Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Madmen Season 3 Finale- Let the Sixties Begin

I'm probably the last fan/blogger on the planet to give his take on the season finale of AMC's Mad Men, the episode entitled "Shut The Door. Have A Seat". It takes place less than two weeks before Christmas in 1963, about three weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and about three weeks before a couple of deejays in New York started playing a song called "I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND" by s musical group from the UK that was creating just a little bit of pandemonium in Britain.

One era had ended, and another was about to explode in America. Nothing was to be quite the same ever again for the country. And even more so for the characters of Sterling Cooper Draper.

Don Draper's marriage to Betty was over. After consulting a divorce attorney with her new romantic interest (Henry) Betty decides to head to Reno for a quickie divorce by episode's end. There is a heart wrenching scene where Betty and Don sit down with little Bobby and Sally to tell them that Daddy is moving out of the house. Sally reacts with anger, while Bobby initially blames himself because he lost his father's cufflinks. We have to wonder about Betty's future- does she really think that Henry will marry her after a divorce, something that could sabotage his political career? After all, New York Governor Rockefeller was involved in a similar situation in that same time period, having left his wife and subsequently marrying a younger woman- an incident that was alluded to in the episode but never spelled out to the viewers.

But even more cataclysmic changes were in store. Sterling Cooper Draper's parent company, PPL, was going to sell SCD to a rival. It was Don, tipped off by Conrad Hilton, who set the wheels into motion. Roger Sterling, Bert Cooper, and Don Draper would have no part of being chattel in this sale. They engineer a plot with new ally Lane Pryce to have themselves terminated from their contracts from PPL- with the provision that Pryce become a partner- and they set out to form a new ad company, tentatively called Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (to be referred to in this entry as SCDP for the duration). The four principle partners begin to assemble a team to take with them, all done clandestinely over the weekend, to be accomplished by Monday morning while the office was said to be closed for extensive "carpet cleaning".

SCDP needed the accounts of the weasely Pete Campbell, who was playing sick that particular Friday to arrange a job interview with a rival. But as conniving and oily as Pete is, he is a bit of a visionary, and he can relate to changes in the marketplace and in society much more readily than the older members of SCDP- and the fact that he would bring a dozen influential clients with him made it imperative that he become part of the team.

The not so bright Harry Crane was added to the mix- they needed someone to handle the media department- but only after the elderly Bert Cooper threatened to lock Harry in a closet if he said no.

Don's protoge Peggy Olson was added- but not until she initially turned Don down. Peggy, tired of being Don's punching bag and of watching Don get credit for her work and her ideas needed to hear Don tell her that he values her. After a trip to Peggy's apartment for a second shot of getting her on board, Don tells Peggy that if she turns him down again he would ...."spend the rest of my life trying to hire you".

After hearing that, Peggy signed on.

Lastly, Joan Harris returned as the office manager of the new SCDP- now the office was nothing more than a rented hotel suite, with Harry Crane's art and media department relegated to the bedroom. Joan was the glue that held Sterling Cooper together, the person who always knew what to do and when to do it, who to call and how to weather a crisis. The fact that Joan and Roger still have more than affection for one another probably played into this as well.

You could tell that the "times, they are a changin'" when working in the new "offices" of SCDP when Roger asked Peggy if she could get him some coffee. Peggy never looks up from the project she is working on and says no. All Roger does is shrug his shoulders and go back to work. These people are no longer part of a Madison Avenue royalty- they've become like partisan guerillas, all for one and one for all. They all need each other for numerous reasons, and all are smart enough to know it.

Back at the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper- Ken, Paul and the rest of the old staff come in Monday to find a offices striped of furniture, typewriters, and certain accounts. They at first think the office has been burglarized, but soon start to comment the dots- the brains behind Sterling Cooper have bailed out. All that remains is the second tier braintrust that the leaders of the old team didn't really want or need.

I left this episode wanting more. Was there a more perfect way to end a season, and an era, then what writer/creator Matthew Weiner gave us on Sunday night? Its going to be very interesting to see where the start point of season 4 will be. American pop culture was turned on its ear in 1964- within months the music industry would be all things British. Only a handful of American musical acts made it past the first few years of the British Invasion- The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, the Motown stable. But it wasn't only the music that changed, it was film as well- in 1964 young actors from the UK began having an impact; Michael Caine, Terence Stamp, Julie Christie, Vanessa Redgrave. Fashion and Carnaby Street became inseparable.

The British Army played "The World Turned Upside Down" when Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington's Continental Army (and their French allies) in 1781. In 1964 the Brits returned...and America was turned upside down by this new invasion. And Don Draper and his new crew at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will likely be at its epicenter.

Here's a link to Jace Lacob's interview with Mad Men's creator Matt Weiner in The Daily Beast.

And for a really insightful column (and viewer comments) about the series click for Alan Sepinwall's take on this episode.

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