Mad Men: The Season 5 Finale

My favorite show currently airing on television is Mad Men.

It has everything I want in a TV series: Drinking, drugs, sex, lies, deceit, death, love, character development, factually-accurate representation, great acting, forceful presence, and on and on.

So, when the fifth season was slated to end last night, I was wildly excited but also pretty remorseful. After all, the season took over a year just to even start since the fourth season concluded. There was a lot of time — perhaps too much time — to consume everything that had happened and project what twists and turns would occur in the Emmy-winning drama.

[SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT FORWARD]

After one of the most edge-of-your-seat episodes of any television show I have seen in a long, long time (the suicide of Lane Pryce), I think most people expected an over-the-top, in-your-face finale that was going to instantly shatter the screens of Hi-Definition televisions everywhere.

And if you expected a spectacle that was only missing fireworks, you were probably quite disappointed.

See, after back-to-back episodes full of intrigue and intensity, the finale was more laid back. There were no moments that made you shake your head in disbelief, nor were there scenes that made you drop your jaw in awe. But honestly, I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t want that, either. Too many over-the-top episodes will turn a show from respected to silly, and who wants a show to be out of its own element — especially a series as solid as Mad Men?

From many comments I read on random reviews this morning, it seems like many people thought the finale was ‘slow.’ I can see why they thought that because it was an episode dedicated to heavy dialogue and intense conversation. The most action in last night’s finale revolved good ol’ Pete getting punched out for the second time in Season 5, and that was after he admitted to his fellow train rider that he was sleeping with his wife — a wife who is repeatedly sent to shock therapy.

Here are some thoughts I had regarding the finale and the season as a whole:

  • It seems as if nobody yet knows the sequence of events that led to Lane’s suicide, including the forging of Don’s signature, his financial problems overseas and being forced to resign. Joan mentioned his absence at the meeting of the partners, as well as to Don in private. This plot hole is something to think about going forward, not only in regards to Don’s internal demons but also how the other partners will perceive him once they find out.
  • Megan is constantly changing as a person, starting the season as the loving young wife belting “Zou Bisou Bisou” to Don at a party and then using her friend’s information to get a role in a commercial. She became so desperate to be an actress that she blamed others, especially Don, for her misfortunes in the business. Even her own mother said she was not artistic enough. Like Pete, many people seem to find Megan to be a troubling and rather annoying character. But, like Pete, Megan is an integral character and the wife of the show’s main character. That alone gives her plenty of weight as the plot moves forward.
  • Speaking of Pete, what a season he has had. He had an ongoing affair with the wife of a man whom he shares a train with going home from the city. He seems to be tired of his home life — the house he lives in, the city he lives in, the same old routine with Trudy and his young child. You barely ever see scenes of Pete holding or being endearing towards his child. He even mentioned to Beth that he wanted to move to California with her, and Trudy later showed him the renovations for a new backyard (with a pool) and said she knows how much he likes the sun. Before Lane died, I think many people thought Pete would be the character to leave the show broken in pieces. He was beat up by Lane in an office fight that was highly entertaining to watch, he was beat up again on the train as previously mentioned, he fell for a young girl in his driver’s training course … he was a mess in Season 5. Yet, he still set up the firm’s acquisition of Jaguar (while Joan ‘sealed the deal’) and really pissed off Roger in the process. Pete is a big dog in the firm and everyone knows it, and that is a big reason why people ignore most of his antics. He even walked out of the partners’ meeting in the finale to go have an affair with Beth at the hotel. Pete Campbell is arguably the most interesting character besides Don.
  • Joan Harris had an interesting season. She went from being married to a soldier to being single and whoring herself out to get Jaguar on the company’s side. Becoming a partner, she now has an opportunity to be an even bigger force. It also helps her cause that Peggy is now out of the firm and on her own journey.
  • Speaking of Peggy, she seemed quite happy in the finale. When Don ran into her at the theater, she seemed to genuinely miss him, even telling him to stay on her call list. The last time we see her, she sees two dogs enjoying some dirty fun outside. But she was in Virginia and trying to figure out cigarettes for women, so I will go out on a hunch and say she will come up with Virginia Slims.
  • Arguably the funniest character on the show is Roger Sterling. What a season he had, from taking LSD and realizing that his marriage to Jane was a complete sham to making love to Megan’s mother multiple times — even once when Sally walked in by accident. Sterling still has clout when he wants to prove his worth to his fellow employees, and he isn’t afraid to throw money around to get his advertising associates to make things happen. The last we saw of Sterling, we, uh, saw his ass. Maybe he was tripping on acid again.
  • Then there’s Sally and Betty. Sally continues to show her maturity, but when she experiences her first real ‘lady problem’ while at the museum, we realize she isn’t as old as she may act sometimes. Betty, on the other hand, saw limited airtime this past season. She was also quite overweight until the end of the season, when she seemed to be trimming down a bit. Betty was jealous of Don and Megan on many occasions, and she used Sally as an example that she is still the mother and the mentor.
  • And then there’s good old Don Draper — the man, the myth, the legend. Everyone thought he had changed for the better, being a true family man and being faithful to Megan. But he had his moments of weakness, from pushing Lane into suicide and imagining his dead brother in his daily life. We have come to know time and time again that Don’s work suffers when he is more in tune with his home life, and the last scene of the season may symbolize that Mr. Draper is tired of being a half shell of what he used to be: an amazing advertising executive. He got Megan a part in a commercial, then walked off (perhaps a metaphor for walking away from Megan?) and was asked by a strange woman if he was alone. We never got to hear his response, but we can bet that it must have been good. He was even drinking an Old Fashioned, perhaps another sign he wanted to live in the past and be the troubled soul he used to be. Maybe.

Hopefully we won’t have to wait over another year to exactly what Don said. But even if we do, you can bet that the intensity level will continue to rise on what is one of the best shows on TV year after year. To leave with some broken French from the mouth of Sterling: “What’s Re-gi-na?”

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