Friday, 3 December 2010

Mad Men 4.13 'Tomorrowland'

“See Don, this is the way to behave…” - Roger

Mad Men’s fourth season has largely been focussed on people struggling to let go of the past and move on; but season four’s finale ‘Tomorrowland’ was heavy on quite the opposite, because as the title would suggest it was all about moving on and the future.

The episode’s title as so many of this brilliant season’s have has a double meaning, of course in the one sense it refers to an area of Disneyland where Don and his children would be visiting but it also hints at the new look future Don and SCDP have in front of them.

As ‘Tomorrowland’ began we found Don still dealing with the aftershock of his ad on quitting tobacco that had turned the majority of SCDP’s employees’ worlds upside down in the last episode.

After a bit of a pep talk from Faye in the opening scene, whose words seemed to resonate with Don throughout the episode – only not in the way I’m guessing she would have hoped, the tide seemed to be at least starting to turn in the favour of Don and SCDP.

Don & Pete’s meeting with the cancer association, who were obviously thrilled at the press Don’s anti-tobacco rant had gotten, was the first baby step in getting the agency back up out of the doldrums. The duo returned with their heads held high after a rather productive meeting where they had succeeded in forging several new connections, as Roger had suggested they’d be able to do.

However to cement their success they wanted to milk Ken’s family to secure some face time with some of the important players, with whom Ken’s father-in-law had ties.

I was pleased to hear Ken’s father-in-law alluded to again as it would seem to signify that my assumption the other week about Ray Wise returning for more than just that brief appearance in ‘Chinese Wall’ was correct.

In a first for Mad Men though, one of the agency staff was uncomfortable using family to get ahead in business. Ken’s reaction and refusal to use family ties for the good of the agency seemed to come as a surprise to everyone, and why wouldn’t it? It’s the exact opposite of the sort of thing Don, Roger and especially Pete would have done in that same position.

Ken’s assertion that family was more important than career was the epitome of what Faye was talking about in that opening scene: there’s more to life than work. This sentiment was also echoed by Joan later in the episode and although Don didn’t seem to agree with Ken at the time, by the episode’s end he’d adopted this train of thought almost as his new mantra.

Betty on the other hand was very much sticking to her usual loathsome characteristics by firing the only stable influence in the Draper children’s lives in Carla.

Betty’s hatred for little Glen is somewhat disturbing given his age but in her defence he is quite possibly the creepiest little bastard on television.

Glen’s line to Betty that “just ‘cos your sad doesn’t mean everybody has to be” seemed to touch a nerve with Betty and was the catalyst for her to take out her frustrations on poor Carla. If you remember back, when Glen was first introduced Betty confided in him how sad she was, could his assumption that she still was in spite of her new life have hit a little too close to the bone with the former Mrs. Draper? It certainly felt that way.

If firing Carla wasn’t enough to cement Betty’s position as one of the most loathsome characters on TV, the fact she wouldn’t even let Carla say goodbye to the children and the later revelation that she wouldn’t even write the woman who had single-handedly kept that family as normal as it could ever be for years a recommendation had to do it.

Did scuppering Don’s plans play into Betty’s timing on the Carla firing? At the time it seemed like an overreaction in the heat of the moment, but the glee with which she told Don seemed to suggest that there may have been an ulterior motive at work as well, or at the very least that pissing off Don was a pleasant by-product of the situation.

I’ve never really taken to Henry since his introduction, but Betty’s new husband definitely got the line of the night with “no one’s ever on your side Betty”. Henry has to be questioning right about now just what he was thinking marrying this woman so quickly before he really got to see her worst sides in all their child-like glory.

There were obviously business elements at play as well in Don’s decision to keep on with the trip out to California irrespective of the lack of a nanny; but buoyed by Faye’s advice, the chance to spend some time with his children also came into play.

Don would later liken Megan coming along on the trip to fate, had Betty known what the trip would lead to I dare say she’d have been begging Carla to come back. Don’s reasoning for inviting Megan was her excellent way with the children, dating back to her taking care of Sally after she ran away to find Don in the city, but there was clearly something more to his invitation than purely child care.

Out in California the evolution of Don Draper continued as he took Sally and Bobby to Anna Draper’s house and even revealed to them that he was the Dick who had signed the wall. Given what we have all come to learn about Don Draper over the course of the series this was a huge moment for him – showing just a glimmer of that life to his kids given how secretive he’s always been was in keeping with the season long narrative of this new Don Draper.

At the house Anna’s niece Stephanie gave Don the real Don Draper’s engagement ring telling him Anna had wanted him to have it – was this part of the fate Don would later allude to? It certainly seemed to inspire him nonetheless.

If receiving that ring didn’t plant the seed with Don to make Megan his wife then for my money it happened in that scene at the diner – as Don walked into that diner and saw Megan radiating with beauty sat with his children, he saw a family and the life he wanted/missed.

When Sally and Bobby’s brother-sister bickering caused a milkshake to get knocked over, everyone waited for the expected explosion – even Don started to get angry but the way Megan calmly dealt with the situation as effectively the anti-Betty seemed to give Don (and to a lesser extent the children) an epiphany.

That night he headed to Megan’s room and proposed to her with Anna’s ring; as I’ve already touched on, Don cited fate bringing them together and he does have a point, a lot had to happen to get them to that point. Don had to sleep with his old secretary leading to her quitting, his new secretary had to die, Betty had to fire Carla etc. Of course it could all be a huge coincidence but some would have you believe that’s all fate really is anyway.

Don’s unprecedented disclosure of information continued back in New York, immediately announcing the news of his engagement to the rest of the staff – something which he even shocked Megan in doing in such a forthright way.

If that phone call to Faye was hard imagine how much worse it would have been had she been aware that she had seemingly changed this man’s world view for the better only for this new and improved Don to waltz off with someone else; maybe Faye did know exactly the extent to which she’d had an effect on Don though which is why his phone call appeared to hurt her so much.

Faye’s prediction Don would be remarried did in fact come true then, unfortunately for her just not with who we all expected it to.

It was nice to see Peggy and Don still having that close relationship that was cemented for all time back in ‘The Suitcase’, at least on the surface anyway. Because although Peggy offered supportive words to his face, her increasingly cynical and jaded view of the advertising game and the world in general reared its head as she sat down with Joan.

Joan too was in an especially bitter mood after her promotion in ‘title only’ earlier in the episode. The two most important women at SCDP being constantly overlooked, in their opinion, in favour of a “pretty face” is clearly starting to do a number on them; this could potentially be a very interesting avenue to explore in season five.

That final scene at the old Draper residence was dripping with symbolism – the one last bastion of the old world if you will, was now also set to be ditched in favour of that new and shiny tomorrow.

It was nice to see Betty and Don at least being civil with each other and enjoying one last drink in their old home as they took a little trip down memory lane.

I couldn’t wait for Don to lay his news on Betty and watch her breakdown and at one point as she confessed “things aren’t perfect” I almost expected her to throw herself at him, for him to turn her down then reveal his engagement would have been the ultimate, but sadly it didn’t play out that way.

I think Betty will always love Don and vice-versa but I think that no matter how unhappy she became with Henry the psychological damage she suffered with Don was far worse and even she is mature enough to see that.

Betty’s “I’m very happy for you” was about the biggest lie a Draper has ever told and that’s saying something.

Betty was supposed to be the one moving away from all the dysfunction for this perfect new life but not only has that not been the reality, Don is now starting a new life. Betty seemed perfectly content with Don rotting away in some flea-bitten apartment but the thought of him happy and with a new family must be the icing on the cake for this eternally unhappy woman.

The empty Draper kitchen that ended the episode emphasised the seismic shift in Don’s life as that shot was quickly followed by the closing scene of him staring out of his city apartment window with his new fiancé asleep beside him. What Tomorrowland will actually have in store for Don though remains to be seen…

Bullet Points:

- We finally got some answers on Joan’s pregnancy – not only is she keeping what is undoubtedly Roger’s baby but she also appears to have told Greg that it is his. This can only end badly for all involved can’t it? What’s Greg going to think when that baby comes out with grey hair!?

- Joan’s comment to Greg about her breasts: “yes they’re bigger” made me laugh – it’s what I’d be asking if I was married to Joan! I’ve found it interesting to see the show draw more and more attention to Christina Hendricks’ magnificent body this season. They’ve always been quite open in highlighting her sex appeal but this season seems to have drawn more and more attention to those glorious fun-bags; we had the Honda guys making comments, Joey’s critique of Joan’s office image and now this. Why not though? If you’ve got it flaunt it and in Hendricks, Mad Men certainly have it.

- Roger’s reaction to do Don announcing his engagement to “Miss Calvet” was priceless: “who the hell is that?” You can always rely on Roger Sterling for at least one moment of greatness every episode.

- Ken also got a funny line in at his and Peggy’s pitch to the underwear company - “so good you’ll only need one pair”.

- More and more as the show deals with later and later years I’m recognising the songs over the end credits. I’m not saying I particularly like them as ‘Tomorrowland’s was ‘I Got You Babe’ but still it’s nice to be familiar with the music and at least try and connect it in some way to the episode.

- So that’s it for another season of Mad Men and for the BBC and Mad Men full stop. Next time we see Don Draper et all they’ll be on Sky’s new Sky Atlantic channel. I think I’m the only TV writer who has yet to make some sort of quip about how a show about adverts is now going to be ruined by adverts, so here goes: it’s kind of ironic I suppose…


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