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Mad Men Review: An Open Letter to Matthew Weiner

Dear Matthew Weiner,

You are a tricky, tricky devil. Here we are, all settled in for Sunday night’s season finale of Mad Men, expecting a dramatic calamity that we had already figured out, but once again you successfully threw us a major finale curveball that no one saw coming and left us with our jaws on the floor in confusion.

All of your loyal viewers had pretty solid ideas of what they thought was going to go down at the end of this fourth season and surprisingly, many of them had the same ideas in mind. Would SCDP finally crumble under their current economic difficulties? Would Peggy or Pete sell out Don’s secret to the other partners in order to go after that military client again? Would Joan’s husband be killed in Vietnam? Would Sally begin a torrid underage affair with Glen and run away? Would Betty profess that she still is in love with Don? Would Roger attempt to kill himself for losing Lucky Strike?

All of those things could have happened for the rousing season finale, but you’re smarter than that aren’t you? Rather than give us the predictable drama that we’re anticipating, as a typical series would, you decided to go a different route. Instead, you gave us Don Draper falling head over heels in love with his secretary, Megan (Jessica Pare), and proposing to her after only a few brief sexual encounters.

Wow.

To say I wasn’t expecting that is like saying I’m not expecting all grass to turn into Grape Jell-O that gives you the power to teleport if you slurp it. It just wasn’t on my radar AT ALL and even though I was disappointed initially not to get the trite drama I was expecting, after sleeping on it I now understand and appreciate what you did. For the first half of this season we watched Don on a major downward spiral that seemed almost like it could end up in his death. But he had a wake-up call and slowly began to pull himself together. He found a great female companion in Dr. Faye Miller. He kept an eye on his drinking. And he kept a cool head when the firm lost Lucky Strike and was on the brink of collapsing. So I guess his next logical step in getting his life back on track was finding a wife and creating a family life again. We all assumed this would be with Faye despite her lack of interest or experience with children but then when Don brought Megan along to California to watch over the kids and he saw how good she was with them, it was all over. Don was in the market for a mother and he certainly found her.

I know we will probably never see Faye again but I’d like at least a nod next season that she’s doing okay. She was a total peach and I wish her the best. Also, she could not have been more spot-on when she mentions Don only liking the start of things. She couldn’t be more right and it makes me salivate to see how things will eventually end with Megan.

My favorite reaction to the news was from Peggy who continues to prove that she is our vessel into the world of the show. Her expression of confusion, shock, but feigned happiness for Don in the face of the ignored fact that she actually just saved the company by scoring a new client (a storyline that we too thought would surely dominate this season finale) is a brutal punch in the gut.  And the more I think about it, the more brilliant it is, you crafty boy, you.

I want to thank you for the scene with Peggy and Joan at the end where they commiserate together at the bizarre turn of events and actually seem to be on the same page for once. It was a treat to finally see that and I hope we get more in the future because together they could be a pretty dynamic duo.

And then there is Betty. We were all curious how you would handle her screen time in the post-divorce period and I think it was handled extremely well. She is clearly no longer a major character but remained interesting throughout with her childish antics and seemingly fragile mental state. Seeing her fire Carla (Deborah Lacey) for letting Glen say goodbye to Sally before they move (who honestly wasn’t expecting that to end more sinister?) was brutally sad and careless and put a really bright light on her deranged state of mind. I was so dreading that final scene when Don told her about the engagement because I honestly didn’t know what she would do. And although we could clearly see it was killing her she held it together reasonably well, making that shot wheree both walked separate ways out of the kitchen for the last time all the more heartbreaking.

I realize that you have a shelf full of Emmys telling you how great the show is, but I think I should reiterate one more time just how amazingly awesome this fourth season of Mad Men really was. Every Sunday night for the past three months has been a pure joy for me seeing this poetic and smart drama play out with the fascinating characters who actually seem to exist in a real world where people come and go without warning and do things that can seem irrational at the time but make perfect sense in the long scheme of things. Not many fiction writers can get that into a TV series but you do it remarkably well and dare I say better than anyone else. My weekends now have a major void that needs to be filled, and although I wouldn’t ever dare guess what Season Five will bring us, please know that I’m already counting down the months and weeks to next summer so keep the good stuff coming.

Thanks for the amazing show and have a great vacation – you’ve earned it!

Matt DeGroot

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Season 4, Episode 13: Tomorrowland (originally aired October 17, 2010)

Sundays at 10PM/9C, AMC

Photographs courtesy of AMC and imdbpro.

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