Widgets Magazine

Remote Nomad: The maidens of ‘Mad Man’

(Courtesy of AMC)

As with the first three seasons of the now-canonical epic tale of Dick “Donald Draper” Whitman, last week’s season finale was both an ending and a beginning. Thematically, we saw the end of Don’s alcoholic, single purgatory as well as the definitive end to the Drapers of Ossining. More important, however, as implied by the episode’s title “Tomorrowland,” we saw a beginning that attempts to ignore harbingers from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s first year while trying to reinstate the veneer of peace from seasons past. Things are about to get explicit in the most literal of senses, so don’t read on unless you prefer my words to producer Matthew Weiner’s (and if you do, why are you reading this column?).

In the finale, we find the main cast of “Mad Men” forced to actualize their plans to reinvent themselves – through a proposal of marriage, through relocation, through lies or through sheer pluck. Dick Whitman has premised his entire life on this phoenix-like process of rebirth and new beginnings, but, now that his two identities have begun to converge, he must redefine Don Draper rather than recede into Dick Whitman. Dr. Faye Miller represents the latter, as she proves time and time again that she knows and understands Dick; for this very reason, Don chooses to propose to Megan instead of Dr. Faye.

The reborn Don, who swims daily and speaks in voice over to The Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” needs to sustain that veneer with someone like Megan, fragile and unnatural as it may be. When Don tells Betty he’s marrying Megan on the final night in Ossining, it’s a return to season two’s penultimate episode, “The Mountain King,” in which Dick tells Anna about Betty. “I met a girl,” he says. “She’s so beautiful and happy…I just like the way she laughs, the way she looks at me.” These sentiments are implied in all of Don’s California interactions with Megan – from her adage about no use crying over spilled milkshakes to her glamorous L.A. clubbing look. And just as Dick gets a divorce from Anna to marry Betty, he gets a ring from Anna to propose to Megan. With Anna gone, Betty is the new, knowing ex-wife – a title we never expected to see her wear so well.

While Don has the masculine luxury of dumping Faye over the phone (with Megan presumably listening in), Betty is the captain of her own Titanic. Despite her minimal onscreen presence this season, we have seen Betty lose all her power to her husband, her daughter, her therapist and even Glen. Don’s seemingly ambivalent adultery, for all the trauma it caused her, gave Betty the upper hand in their relationship, eventually resulting in the knowledge of his true identity as Dick Whitman. Now, Betty, surrounded by adults as opposed to being alone, tells Henry Francis, “I wanted a fresh start, okay? I’m entitled to that.” To which he replies, “There is no fresh start! Lives carry on.” His wise response is a warning to the viewers of the show – any argument that beginnings are not without baggage is misguided, particularly about a show helmed by a man as complex and character-obsessed as series creator Weiner.

Take, for example, Joan. Joan is literally carrying in her uterus the baggage of her affair with Roger Sterling, which predates even the show’s pilot. As much as this is a show about the revolutionary 1960s, Joan reneged on her abortion – for reasons personal more than moral – and will try to convince her husband Greg that the white-haired baby is his. In the same way that Don invests in Megan in part to secure a good future for Sally, Bobby and Gene, Joan hedges her bets with the next generation in order to save her marriage. For Joan, the new director of agency operations, the new era means a change in semantics and nothing more.

Among the show’s four leads, Peggy exemplifies change achieved through merit. The other women manipulate their way, with babies and tantrums for Joan and Betty respectively, into power, and Don wants nothing more than to relinquish some of his onto the innocent Megan, but Peggy is ready to carpe diem. She embodies the Topaz stockings she books as a client: the same Peggy Olson underneath it all, donning the skins of girlfriend, boss, apprentice and modern woman. Ironically, her success and Don’s are related like sine and cosine waves, converging only in moments such as “The Suitcase.” Peggy arguably also has the most consistently good material on the show, from the previously mentioned episode to her delightful exchange with Joan in the finale.

My final impression of this season is that it has been deliciously difficult to locate in that it’s not a workplace melodrama like season three or a domestic tragedy like season two. Season four saw the rise of Sally, Don’s fall from grace, the death of Anna and hell for SCDP; the only prediction I have for season five, the last one guaranteed under Weiner’s original contract, is great joy attended by disillusionment, or what you will.

WHAT TO WATCH NEXT WEEK

Sunday at 10 p.m.: Kristen Wiig continues her guest star sting on “Bored to Death” (HBO)

Monday at 10:30 p.m.: “The Big C” enters the home stretch, having improved markedly since its August premiere (Showtime)

Wednesday at 8 p.m.: If you care about “Undercovers,” get your friends together to watch it live to amp up the show’s Nielsen rating (NBC)