Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My MAD MEN season review

SPOILER ALERT, but Jesus, watch the damn show already.  Enough people are talking about it.
Can Don Draper find happiness now that he plans to marry his Laura Petrie with bad teeth? Well, first of all, no one is ever really going to be happy because without conflict you’re left with TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.  But I do feel Don at least has a shot now.  As do some  of the other always-in-crisis characters.  Season four wrapped up Sunday night and for my money it was the best year since the first.

Not that the last two weren’t good but I got a little tired of Don just trying to be comfortable in his own skin. By the time he was hanging out in Palm Springs with the Andy Warhol kibbutz I was screaming, “Figure it out already!”

But this year we really got to watch Don grapple with substantial obstacles – losing his touch, striking out with trollops, becoming Nick Cage in LEAVING LOST VEGAS or Lindsay Lohan in real life.

We saw him trying to live alone and it wasn’t pretty. He rented an apartment in Ratzo Rizzo’s building. For gratification he resorted to hookers and even Focus Group moderators.

His relationship with his children became even more strained, although it’s understandable that he didn’t really know his son, Bobby since six different actors have played him. And he was really conflicted. On the one hand he loved them. On the other he’d pay Jeffrey Dahmer to babysit if the alternative was spending ten minutes alone with them.

And Don was still the good parent considering Betty was their mother. Once a layered sympathetic character, she has now morphed into Joan Crawford. And Henry, the guy who married her after Don – if there were a land of the schmucks he would be their king. Watch, by episode two next season he’s going to be throwing himself in front of a moving train.

Betty is extraordinarily beautiful and yet whenever she comes on the screen I go "Shit!  Her!"  Even my libido hates her.

So what might happen in season five?

Sally will one day kidnap Patty Hearst. Third time will be a charm for Creepy Glenn as he will finally sleep with a Draper – Bobby.

Joan will have Roger’s baby and try to convince her husband, Greg that it’s really his. As my daughter Annie says, “He’ll figure something’s up when the baby comes out and has white hair”.

I expect the episode next season with the SCDP family picnic where the partners can meet all the children who think other men are their fathers.

SCDP will prosper.  Don's anti-smoking ad in the NY Times will result in a $50,000,000 account from Nicorette.    The ad proves so successful that Roger takes a similar one out that's anti-Japanese and the agency will be out of business in a month. 

Poor Peggy is facing the career’s woman existential question: devote your life to your profession or start hanging out more with a Lesbian? The show where she and Don spent a night together was maybe the single greatest episode of the series. Both deserve Emmys... and Clios.

Pete and Trudy will live happily ever after unless she decides to go back to college.

Poor jilted Dr. Faye will tell her friends that’s what happens when you date a shaygets.

Harry will eventually move out to the coast and become the Director of Comedy Development for ABC and then get fired when he exposes himself to Patty Duke at an affiliates convention.

But getting back to Don and his new bride, Megan – I like their chances. She’s good with children (although it doesn’t take much to improve upon Himmler). She’s smart, she’s sweet – her only real conflict will be what name to use? Her maiden name, Draper, or Whitman?  Seriously though, let's see how it goes when she's an equal and not subservient to Don.  

Still, I’m rooting for them – mostly for Sally, whoever is Bobby this week, and baby Gene. Don and everyone else can screw up their own lives. They’re grown ups. But MAD MEN is a drama. MAD KIDS is a tragedy.

Thanks to Matt Weiner and everybody associated with the show for giving us a sensational year.

What did you guys think of this year?


jackscribe said...

THE #1 exceptional show this season, altho they occasionally would throw sub-plots on the wall with WTF abandon. With the pending marriage, the Ratso apartment will be history. For next season, I watch for Honda to re-surface and become the account that'll save to firm. BTW, am I right to assume they wrote Bobby Morse out of the show?

Kathy said...

I agree. The Peggy-and-Don Night In the Office was like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" -- you just want one of them to get the hell out of there, and yet neither one possibly can.

We don't know who Betty was before she met Don (besides being a model). What kind of personality did she have? She could have been as sweet as Megan was, for all we know...and I admit, I fear Megan will become another Betty: squashed by Don's inability to be a decent husband. Maybe he could grow. But I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

I agree, fantastic season. But an even better review!

leor said...

no matter how many reviews i read of a show, yours are always the most fun to read!

loved the "shaygets" line!

Anonymous said...

The season's over? Since when did 3 episodes constitute a season?

David L said...

Great season...great posting...and I love that Annie has one of the best lines. You do know how to exploit your writing staff. And I mean that in the best sense...

DJ said...

It's probably true that Don is no real prize as a parent, but when he makes the effort, he goes big. Recall earlier in the season when he took Sally to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium (something that even made Betty genuinely happy for Sally). And in the final episode, there was a quick throwaway scene where Megan was telling Don about the reservations she had confirmed, including "the Dodger game." Now, if the episode took place around Columbus Day, as has been suggested, this wouldn't have been any ordinary Dodger game, but a game in the 1965 World Series. That'd be something for Bobby to remember...

SCDP said...

I loved this season. Definitely thought it was the best season of the entire series.

I was glad that Don and Megan got together and though I know Don will eventually cheat on her I hope their marriage lasts a while. It will be good for the kids to have "normal" parent.

Henry knocking Betty down a few pegs after she fired Carla was awesome. "Nobody is ever on your side!" SCORE HENRY!

How is Joanie going to explain this pregnancy to Roger? She can fool everyone else, including Doctor Dumbass McRaper (that would be Greg) but Roger knows and I don't think he's going to take it too well.

Anonymous said...

For years now I have been reading TV writers and over and again they always complain about the networks' instance that characters be "likeable". Then Matt Weiner creates Betty Draper, an unlikeable character, and you and everyone else pile on and talk about how much you hate her and don't want to see her. Maybe all of those network suits were right.

Wayne said...

The one season 4 development that can really undo Don Draper.
In a drunk moment, he told Faye the truth about his stolen identity.
Then after benefiting from secret business info he got from her, he dumped her romantically and cost her business.

You will get yours, Dick Whitman!

Megan's bad teeth won't be smiling for long.

danrydell said...

Dear Anonymous,
There's a difference between a character not being completely likable and Betty, the worst mom ever.

I'd venture to guess that studio execs are always complaining about more complicated characters, trying to make them more simple.

Dave said...

Heh, I've been fast-forwarding over all story lines Betty for two seasons now. It's a side benefit of recording the show and watching it later.

And Trudy has gone back to college. Community college. Since she's the same actress that plays Annie on Community. Or did you already know that and I've missed your subtlety?

Maryjo Richardson said...

I love you Ken but I really wish you would leave Lindsey Lohan alone. Watch Parent Trap sometime, it may make you kinder about her.

mjw said...

I won't post anonymously anymore.

I don't like Betty either and I agree that she is a terrible mother (firing Carla, was probably the worst thing we have ever seen her do). But is she really a worse parent than Don? He's neglectful, snappish and in many ways just as mean and unpleasant as his wife. Check out his initial reaction to the spilled milkshake - he's totally prepared to jump all over the kids.

I also think there is an interesting dynamic at work when we talk about "unlikeable" or as you put it, danrydell, not "totally likeable" characters, which is that actually we really like those characters.

Sure Tony Soprano may be a murderer and a serial adulterer who is a terrible father and a thief. He might be a whiny jackass but James Gandolfini is really charismatic and impressive, and really who wouldn't want to have the freedom to behave the way that he does?

Sure Don Draper is really a man who deserted from the army in a moment of cowardice and is complicit in the suicide of his own brother. Sure he is an unfaithful, sexist jerk who belittles his employees and treats his wife like a piece of property, but man that Kodak pitch was beautiful and he did win the Clio for best wax and polish ad, so we forgive him.

I don't like Betty Draper, but I like seeing her on camera because there are no other characters like her on TV. She's unhappy and she takes out that unhappiness on the only people she can - her kids. And is that surprising? The woman who has learned that her only worth comes from her physical appearance isn't a natural nurturer? The smart, cosmopolitan, model we saw when she and Don went to Rome who moldered out in Ossining while her husband cheated on her and belittled her is unhappy and angry? Shock. She's not a gangster or charismatic villain, just a sad, unhappy woman who deals with her life in the only way she knows how.

RCP said...

Very enjoyable review.

I also groaned every time Betty appeared on the screen - and was wishing Carla would have pushed her face into a layer cake.

Anonymous said...

'hookers and even focus group moderators'...Ouch that was a low blow...but I laughed...Somehow I get the feeling Megan would forgive Don even if he did cheat on her, she seems that understanding. I'm betting he won't. I also don't think Faye is going to expose Don. She may use that as leverage to get something, but I think the show is too classy to go the cheap drama route. I think the major conflict is going to be between perfect mother Megan, and evil mother Betty. That Sally is going to love Megan more will drive Betty absolutely insane.

-bee said...

I thought the first half of the season was great. After the episode with Don writing his journal I thought the show floundered a bit and became too plot-driven. LIked the last episode but that scene between Sally and Glenn was not good - maybe dad let his son direct it?

My prediction: while most of Don's "women" never saw Peggy as a threat, Megan will.

She will come between Don and Peggy and also try to interfere with the agency.

Don will get exasperated with her, but his hands will be tied because his kids love her.

Courtney Suzanne said...

I think Don's spilled milkshake reaction was really a reflex. After living with a woman who berates her children for every little thing, I'm sure his reaction was not really anger towards them, but anger at knowing what usually followed that event. Seeing that his new ladyfriend did not react that way must have been a breath of fresh air for him!

I actually enjoyed most seeing Don actually happy and excited about something, after all the torment he'd gone through this season. Someone on another blog mentioned that it seemed like this trip brought out Dick Whitman, and the Don Draper persona seemed to dissolve. Are we in for a kinder, happier Don next year?

As for Betty, well, she's a ticking time bomb. I hope the children are staying at Don's when she goes off.

Lizbeth said...

I'm sure the "Don/Megan honeymoon" is going to be over quite soon, because Don isn't a changed man.

He has merely found himself another woman who seems like the "model" wife and mother on the outside -- someone who can be his mommy both at work and at home. I doubt he'll ever treat Megan as an equal (he ran from Faye) and thus eventually she too will tire of his shit.

Neither the audience (or Don) has really seen enough of Megan to know who she really is under her shiny exterior...I'm sure she's no more emotionally evolved than Betty, Jane, Don, Roger, etc.

So, the drama will continue...I'm pretty sure there won't be a "happy ending" for Don anytime soon.

And that's why we watch!

Anonymous said...

I hope MAD MEN doesn't turn into a sappy soap opera. I was part of the 60 and 70s Los Angeles advertising scene and MAD MEN has so far captured the mood and atmosphere of the era. There was a similar scenario here in Los Angeles, where four principals (three men and a woman) in a major advertising agency left with it's largest account and set up their own, smaller, agency. It flourished for a while, but finally failed. There are many parallels between the show and the realities of that time. On the subject of this type of programing is the disappointing, Boardwalk Empire, a tricked up for TV, version of Enoch Johnson's Atlantic City during prohibition. His real story would have made for a much more compelling show.

Ted said...

I love this show! Wherever they want to take me, I'll go there.

Natalie Hatch said...

We haven't had the full season 4 here yet. Betty has to be one of the most complex characters on the show, yes people love to hate her, why? Because she shows as much love for her children as she was shown? I don't know. If the roles were reversed and she was a man would viewers feel the same way? Is it that she's a mother and should love her children the issue? I don't like her actions but I'm fascinated every time the cameras on her.

Brandon said...

"I think Don's spilled milkshake reaction was really a reflex. After living with a woman who berates her children for every little thing, I'm sure his reaction was not really anger towards them, but anger at knowing what usually followed that event."

Courtney, I think this reaction is kind of what mjw was referring to in the above comment about the different ways that people respond to Betty and Don's behavior. Don't get me wrong, I agree that Betty has really degenerated into a genuinely horrible person this season, and I have little sympathy for her. That said, why is everybody so willing to give Don the benefit of the doubt? Why was his reaction just a "reflex," but Betty's outbursts reflect what a horrible person she is?

I honestly couldn't care less whether Don finds happiness. I still absolutely love this show, but I probably find Don the least interesting care. And after Sunday's episode, I find his character kind of irredeemable. I have nothing against Megan, and I have no objection to Don breaking it off with Faye if he decided she wasn't right for him. But for crying out loud, you can't have the decency to subdue your impulsive behavior, go back to New York, and break up with her like a civilized person? After she compromised her ethics at your request (and didn't get anything in return), after she lost her business at SCDP because of your letter, after she left work to babysit for Sally at your request, after she spent a night consoling you in bed when you revealed your secret to her, after all that, you can't do more than discard her like a piece of trash?

Don't get me wrong, I will eagerly watch Season 5 because of the compelling drama and the many fascinating characters, but I have no emotional stake in whether Don succeeds in his new life.

Anonymous said...

This probably isn't surprising, but I just can't bring myself to care about Mad Men.

I work with enough assholes to not want to watch them on television...

Greg Ehrbar said...

Betty is difficult to take, to be sure, but my theory is that she's never gotten over Don and that makes her mad at him and at herself. The kids remind her of Don and that makes her mad at them. She repeatedly expresses her belief that Don has it easier than her and that makes her mad at Don and the kids. Henry is Betty's Gary Morton. He's good to her, but he's not Desi. And that makes her mad at him and at Don. And the kids.

This is a person that based so much of who she was on her husband, she was shattered and embittered when it turned out to be an illusion. Megan is not likely to travel exactly the same path. But as you said, this is a drama so things can't stay too nice for too long. And Don has never stayed faithful for long - sometimes only minutes can go by before he strays.

What's great about MAD MEN is how much it inspires us can talk about its fascinating characters. Even the secondary characters, like Carla, have more dimension than some leads in series that have run for years. I'll miss Carla!

This was the best season since the first. The balance of work stories vs. personal, style and mood, character and plot were superbly balanced.

The one scene I could not stop thinking about was the amazing funeral scene. Here was a deceased advertising "success" lying there as one side of the room was filled with competitors out to snag his accounts and the other side with business associates who strained to find an symphathetic anecdote to exempify his devotion to his family -- and the examples only serve to show how distant he was. The widow and daughter were heartbreaking, just sitting there.

Though I can't wait to see what happens next, and wonder how these characters will fare in the late '60s and early '70s (if the show continues to skip ahead each season), the setting of the early '60s is still particularly compelling because so few series really have focused on the era and its impact, and countless films and series have covered the late '60s and early '70s since they were louder and more turbulent.

Unknown said...

I usually don't leave criticism here but I am not a religious watcher of the show and still find it odd that you reduce Faye's role to "focus group moderator". I know you are trying to find a joke there but this one and every single one after it bombed for me because the show is so good you come across as taking cheap shots.

I know your humor and I usually laugh, but not here. I won't say it's sacrilegious, but I think this one's here is a swing and a miss. First time in years though...

Oh and as a sidenote: a Spoiler warning followed by Don putting the Ring on is kind of... well... I won't use strong language since I've already seen the episode (lucky me) but honestly Ken... bad choice.

Tom Brevoort said...

Wow, I had the complete opposite reaction to Don's spur-of-the-moment proposal to Megan, which seemed to me to be the latest in a long string of short-sighted self-destructive, self-deceptive decisions that Don seems to inevitably make seeking an idealized relationship that can make him forgive himself for his awful upbringing and the identity-deception that informs everything he's done since. The sequence at the end in the now-empty home between Don and Betty just underlined this to me--marrying Megan is just like marrying Betty again, for the most surface and ephemeral of reasons, and without any real understanding of or empathy for who this woman actually is. Forget conflicts with Peggy or office intrigue; this relationship is doomed because there is simply no way that Megan is the two-dimensional cartoon that Don thinks he's fallen in love with, and her inability to live up to the simplistic, idealized sketch of her in Don's mind will inevitably doom their relationship.

In my reading, this was a man who was finally beginning to be forced to come to grips with his past frantically grasping for the nearest pretty anchor to drag him back down under again, because that path is so much easier for him.

By Ken Levine said...

Can I just say some GREAT comments today?

mcp said...

How about this for Betty:


Pat Quinn said...

I like the office scenes more than the non-office scenes, so this season was not as good for me as others. There were less personalities in the office due to the new business, and Betty stories had less-than-zero to do with the office now that she has a new husband.

I am beginning to understand that shows that I love to watch might not go the direction that I would like them to go in {Lost} and the writers have their own goals that might make the show different than what I thought it was.

I never saw Mad Men as a show about relationships. It's almost an anti-relationship show. The show seems to be about individual achievement (Peggy's not sporting a Clio because there is just one Clio in the office) and one person has it.

So I am turned off when someone is dumped on without an opportunity to rise again (Sal) or broken without a rhyme or reason to their rebuild (Lane).

For someone who defended Don against Pete's "I have the goods on Don Draper" offensive, Bert Cooper folded his cards quickly while hurling "I knew you'd never be a good partner" at him.

Do the writers like teasing the audience with things like Sal, who everyone wants back, or are they handicapped with the 12 episode limit? Or both.

I think I answered my own question.

Pete Grossman said...

Definitely! After the Peggy-and-Don Night episode ended I said "That's the Emmy! Right there! That's it! Favorite line from that show? Duck who thinks he's in Don's office (it's Roger's) is trying to crap on Roger's post-modern white as Roger's hair chair. Peggy screams at him 'What are you doing?' to which he shouts back "Quiet! I'm concentrating!"

For a few moments in the season closer, I thought for sure we were seeing Don dreaming when he proposed to secretary French chick, but damn! The scene kept going and I just thought WTF? And then went along for the ride. Hold on for season five!

Stephanie said...

"I hope MAD MEN doesn't turn into a sappy soap opera."

I thought it always had elements of that, thematically and structurally, what with Don's Terrible Secret, and all.

In the early seasons Betty was often sympathetic, but the Evil Mom she's become has no believability whatsoever. You can believe she'd be angry when her daughter comes home with a disfiguring haircut, but that a woman like Betty would haul off and hit the kid without even thinking about it is silly. (She might hit Don.) January Jones may not be the greatest actress, but she seems to be taking the fall for what the character has become, and it's not fair.

JCDavies said...

I loved this season. Though I am not sure what my favorite episode was, my favorite part of your review was the prediction about Harry! Poor Patty Duke would have never seen it coming...

Anonymous said...

what? he proposed to the secretary that was basically a background prop for the entire show (I don't even know if she was on previous seasons), and suddenly she's like "the love of his life" and he's happy and his life is back on track?! that's just lazy, or a setup for it to blow spectacularly on his face, and you all bought it