever Draper enters the room. While we understand that she'd be perturbed that he's lost her and the firm money, her fiery indignation has seemed arbitrary at best.  "There was never a bridge between (Joan's) loyalty and antipathy — it was just bad writing and the writers are now expecting us to accept that this fast shift makes sense," laments Natalie Campisi Tarpley. "It's sort of like the Megan-Don break-up. It's bad, it's a threesome, it's over. Whaat?!" Creator Matt Weiner defended Joan's ire in Variety, but many think he still laid it on a bit thick.

Soraya Zaumeyer disagrees. "I think the writers are showing Joan's development," my copywriter pal said. "Joan has always been a shrewd businesswoman, and may even be overcompensating given the nature of her becoming a partner. She's also an account executive now, so it's less likely for her to support any rogue creative episodes than may endanger client relationships. Also, even though Don objected to her one-nighter with Jaguar, he had sabotaged the relationship making it all for naught."

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Jim Cutler, we hardly knew ye: Just as Harry Hamlin's quippy, eccentric boss man was getting interesting, he got annoying. Pragmatic yet entirely too kooky. The partner-come-lately seemed to do too much waffling. "The utilitarian makes non-utilitarian moves and then, yes, totally waffles after showing a shrewd side then becoming another toss away fool," says USF assistant professor Tamara Zwick.

What worked:

Don Draper coming into his own: Our flawed protagonist realizes his mistakes. He speaks up when he's supposed to instead of playing it stoic and cool. On more than one occasion, Don is expressing a tableau of emotions — sadness, relief, remorse among them — as he deals with an outcome that is inevitable but heartbreaking just the same. His acquiescing of the Burger Chef presentation to Peggy is his classiest move yet and a gratifying pot of gold for those of us who've followed Don's character arc.


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The visuals: "
Weren't the camera angles, shots, and COLORS extra fantastic?" effused Tamara. 

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The Peggy-Don dynamic, Peggy/Don: Though the show's mentor/mentee experienced some friction and a few barbs had been slung, our favorite surrogate siblings have bonded in their alienation again, and fans are eating it up. Pretty much any scene spotlighting Elisabeth Moss' Peggy and Jon Hamm's Don has offered the show's most watchable moments. Creator Matt Weiner confirms to Variety that the focus on the mending of the relationship between Don and Peggy was crucial to allowing both characters to grow this season. "It’s very satisfying to see people achieve under high stakes," Weiner told Variety. "Don trusts her and she delivers."


Making history: The entire cast witnesses one of the most important events in American history as a tragedy arrives on its heels, taking everyone by surpise. "I think what really worked best was the moon-landing story line about the manner in which people all stop and experience certain moments simultaneously," added Tamara.

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A touch of magical realism and a sweet sendoff:
We say goodbye to Sterling Cooper's founding father and the show's farewell finale is a fittingly quirky, colorful and sweet adieu to movie star/musical theater vet Robert Morse. Bertram Cooper, thanks for for the socks, the song and dance (from an era we look to fondly) and your starry-eyed coda. Ol' secretary Ida is smiling from her grave.  

"The Bert fantasy scene was a highlight for me," said Nikki Rice. "He's always had a Yoda presence including the lack of shoes. Don, a man who escapes to the movies sees the real scope of Bert's role as a mentor and dreamer. I love, in season two, the reference to his obsession with space. Tales of him on the roof looking for cosmonauts. Well, he got to see a man on the moon. End a large life with a dream and go out with a simple message. 'The best things in life are free!' I thought it was brilliant." 

"On a positive note, maybe a black receptionist can now sit at the front door?" says Laura.

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