Mad Men Recap: You Can’t Stop Cold Like That

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Jaimie Trueblood/AMC

Friends, Associates, Fellow Shareholders:

We began, many months ago, in Hell. Perhaps we’re still there. But as this last gathering ends, and as we prepare for the long empty weeks those who control our fates have mandated, let’s pour one final drink and reflect on the past, present, and future of our colleagues we’ve come to know so well.


The charm of silver fox has lessened not a whit this season, though it does seem like he hasn’t been around that often. Though he made the biggest deal of the year—Creative burned all that midnight oil because Roger got them in the room with Chevy, after all—Roger spent most of his time lobbing bon mots down those gorgeous new stairs; getting hit in the balls by former employees making the scene in LA; shooting amphetamine behind closed doors; and making fatherhood plays to his various children of various ages. There’s been some personal development inside him this year, of a mellowing, centering kind. His fashion-forward glossy-white office, once studded with chaise lounge and seductive Op art, has sprouted ferns, nubby furniture, and jewel tones. He shoots a look at Don as he agrees to Don’s dismissal that says: You know I love the high jinx, but there comes a time in a man’s life—and now’s that time. He and Joan and Bob Benson could get a pretty groovy thing going on as the 1970s arrive, if his heart can take it.


If Roger’s been around less, Joan’s hardly figured at all. And this is a tragedy for SC&P and those who watch it. Where is Joan’s reaction to Peggy’s I-Wear-the-Pants-in-the-Office-Now pantsuit? Or to the insanity of all these competing desires to set up a West Coast shop? She brought in Avon, she fought Harry and won (though that wasn’t much of a contest), she was briefly hospitalized, and she fought with Peggy to a draw. Her true, legendary power sparkled only briefly this year (though the look she gave Don as he humiliated Ted and Peggy shone with a million facets of disappointment). The camera could have held on her face for hours. Instead, we’re left to imagine her plopping out cranberry sauce for all the various men in her life, gathered around her. (Because, how could they not?). Joan’s just fine. She’ll be fine. Maybe not what she could be. But Joan’s still the best.


Peggy Olson is perhaps the most successful, and certainly one of the very few, women in her field. She’s sharp, creative, and ambitious. So why did we spend so much time on her love life? This is a woman who stabbed her live-in boyfriend and almost killed him, then never speaks his name again. (In fairness, he did dump her in the ambulance.) Perhaps her inexorable rise is meant to be viewed primarily through the lens of her emotional vulnerability: the more power she attains, the less powerful she feels. Perhaps this is a record of history. But the moment her head turns in Don’s chair and she assumes his position was better than all that doomed fumbling with Ted (really, Ted, you’re an ad man and the best you can come up with is I Have To Hold On To My Family Or I’ll Get Lose In The Chaos?) and that charming but pointless drunken repartee with Stan. Like Pete in his earlier days, we  often see Peggy fail, yet fail upwards. How that happens, and why, is way more fascinating than who she kisses.


When Pete stopped taking the train from purgatory and committed to pseudo-bachelor pad living, a future of TV dinners and the occasional one-night stand seemed plausible. Yet the frankly bizarre turn of events involving his nemesis-turned-protégé-returned-nemesis Bob Benson, the dandy Manolo, and his sickening mother Dot should remind us that Pete, for all his faults, is an uptight man in an absurd world. Perhaps he and Trudy are meant for each other, and perhaps they can reconnect if his nerves haven’t shorted out from all the bursts of insane plot developments. Or perhaps Trudy will simply settle for some good-enough dullard. Whatever his entanglements, Pete may well try to fill the Don-shaped hole in the office, or cash in what Duck owes him for bring him back on board. But, like his hairline and his performance behind the wheel, Pete can’t help but move backward. How tragic that, the harder he tries to fight it, the more forcefully he falls behind.


Bob Benson is the product launch of the year. The packaging is so pretty, who cares what he’s made of?


Our Mrs. Francis really came into her own this year, and not just because she resumed chain-smoking instead of inhaling whipped cream, and shed those pesky pounds as a result. While nothing much came of Henry’s repeated intentions to run for office, Betty had a hold on another powerful man: Don. They bantered over the phone, admired each other astride automobiles,  treated their children abominably, and made love, just like old times, in narrow camp beds. Betty is often a terrible person, venal and incurious and irritable and petulant. But her eventual realization that her daughter is a person—even if it was, sort of, only inspired by seeing herself in Sally’s pouty hauteur—counts as a major breakthrough for our Birdie. She just might thaw out yet.


It can’t be said too often: give Sally Draper a spin-off. As the oddly perceptive child becomes a headstrong and troubled young woman, instinctively taking on her father’s boozy penchant for self-reinvention and her mother’s chilled pleasure at emotional manipulation, Sally is also preparing for a world where a woman can find a measure of (heretofore unimaginable) self-reliance. She might be as commanding as Joan, as savvy as Roger, as brainy as Ginsberg (what happened to him, anyway?), as imperial as Don. She might be none of these things. But she’s going to be something, screwed-up and profound. We might not ever see it, or deserve to, but she’ll be out there somewhere, blazing.


What happens when it starts to seem like the heart and soul of a world has neither heart nor soul? Is it really necessary to tunnel back into some cockamamie backstory about whores who live in the house from Psycho and a pimp who throws ministers down flights of stairs? Can’t he be some unknowable mystery (see: Bob, above) cloaked in brilliant layers of sex-stares and invention? Don is majestic when he’s half-dead and hallucinating in California pools, or half-drunk and hallucinating that he’ll be happier in California despite the thousand reasons that are just silly. When he’s an unrecognizable teenager being beaten up in a Depression-era brothel? Convincing arguments have been made that these unnecessary flashbacks are better suited to a serial killer than a titan of industry (though today, the difference between the two has never been slighter). But at the end, we must face the idea that it might be even worse: it’s a bore. The young Don is a blank; we see him and we don’t know who he is, and everyone overexerts themselves to distract us with the old sex-and-violence standbys. Despite all that time spent to convince us otherwise, it seems increasingly clear that the first really interesting, important thing Dick did was become Don Draper. Let’s drain our glasses in the hope that, as things end, we’re not forced to dissect ill-drawn pasts that only result in diminishing explanations.

It seems hard to believe we have so long to go before another Draper glare to simultaneously freeze and set our hearts ablaze; before we find out if Ken’s eye ever heals; before we find out if Sally nails “Grandma Ida” on the stand; before we raise and lower our hopes for another Carousel speech. In the meantime, as Megan said, we’re all in the same boat. And as Dot might have said, and Don might be convincing himself that he feels: let’s abandon ship.