Finalewatch: 'Mad Men' season two
A brilliant season of Mad Men came to a close Sunday with an expertly crafted episode, with the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis paralleling (and in some cases prompting) upheavals in the characters' lives.
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Let's count up the major events and revelations covered in "Meditations in an Emergency": Don returns to New York to discover Sterling Cooper is on the verge of a merger; Betty learns she's pregnant, tries to induce a miscarriage and has a quickie with a guy she meets in a bar; Peggy reveals what happened to her child; and Pete displays genuine emotion.
Duck's merger plan seems to be going swimmingly, and he's so confident in his place at the new Sterling Cooper after the PP&L takeover that he decides to let Pete in on the secret and tells the younger man that he'll take over Duck's position as head of accounts. Unfortunately for Duck, though, Don returns to the office the next day, and when Pete asks him what the hell happened to him in California, Don completely disarms him by saying, "Did you ever think I thought you could handle it?" Pete has been living the entire series for that kind of affirmation from Don, and it leads to him cluing Don in on what's about to happen.
Duck, of course, overplays his hand in the merger meeting, telling Don that he can either fulfill his contract or get out. Problem: Don doesn't have a contract ("We're close," Roger explains. "We didn't think we needed one"), and so as he coolly walks out and leaves the new partners to consider an agency without him, Duck goes apoplectic and probably talks himself out of his new post.
And yet, Duck isn't just blindly raging here. Don was, after all, AWOL for the past three weeks, and having seen the way Mark Moses fleshed out his character this season, we get that Duck isn't just the office prig. Sure, he engineered the merger to protect his own interest, but he also made sure to make it worth the partners' while and, presumably, to protect at least some of the current staff's jobs. He just got outmaneuvered.
Don and Betty
The "Mommy, you're bleeding" line at the end of last week's episode gets explained straight away: Betty's doctor informs her that she's pregnant. It's news that she greets with something short of enthusiasm, telling first the doctor and later Francine that now is not the time for her to bear another child.
Just after finding out, Don meets her at the stables -- where her doctor told her explicitly not to go, and where she'd return once more during the episode, presumably trying to induce a miscarriage -- to tell her he wants to be part of her and the kids' life again. So much so, in fact, that he acknowledges having had an affair ("I wasn't respectful to you," is how he puts it).
A reluctant Betty at least agrees to let Sally and Bobby spend the night at Don's hotel, where they have a grand old time ordering room service and watching TV (strictly Leave It to Beaver, though, as Don doesn't want to see the news, lest he get too upset about the ongoing standoff over Cuba). Meanwhile, she heads to a bar where Captain Awesome buys her a gimlet, then meets her in a back room for sex.
Which brings us to the episode's powerful closing scene, where Betty tells Don she's pregnant and creator Matthew Weiner (who co-wrote and directed the episode) allows for a looong silence as the two of them sit at the kitchen table and let the news sink in. I really kind of thought Betty was going to reveal her one-night stand, and given her hesitation in saying "I'm pregnant" I do think it crossed her mind. Weiner notes in this interview that Betty has done a lot of growing up this season, and I think her restraint here was an indication of that.
Peggy and Pete
For all the above, though, the scene between Peggy and Pete was maybe the episode's best, with Elisabeth Moss and Vincent Kartheiser both doing stellar work as he declares his love and she rejects him by telling him that she could have had him but chose not to because she "wanted other things."
And finally, we know what happened with the child: She gave it up for adoption. Her odd behavior around Anita's kids earlier in the season was maybe a manifestation of some residual guilt over her decision, but it's clear now that the reason she seemed able to make such a clean emotional break from her baby is because she did just that.
Her confession to Pete -- not what Father Gill had in mind, I'm guessing -- then draws out the most humanizing feelings we've ever seen from Pete. The look of confusion and sadness that passed across his face as he absorbed the news is going to stick with me for a while, I think, as will Peggy's realization that she maybe needn't have done that (see her comforting-but-not-really hand on Pete's shoulder as she got up to leave).
That all this played out while everyone was freaking out over the Cuban Missile Crisis only served to reinforce the life-changing nature of the events in the episode. Despite the obvious thematic overlap, though, I never felt like Weiner was overdoing it; the characters' reactions to the very real scare the country went through at that time felt natural, and so did the behavior that flowed from that anxiety.
A couple other notes:
- Loved Don's reaction to seeing what's changed in the three weeks he's been gone: So other than [Peggy's] office and haircut, is there anything else I need to know about?"
- Harry Crane's paranoia about the merger kind of wore on me ("There are canapes in the fridge -- and good ones!"), though it did allow Don's deposed secretary Lois to get herself back on screen. Harry and the boys grill her for information on what they assume is the opening of a Los Angeles branch of the agency -- one of the theories to explain Don's absence -- and in return for a promise to be moved back off the switchboard, she spills details about PP&L. I also enjoyed her withering look at Harry's condescending tone about whether she'd overheard talk of an outright sale or a merger.
AMC has picked up Mad Men for a third season, although Weiner and the cast have yet to sign new deals. Assuming they do, though, I can't wait to see where the show goes in the future.
What about you? Did the season finale deliver, and where do you see things going from here?