Monday, May 11, 2015


First thought: Is Max Gail the new Brad Dourif?

I understand the necessity of the VFW scenes and even enjoyed the details, like the low-rent strip tease and the Hill's Coffee donation can (though Weiner made the room itself look Overlook Hotel bleak; if he weren't so eager to get cosmic, what would these scenes look like?). It's important for Don's journey that he tell somebody about what happened in Korea when he doesn't have to tell it (just as it was important that he spill his guts about his childhood to the guys from Hershey), and it's important for the cultural mirror people keep telling us Mad Men is that he express it, and the other vets receive it, as a fragging story of a sort that would become familiar after Vietnam. (But forgive me: I've known a few veterans; if one of them tells another vet he doesn't want to talk about the war, doesn't that normally end the conversation?)

Speaking of cosmic, Betty has revealed herself to be kind of Zen, albeit Westchester Zen: "Why was I ever doing it?" is a brilliant insight, and not accidental. (I bet she's a really good psych student.) Have I been mistaking her remoteness for severe emotional damage all along, when it was actually just a different kind of strength than what the Joans and Peggys have been trying to work their liberated selves up into? The matched shots of Betty bravely struggling up the stairs, even giving a gracious greeting through pain as she climbs, with Sally reading her letter seem to say so. I guess both things can be true. Remember all those times Joan gave Peggy frost for what she read as Peggy getting above or at least ahead of herself ("all you did was prove to them I'm a meaningless secretary and you're a humorless bitch")? Joan was insisting that, despite lacking the tools and opportunity Peggy had, she was also entitled to dignity. With these scenes the show does that on Betty's behalf. I wish there could be a Sally spin-off so I could see what she does with this knowledge.

As far as end-tying, this is by far the most elegant of the series, and what I'm guessing is the Pete Campbell resolution is the least. I'm not even a Campbell hater, but there's only one way his Trudy-in-Kansas fantasy makes sense to me: as a pale echo of Don's proposal to Megan -- an attempt to enforce normality and stave off the shadow of death. It may work out better for Pete than for Don because he has a smaller secret. Oh, yeah, that one: We have one more episode for that mantelpiece gun to go off.

I doubt that it will, though: Pete's drama can't be as big as Don's. The night this episode debuted I followed the stunned Twitter reactions to his Oklahoma adventure but when I finally watched the episode, it made perfect sense -- including Don's disposal of the Caddy. Keep in mind that so far Don hasn't really "lost it all" -- he's still very well-off and if he took a bus back to New York he could work his investments, maybe write a book, and wait out the McCann non-compete. All he's done so far is a bit of ritual self-mortification; the phonebook beatdown is a bit severe, but he seems to bounce back pretty good from it.  The weirdest part of this journey is that so far the America Don left behind so he could reinvent himself in New York still looks, upon his return, like a hell -- it's much richer than it was in Dick Whitman's childhood, but the people are still vicious and stupid. That's why Don blesses that Li'l-Abner punk. "You're lucky you feel guilty," he tells him, "that's the only difference between you and those animals right now." As far as he can see, that's the only difference between Don and the animals he grew up with, too. Giving the kid the car is a weird way to shine a light, but it was available and it cost him little. We'll see in the finale if he has to give up something that costs more.


  1. sundaystyle1:23 PM

    I have to get this out of my system first: if Weiner knew this penultimate episode was going to air on Mother's Day, then he truly is one twisted fuck. It's like the polar opposite of fan servicing. You really have to admire it. I didn't think I liked Betty enough to feel real pain for the fate of her character, but this episode showed me I was wrong about that. And with all respect to her choice to die with dignity, Betty is still Betty: her letter to Sally was about 90% devoted to instructions about how she wanted to look in her coffin. The last 10% was the real gift to her daughter, and something Sally has probably needed to hear for a very long time.
    Lots of people have said this episode is The Hobo Code, Part 2. There's some truth to that, and Don has never looked happier or more relaxed than he did sitting on that bus stop bench. But as Roy points out, Don is a hobo with millions of dollars in the bank. I think what Don is going to have to give up that "costs more" is the freedom to indulge in these kinds of untethered excursions that, looking back, happen like clockwork after every life crisis he's had. Betty's gone; Don has to find a way to be a more or less full-time parent, or write Henry a check for a few million and hit the road on a permanent basis. Will he stop running? Can he stop running?

  2. JennOfArk1:38 PM

    You got to the Betty funeral plans thing before I got here, but yes, Betty will be Betty up to the very end. I also wondered about how Don will handle raising the boys.

  3. BG, puppet making crank calls2:23 PM

    Don won't raise the boys --- Henry will.

  4. Jimcima2:23 PM

    A quibble.

    Irrespective of the story details I really hated that the producers went cheap and filmed this episode in Southern California and not Oklahoma (or Kansas? was that where the motel was?) The pool was way too nice (and modern) for the motel, and the outdoor scenery was clearly in the central valley somewhere.

    The whole thing just took me out of the moment in a series that from wardrobe, to setting to scene has always been picture perfect in previous episodes. Which reminds me I had the same thought about "Wisconsin" when I watched last weeks episode.

  5. BG, puppet making crank calls2:27 PM

    I think Don is walking (or in this case, riding the bus) away from everything, including the money, which never really seemed to give him pleasure. Henry doesn't need the money, and he will raise the kids (he's their legal step-dad).

  6. BG, puppet making crank calls2:29 PM

    I dunno --- that last scene of Don waiting for the bus looked an awful lot like the cropduster landscape in "North by Northwest" ---

  7. JennOfArk3:13 PM

    I don't know. I'm wondering if the cross-country wandering is Don's last big fling before he becomes an adult.

  8. LookWhosInTheFreezer4:16 PM

    if Weiner knew this penultimate episode was going to air on Mother's Day, then he truly is one twisted fuck. It's like the polar opposite of fan servicing. You really have to admire it.

    And how! I was already in a funk having lost my own Mom to a very aggressive cancer just a couple years ago. I must be the target audience!!

    That said, it was really well done. Henry and Sally's breakdowns were very believable (though tough to watch.) As was Betty's unexpected resolve/bravery/realism.

    Betty is still Betty: her letter to Sally was about 90% devoted to instructions about how she wanted to look in her coffin. The last 10% was the real gift to her daughter, and something Sally has probably needed to hear for a very long time.

    Good catch. I noticed the focus on favorite dress and all that but didn't really connect it to Betty's vanity. To me, that sort of concern doesn't only fit for people with obsessive vanity (I can imagine many not-vain people worrying about how they will look at their burial), but you're right that her spending so much paper space on herself in the letter to Sally speaks volumes.

  9. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who wants a Sally Draper spin-off series!

  10. Jimcima5:25 PM

    Heh, indeed.

    The crop dusting sequence from Hitchcock’s North By Northwest is one of the most iconic in all of cinema...The scene was meant to take place in northern Indiana, but was actually shot on Garces Highway (155) near the towns of Wasco and Delano, north of Bakersfield in Kern County, California.

  11. PulletSurprise5:28 PM

    A Madison Avenue advertising exec with dual identities... can't be a coincidence.

  12. M. Krebs8:23 PM

    First thought: Is Max Gail the new Brad Dourif?

    To someone who doesn't watch the show (me), that's a really bizarre thing to read. Could someone put it in context for me? So I can sleep tonight?

  13. javamanphil8:53 PM

    For a penultimate episode, we seem to be crossing a lot of unchartered territory. Where is everybody? Agree about Pete (as my wife said, "wait, he gets the happy ending?") Of all the characters who could grow in this series…it's Pete? Sadly, it's probably as true to life as we care admit. Maybe he really will make a life for himself.

    One more episode for Don to become the revivalist grifter he was born to be. Fingers crossed!

  14. M. Krebs10:20 PM

    Personally I can't wait for the aftermath of the finale, when everyone finds out that nothing happens. It just ends. You're all left hanging and wondering WTF?

  15. AGoodQuestion11:06 PM

    Okay, I haven't been commenting on the Mad Men posts because while I enjoy the show, I tend to see seasons when they've been in the archives for awhile. That said, Don Draper meets Wojo? This is the kind of awesomeness I dared not even dream of.

  16. P Gustaf11:07 PM

    Holy shit, that was Max Gail, wasn't it? I thought he looked familiar. Wojo is a WWii, too!

  17. Damian Hammontree10:15 AM

    Nope - Sally will. It's not for nothing that Betty gave the instructions to her - one of the show's major themes is how women always wind up holding the bag, and this is no different.

  18. trentness11:54 PM

    I don't know, I once attended a wedding reception held at a VFW hall in Kansas, and *that* place was bleak. Mad Men's looked downright cozy by comparison.

  19. Here's the real scoop on Madmen, straight outta the New York Post:
    Critics have consistently lauded the series, not just for its entertainment value but also for exposing the dark underbelly of a prosperous, conservative era. Yet I can’t help but wonder if in some ways life wasn’t easier back then — especially for single, marriage-minded women.

    New York City career women in their 30s and 40s told me this week that in some ways life seemed easier back then for single women, and love was easier to find during our mothers’ day than it is now.

    Melanie Notkin, cultural anthropologist and author of “Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness,” said the women she interviewed, “no matter their race, ethnicity or cultural background, had similar concerns with dating — men didn’t plan dates, dressed down for dates, were no longer chivalrous.”

    Although she faced other problems, surely Joan, the voluptuous office manager on “Mad Men,” didn’t date anyone who failed to put on a suit, plan an evening and pay the check.

    The proliferation of online dating sites and “hookup culture” — or decreased stigma around no-strings-attached sex between strangers — means that immature men’s playground is no longer just the halls of their office buildings. It’s the entire city.