Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mad Men Goes West

The critics seemed to turn against Mad Men for the first time in season six.  Was it repeating itself?  Was it not moving forward?  Was the magic gone?  But the show finally settled into a groove and thing started paying off.  And now after the final episode, "In Care Of," the season is even being called one of its best.

Mad Men, even at its weakest, has always been fascinating.  But the last few episodes have been strong and, I think, there are just enough variations still to be played that one more season will cap it off.

The show ended the season with its three main character at crossroads.

First there's Pete, almost a figure of fun.  He's outmaneuvered by his new nemesis, Bob Benson, and loses his place in the Detroit account.  So he ends up going off to the new California branch. Siberia, yes, but perhaps a chance to find himself, now that he's lost everything (as his wife Trudy reminds him in a speech that's too knowing).  His mother also seems to have been murdered, but he takes it pretty well.

Poor Peggy has the toughest time of it, as she has no say in anything.  She lost one lover and was ready to go on to the next--Ted.  He seemed ready, too. Until he took the idea (from Don, who took it from Stan) that he had to leave for California just to get away.  He so strongly attracted to Peggy that he has to do it to save his family. (Ted's back-and-forth this season has been confusing, especially as he's essentially a new character and it's hard to get a bead on him).  So, like Pete, she's lost everything, except, as always, her career is going up and up--she ends the show in Don's office, and we get the iconic Mad Men shot from behind, but now it's Peggy.

Then there's Don, whose ongoing crisis came to a head.  He's had it tough this year with Megan, and then Sally catching him in the act, and has lately been living in a bottle.  At the pitch meeting, we first see the Don of old--spinning a tale and killing it with Hershey's.  Even his colleagues beam at how masterful he is.  Then he has a breakdown (or breakthrough) and needs to tell his clients the truth--about how he was raised in a whorehouse and how much Hershey's meant to him then. Much of this episode had callbacks to the beginning, and this was the biggest--a dark version of his first-season Carousel pitch. Then, he dug deep into his life to sell something, now he used it to sabotage his career.

Don had been ready to go to California with Megan and start over, but had decided instead to stay and face his fears (or avoid them and drink more--who knows with Don?).  But Sterling Cooper could only take so much of his erratic behavior, and, in the episode's big moment, Don gets the Freddy Rumsen treatment.  He'll be on indefinite leave--he even gets to see headhunter Duck on his way out.  And with Megan still going West, Betty unsure of herself and Sally not sure what to make of him, he could go in any direction.

The others had their stories, especially Roger, who's sharing in his new son's life (but not Joan's) while cutting off his grown kids.  But, by and large, most of the other main characters weren't well served this season.  Kenny seemed almost an afterthought, and he ended up back with his family, playing it safe.  Joan didn't have nearly enough to do (though, like Roger, I'm not thrilled she's with Bob).  Betty hardly seems in the series any more (fine by me).  And Harry, one of my favorite characters, simply pops in now and again for comic relief.

For that matter, Stan, who at least stood up for himself, seems to be going nowhere (anyway, he had no chance of getting to the promised land of California) while Ginsberg, who last season was doing most of the company's work, is practically AWOL. Meanwhile, Ted and the gang (especially the wonderful Harry Hamlin as Jim Cutler) provided a new dynamic--which was essentially an unstable nucleus that was bound to blow apart. And now it has, with the characters scattered all over.  Which leads us to wonder how they'll tie this all together in season seven.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about the anachronistic use of the term "bicoastal"?

4:30 PM, July 01, 2013  

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