‘Mad Men’ Season 4, it was nice knowing you. Was it nice? I’ll say yes! Despite some rough patches and an uneven end-of-the-season road which led to the highly debatable finale (I’ll go into that shortly), this season was amongst the show’s best. In particular, episode seven ‘The Suitcase‘ was one of the show’s finest hours EVER. It was a wonderful little character piece that will, if nothing else, secure surefire Emmy nominations for both Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss. Unlike last season, which often forged difficult connections between huge political/social movements and the inner lives of our favorite characters, this season eschewed that in favor of good, old fashioned, humanist storylines. Vietnam was there, but it was in the background. (Hell, World War II was brought up more.) But this post? It’s all about the finale, ‘Tomorrowland’.
The final episode of Season Four is ostensibly about the section of Disneyland name-checked a couple of times to varying degrees of metaphoric success. But it’s also about the future, in general. The future of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (Did Cooper really leave? We never got a clear answer on that one) remains entirely in flux at episode’s close, while the various Drapers enter new stages of their lives. Betty packs up the kids, fires their kindly nanny, and says Adios to their childhood home, uprooting them to Rye. Meanwhile, Don, seized by the moment (and the wedding ring burning a hole in his pocket that once belonged to his stolen namesake), asks secretary Megan to become the new Mrs. Draper, a move so profoundly misjudged that everyone in the office can feel the wobbly pretense on which it’s built.
While the episode doesn’t totally deliver, at least for me, some bombshells get dropped. An incredibly long distance phone call (What a New York-to-Vietnam dial must have cost is beyond me) allows us to glimpse Joan’s inner world. It turns out that she didn’t have the abortion we saw a few weeks ago. She opted, instead, to keep Roger’s child and tell her husband, the once attempted-date-rapist, that the baby is his! Boy, there are going to be repercussions from this next season. Seismic ones, I’d imagine.
To talk a little bit more about Joan, the best bit in all of ‘Tomorrowland’ (and this includes every period-specific reference to Disneyland), is the inter-office chat between Joan and Peggy. Peggy’s indignity is great. It isn’t that she wants Don to date her, but she feels betrayed by his complete lack of decision-making skills (especially because his “news” all but blots out her titanic accomplishments with the pantyhose company). The look the two women share is priceless. After all, Joan had been on the receiving end of “impulsive executives marrying their secretaries” before, when Roger betrayed her and left his wife for Jane.
If Season Four’s overarching theme was about Don finding his identity, he seems to have settled on one in ‘Tomorrowland’: Moderate drinking, still capable of totally poor decisions, less a man than a man-thing (his conversation with Faye is heartbreaking but lacks some much-needed sting), looking for someone to take care of him, and take care of his children. Don Draper, so doggedly searching for inner peace, has found some kind of comfort in his lack of formation. To quote another season (and series) finale: He’s still cookie dough. And that’s okay by him.
Let’s raise our tall drinks and toast to Season Four. I can’t wait for Season Five!