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Mad Men Recap: Season 4 Finale: Tomorrowland

October 17, 2010

Who can brood more handsomely than this man? No one!

Well, there were all sorts of rumors about heavy things going down this finale—perhaps even dire harm to Sally, or Betty. And thankfully, nothing of the sort happens. Although with Betty back in horrid mode, one almost wishes.  Instead, we have a shocking event at Betty’s hand (Carla’s firing) and another that was called long ago but still comes as a shock. Remember, back in episode 2 of this season, when the newly introduced Dr. Faye Miller surprises and offends Don by predicting that he’ll “be married again in a year”?

How well she knew him, even before she got to know him. To begin at the beginning, we start with Don asleep alone in his Waverly Place apartment. Remember this shot—we’ll get a reprise of it at the end. But turns out he’s not in fact alone. Faye spent the night but is now dressed for work. (I always wonder how she gets her heavily set hair and makeup done there. She must need curlers and a lot of supplies, no?)

Don is feeling the weight of all the pressure on him. Frankly, he looks shattered and needy, and confides that he has “a sick feeling in the pit of [his] stomach.” In return Faye is wise and kind, advising that “maybe that sick feeling might go away” if he confronts his past. “If you resolve some of that you might be more comfortable, with everything.” Faye is repeatedly very nurturing and caring throughout this scene, telling him he’ll be fine and to have a great time in California with his kids. She tells him she’ll call on Tuesday, when he returns, and Don tells her that he’s going to miss her.

At SCDP Joan pushes the mail cart down the hall. First of all, I’m struck by the lowly aspects of her job. She’s so obviously intelligent and capable, and yet, in the end, she’s a glorified Girl Friday. Second, that is clearly a baby bump she’s got going. Lane offers her a promotion (with no pay raise, due to the present circumstances. Joan, quick-witted as always, says, “Well it’s almost an honor.”). All I could think was, Wow, look at her sideways. Clearly a baby in there.

Don and Pete pitching American Cancer Society and Don is doing a masterful sell. And who makes a better wing man than Pete? Such poise and support, always ready with the right words. Mad Men fans love to hate Pete, but I admire him, stick up the butt and all.

Back at SCDP the partners converge to convince Ken to arrange a meeting with Corning-Dow through his father-in-law. But Ken refuses. “I’m not Pete,” he protests. On that, with indignation, Pete agrees. They give him a bit of guff, shall we say, but Ken sticks to his guns. “Cynthia’s my life,” is his final word. He will not use her father. And here Don has a strange, thousand-mile stare in his eyes. The first of many times we will see it this episode.

Glen stops by the kitchen door to ask Carla to let him say goodbye to Sally before the move. He’s been watching to see when Betty’s car is away. Reluctantly, Carla agrees, and Glen and Sally have such a sweet good-bye scene. Glen, with his usual precocious brusque manliness and directness: “Are you decent?” He always knows how to cheer Sally up: “I’ll be able to drive in a few years. I’ll be able to visit.”

But on his way out, he runs into Betty, who is furious. She orders him out and with his incredible perception Glen blurts, “Just cuz you’re sad doesn’t mean everyone has to be.” Betty is cut by the remark, and so turns her fury onto Carla, firing her on the spot. Oh, she is horrid. I actually thought the writers overdid this scene, as she goes from vileness to vileness. She not only fires Carla after a decade of service with no severance whatsoever (paying her just to the end of the week!), she refuses to let her say good-bye to the children. And then, she insults Carla: “What about YOUR children. I suppose they’re all doctors and lawyers.” Oh, she is hateful. Taking Carla from the children is the worst thing she’s ever done. She is punishing everyone. Glen is so right.

Not only that, she then calls Don and tells her Carla can’t even accompany him and the children to California. “I don’t want her poisoning the well.” So now Don has no one to take care of the children when he has meetings in California. Enter Megan.

Did you hear that? What music should we have when Megan enters? Is it the happy music from the Disney Cinderella, when all the birds and bunnies frolic around her? Or is it something far more sinister, the music of the villainess? We shall see.

Meanwhile, Joyce, the lesbian change agent in Peggy’s life, brings by her friend, a model who was just fired from the Topaz Panti-hose shoot when the agency producing it was dismissed on the spot.

Megan tries to schedule babysitters for Don through the hotel, but it’s all very complicated. He gets that look in his eye again, and suddenly proposes that Megan accompany him on the trip instead. OF COURSE.

Zap to California. The swimming pool is so novel that the kids lie right on their stomachs in their plane clothes so they can splash their hands—yet another indicator of how much norms have changed for the upper middle class.

Meanwhile, at Peggy’s behest Ken has approached Topaz, who will give them a shot on Monday, despite its being a holiday.

Back in California, Mary Poppins—I mean, Megan—has not only gotten two year old Gene to sleep with no trouble, she has taught the children a charming little French chanson, with which they serenade Papa—I mean, Don. As Don says himself, when did Megan turn into Maria von Trapp? Then, Don becomes the complete foil to Bad Mean Mom Betty by crashing straight down on the bed between them and being Funny Good Dad.

The next morning Don takes the kids to Anna’s house and introduces them to Anna’s niece Stephanie. The house is being closed up and all the furniture has been taken away. Sally sees the “Dick + Anna ‘64” on the wall, and asks who Dick is. Don pauses for a minute before telling her, “That’s my nickname sometimes.” Time for Sally to get the thoughtful look in her eyes.

While the children are outside picking lemons (why don’t we all live in California again???), Stephanie gives Don Anna’s engagement ring from the real Don Draper. Anna specifically wanted Don to have it. I kind of buy this but I kind of also think this is SO convenient and SUCH a set-up. You?

The kids are in the pool with beautiful Megan in her little bikini. Apparently two year old Gene is simply too young to get into the pool. Is that due to child labor laws or something? Anyway, the kids beg Don to get in but he refuses. Instead, he goes into his room and we see a profile shot of him brooding in the dark. A scene we’ll see echoed again. This episode is full of repeated shots. Then he gets over it, because he jumps into the pool and goofs with the kids.

Next scene Don is being a good dad again, planning the next day’s sights at Disneyland. Megan and her college friend Camille check in. They are going out and Megan is looking very, very lovely. Don gives her a LOOK and then gets that brooding thing going again.

Back in Ossining, Henry Francis seems to be about out of patience with Betty. He’s pulling at a beer like he wants to forget his troubles and demands to know how Betty could fire the nanny the children have had all their lives. When Betty insists that she “wanted a fresh start,” Henry slams back with: “There is no fresh start.” What’s more, when Betty complains that he’s not on her side, he says, “No one’s ever on your side, Betty.” Did you notice last episode the scene when he came home uncharacteristically early and sat with the kids while they ate dinner? He tousled Sally and Bobby’s hair in a way that was really kind. I think he’s clearly a decent man increasingly troubled by his wife’s behavior.

Late at night Don hears Megan returning from the night club and goes out to the hall to knock on her door. Do any of us not know where this is leading? “Are you sure we should be doing this?” Megan asks. Don: “I’ve been thinking about you so much.” They kiss on the balcony with a wildly romantic moonlit ocean view behind them. Who you gonna booty call?

Betty: little girl lost

Cut to Ossining. Betty slips into Sally’s stripped room and lies down on her  bare mattress.

Back to California. The same pose is mirrored by Don, but instead of Betty’s despondency and loneliness, we see infatuation as he gazes upon Megan. He tells her he is happy she came to California with them and she says, “I was going to miss you so much anyway.” Don tells her she doesn’t know anything about him. Megan: “You have a good heart. And I know that you’re always trying to be better.”

Back in New York, no holiday for Ken and Peggy, who pitch Topaz and make a connection with the guy who seems to be in charge.

At the world’s most beautiful space age diner, Bobby and Sally argue at the table and knock over a milkshake. They all tense up for their usual family patterns of recrimination and escalation, but are astonished when Megan diffuses the tension with gentleness and calm. Again, Don gets THAT LOOK. He also seems startled. He’s so used to Betty’s unforgiving sharpness that Megan’s approach is a real revelation.

Big leap back to New York, where we see an echo of Don in profile, as in California, only against the dark green walls of his apartment. But he’s not alone. Megan is asleep behind him. He’s been awake for a couple of hours, just thinking about her. When she awakes he declares himself: “I feel like myself when I’m with you— but the way I always wanted to feel. Because I’m in love with you, Megan. I think I have been for a while.”

And then: the ring. With the ring that the real Don Draper gave Anna, Don proposes to Megan. Are you shocked? I saw it all coming but I’m still shocked. The francophone Megan immediately calls Maman in Montreal to tell her the news. Yes, she acknowledges on the phone, it happened very vite. No joke.

My accountant advised me to schtup the secretary, so I am.

At SCDP a very tan and elated Don gathers the partners to tell them the news. Roger’s response is hilarious: “Megan—out THERE?” The whole time Don cannot wipe the silly grin off his nut-brown face. The proper Lane is of course the first to recover and offer his congratulations to Don. The even more proper Pete reprimands him for also congratulating Megan. As we all know from Emily Post, the groom-to-be is congratulated, the bride-to-be offered best wishes. Because after all, it is the man who has gotten lucky, procuring himself a wife.

Topaz have signed up with SCDP and the very proud and happy Ken and Peggy march to Don’s office with the news, but it is quickly overshadowed by the news of Don and Megan’s engagement. The look on Peggy’s face!!! Especially after that incredible moment they shared last week, when Peggy called him on pulling a shenanigan with The New York Times ad. The looks they exchanged then—so alive with meaning and depth and KNOWING each other—that was really special. And now, rightly so, she feels it is all belittled by this announcement. Which makes her response so perfect: “She’s very beautiful.” What else is there to say?

Don: “You know she reminded me of you. She’s got the same spark. I know she admires you just as much as I do.” He goes in for a hug and the camera zeros in on Peggy’s eyes. Her blank, alarmed eyes.

Meanwhile, Faye has called again. Don is putting off talking to her, and Megan encourages him in a way that says she knows all about their relationship (except for the matter of Don’s true identity, of course).

Back then they thought smoking was GOOD for the baby

And now, for my favorite scene in the whole episode, perfectly written and absolutely perfectly played out: Peggy marches straight to Joan’s office and slams the door. “WhatEVER could be on your mind?” Joan murmurs, her voice all velvet sarcasm. “Can you BELIEVE it?” Peggy demands. But Joan is sanguine, if biting. “This happens all the time.” Peggy is furious. “I just saved the company. I signed the first business since Lucky Strike left. But it’s not as important as getting married—again!” I love this moment between these two. Especially in the next exchange, which speaks volumes about how very much their work matters to these two very different women. Joan: “I learned a long time ago not to get all my satisfaction from this job.” Peggy, blowing out smoke, giving Joan a long, arch, sideways look: “That’s bullshit!” And they both dissolve into giggles. The camaraderie is fabulous, but the fact is, while they can speak truth to power, and be each others’ witnesses, what if any are their real options?

Don finally makes himself call Faye back. First he tells her not to come to the office. Then he wants to tell her over lunch, then coffee, and all the dithering finally clues her in. She’s fabulous here. After all, she has sacrificed her professional ethics for this man. Thanks to his New York Times ad against tobacco, she has lost SCDP, one of her biggest clients. And now, he is clearly pulling something on her, and yet she manages to maintain her dignity and insist on being treated better than he is managing to do. “What is going on?” She knows it’s bad news and will not meet him to speak face to face, as he is requesting. “I’m not going to listen to what you have to say and then sit through coffee.” But when he finally tells her, it is devastating. And all the eloquent Don can offer her, in this sudden dissolution of maybe the first real relationship of equals in his life, is bromides like “I didn’t mean for this to happen” and “You’ve been very important to me.” Oh Don.

I wasn’t even sure I liked Faye. Although I found her refreshingly mature and even wise, and was relieved to see Don involved in a healthy relationship for a change, something about her rubbed me the wrong way at times. But this she did not deserve. What a punch out of nowhere. And when she starts to process this, who can blame her if she gets vengeful? And if she gets vengeful, she has a very big weapon. Remember, Don has confessed all to her.

Next scene: Joan at home calling Greg in Vietnam. Wherein our suspicions about the pregnancy are confirmed. She DID keep the baby, and she IS going to pass it off as Greg’s. How that farce is going to play out we shall see. Greg may not be as smart as she, but he IS a doctor, and presumably understands the math on these things. At any rate, Joan’s mind is on one thing only: Don is “smiling like a fool, as if he’s the first man that ever married his secretary. She’s twenty-five. As if that’s news.”

Like the end of a John Cheever story

And in my second favorite scene of the night: Betty is primping in the now-empty kitchen of the house in Ossining when Don enters. She claims to have forgotten that he had told her he was meeting the real-estate agent that night. Was she deliberately waiting for him? She’s clearly flirting, hinting more than once that things are not good between her and Henry Francis. In fact, I think she’s actually coming on to Don. And he feels it. So, uncomfortably, he tells her the news about his engagement, and there is an instant change in energy. Betty is shocked. First she attacks, per as usual. But then she forces herself to congratulate him. There is a rapprochement of sorts, and they reminisce. “Remember this place?” Don says, looking around. The camera moves behind them as they look at the empty kitchen, and at each other. The last of the Drapers of Ossining.

You sure don't think "Sonny & Cher" when you look at this photo

Last scene, echo of the first. Don is back in bed in his Greenwich Village apartment. Only he is not alone. The beautiful Megan sleeps beatifically on his chest. Don, however, is awake. Staring out the window, which opens onto the window of the apartment opposite. “I got you babe” (the 1965 #1 hit) plays as we close out. Now, what is THAT look about? Is he regretting so soon? And that Bambi on his chest—will she prove herself to be a Faye or Betty or Peggy next season? And the song, clearly meant ironically, right? That Don chose the woman who does NOT know the truth? A woman he barely knows and who barely—despite what she says—knows him? Remember what Henry Francis told Betty: There are no fresh starts. And yet both Don and Betty keep hoping for them.

End of Season Four. A magnificent season it was. There were at least a handful of episodes this season that were as good as anything I’ve ever seen. At the close of most episodes I was seized by the desire to see more, or at least view that one again. They all bear rewatching very well. However, speaking of this finale alone, I’d say it was a disappointment. I’ll admit my expectations were very, very high. But only because they’ve been raised so high by previous episodes. The first half of this one felt like a lot of getting things done, not very rich. The characterization of Betty felt shallow. It told us nothing new about her, nor in any new way. Don’s transformation into loving, doting, effortless father of three felt a bit miraculous. Although there were a lot of visual echoes with the shots of Don and the look on his face, there seemed much less thematic depth than we’ve had in previous episodes. I’m very sad to lose Carla. Not only for the children’s sake and as a foil to Betty, but as the only regular African-American character in the show.

As for the Megan development—well, what an interesting way to go. Although she’s shown herself to be far more than just a pretty secretary, and Faye was not perfect, this engagement feels to me like a let-down. I’m willing to give it a chance, but it felt as though Don grasped desperately for something and this was what was at hand.

I’ll tell you the very worst thing of all, though. The season is over. No more Mad Men for months to come. How will we ever make it till next year?

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5 Responses to “ Mad Men Recap: Season 4 Finale: Tomorrowland ”

  1. Allison Cartwright on October 17, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Bravo! Your review of the finale was both insightful and brilliant.

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  4. Ally on October 18, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Great recap! I was disappointed with the season at first, but I’ve started rewatching from the beginning, and I now see that it was set up as a 13-hour movie basically. On second viewing, Don-as-lush is less significant than emerging plot points that will only be fully developed from episode 5 or 6 onwards — for instance: that Don takes up with blonde, nurturing Faye after Anna begins to ail.

    (Incidentally, at the beginning of the episode, I don’t think Faye had spent the night; I think she let herself in (hence the perfect coif) — another example of her boundary-pushing, that was never gonna make her a relaxing missus for Don. Her breakup scene with Don made me think of that SATC line: “I broke him, and now the stick-figure-with-no-soul gets to ride him.”)

    I thought Don’s line to Megan: “You know how many things had to happen for me to get to know you?” referred not just to the finale episode, but the whole season. He had to bed and alienate Allison, work Miss Blankenship to death, and then Betty had to fire the kids’ lifelong nanny (I hope that one burns, Betty!*)

    And I have to say, re: Megan, I called it! She’s a brunette, French, Betty (or a French Jane, if you will), and so perfect for Don. For me, the scene in the diner was a moment that perfectly references the title sequence of Mad Men. Despite all his advertising savvy, Don keeps falling for the same American fantasies he peddles: there was Megan, creating the perfect family picture in that sparkling diner. He still has trouble looking beneath the surface of anything (himself highly included). The camera lingering on Megan’s sideways look when Don leaves her hotel room hints that she did not stumble into seeming so marriageable to Don, and that there may have been some art in it.

    *Btw, I hope Weiner reevaluates the Betty character next year. She really is becoming a childish, Mommie Dearest-like cartoon, when in seasons 1-3 she was demonstrating the kinds of knowing dissatisfaction that usually leads to growth. The one-dimensional nature of the character is a discredit to the show’s creator.

    Christina Hendricks should get about 10 Emmys for the delivery of the “WhatEVER could be on your mind?” line alone!

  5. Maya on October 19, 2010 at 3:26 am

    Good job on your recap Grace, I read every word. I’ve been thinking about what to say about the episode, and I finally came up with this – it wasn’t really a feel good episode. Like you said, it didn’t totally live up to your high expectations. I enjoyed the California bits which were pretty beautiful, but the whole tone of the episode became foreboding at the end. Megan clearly might be a witch, and Faye might bring the drama next season. I am happy that Joan is having the baby because that will cause such a shock from Roger. I hope Betty will change next season, and I feel like that shot of her looking depressed, alone, might – possibly – mean that she will go through a big depression and change her ways.