A Recap, by definition, WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! Proceed at your own risk!
While everyone gets over the Sunday night season premiere of “Game of Thrones” and has rested off their weekend binge of “Marvel’s Daredevil”, let’s not forget that the original Monday morning water cooler talk for AMC’s Mad Men is still here. The show is down to its final episodes and last night was the second episode of its final 7 part series finale. Well, while your friends and co-workers talk about HBO’s “Game of Thrones” we at What’cha Reading are here for you to discuss a few moments from last night’s “Mad Men. So without further ado, let’s get to our second installment of… TALKING MAD!
While nothing immediate or overly pressing happened in last night’s episode, “New Business”, it brings to mind the quality of countless other “Mad Men” episodes that work as hour-long progressions and insight into the lives of t.v.’s most nuanced and morally ambiguous of people. Some of my favorite episodes are the ones that explore the characters dilemmas and while nothing shocking happens, we are still captivated by the possibilities of what will occur after what we just saw play out. However, the response to “New Business” has been met with more of a harshness reserved for those that have truly become devoted to one of AMC’s finest of shows. I thoroughly enjoy “Mad Men” and there are many episodes that have an undeniably cinematic appeal that I just love, but this was not one of them. Sonia Saraiya of Salon had this to say: “New Business” is an episode that feels like moving the furniture around to make room for the party that will be the series finale. In typical “Mad Men” fashion, the show took the metaphor quite literally: The furniture has been moved. Now we get to see what happens next.”
Our episode opens with Don’s ex-wife, Betty (January Jones) telling us that she’s pursuing a master’s degree in psychology. It’s a fascinating development for Betty as we’ve watched her progress through the past seasons. It’s a story arc for the character that will sadly never be explored as we make our way closer to the series finale. It would have been fun to see how January Jones played Betty in a further episode interacting with Henry Francis, her husband and children. Alas, the stuff for fan-fiction. The opening scene doesn’t just produce this for the character of Betty, but also continues to show us an aging anti-hero in Don that furthers the fact of how alone and torn he is about where his placement is in life and over the choices that he’s made in the past. While he helps make chocolate milkshakes for his kids, he immediately leaves when Betty’s new husband, Henry, arrives home. He doesn’t want to get in the way, nor is it appropriate for him to linger. But how sad is it to see him watch his children, growing up and happy, with a new family? Don’s continual lies and secrets led to his marriage failing and if only he had opened up to Betty about his past, maybe he could have saved his marriage! Okay, well let’s not forget the perpetual infidelity. This is one of the strongest moments as it connects to the furthering of his “relationship” with waitress Diana (Elizabeth Reaser) and the conclusion to his current marriage with Megan (Jessica Pare).
“When I was with you, I forgot about her.”
Later on, Don meets with Diana. Currently in his pajamas while laying in bed, he calls the waitress. Before she arrives, he dresses in one of his finest suits, only to moments later get undressed. Just wrap your head around that and it’s actually quite hilarious. She arrives and later in the night after she asks him if he’s married or not, she tells him that she has no children. It’s a lie that comes out later after she sees the room he has prepared in his apartment for when his children visit. It saddens Diana as she is reminded that she really does have children and one of them died from the flu. Their relationship eventually comes to an end later in the episode as Diana reveals that she actually had two girls and that the oldest is with her father. She tells Don that she forgot about her children in the time she spent with him, something she wishes will never happen again. Elizabeth Reaser gives a portrayal of a haunted and broken woman, one that doesn’t seem like the kind of person Don would pursue. As she sits on the edge of his child’s bed, recounting the story of the loss of her child, Don is suddenly painted as a very desperate man. Diana tells him “When I was with you, I forgot about her” which to me feels very close to the reason Don pursued her. Diana was a form of escape for the once prominent and mighty lothario; a way for him to forget about his age, his past mistakes, and his failed relationships.
“Aging, sloppy, selfish liar.”
Megan and Don conclude their old business and their marriage finally ends within this episode. “New Business” is almost certainly the last time we’ll see Jessica Pare as Megan Draper, but it was a great sendoff for her character. We get to see her mother once again, played by Julia Ormond, who gets to not only clear out Don’s apartment, but also “defile” it with Roger (John Slattery). Before she leaves for good, she has a business lunch with Harry Crane to discuss her acting career and an important scene with Don, where he cuts a check for 1 million dollars to pay for the time she accused of stealing from her. She calls him an “aging, sloppy, selfish liar” and the words ring true as he pretty much is exactly that. Scott Meslow of The Week eloquently described our main characters as “being nostalgic for their own nostalgia, and painfully aware of how much they’ve lost.” I absolutely love that as it paints Don in the way that he is. He’s a man with everything and nothing. Especially as he returns to his apartment to find absolutely nothing left except for walls and carpet. Don Draper has become a physical being that shares the same emptiness as his living quarters. There’s flesh and bone, walls and floors, but nothing else is there. He’s become a man filled with a longing for the days that he could have any woman he wanted (Great cameo by Linda Cardellini, reprising her role as Sylvia Rosen) and faced with the realization that he’s no longer a young man anymore. More than just his flings, he’s a man without the comforts of love, purpose, and belonging that only a family could offer and as far as he’s traveled away from his upbringings, he’s nearly back to the start. Sloppy and selfish. Don hasn’t really gotten far.
Mad Men, Mad Man.
Don Draper is a mad man. He’s a man lost to the expectations and dreams he once had for the life all men and women are promised. In a time where hard work and perseverance meant something, a time where it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, Don Draper was king. He was a visionary, a leader, and a bully. Having become blinded by wealth and power it would seem he’d never have, he became the exact version of the kind of person and life he desperately wished to escape from. The dilemmas Don Draper now faces could only be examined and understood by those that have followed his journey and have the attachment to the fully alive mad man Jon Hamm has breathed life into. He’s more than just a character. Don Draper is a real, living, breathing human that existed someplace between reality and the haziness of a half remembered dream. Don Draper is very much stuck between those worlds and it would seem that as our insight and view into his world is slowly dimming, he is desperately failing at finding a way to break out with us. It’s time to move on and he knows it. But what will Don do about it? Can he find a way to “get past the beginning” as Pete Campell (Vincent Kartheiser) put it?
“New Business” felt like old business. That is why this “Mad Men” episode gets three out of five stars. Yet it was a necessary episode in this final run and worked as a sendoff for Megan, possibly Betty, and hopefully Harry Crane (Rich Sommer). The less we say about him the better. “Mad Men” airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on AMC. Check your local listings.