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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mad Men's "Tomorrowland" packs some surprises

     Wow. That is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of AMC's Mad Men season four finale, which aired Sunday night. The show is used to delivering some twists, but things went to an unexpected, and described by many as weird, place. That's not to say it wasn't good; the episode was excellent. Many fine performances were delivered, some personal plots were advanced, though not the big economic plot the last few episodes have concerned, which I'll get to. It was a fine hour, with plenty left unresolved until next summer.

     The biggest humdinger concerns series star Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who, after spending most of the season in an adult, healthy relationship with a fellow professional, Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), suddenly got engaged to his secretary, Megan (Jessica Paré). I like Megan, I really do. And it's not like there wasn't some set up. Don had slept with Megan when he had problems with Faye, and took Megan to watch his kids on a trip to California earlier that same episode, where he slept with her again. But was he pushed into the decision by his grief for Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton), his worry about his firm, and his anxiety over his true identity being found out by the government? Because Faye has been there for him, and she's a much more appropriate spouse.

     Megan is a lot more like Don's ex-wife Betty (January Jones) than Faye is. Megan is young and pretty. She's not crazy or immature like Betty is. Sort of the next step above Betty, really. Don is not the first partner to marry his secretary; Roger Sterling (John Slattery) wed Jane (Peyton List) not too long ago. And Don has always gone after plenty of women. I can't really point to one factor that led to the rash choosing of Megan, but I don't doubt they'll make a good couple. For awhile anyway. Don will surely cheat on her soon enough.

     Betty was less annoying than usual, towards the end of the episode, anyway. In the beginning, she fired long-time maid Carla (Deborah Lacey). But by the end of the episode, having finally moved out of the house she shared with Don, she stood waiting for him in their old kitchen, more serene that she's been lately. Obviously, her world is falling apart. She actually seems jealous that Glen (Marten Holden Weiner, son of show creator Matthew Weiner) is now infatuated with Betty's daughter, Sally (Kiernan Shipka), instead of her. Her far-too-quick marriage with Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) is not at all healthy. I thought she might make a play for Don again, though she didn't. Was it because she found out about his engagement? Was she disappointed? Or surprised? It's hard to tell with Betty.

     Sally Draper has had a banner year. Despite not getting much plot in the season finale, her parents' divorce has allowed the girl to step into the spotlight. Between befriending a boy her mother doesn't approve of, to running away to the city to find her father, Sally has been in trouble quite a bit. But she still seems sweet and innocent, much more so than when she was throwing tantrums the season before. The young actress playing her has handled the much-increased role admirably. Surely Sally will only continue to grow as the series continues, after such a successful season.

     The other big bombshell dropped in the episode was the revelation that Joan (Christina Hendricks) had kept Roger's baby. Not only that, but per Roger's earlier suggestion, she lied to her husband, Greg (Sam Page), who is overseas, and told him that the baby is his. Surely, Roger will know the truth. After all, Joan will have had no opportunity to sleep with Greg since the incident. How far will Roger go to try to claim the child that is biologically his? Will he ruin Joan's marriage? Although he said he was ok with stepping back, he was also pushing for a renewed relationship with Joan, and Roger sometimes does stupid things. This plot is a fantastic set up for season five drama. Although it reminds me of the Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) / Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) baby, which is still an open story, in my opinion, even though the baby was born at the end of season one. But what did Henry Francis say this week? You don't get any fresh starts, life just continues.

     Peggy has had an interesting year. Thrust into a leadership position at the new firm, she now is essentially a boss to several employees. Her clashes with them have been enlightening, and her growing friendship with Don is a high point of the series, as long as they don't ever sleep together. However, Peggy's scene this week with Joan, whom she has never fully gotten along with, where they griped about how the men don't respect and value them, was pitch perfect. One of the best exchanges of dialogue in the series, the two characters have also avoided the cliche trap of sticking together just because they're in similar situations. They don't like each other a lot, and that won't change, but they finally respect and understand each other, and it was oh so satisfying.
     Season Four of Mad Men marked some major casting shakeups. Although we (thankfully) got Lane (Jared Harris) full-time, and Fred (Joel Murray) returned, original cast members Kinsey (Michael Gladis) and Sal (Bryan Batt) are gone. Sal screwed up a major account, and Kinsey probably wasn't that valuable to the company, obviously, or they wouldn't be left out. However, it's still sad to see them go, not to mention plenty of secretaries and other workers we routinely saw around the office. In the new agency, without the big, open space, the amount of extras are cut down, but so are the amount of familiar faces we see working among our main characters. This is further exacerbated by the firing of a number of new supporting characters as Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce struggled to stay afloat. I just hope that the abrupt departure of Cooper (Robert Morse) doesn't stick.
 
     All in all, an excellent ending to a wonderful season. I can't wait to see what Season Five holds.
 
 
Article first published as TV Review: Mad Men's "Tomorrowland" Packs Some Surprises on Blogcritics.
 
 

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