As we prepare to say goodbye to the last series of television’s “Golden Age,” Rachel and David take a walk down Mad Men memory lane and make predictions for its future.
RACHEL: If anything were to signal the bell tolling for our beloved Men, it was this week’s final climb of the stairs for Betty Francis née Draper. She accepted her fate with the kind of gusto only Birdie could muster: every hair in place, smiling a winning smile to her fellow classmate, and pulling herself up the steps even though each one hurt. She, and us, were fully aware of the reality that this very minor moment in her life was one of her last precious few. That basically sums up the whole series for me: all the minor moments of our lives (most borrowed, in Don’s case) could be extraordinary if examined from the right point of view. Matthew Weiner assembled a cast of characters that forever attempted to “sell” those moments to other characters, to us, to themselves. So grab a box of tissues, a fresh old fashioned, and an unfiltered cigarette while we look back and endeavor to gaze ahead.
Favorite Episode. That’s like asking your favorite film or about a particularly tasty Cheeto – they’re all fairly phenomenal. I believe the show reached the height of its genius, however, with the Don and Peggy power hour “The Suitcase.” Never has a platonic love story been portrayed so truly, so heart-wrenchingly pure than here; theirs is a love born out of respect, deep familial feelings, and true honesty at confronting how similar each is to the other. Don keeps Peggy after hours because he cannot possibly confront the possibility of Anna Draper’s death. He wants to be with his best friend, but Don cannot possibly admit to that – so he basically holds Peggy hostage all night. This pairing has always been the most subtly rewarding relationship on television, and it reaches the pinnacle of its beauty here.
DAVID: THAT’S WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR.
Things I Will Miss about Mad Men, Volume 1: PEGGY GIFS. Exhibit A:
You rose from secretary, to copywriter, to head of an entire department. McCann might rip you to shreds, but they can never take away your glorious strut into your new office, tentacle porn under your arm, an IDGAF cigarette just askew in your mouth. You do you, Peggy.
Also, give Stan a call. He misses you.
RACHEL: Favorite Moment. Though any one of Pete’s dressing-downs (especially from Don), Ken losing his eye, and the aforementioned moment of Betty’s last climb are all winners for alternate reasons, I have to go with another Don/Peggy moment here. When Peggy informs Don she is leaving SDCP for Cutler Gleason & Chaough in “The Other Woman,” Don tries desperately to get her to stay: he throws money at her, belittles her like the good ol’ days, and points out how important he has been to her and her career – all to no avail. The best relationship Don has is walking out the door, so, as Peggy holds out her hand to shake his out of respect, Don takes it and kisses it. Peggy stands there, without looking down at him, tears welling in her eyes. She turns to go but offers this in parting, “Don’t be a stranger.” It’s not just a “goodbye;” it is advice, knowing all she knows about him. Oomph.
DAVID: Things I Will Miss About Mad Men, Volume 2: It may have been best known for its deep, elegiac storytelling, but every once in a while an episode — or a scene, or a line, or Ginsberg’s nipple — floated in as if from a different, lighter show. The madcap Season 3 finale, “Shut the Door. Have a Seat,” is a perfect example, and might just be my favorite episode. (I’m particularly partial to Lane Pryce’s exuberant “Very Good! Happy Christmas!” after he effectively fires himself.) But for sheer comic value, it’s hard to beat THIS, from earlier in that same season. You already know what it is, because it has been seared into your booze-addled brain:
RACHEL: He who loves the broken things; The End of Don Draper. Another nod to the end of the Mad Men era this week was the allusion to Don being a handyman, a guy who just knows how to “fix” things. It’s a very self-reflective moment when Don stands before the broken soda machine: he has always loved women he has seen as broken; he’s spent his life trying to “better” himself and others, though typically to disastrous results, and devoted his career to selling the best of everything. Now, so close to the end, the only person he can fix is himself. Bad predictions: Don will move out west, open a Mr. Fix-it franchise, and write the famous Peggy Olsen unsigned love letters, The Shop Around the Corner style.
DAVID: TIWMA Mad Men, Volume 3: I’m just gonna drop Don’s entire Kodak Carousel pitch here, because this is how he deserves to be remembered. Not as the philandering, alcoholic, mercurial, identity-thieving, commitment-phobic Madison Avenue flameout, but as this. A smiling, impossibly attractive Jon Hamm in a suit, weaponizing nostalgia. Selling us on the past, and our future, but never the present, because the present sucks.
Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.
My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old pro copywriter. Greek, named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new”. Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of… calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It’s delicate… but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means, “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.
This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called a Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again… to a place where we know we are loved.
The Kodak Carousel wasn’t a spaceship. But Mrs. Blankenship was an astronaut, so really, everybody won. The best things in life, it turns out, are free.
RACHEL: Up to the Highest Heights. I worried a bit about Peggy during the seventh season. It bothered me how much like Don she was becoming, and I lamented Weiner’s decision to be so predictable. Turns out, the show displayed with feeling how wrong I was and how I should have trusted it this whole time: when Peggy walked into McCann Erickson with that painting, sunglasses hiding her hangover, cigarette hanging – she became my spirit animal. Peggy outgrew Don long ago, and she knows it. Bad Prediction: Peggy and Roger run off together to Ohio to open a roller derby. After Roger dies – not of a heart attack as predicted, but of dehydration — Peggy joins a punk rock band, ultimately taking over the lead from a fiery redhead. When the love notes — obviously from Don – stop arriving, she marries a Freddie Mercury lookalike and settles down in Seattle.
DAVID: And now a collection of bon mots from that bestselling memoir, Sterling’s Gold:
When God closes a door, he opens a dress. (p.4)
Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it, and then people get jealous and try to take it from you. (p.27)
I told him to be himself. That was pretty mean, I guess. (p.41)
Poor Bert. I should have realized it was the end. Any time a man starts talking about Napoleon, you know he’s going to die. (p.76)
In the early seasons, I begrudged how Roger treated his underlings. Particularly Harry Crane, who — it must be said — seemed to have an eye on the future, and also seemed relatively sane. But then as time went on, Roger stayed solid as alabaster, while we saw Crane devolve into an imbecilic Neanderthal who deserved a punch in the head every time he appeared on screen. Point: Roger. Never change, you chain-smoking, organ-playing silver fox.
RACHEL: Francis, I Hardly Knew You. Betty and her family sort of became unneeded peripheral characters in the later seasons, but checking in with the Grace Kelly look-alike always produced surprising scenes. Whether it was Betty struggling with her weight, her reconnecting with Don during Bobby’s camping trip, or discovering Henry’s true love for his wife, I never really minded the escape to the suburbs. Sally’s transition into the best of both her father and mother proved fascinating, especially when Creepy Glenn stopped by. As Sally, Kiernan Shipka, one of TV’s best child actors, went toe-to-toe with January Jones in the series’s penultimate episode, breaking everyone’s heart reading Betty’s final letter to her daughter. Bad Prediction: After Betty’s funeral – where Sally dresses her mother to a “T” – Henry and the boys become the modern political family, much like the Kennedys. Sally mourns poor Vietnam victim Glenn by joining every rally she can to end the war, much to her step-father’s chagrin. After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Sarah Lawrence, Sally takes her rightful place at McCann Erickson Draper, becoming partner and reclaiming the Draper Ad glory.
DAVID: What follows are excerpts from the log transmitted by the team of scientists sent to study The Curious Case of Bobby Draper.
MARCH 1960: ALL APPEARS NORMAL. WILL REPORT BACK WHEN MORE DATA IS COLLECTED.
SEPTEMBER 1962: NOTICEABLE CHANGE IN FACIAL BONE STRUCTURE AND NATURAL HAIR PART. THERE IS SOMETHING STRANGE AT WORK. STAND BY.
JUNE 1965: SITUATION APPEARS TO HAVE STABILIZED, BUT THE SUBJECT CANNOT ACT HIS WAY OUT OF A PAPER BAG. PLEASE ADVISE. PLEASE ADVISE
DECEMBER 1968: C A N N O T S U S T A I N
A R E Y O U R E C E I V I N G
W E T H I N K H E K N O O O O O O O ———–
RACHEL: She’s Not a Hero. Has there ever been a more tragic heroine than Joan? The woman has always lamented her figure and beauty, refusing to use it to get ahead until, well, she does absolutely that: sleeping with the man from Jaguar to make partner at SCDP. This decision haunts her, however, and it is no more apparent than the moment she stands in front of a mirror in a department store, decked out in all of the things that provided her with success… and she is just not happy. Having to raise a son by herself in this environment is no easy task, either. I found it a bit hypocritical that she would so adamantly stand up for herself when harassed at McCann — ironic, no? — but it is true of Joan to ignore the things that are unpleasant and reach for the stars. Bad Prediction: After meeting Gloria Steinem at a rally, Joan finds confidence within herself to fight McCann Erickson and sue them in the name of all women who deserve dignity. When she wins and takes over, Joan hires Sally Draper as her next partner and the two launch the greatest television advertisement agency in the world. Joan’s son grows up to be the current sitting President of Smith College.
DAVID: Volume 6: The Dichotomy of Pete Campbell.
Pete gets a bad rap, and probably deserves it, but in the latter half of Mad Men‘s run he may have become my favorite character. He would eventually achieve a level of self-awareness that even Don couldn’t touch. My two favorite Pete moments land on opposite ends of the Pete Campbell Spectrum of Self-Loathing:
Ah, happier times. He loves his wife, almost as much as he loves being a WASP. His face is still boyish. He’s still limber enough to dance the Charleston, and make everyone forget that they just saw Roger Sterling bumble through a routine in actual blackface. SELF-LOATHING RATING: 1.1
How do you think Pete’s day is going, BOB? Your friend Manolo just tossed his mother overboard while on a cruise! Pete’s about to lose the Chrysler account because YOU thought he could drive a stick shift! Your saccharine, ingratiating visage is dismantling his carefully-manicured life one piece at a time! PETE IS NOT DOING GREAT, BOB! SELF-LOATHING RATING: 9.9
RACHEL: Oh, You Son of a Gun. If ever there was a weasel, a bigger weasel there never was than Pete Campbell. I found myself retching uncontrollably after he humbled of himself in front of Trudy in “The Milk and Honey Route.” Maybe he will not always want the better car, the bigger house, the finer suit, the prettier waitress – however, just confronting that about himself is not necessarily the true path to change. Time will tell, but… Bad Prediction: Pete gets in a car crash on the way to serve his notice at McCann Erickson. While recovering in the hospital, he falls for and subsequently knocks up an underage Candystriper. Campbell serves out his final days at Attica while Trudy runs off with Duck Phillips to Wichita, where, of course, Phillips has secured the job meant for Pete. Tammy grows up to have a string of unhealthy relationships, culminating in her finally coming out to her father and running off with her stepmom, the Candystriper (named Candy, natch).
DAVID: Things I Will Miss About Mad Men, Volume 7:
Next week, on Mad Men.
Don reaches for a phone.
That sounds reasonable.
Hey, it’s advertising!
Pete sticks his head out a doorway.
Joan picks up her purse and sets it down.
Don’t you read the newspaper?
Stan opens a refrigerator, smiling enigmatically.
Well, that was unexpected.
Oh, inscrutable Mad Men promos, you effigies to Matt Weiner’s spoiler-phobia, as cruelly edited as a Korean War soldier’s letters to home. I’ll miss you most of all.
PARTING GIF: IT’S! HIS! JOB!