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'Mad Men' season finale: Predictions, theories, and Matthew Weiner on Don Draper's dark year

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Image Credit: Michael Yarish/AMCIs it is just me, or do Mad Men seasons fly by way too fast? ARGH! The season finale is upon us, and another epic wait between new episodes is about to begin. Season 4 has been a great ride. I’ve been riveted by its focus on Don Draper’s addictions, dawning self-awareness, and struggling effort to change. I’ve loved how Don’s inner angst was mirrored in the workplace story lines—the “phantom punch” Samsonite ad; the loss of Lucky Strike—and in the other characters, from Peggy’s emerging social conscience to Joan’s own frustration with the repeating patterns of her life, to all things Sally. And I’ve greatly enjoyed the show’s clever intersections with history, Ali-Liston II to Beatlemania. Overall: Awesome.

Favorite Episode? Of course: “The Suitcase.”

Favorite Moment? The “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” opening sequence of “The Summer Man.”

Runner-up: Don’s “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” open letter in The New York Times from last week’s episode.

Favorite Line? From Lane’s father in my second favorite ep of the season, “Hands and Knees,” a line that sums up so much of Mad Men for me: “Put your home in order. Either there or here. You cannot live in between.” I very much like this interpretation of the line from Matt Zoller Sietz, critic for The New Republic: “The ‘in between’ is a kind of present-tense netherworld, an imaginative space created when we lie and successfully avoid, or postpone, getting caught…” Season 4 was the year when Don and many of our characters were challenged by circumstances to leave their respective “netherworlds.” How they responded to that challenge, successfully and otherwise, made for amazing drama. I am looking to the season finale, entitled “Tomorrowland,” to make a statement on the matter in regards to Don. Is he committed to moving out of his profoundly unfulfilling “in between life”—or will he renew his perverse accommodation with it? I got the sense from last week’s episode that he was trending toward the latter; we shall see.

I’d love to hear your picks for favorite episode, moment and line in the message boards below.

I recently asked Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner for his Big Picture perspective on this season. What was is it all about? His response:

“I wanted to do a story about a 39-year-old man who was divorced and losing his coordinates and his moorings, throwing his whole sense of self into question. This of course would be compounded because Don Draper has at least two identities. That said, I hope people have enjoyed this journey and found it entertaining to see someone really questioning who they are and maybe not getting an answer they like.”

For me, I say, Mission: Accomplished. But that’s not to say Season 4 didn’t have a disappointment or two. Not “flaws”—just disappointments. I can never get enough of the supporting characters—and this season, I felt like I didn’t get enough of Pete (burning question: Will he leave the agency?) and Joan (burning qustion: Did she really get the abortion?). While I totally understand why the season’s Don-centric storytelling couldn’t give us more of Betty, her lack of screen time was too distracting. I look forward to seeing more of her next season. She needs the same kind of (potentially redemptive) disassembly that Don got this season–and I think she needs to do that hard work of deconstruction with Don. Which is why I do think the show will find a way to bring these two together again—perhaps by trying to reconcile (if not out of new love, then for the sake of the children?), or at the very least, by agreeing to take parenting classes together. I’m snickering at the suggestion myself, but I think we can agree they could really, really benefit from some re-education. Perhaps the season finale will give them an impetus to parental self-improvement, possibly in the form of a dark turn for Sally. My colleague Michael Ausiello is even predicting the girl will attempt suicide as a solution to her angst. I don’t know about that, but I think we can all agree that… Ausiello is a rather bleak fellow.

At the beginning of the season, I made four “fearless” predictions. Do I now dare to grade myself? I do! Fearlessly! Let’s review.

PREDICTION: Henry Francis will dump Betty, not vise versa

OUTCOME: FAIL.

It would feel abrupt and underdeveloped if it happened in the season finale, unless the finale was all about creating a conflict that puts Betty and Henry in crisis, to be resolved next year—or more likely, off camera, in an untold story to take place during the span of time between seasons. Mad Men doesn’t seem too interested in exploring the ins and outs of Betty’s second marriage. Perhaps the show is equally disinterested in giving us a blow-by-blow of its collapse. Then again, maybe I need to rethink my pessimism/cynicism. Could it be that Betty’s destiny is to find happiness, fulfillment, and (hopefully) transformation with this Henry?

PREDICTION: Betty will slap Don. And then…?

OUTCOME: FAIL.

This prediction was rooted in my belief that Mad Men would spend more time exploring Don’s self-abusing, slap-happy relationship with prostitutes and building more tension between Don and Betty, before ultimately bringing us to some explosive psycho-sexual blow-out between the ex spouses. I guess Ausiello isn’t the only one who finds it easy to go to a dark place…

PREDICTION: Advertising Age will expose Don Draper’s Dick Whitman past.

OUTCOME: FAIL?

There’s still time for this prediction to come true. That “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” open letter in The New York Times sure put a target on his back…

PREDICTION: Lucky Strike is going to put its account into review.

OUTCOME: Basically correct!

Lucky Strike skipped the review altogether and pulled the account without giving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce a chance to plead its case. Still, allow me to take some victory in anticipating that the agency’s dangerous dependence on the tobacco account was a cancer that would eventually threaten the life of the firm. Will SCDP find a new sugar daddy client to shore up its business? If account-hound golden boy Pete leaves the agency, I would say: No. Will we actually get some resolution on this matter in the finale? Last week, we saw the partners make some financial sacrifices and lay off some staff to keep the agency solvent and open for the next six months. I think this was Mad Men’s clever way of deferring the outcome of this drama until next season so that the season finale could focus more on Don Draper, The Man instead of Don Draper, The Businessman. We shall see.

My friends, I’ve had great fun predicting, theorizing, and just generally geeking out on Mad Men with you this season. Thank you for indulging my flights of fancy and dubious scholarship. Please make a point of coming back to EW.com on Monday to read our official recap of the finale, written by my recapping idol, Karen Valby. (Need to review for the season capper? You can find all of Karen’s recaps here.) I hope to be back with more madcap Mad Men bleatings next season. My first fearless prediction? Season 5 will be the “Sgt. Draper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” year of Mad Men. It takes place during the fabled “summer of love” of 1967, beginning in June (when The Beatles released their culture-quaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), and culminating in September with Jim Morrison’s incendiary performance of “Light My Fire” on The Ed Sullivan Show. The perfect bookends for a season that will tell the story of the reignited Don-and-Betty marriage, don’t you think?

Let the message board howling begin.

Madly,

Doc Jensen

@ewdocjensen

docjensenew@gmail.com

For more Mad Men discussion, listen to the latest our latest EW TV Insiders Podcast. Dalton Ross, Michael Slezak, Annie Barrett, Michael Ausiello and I chat about the season finale–and give Ausiello worried looks for his twisted Sally death-wishing.