Tomorrowland: Mad Men Season 4 Finale (Commentary)
Will you at least put me out of my misery before you go? ~ Don to Faye
That’s two. ~ Topaz client
It’s good to be a gangsta, and it’s great to be Don Draper. Your company may be spiraling into oblivion, you’ve torched one marriage through dishonesty and infidelity, you’ve jerked around other women left and right – and yet you have three women vying for you at once, including the ex-wife who bitterly divorced you not long ago. She’s shocked, shocked to find out that her new life isn’t perfect, and that her new husband is no longer charmed by her, so her old sexy one seems pretty damn appealing again. She makes a subtle play for you, but it’s too late -- she’s a piece of work who has lost her hold on you and you want something new. You could take the professional woman who’s your equal, who’s seen you at your worst and still loves and accepts you, and who challenges you professionally, intellectually and emotionally – but, oh no, that’s too scary. No, you choose the pretty young thing who has let you chase her until she caught you, the one who’s charmed both you and the kids by being utterly sweet and giving and uncomplaining (the exact opposite of she-who-shall-not-be-named), the one who swears she knows you and thinks you’re wonderful even though she actually doesn’t know a damn thing except that you’re sexy and (usually) successful and at your marry-by date as a divorced man, so she better act fast. Which the smart woman had predicted would happen, and then forgot her own prognostications and fell for you anyway.
Who is she? ~ Faye
What’s the difference? ~ Don
But then Faye was right about a lot of things. She also said that if you stopped burying your head in the sand about the past and resolved things, you’d feel better. And so you did -- you sold that sandy place by the beach where Anna lived and jumped into the cement pond with the young'uns (all four of them) instead. And when your daughter innocently asked the portentous question that’s loomed over the entire run of Mad Men -- “Who’s Dick?” – you tossed off the answer as casually as you flick an ash off a cigarette. “That’s me,” you replied, before fudging (because that’s what you do when asked personal questions). “That’s my nickname sometimes.” (Nicknames being what those who know you well can call you.) We could make up an advertising jingle for you: Sometimes Dick, sometimes Don, never truthful; sometimes single, sometimes married, never faithful.
Pretty face comes along…it all goes out the window. ~ Peggy
California has always felt like the future to you, as well as a place where you can be yourself, so how apt that you’re taking your kids to Disneyland (the so-called Happiest Place on Earth, where dreams can come true) and specifically to Tomorrowland, because Bobby wants to fly a jet (as well as be a shark in the pool, just like Dad). This time that California baptism finally seems to take, even if it’s an artificial one in a hotel pool, and you decide to start a new life, with that fresh new woman. And how can you resist proposing to her, since you happen to have that ring on hand that deus ex Matthew Weiner threw into the plot via Anna’s last bequest?
Unlike Betty’s new life, Megan seems to actually be perfect. She’s beautiful but funny and modest. She sings to your children in French (and uses it to call them “animals” when bidding them good night), she laughs when they spill a milkshake rather than getting angry like their mother would, and she gives you that “good lovin’” at night even after playing nanny all day to your three kids. You compare her to Maria Von Trapp (a governess who famously married the father of her charges) but she’s not a problem like Maria – there’s not a wrinkle to be found on her brow or in her disposition. She’s the Sleeping Beauty you fantasize about even while she’s sleeping next to you, but who is really under the spell? And why are you lying awake after you’ve got her, babe? Is it because Faye was right when she said you only like something when it’s new? (Or if it’s borrowed, like another man’s wife?) Are you already feeling blue?
Do you think I enjoy doing this after all these years? ~ Betty
If so, you’re not the only one. Betty has to lie not just in the bed she hastily made with Henry, but in her daughter’s, a perfect symbol of her girlish regression. Capriciously firing Carla for the mysteriously capital crime of letting Glen say goodbye to Sally, she tries to make a clean sweep into her new life in Rye (leaving behind Don’s Old-Fashioneds) but then Henry gets angry at her childish behavior, and pointedly tells her there are no fresh starts and it's her problem that she never feels anyone’s on her side. So she connives to be at the Ossining house when you’re meeting the real estate agent, and purties herself all up to win you back, but that sentimental last drink together (appropriately from a hidden bottle) goes all whiskey sour when she finds out you’ve replaced her already.
Whatever could be on your mind? ~ Joan
Meanwhile back at the office, the women aren’t happy there, either. Peggy’s doing your job, having seized on the intel from a Jean Shrimpton-esque friend of Joyce’s that Topaz pantyhose has fired their agency. Accompanied by Cosgrove, she successfully pitches them an off-the-top-of-her-head series of ideas, including that, unlike wives, a single pair of pantyhose is all you ever need. (Just like marrying your secretary, this is deemed “bad for business, but good for you.”) Peggy’s the ideal person to pitch this “singular” product, being a decidedly single woman, one who fits the description of the prior campaign that the client rejected, which featured a woman who isn’t really Cinderella and doesn’t know where she’s going.
Peggy should be headed up, as she wins business with an increasingly polished and confident presence, combining the strengths of Don with the insights only a woman can bring to women’s products (a point she tried to make way back in the Patio soft drink days, only to have Don reject it). But her Topaz triumph hits a snag when it’s pre-empted by Don’s giddy announcement (which he makes using almost identical words as Roger did when proclaiming that he was marrying Jane). Peggy takes advantage of her special relationship with Don to question him privately, and is taken aback when he says that Megan reminds him of her, having that same “spark." Is that romantic disappointment on Peggy’s face, or worry over her job?
We get hints that it’s the latter when Peggy goes to Joan’s office to dish about the big news. In one of the most delicious scenes of the series, one that some of us have waited for like acting fans did the single scene of DeNiro and Pacino together in “Heat,” the two co-workers finally have a meeting of minds and hearts. After five years of being at odds, of sharing at best awkward and often insincere moments of connection, they finally tell the truth and as a result seem at ease with each other, smoking cigarettes and talking frankly about the infuriating silliness of men who fall in love with their secretaries. While both have played that role, Peggy’s boss never saw her in a sexual light, while Joan’s saw her only that way (as does her husband, apparently, admitting that all he wants to know is if her breasts are bigger now that she’s pregnant. Well, it's understandable that he doesn’t want to know that the baby isn’t his.)
Well, it’s almost an honor. ~ Joan
Both have had to look outside of work for love, which would be fine, if they were shown some love for their work. But Joan’s given a promotion without any raise or celebration, tackily slipped in by Lane while she’s delivering the mail, a clerical duty she hasn’t been able to shed despite her supposedly high status at the firm. And Peggy’s landing of the first new business in 10 weeks is cheered by Don but she rightly notes that it’s considered less important than getting married. “That’s why I learned a long time ago not to get all my satisfaction from this job,” Joan intones in her classic mother-knows-best voice, provoking Peggy to deliver a long-awaited comeback: “That’s bullshit.” Joan has to laugh not only because Peggy has finally leveled the distance between them, but because she has spoken the truth: Work isn’t everything for either of them, but it’s damn important to both of them.
I wanted a fresh start. ~ Betty
There is no fresh start. ~ Henry
So as the fourth season wraps up, whither Mad Men?
Don’s locked up the third Mrs. Draper, but lost both Anna, the one woman who really did know and love him, and Faye, a woman who could have pushed him to greater self-awareness and development as a person. He tells Megan, “I don’t know what it is about you, but I feel like myself when I’m with you -- but the way I always wanted to feel. Because I’m in love with you.” But is that seeming ease a real feeling or just a romantic fantasy? The fact that he doesn’t know what it is – or what or who she really is or vice versa – isn’t a good sign. We laugh when Roger greets Don’s announcement of being engaged to “Miss Calvet” with “Who’s that?” but in fact, Megan is a cipher both to Don and to us (and we even have the benefit of seeing her cat-that-ate-the-canary grin after bedding Don again). Megan doesn’t know Don’s real identity, and while he vaguely tells her he’s “done things,” she airily dismisses his fears and he gratefully goes along with this instant reboot of his life. As he says to the American Cancer Society clients about his New York Times ad, “I think in my heart it was an impulse because I needed to move forward.”
People lose their heads. I’m sure it was a mistake, dear. ~ Harry
Earlier, Faye had told him that resolving his past would leave him more comfortable with everything else only to have him ask, “And then what happens?" “Then you’re stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us,” she replied, sealing her fate with that mundane honesty. Like a Goodfella who doesn’t want to leave a glamorous life of crime for the boring but safe life of a working shmuck, Don doesn’t want to be just like everyone else, or paired with a woman who will push him into deeper awareness. He’d rather have the comfortable, uncomplicated life with the easygoing young woman – except, wait, that’s what he chose before, in marrying Betty, who he described to Anna as being “so happy” at the time they got engaged.
Tellingly, at the start of the episode, Faye opens his bedroom door and throws light onto his face, waking him up, and at episode’s end, he lies awake in darkness while Sleeping Beauty slumbers on his chest, seemingly without a care. Don’s been woken up again and again, but he falls back asleep every time, back into the trance that is the American treadmill of pursuing success, and now back into the fantasy that romantic love solves everything. The master of pragmatism at work falls into magical thinking in justifying his impulsive proposal to Megan (another announcement that will hit the New York Times, thus fulfilling Faye’s fear of being rejected in its pages) moonily asking her, “Did you ever think of the things that had to happen for me to get to know you? But everything happened and it got me here. What does that mean?” (Gee, Don by that measure, you might as well marry the elevator operator.) The ironically named “Tomorrowland” doesn’t lead Don into the future, but only into a slightly different version of his past. Enlightenment will have to wait a little while.
It’s not going to get any easier the longer you wait. ~ Megan to Don
As many have predicted, the future instead seems to belong to Peggy, at least if she can get the recognition she deserves. She’s no Cinderella, but the pantyhose fits, and she’s going to walk all over the competition in it.
Ken, who successfully pairs with her in this episode, seems to be a fitting work partner, balancing her sharp ambition with his easygoing style. He values relationships not in the way Roger does (schmoozing clients) but in what he calls his “actual life,” (unlike Don’s simulated one) which he refuses to compromise for the sake of clients that he knows he’ll eventually lose some day anyway.
A transitional figure in the show, being both old-fashioned and yet still young, Joan now literally carries the past within her, but is transforming it into her future, putting a different name on her baby than its birthright, thus creating a Don Draper of her own.
And after having been relegated to a role of unredeemed bitterness and foul parenting this season, Betty is left to her just desserts, in the form of a Henry on Rye, after having made the mistake of assuming the problem with her life was her husband, only to find out that no matter who you marry, there you are.
A lesson that I suspect Dick Whitman will be learning in Season 5. After all, the real estate agent rang twice for him, and we know what that means.
I saw the light go off. ~ Megan
It’s fine. It’s done. ~ Don
You best stop talking now. ~ Carla, to long-winded bloggers.