By Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid
As usual, Mad Men delivered a wreck of a season ender. Don Draper had to say goodbye to what and whom he knows–“had to” being the operative phrase. And quite a few other characters had to do the same, voluntarily and involuntarily.
Tami and I grab our summer drinks and chat about what the fuck just happened.
Andrea: I’m still recovering from that last episode, Tami! Though the song may have been anachronistic, I thought a perfect song for it would have been “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” or some other leaving ditty because there were a lot of leavings, some voluntary and some forced.
One leavetaking song I can think of is “She’s Come Undone” as it applies to Sally getting kicked out of boarding school, Megan leaving Don, and Peggy getting dumped (again) and wearing pants for the first time. In their own small ways, they’re foreshadowing feminism’s Second Wave as it trickled into white women’s lives. And, what I appreciate is that Weiner and Company doesn’t make their every action a feminist one, unlike Downton Abbey and the Crawley sisters.
Tami: I can never argue against “Both Sides Now.” My favorite version isn’t Judy Collins’, it’s the one Joni Mitchell re-recorded in 2000. Her smoke-deepened voice gave the song more gravitas and melancholy. You believed that Joni, in her middle age, really had examined life from both sides now.
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From WIN and LOSE and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
And, to focus on the women of Mad Men, they each are experiencing life’s push and pull. Sally, who once viewed life as a child does, is becoming a young woman and, for the first time, is seeing some rough realities as well as the imperfect, human sides of her parents. Remember how starry-eyed and enthralled Megan once was with Don? How she wanted to mother his children? Now, she is seeing the other side, including what made the Draper kids so “fucked up.” Peggy has a corner office, but a private life in shambles. Even Dawn, I imagine was, at some time, proud to get her corporate, administrative job. She is one of few black women in that office. That is something. Still is. But earlier in the season, she told her friend about the other side of working in a Madison Avenue high-rise. It’s not easy.
Andrea: Speaking of undone…let’s talk about Peggy some more. Ted and she finally had sex, partly because Ted was jealous. Of course, in the sex glow, he promised Peggy that he’d leave his wife, only to take his wife and family and leave Peggy for California because, according to him, he loved Peggy so much. Ted is a warm-n-fuzzy cheater: we don’t think he’s too bad because he’s showing emotion and feelings and overall seems nicer, but his actions aren’t really any different than any other cheater. The gift wrapping is just different.
Post-dumping, we see Peggy in pants and taking over some of Don’s responsibility. As mentioned above, women wearing pants, especially in the workplace at that time, was seen as a seismic shift in women’s role in the workplace, thanks to the sexual revolution and feminism moving there.
Tami: Ted’s a cheater, no doubt. I was disappointed in both Peggy and him for that. But I was also surprised at the online hatred for Ted’s decision. Ted did what we always hoped Don would do–resist his dick and honor his commitment to his family. I know we all like Peggy (though she also behaved deplorably here), but Mad Men fans wouldn’t have thought it was so cute if Don left Betty for Midge or Megan for his “favorite Italian.” Ted and Peggy could not work together; one of them needed to go. Ted, who is further along in his career, should have been that one. He did the right thing.
What I hate is that he was so smug, self-righteous and…patriarchal…about it. And you’re right, he’s the guy who thinks his shitty behavior doesn’t count, because he has feeeelllings.
And Peggy, girl, you have decisions, too. For sure, at work, she is buffeted by the egoes and whims of men like Ted and Don. But she decided on that crappy apartment to please Abe. And she decided, against her first mind, to pursue her married boss. She makes decisions in her private life; they are simply really foolish ones. (In that way, she is like her mentor, Don.)
Andrea: And can we talk about the other partners ousting Don? I’m still trying to wrap my head around that reality. But the kicker is that it made Don go back home–literally. And he took his children with him to the old brothel, to be greeted by a little Black boy eating a popsicle. Such an indelible–and heartbreaking–moment.
Tami: That scene held so much. It’s the first time as a Mad Men viewer that I cried, just a little. Here was Don, an incredibly broken man, taking this huge leap toward acknowledging his past and getting better. (I think. Matt Weiner, don’t you mess with me!) Here are these kids seeing their father for the first time–really seeing him–especially Sally. And here is this picture of urban decay, of changing times and its effect on race.
The little, black boy with the popsicle was subtle storytelling. I need more of that and less of the Mammy Thief (™Andrea Plaid).
(I admit, though, through my tears, I imagined that Bobby Draper was thinking: So, wait, we are Negroes?)
And here’s a little life lesson for all y’all:
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape…
You don’t spit into the wind…
You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger…
And you don’t mess around with
Jim* Bob Benson and his shadowy pal, Manolo.
Damn! Bob dispatched Pete Campbell with a quickness! Add Pete to the roster of people who are seeing life from both sides now. I think Pete once imagined himself as a wealthy scion, successful businessman with a devoted wife and children at home and a bevy of ladies running in and out of his Manhattan apartment–all consequence free.
A Don Draper (with a less flattering hairline). Except Don Draper isn’t even Don Draper. And that sort of man barely ever existed. There was always another side to archetype.
Actually, on second thought, Roger is more who Pete hoped to be. Roger, a legitimate son of privilege, but he’s only fairing marginally better than Don right now. I do hope he can redeem himself as a father with Kevin.
Andrea: Well, if Bob is indeed implicated in the murder of Pete’s mom, then Pete may redouble his efforts to mess with Bob enough to put his ass under a jail–if nothing else, for the smug satisfaction of wiping that smile off his face. Pete, if nothing else, is a vindictive person and he feels very entitled to be that way. So there’s that.
Tami: Do we think Don will return to Sterling Cooper & Partners? I think perhaps not. I think SC&P is now Peggy’s story, and I think next season we’ll see Don as a man trying to determine who he really is when he isn’t someone else.
Andrea: I think Don may not, actually. As we’ve pointed out before, Don always chafed from his Organization Man life, even though he was a creative and as much as he actively built that life. (That whole “be careful what you wish for” thing.) I can see Don starting his own agency wherever he decides to settle down as easily as I can see him renovating the old brothel where he grew up and making it an artist colony or some other home for creative folks.
Whatever he decides to do, I think what some folks may underestimate is Don’s penchant to survive, as Weiner has hinted at in past seasons. To paraphrase a TV theme, he’s gonna make it after all.
I worry about Dawn. Knowing that, in her own way, she’s contributing to the history upon which you and I stand–and the SCOTUS gutted this past week–I wonder what’s going to happen to her now that Don is gone. If Peggy is indeed taking over Don’s work–and we’ve seen Peggy’s individualistic take on progressive issues like Civil Rights and workplace fairness–then I can easily see Peggy firing or keeping Dawn in a secretarial position and offering some shitty faux feminist explanation to soften the blow or Joan just firing her for no good reason. As conservative as Don was, I could see why he kept Dawn. Without Don or even Ted–who, as much as I dislike his moral smugness, may have pleaded Dawn’s case–I don’t think her job is safe as SC&P. To me, Dawn is in no one’s care.
*Youngsters, look it up!