Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Men: Never Can Say Goodbye


What is about some TV shows that they make you feel like you personally know the characters? 

In the case of Mad Men, it defies logic that I should be feeling especially melancholy about having to say goodbye to Don, Roger, Joan, Peggy, Pete, Betty et al because let's face it: most of them are assholes. 

And yet that's exactly why most fans such as myself feel an almost personal connection to these fictional personas. They are flawed, like us. Unlike other series based in the '60s that portrayed the decade through mostly rose-colored John Lennon granny glasses, Mad Men showed us a world a bit more like the one our parents experienced, with its sexism, racism, discrimination, alcoholism, and infidelities. For some of us, the characters on the show were our parents. 

That's why I can't help wonder what might have become of the men and women of the now-defunct Stanley Cooper Draper Price, as well as their family members, had the storyline gone on. As much as I once longed for Mad Men to take us through the disco years, it seems appropriate that the series is ending with its story lines in the early days of the '70s. It's literally the end of an era--both for the show and on the show. So as I get ready to shed some tears into my martini glass in just a few hours, here's my ode to the most memorable characters (to me) including some who left the show in previous seasons along with some theorizing on what the road ahead has in store for them. 


Sal Romano

Ever since the closeted Salvatore Romano was unfairly fired by Don in season 3 for refusing to be a client's whore, I've been secretly hoping that the talented art director would make a triumphant return later in the series, hopefully having climbed the ladder at a competing ad agency. That never happened. But Bryan Batt, who played the role, admitted to Variety that he's glad he was never called back to reprise it, and as it turns out, he also has Sal's fate imagined for us: coming out of the closet, thus "breaking little Kitty's (his wife) heart" and getting caught up in the West Village's Stonewall riots in 1969. I'd like to think he moved to San Francisco and opened up an art gallery with his tony European partner named Fernando, Rudy, or Steffan. 

Ida Blankenship

She only made appearances in a few episodes, but Miss Blankenship's presence and comic relief is still missed! Looking and acting like everyone's tipsy aunt, Ida Blankenship became Don's secretary (after years of working for Bert) to prevent any more infidelities between Don and his assistants. Little did most people know that Ida was known as a "hell cat" and "a queen of perversions" in her younger days as revealed by a tape-recorded dictation, with one of her conquests being Roger. Why the producers decided to kill off her character in the middle of her workday, we'll never know. Always leave the audiences wanting more, I suppose. 

Harry Crane

Do we really care what happens to the office pig? It's just a matter of time before he finds himself hung out to dry after sexual harassment laws eventually come to the forefront.



Bert Cooper

An eccentric older dude with a bow tie, I've enjoyed Cooper's appearances from beyond the grave more so than when his character was alive ("You like playing the stranger" he tells Don as he drives into the night in search of his reluctant girlfriend.) His post-humorous song-and-dance number to "The Best Things In Life Are Free" is among my favorite Mad Men moments and a profound message to Don, which he seems to be taking to heart during the show's remaining episodes. 

Megan Calvert

At first it seemed like Megan may have been good for Don--she calmly diverted a meltdown when one of the Draper kids spilled a milkshake in a restaurant. And she did like to sing to Don ("Zou Bisou Bisou") even if it deeply embarrassed him. But not long after the vows were taken, Megan's spoiled brat true colors began to show during the episode "Faraway Places" where she spit out orange sherbet after declaring it tasted like perfume, then shoved it down her throat in an attempt to mock Don during a visit to Howard Johnson's. The only really kind thing I can say about this woman is that she had great taste in hair and clothing, but by the time she divorced, seemed to be on her way to turning into her vindictive mother. She'll probably eventually remarry but will never make it beyond television roles as an actress, making her resentful and bitter towards Don, even in old age. 



Pete Campbell

As sleazy, obnoxious, and just plain unlikeable as Pete could be, I have to admit he did have his moments, such as the time he and his wife Trudy impressed everyone with their mad Charleston dance skills. Pete practically begged Trudy to reconsider another go at marriage, and seems to have found a better deal in this new job the slippery Duck practically shoehorned him into. The only crappy part is that he'll have to relocate to Wichita, Kansas but hey, he and Trudy have access to a private jet that will take them anywhere they want to go. I hope he's turned over a  new leaf and put his philandering days behind him. I wish him well. 

Betty (Draper) Francis

If you watched last Sunday's episode then you know, sadly, that there's not much to predict here, but even when facing down death the icy blonde never lost her composure. She accepts her fate, refuses treatment, and calmly gives Sally instructions on what to do after she's gone. Her letter to Sally contains the nicest words that she couldn't say to her daughter in person: "I always worried about you because you marched to the beat of your own drum. But now I know that's good. I know your life will be an adventure. I love you. Mom." Rest in peace, ice princess. 

Joan Holloway

You gotta feel sorry for Joan, despite the verbal venom that she occasionally unleashed at unassuming victims (Peggy was often the brunt of her jealous backhanded comments, especially after she proved her copywriting skills). She's definitely getting the short end of the stick in this final season; after years of finally being able to convince her male coworkers that she's more than just a busty chest and curves she got the rug yanked out from under her by McCann's CEO, who informed her that her hard-earned accounts didn't mean anything and that she'd better "learn to get along" with her clueless and sexist colleagues. Still, something tells me that Joanie will be alright: she has a rich older boyfriend who knows how to "get people to do things." That, and she did part with her $250K company stake that--while only being half of what she was entitled to--was still a lot of moolah in the 1970s. I could see her working for Gloria Allred or launching her own women-managed ad agency or business. 



Sally Draper

Of all the Mad Men characters, the one most likely to get her own spin-off show (if there were ever going to be plans for a spin-off show) would be have to Sally. We've witnessed her arc from a wise-ass pre-teen into a wise teenager, who seems to have gained sympathy for both of her parents and the mistakes they've made. For fans of the show who grew up during the '60s and '70s, Sally is one of us. It's hard to say where the '70s may take her. (Despite her studies in archeology, I can't really picture her as a female Indiana Jones.) One thing's for certain: after witnessing their selfish and erroneous ways, she will definitely not end up like her parents. 

Roger Sterling

Roger never actually seemed to do any work for his daddy's ad agency unless it involved schmoozing, booze, and broads--and not necessarily in that order. With the absorption of SCDP into McCann it seems he's fully embraced the f*** it attitude more than ever, playing the organ and finishing off a bottle of Peggy's vermouth as a final sendoff to the old office. With no wife to come home to and a daughter in a hippie commune, I would imagine that Roger soon retires to a bungalow in the Bahamas where he entertains the local beach bunnies with stories of his advertising glory. I just hope he gets rid of the stupid looking pornstache. 



Peggy Olson

Seeing a bad-ass, shades-sporting Peggy strolling down the hallways of McCann carrying her belongings and Bert Cooper's octopus porn painting--with a cigarette dangling from her mouth--is an iconic scene worthy of television's history books. She got her wish, which was to essentially become a female Don Draper. If you need a jarring reminder of how far Peggy has come, just look up scenes featuring her from seasons 1 and 2. My guess is Peggy's star continues to rise at McCann and she becomes responsible for creating some of most memorable advertising tag lines in history. But will she finally get the right guy she deserves? And whatever happened to the set-up date she was going to go to Hawaii with? I guess I have to believe that things eventually work out for her in that department, but for now she's too busy basking in her glory. 

Don Draper

As for the show's lead character and protagonist, I actually think his fate is the easiest to predict: Don Draper dies. Not literally. We've seen Don's persona stripped from him layer by layer with each episode--first his marriage, his furniture, his apartment, and his lover, then things by his own accord...his job and even his caddy. Who knew that a show that takes place in the 1960s would have me thinking of the Frozen song, "Let It Go"? With nothing left to tether him, Don is primed to assume a new (old) identity, finally embracing the man he tried so hard his entire life to get away from. I picture the ending scene with him strolling into a mid-western dive bar, getting approached by the local hussy and after she asks for his name, the show's final line before fading to black will consist of three simple words. 

"I'm Dick Whitman." 

What are YOUR Mad Men predictions? Leave a comment and let's compare notes tomorrow!

2 comments:

  1. This is the one place where I took a different road. I never got into watching Mad Men! Janie Junebug is a big fan, too.

    I need to try again.

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  2. I've been an on-again, off-again watcher of Mad Men, depending on how much time my employment and side projects gave me. It turns out that I did have plenty of opportunity to watch the marathon of Mad Men which has been on these past few days, although I didn't yet see the finale. It was an opportunity to get back to this show and to remember why I liked it in the first place.

    Part of it is as you say: it presents a view of the '60s that removes the rose-colored glasses. For me, this is important, because as a teenager in the '80s, I have always looked upon the '60s as some sort of cultural "golden era," when people were idealistic, life was exciting, and society popped with colorful music and styles. To get un-hooked from this nostalgia, I always appreciated shows that presented a version of that era which reminded me that life actually went on alongside the excitement, and that other things happened beyond the "groovy" popular image.

    One last thought: I've gotten to think that Mad Men was above all about desire. . . about the things we all want out of life. And about how people go about trying desperately to reach those desires... and sometimes they get it, sometimes they don't, and sometimes they find out that what they wanted was not so satisfying once they got it... and they end up desiring something else which they think will fill the void.

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