Project Mad Men: part three

Ed Williamson,
Ali Gray

27th March 2012

In the concluding part of Project Mad Men, we discuss our expectations for season five, starting tonight on Sky Atlantic. If you haven't seen season four all the way through then (a) there are spoilers in here, and (b) get out of our goddamn office and don't come back until you're prepared to take it seriously.

Ed: At the end of season four, when Don proposes to Megan, he seems to be choosing the safe option.

With Faye he's found a woman who gets him, who he respects, and - crucially - who he's told about his past as Dick Whitman and she's accepted it. Also, he met her at work, which is his natural habitat, and the place where he is truly Don Draper, so that's how she knows him. This is the best thing that's ever happened to him. But he'd feel guilty about cheating on her, and it hasn't occurred to him that she might be enough; that he might even end up not wanting to cheat.

Megan is Betty 2.0: she's great with his kids (much better than their mother, who doesn't actually like children very much) and will make an ideal wife to sort out his home, leaving him free to work and get laid. He'll go back to living his life like he did in season one, or trying to.

Incidentally, the proposal is massively spoiled on the DVD episode selection page by the icon being a picture of him giving Megan the ring.

Roll over to reveal.

Ed: Do you think Don wants to have a family, or just feels like he's got one now; his part's done and they can just sort themselves out?

Ali: I don't think Don even knows what he wants. I'm reminded of that line he says to Bobbi Barret just before he crashes his car: "I don't feel anything." He's had the wife and the kids and the white picket fence, and he's had the single life, and neither of them have filled the hole (not literally, of course - fnar fnar). I watched the last episode of season four in two chunks, and by the time Don proposed to Megan it felt kind of right and not at all shocking. Then I watched it back again in one go, and remembered he was still with Faye at the beginning of the episode. Yikes. That's not on, Don (trying out a catchphrase, let me know if you like it).

Ed: Am now torn between What Would Don Do and That's Not On, Don for tattoos. Pick yours and I'll get the other.

Ali: The AV Club had an interesting take on the new promo poster for season five: the seated mannequin with the dressing gown and pipe is the comfortable image of family man that Don thinks he wants, while the naked female mannequin suggests a desire to continue rutting like a stag with pretty young fillies. The brilliance of the poster is you can't tell what's caught his interest; either that, or he just really wants to bang a mannequin. Don't rape 'er, Draper! That's awful. I'm so sorry. Enough with the catchphrases.

Ed: Does Betty derive any joy at all from being a mother? She never seems to display any. Think this might be the source of the "January Jones is a bitch on set" rumours actually.

That's something that struck me about the rest of season four: how unlikeable they make Betty as a character. She's an awful mother - the worst thing that Sally could possibly do in her eyes is cut off her hair or get fat. Don has wronged her terribly in so many ways, so we should sympathise with her, but the writers don't want us to. Why do you reckon that is?

Ali: That's the one bit I didn't really get on with: Betty's transformation from wronged woman to total bitch and horrible mother. I thought it was great that Betty's character was just as interesting as Don's throughout - she had her own arc through the first three seasons, and you damn near rooted for her towards the end of season three, when Don's house of cards starts falling down. Then, suddenly after she serves his ass with a divorce - the 'right' thing for her character to do - she becomes a thoroughly unwholesome character. That's down to the fact that Betty divorced from Don doesn't make for a particularly interesting character unless she's a cow. It just about works as her frosty relationship with her kids keeps her in with Don (although I wouldn't want my daughter seeing Marten 'Holden' Weiner either), but it's also made me dislike her character intensely and suspect that the writers sort of wrote her into a corner.

Ed: Matthew Weiner's quote from that Slate article you sent me regarding Betty is something I'd never considered before, though:

I think the tough thing for people about Betty is that her relationship with her kid is too adult. And maybe she shouldn't have had children. And maybe she should be more motherly and less selfish. But I don't think people understand: It's a very recent phenomenon to even suggest that children have a different experience of the world than we do. The whole idea that a child wants x versus an adult is new. And as far as Betty Draper is concerned, that kid has to grow up right away, she does not have to be coddled, she should learn how to behave like a lady, she should learn to be polite. And the great thing is that life is teaching her something different. That girl is very headstrong - and a lot like her mom.
And that's very true: we're judging her based on modern standards. It's all very well getting all moist-eyed and nostalgic about being able to smoke indoors and wearing Pringle v-neck jumpers and slacks on Sundays, but we tend to forgive the male characters a lot on the grounds of "Oh, it's just how men behaved in those days; society was at fault, not them", so I guess we can't judge Betty too harshly for resolutely bringing up her daughter to be pretty, slim and marriageable, because in her world that's the only way a woman can get on in life.

So we're all sexists for disliking her, basically. Especially you. For shame.

Ali: I think season five will start with Don and Megan separated already. Every season opener so far has confounded expectations in the same way, by starting a good six months to a year after you think it will. Frankly I can't see Megan being an interesting enough addition to the regular cast list, and I think Don adrift from women rather than being tied down makes for a better story - certainly better than revisiting the unhappy homelife angle of season one.

Ed: That's such a good shout. Never occurred to me. It'll start in 1967 from what I've heard, and like you I'd never considered Megan to seem like a series regular. I thought it more likely that he'd start cheating on Megan with Betty. Then get back together with Betty and cheat on her with basically everyone in the world.

Ali: Are we resigned to the fact we won't see the likes of Kinsey and Sal again? And do you think Sterling works without Cooper?

Ed: I think we've definitely seen the last of Sal; his whole arc was wrapped up pretty tightly. Kinsey ... well, there wouldn't be much point. What did he ever do, except grow a beard and start dating a black girl? Lousy pipe-smoking beatnik. Can't believe he ever got a slice of Joan.

Yeah, YOU. With your brandy and your stupid neckerchief thing. Do one.

Ed: As for Cooper, I never got the impression his walk-out was anything other than a bit of a flounce. I wouldn't be surprised if he was back. But to answer your question, while in terms of the agency he didn't seem to do much except trim his bonsai tree and act mental, he did seem to be one of the only things anchoring Roger in his family's history, helping him to remember what his father had built so he didn't squander it all on Martinis and fur coats for hookers. So maybe it could have a destabilising effect on Sterling.

For all his eccentricity, there's something of the stern patrician in Cooper, and Roger definitely feels that fatherly pressure from him. I always thought that the decision to make it about an ad agency was very deliberate in terms of the changing face of business and the world at large. Roger Sterling Sr would've been far more serious and business-minded, and all too aware that his son had basically made a living through being charming.

And this is a generation of men who disappoint their fathers through their life and career choices. You can see it in Pete Campbell's relationship with his dad in an obvious way. These guys had fathers who made things, built things; this is the first generation of people who had jobs about creating and selling ideas, and their fathers think they're wasting their time, even if they are legitimately high-powered and influential, acting like masters of the universe around Manhattan. Another way in which Mad Men mirrors the 60s, in which ideas suddenly had currency and value in mainstream life.

Ed: So finally: Matthew Weiner has said that he already knows how Mad Men is going to finish, after seven seasons. What do you think's in his mind, or how do you want it to end? I really hope we don't get too far into the 70s. I couldn't handle the sight of Don in flares.

Ali: I'm sure I read a rumour that the last episode, or at least the last few scenes, will be set in the present day. Given how badly they screwed up Peggy's pregnancy make-up in season one, I fully expect Old Man Draper to look something like a ballbag.

I think the only way it'll be interesting to see Don as an old man is to see how Bobby turns out - whether he's a chip off the old block or whether he's learned from his father's mistakes. I'm not sure there's a whole lot that needs to be said in the comparison of 60s advertising to what passes for advertising today, and I don't consider it Mad Men's remit to do so - as long as the ending serves the characters, I'm fine with it.

I'd like to think we'll see what Don's effect on the world has been, the Draper legacy, personally and professionally. I have no real desire to see Old Don keeping his lawn and moaning about "all the Asians". Also, I hope Roger and Joan get together, Sal finds the male Ann-Margret, Cosgrove becomes a full-time novelist and Kinsey gets shot in the face.

Ed: Yes, I heard the present-day ending thing too, or at least am pretending to in order to save face. It would be appropriate to see Don old and fucked, I suppose; like they were trying to in The Iron Lady, show a powerful figure now decrepit and useless. Hopefully he won't be haunted by the ghost of Jim Broadbent though.

I wouldn't be surprised if the big focus at the end is on Peggy. She'll be running her own agency or something, though maybe that's too obvious. Actually, the most controversial thing they could do is have her eventually marry some douche, have kids and be a housewife. Then Weiner could turn up on screen, break the fourth wall and tell us that actually he reckons women should just shut up, iron his shirts and cook him some damn sausages.

If you appreciate Mad Men on as many levels as I do, you'll realise that's its real message.

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