Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 14 – Person To Person

“You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it, people aren’t giving it to you. And you realise you don’t even know what ‘it’ is.”



Tricky things, series finales. You never quite know what you’re going to get. They range from the satisfying (Sons of Anarchy, Star Trek the Next Generation) to the absolutely perfect (MASH, Babylon 5) to the maddeningly obtuse and disappointing (The Sopranos, Lost, Quantum Leap). So what could we expect from the conclusion to one of the most critically acclaimed, understated dramas of recent times? Well, in keeping with the show’s consistent tone of understated subtlety, what we got was… an episode of Mad Men. Not showy, not spectacular, but as excellent as ever and a perfectly consistent and logical ending to a story that could never really end in a conclusive way. Continue reading “Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 14 – Person To Person”

Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 8 – Severance

“When someone dies, you just want to make sense of it. But you can’t.”



Rejoice, for Mad Men is back after its year-long ‘mid-season break’! Then weep, for this is the beginning of the last seven episodes we’ll get to spend with existentially-troubled cad Don Draper and his dysfunctional colleagues at Sterling Cooper & Partners. Continue reading “Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 8 – Severance”

Mad Men: Season 6, Episode 13 – In Care Of

“I don’t know what I brought out in you, but I know there’s a good man in there.”


And so, another season of Mad Men draws to a close that is at once understated and powerful. Since the show is very much an ensemble piece, this season closer spent a little time on many of the characters whose plotlines have been in play this year. But once again, as ever, looming large over all of them was the dapper, tormented shadow of Don Draper.

Continue reading “Mad Men: Season 6, Episode 13 – In Care Of”

Mad Men: Season 5, Episode 13–The Phantom


“It’s a great sin to take advantage of hopeless people.”


After the high drama of recent episodes – Joan’s prostitution, Peggy’s departure, Lane’s suicide – the finale to Mad Men’s fifth season felt somewhat more low key. It was a chance for the characters to take stock of where they’d been left by the tumultuous events of the year, both in their business and personal lives. It was notable that, this year more than any, there was no major historical event against which to juxtapose the characters, a sign perhaps that the drama itself is now more important than its context.

One of the things the show has often dealt with is the consequences of its characters’ actions, and this finale seemed to take most of its time in dealing with those. Mad Men’s plotlines never have what you could call conclusions, not really, but there were capstones – and consequences – to many of the subplots laid out this year.

Lane’s suicide has obviously affected everyone at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce very deeply (apart from anything else, they’re presumably going to have to rename the company). Yet, in keeping with the show’s usual dramatic subtlety, it was quite some way into the episode before anyone explicitly mentioned the matter. Initially, we got some sideways references to it: Lane’s empty chair at the partners’ meeting, Harry, Bert, and apparently others being less than keen to move into the office where this unspeakable event had happened.

Don seemed to be keeping it together, but from the very start his guilt seemed to be manifesting itself; initially as a troublesome toothache which he refused to see a dentist about, then increasingly with visions of his dead brother Adam. As noted by many Lane’s suicide (probably intentionally) mirrored Adam’s perfectly. Both hanged themselves after having been rejected by Don, and obviously Don (and the screenwriter) is acutely aware of the similarity.

In moral terms, Don’s treatment of Lane is far more defensible than his treatment of his brother, who he rejected to keep his former life as Dick Whitman a secret. As a partner in the agency who’d been found to be embezzling it and forging the accounts, Lane was clearly in an untenable positions, and Don at least did him the courtesy of allowing him to resign while keeping the embezzlement confidential (though this may have had more to do with Don worrying that a police investigation would turn up his own ongoing identity theft). Nonetheless, Don should have little to feel guilty about concerning Lane.

But that’s not how it works when somebody you’re close to kills himself, and the visions of Don’s brother may have more to do with reminding us that he really should feel responsible in that case. It’s a mark of the show’s attention to detail that they were able to hire Jay Paulson to return as Adam after having dispatched the character in the first season. He’s a distinctive enough actor for me to have recognised him immediately as the ‘phantom’ of the title when Don started seeing him out of the corner of his eye, tentatively asking, “Adam?”

These two manifestations of Don’s present and ongoing guilt finally came together as Don relented and wen to the dentist to see about his toothache. Knowledge of the show’s style meant that, as Don went under the gas and closed his eyes, then opened them again, I realised instantly that we were into one of the show’s ‘dream’ sequences. So it proved as Adam turned up, not to berate Don but offer a sad smile and another parallel to Lane: “I lost my job. Because I’m dead.” An unpleasant purple weal around his neck was proof enough of this, and Don pleaded, “Don’t go”. To which Adam’s response – “Don’t worry, I’ll hang around. Get it?” indicates that we’ll likely be seeing more of Don’s increasing burden of guilt when the show returns.

It doesn’t help that Lane’s death, along with a resurgence in business from Mohawk Airlines, has done the company pretty well financially. His life insurance payout is massive, and SCDP are the beneficiaries – shades of Death of a Salesman, which were further emphasised when Don insisted on paying $50,000 of the settlement to Lane’s widow.

The scene of Don visiting Mrs Pryce, and awkwardly trying to offer condolences only to be rejected coldly, was one of those supremely uncomfortable scenes Mad Men does so well. Embeth Davidtz as Rebecca Pryce has had almost nothing to do, acting wise, beyond a blithe ignorance of her husband’s misdeeds; now finally, she got a chance to show her acting mettle.  As the only other thing I’ve ever seen her in was the 1993 Evil Dead sequel Army of Darkness, I was pleasantly surprised by how good she was here. Keeping the traditional British restraint about grief, she coldly told Don, “It was wrong of you to fill a man like that with ambition” – probably the most succinct analysis of Lane’s downfall you could get. And she outright told Don that she knew this to be just an attempt to salve his own conscience, and that as far as she was concerned, it did nothing to alleviate his guilt. Ouch.

As this is Mad Men, and everyone has to be having a horrible time, Pete Campbell was doing pretty badly too. Pete’s one of those characters that, while impossible to like, I still can’t help feeling sorry for; as mentioned several weeks ago, absolutely nothing works out for him. His tragedy is that, like Don, he seems to have everything he should want, but like Don, it’s never enough. It’s ironic that this is the one way in which Pete truly is similar to his ‘hero’ Don.

This week, we got a resolution – of sorts – to his attempts to have a passionate affair a la Don, with fellow commuter’s wife Beth. After seeing Beth on the train, he was powerless to resist her invitation for a meaningless shag in the same hotel where she’d stood him up. Then she revealed that this would be the last time it would happen – she was off to have her depression treated (not for the first time) with electro convulsive therapy, and experience had taught her that she would likely not even remember him afterward.

This led to a rather heartbreaking scene as Pete blagged his way in to visit her at the hospital, only to discover that she’d already had the ECT and (apparently) really had forgotten who he was. Cue a long and surprisingly moving speech from Pete as he detailed the travails of the ‘friend’ he told Beth he was there to visit – actually, of course, a summation of his own emptiness and lack of fulfilment. It was delivered brilliantly by Vincent Kartheiser, who constantly manages – for me, anyway – to keep Pete straddling the line between loathsome and sympathetic.

At least one thing seemed to work out for him, though. Ending up in a fistfight on the commuter train with Beth’s husband Howard, he unwisely baited the no-nonsense conductor who broke up the fight, receiving a black eye for his trouble. Turning up battered at home led wife Trudy (Community’s Alison Brie, who we don’t see nearly enough of) to concede that his desire to rent an apartment back in Manhattan was probably a good idea. But what’s the betting that it’s not going to make him any happier?

At least we got a welcome return for Peggy Olson. I wouldn’t expect her to have left the show for good; after all, the very first episode began with her first day at the agency, and she’s been a crucial character since. Here, we saw that life at Cutler Gleason and Chaough may not be much better for her. Ted Chaough dragooned her into taking up smoking so she can work on a prospective Philip Morris account, and it’s no surprise that she followed her old boss’s example once again when times are hard – she went to the movies.

Where, as chance would have it, she met Don himself, also taking refuge from his troubles as he recovered from his tooth extraction (it must have been terrifying for him when the dentist told him he couldn’t smoke for 24 hours). Their scene together was touching; despite Peggy having only left a couple of weeks ago, they hugged like old friends who hadn’t seen each other for ages. The real chemistry between Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss was again in evidence as both feigned happiness, avoiding the subject of their current worries. At least Don’s regret over her departure was expressed; he seemed bitter and sad but proud when he told her, “that’s what happens when you help someone. They succeed and move on.” I doubt we’ve seen the last of Peggy (she was highlighted significantly in the closing montage); but I wonder where she’ll be when the show returns. Back at SCDP, or turning into a capable rival for Don elsewhere?

Thankfully, the often-too-perfect Megan was getting a serious dose of her husband’s usual sense of angst and futility. Her acting career is noticeably failing to take off (and her mother is none too sympathetic), and like Don, she took refuge in brooding and getting drunk. Jessica Pare is a perfectly capable actress, but I can certainly understand many people’s objection that Megan has little depth as a character beyond acting as a foil for Don’s insecurities. Here, finally, that mask of wholesomeness was nicely cracked.

After one of her friends begged her for an in with Don to be cast in a new SCDP commercial, Megan basically stabbed her in the back by trying to get the gig herself. Don was initially reluctant but eventually conceded, and in one of the episode’s last scenes, we saw that Megan had got the job. Terrific, perhaps, but a total abandonment of her earlier principled stance that she wanted to succeed on her own merit. She may be finally getting work, but it’s only because of her husband rather than her ability, and she betrayed a close friend to do so. Welcome properly to the world of Mad Men characters, Megan. (And that’s before you even consider that her mother is yet again entwined in the ‘understanding’ arms of Roger Sterling!)

The ep – and the season – concluded with one of its trademark musical montages, this time set to Nancy Sinatra’s hit of that year, ‘You Only Live Twice’. As usual – a highly appropriate choice – Don manages to both recall and subvert the archetype of James Bond as he walks away from Megan’s film set into the darkness. Hanging out at a bar, he was approached by, yet again, a shyly attractive young lady. And her friend. And his unspoken answer to their question – “Are you alone?” – was the cliffhanger on which this season left him. He’s spent the year trying hard to move away from the ‘old’ Don, only to find the consequences of his actions pushing him back into that role ever more. Will he have the strength to resist?

It’s been a great season, which was a relief after having waited nearly two years to see it. Matthew Weiner has, as ever, kept the show’s slow burning moodiness and character depth, so that truly dramatic events, when they come, are all the more shocking for it. It’s sad that we won’t be seeing any more of Lane, who really came into his own this year in terms of deep plotlines both humorous and sad, and Jared Harris deserves a nod for his likeable performance over the last three seasons. And I’m glad to see that Peggy’s departure from SCDP doesn’t mean her departure from the show. Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait as long for the next season as we did for this one!

Mad Men: Season 5, Episode 3–Tea Leaves


“When’s everything going to get back to normal?”

Such was Roger’s plaintive plea towards the end of this week’s Mad Men, after having (yet again) been stitched up by Pete Campbell in their continuing struggle for one-upmanship. It’s a telling line. Things aren’t going to get back to ‘normal’ for the generation represented by Roger Sterling and Don Draper; their ‘normal’ is long gone. Times are changing fast, a point perhaps underlined by references to the Rolling Stones song ‘Time is On My Side’. For Roger and Don, time switched sides a while ago.

It’s looking very much like that’s going to be one of the biggest themes of this season as it goes on. Don, once so effortlessly cool with his smooth charm and ability to blend in with beatniks as well as businessmen, is beginning to look like yesterday’s news, and he knows it. Nowhere was this better shown than in his abortive backstage trip with Harry to try and entice the Stones into advertising baked beans. Still immaculately suited like a member of the Rat Pack, Don stood out like a sore thumb among the crowds of eager teenagers waiting to see their idols.

Tellingly, the younger Harry, with his black polo neck sweater and checked sports jacket, seemed to get much closer to the Stones than Don could hope. Don was left with an impatient teenage girl to whom he’d previously had to prove he wasn’t a cop, with his neat tie and buttoned down suit. Where the Don of previous years might have tried to party with her and perhaps even seduce her, the Don of 1966 treats her the way a protective father might; projecting his own daughter on to her, perhaps?  She, in turn, is impatient with Don’s ‘old-fashioned’ manners, though he’s still a good-looking man. I’m pretty sure her theft of his tie was a gauche attempt at flirting.

Still, Don got the last laugh when it turned out that it wasn’t the Stones Harry had been taken to meet after all – they turned up as Harry was emerging from the room. “So who you were you talking to then?” smirked Don, as Harry spluttered, “they sounded just like them… they even sang to me!” It was a laugh out loud moment, but the whole scenario served to underline Don’s growing sense of obsolescence. His somewhat dismissive, cold attitude towards Harry says it all. Harry is the future, having had the foresight to set up the agency’s vital TV advertising department. For all his talent, Don is from a time when advertising was on billboards and in magazines.

In the constant chess game between Roger and Pete, Roger too was feeling like he was being bested by the younger man. Having scored a cheap shot early on by winning the lead on the new Mohawk Airlines contract, Roger gloated by switching the meeting venue to his office without telling Pete and Lane. But Pete got the last laugh. Holding a daytime champagne reception to celebrate the contract, he told the assembled masses that Roger would be “in charge of the day to day operations, but I’ll always have sight of everything”.

After silently fuming at the back for a moment, Roger stalked out for a rant at Don about Pete: “I’m tired of hanging onto a ledge with the kid standing on my fingers”. But as Don pointed out, Pete had grown up; and like so much around them, what he’d grown into wasn’t necessarily what they’d like.

This week’s other main thread was catching us up with Betty. After her absence last week, this was no particular surprise. What was a surprise was her appearance; in the seven months since we last saw her, Betty has, to put it kindly, got a bit larger. Bravely clad in a convincing fat suit like the one sported by Jamie Bamber in season three of Battlestar Galactica, the actually pregnant January Jones put in a convincing performance of depression and self-loathing. Stuck at home munching potato chips in front of the TV, it’s clear that Betty is at a pretty low ebb. Just to make that worse, on going to the doctor in a vain attempt to procure diet pills, she discovers she has a sinister lump in her thyroid gland.

Betty’s been, intentionally, a pretty dislikeable character over the last few seasons, so there was initially a sense of schadenfreud to see her like this. But whatever she’s done, she’s still desperately unhappy, and her plight caused quite a bit of sympathy. Time is passing her by too; she’s visibly taken aback when the doctor mentions how “middle-aged women” often put on weight. And faced with her own mortality for, perhaps, the first time, it’s notable that she’s straight on the phone to a disconcerted Don, begging him to tell her that everything’s going to be all right.

However unpleasant she may be (especially to her own daughter), it’s hard not to feel sorry for Betty. Every choice she’s made has led her down a pretty unsatisfying path. After finally ditching the lying, cheating Don, she’s ended up with a political minnow and mother’s boy who plainly makes her no happier. The antithesis of the bright, challenging Peggy, Betty too belongs to a world that no longer exists – a world where strong, trustworthy men provide for her and take care of her. It’s easy to dismiss that as an unrealistic fantasy, but the constant shattering of her illusions makes for uncomfortable viewing.

And since it turns out that the lump in her neck is benign after all (a fact that she fails to let Don know), it’s clear that Betty’s piling on weight is nothing to do with any medical condition. Not a physical one, anyway. Perhaps she’ll go back to that staple of coping with depression in the 60s – a neverending series of tranquilliser prescriptions. In the mean time, she has a disturbing encounter with a fortune teller, while her friend Joyce calmly describes how she’s become reconciled to the fact of her own imminent death. This leads to one of Mad Men’s few, occasional dream sequences as she visualises haunting her grieving family like a plump, pink-clad ghost.

Back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the grapple with the ongoing civil rights struggle continues, clearly another theme of the season. After last week’s accidental callout to potential black employees, Don now has a black secretary, the apparently capable Dawn (Teyonah Parris). Dawn is bright and good at her job, none of which stops Harry patronising her (“It must be very confusing here.”) or Roger making sneering racist jokes (“It’s always darkest before the Dawn.”). As the single black face in the agency, I wonder if more will be made of Dawn’s character as the season progresses?

Institutionally racist though he may be, Roger is mindful of the need for inclusiveness. When Peggy, tasked with hiring a dedicated copywriter for Mohawk Airlines, proposes taking on young Jewish guy Michael Ginsberg, Roger reassures the Mohawk board that it’s a good thing to employ a Jew – “everybody’s got one now, apparently”. Ginsberg, played by the cute and younger than he looks Ben Feldman (he’s actually 31) is a ball of hyperactive, youthful energy, and so deliberately eccentric that even Peggy is surprised – “My stomach rumbles and sometimes it sounds like the f-word.” Clearly, he’s yet another face of youth around the office, with his jeans and checked sport coat, and even Peggy seems to find him disconcertingly young in comparison.

Ginsberg demonstrates another eye-watering 60s jacket.

It was, on the surface, a fairly light and inconsequential episode, though as ever with Mad Men, what was beneath the surface was far from light. Capably directed by Jon Hamm himself, it yet again forefronted the issue that times are changing and the likes of Don and Roger have reached an age where they can’t change with them. As usual, period detail was immaculate but understated, though the smirk-making reference to “that clown Romney” (Mitt’s father George, the governor of Michigan at the time) seemed a teeny bit forced. Still, as the forces of youth marshal against Don and Roger, it’s clear that they’re faced with a choice – will the future be like Pete Campbell, or like the Rolling Stones?