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Mad Men – In Care Of Review: A Fitting End to a Great Season

Before the sixth season premiered, Matthew Weiner mentioned that this season would be a “real journey into learning about Don.” While we definitely get a lot of flashback scenes through the season (more than any other season, I believe), what is most insightful is his behavior in the show’s present. We definitely get more insight into why Don does the things he does, the reasons behind his many questionable actions, and while they are usually reprehensible (his affair with Sylvia, manipulating his coworkers and employees, his dismissal of work) we understand why he does them. I don’t think there has been a season that has presented Don in such an unfavorable light; his transgressions are out in the open and shown unabashedly. We have gotten these kind of moments in past seasons, but not in such fast succession and so consistently presented. Many times through the course of the season we are made to dislike Don and even root against him. This more frank view of Don is incredibly compelling as it challenges the audience’s perception of the character. We have come to sympathize with him despite of his many misgivings because of his charisma, his background and his skillfulness in his work. The introduction of Ted as a main character and as an obvious antagonist to Don only highlights Don’s negative traits; the way he goes against Ted time after time just makes him seem like a petty and impetuous man and it is hard to root for him. Some might have a hard time watching Don go down this path, but Jon Hamm carries the material wonderfully and even when he is stealing Stan’s idea to take advantage of the California office, the act is frustrating to watch (how many times will Don attempt to run away from his life?) but it remains absolutely engaging.

After spending much of the season exploring Don’s more selfish and dark side, there is a very significant moment of clarity and awareness from him in which he shockingly displays his vulnerability. In probably the most engaging and successful scene of the episode, Don reveals his troubled past as an orphan. The scene is heartbreaking, uncomfortable, amusing, and so much more. Hamm’s performance is honest and emotional, without venturing into maudlin territory, and the reactions from the guys in the meeting are absolutely priceless. Ted’s sort of dazed bewilderment regarding has just transpired is great, and so are Roger and Jim’s looks of awe and disgruntlement. Plus, before Don’s descent down memory lane, his Hershey’s pitch is fantastic. After being deprived for so long of a great “Don pitch,” it’s great to get one and be reminded of how good he can be at his job. Though Don shows some selflessness as he tells Ted that he can go to California instead, Don (hopefully) realizes that one can’t run away forever. While this might not be a great moment for Don as a person, he shows some personal growth and awareness; this moment does serve as the last straw for his partners in business. It is surprising that the partners would conspire against Don, although their actions are completely understandable (he has jeopardized the company too many times) and interesting for the development of a future narrative. Finally it seems that Don is faced with a real, dire consequence to his erratic behavior.

Since Don gave up the opportunity to Ted, it seems that Megan is on her way to California without him, and with the difficulty the show sometimes has incorporating Betty into the narrative, I don’t know how necessary it would be to have Megan a part of the show in the future. The latest Draper marriage is not going in the most positive direction, and in all fairness, Megan’s story arc (if it can be considered that at all) has been the least interesting of the entire season, it would be all for the best if the series would just drop the character altogether. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy what Jessica Pare does with the material she is given, but it is not enough to justify her presence, especially if Megan and Don are going to be separated. Of course this is just speculation and they could still be together (living on the same coast) when the next season picks up. Hopefully the writers will have something more interesting in store for Megan if that’s the case, but if they do become bicoastal and Megan is off doing her acting thing, I can’t imagine how that could be more interesting than what we got this season. The writers have handled Betty’s presence on the show expertly, particularly during the second half of the season, and in last night’s episode January Jones is fabulous in her one scene. Again, when used sparingly, Jones is a great asset for the show and is a joy to watch; her chemistry with Hamm (even over the phone) is great and even Betty’s storyline (struggling to raise her daughter) feels both interesting and compelling. Unlike Megan, Betty will forever be linked to Don by their children and this means her presence in Don’s live and on the show will always be justified.

Another character who is forever tied to Don (for very different reasons) is of course Peggy, who, as the episode closes, finds herself literally taking over Don’s office. The show has always been her story as much as Don’s, and now, as Don appears to be on his professional decline, Peggy is making some serious strides upward. After being jerked around all season by Ted and Don, it is deeply satisfying to see her have some kind of upper hand, even if her personal life has gone to shit. Pete’s personal life is also in shambles and his work status is questionable, as he has been sent off to “Siberia,” as Peggy would say; what a sad season it has been for him. Though he has endured a pretty depressing couple of months in this season, Pete has still been the source of magnificent comedic moments. Outraged Pete is probably one of the funniest things on television and Vincent Kartheiser’s performance is absolutely perfect; his “Not great, Bob!” as he entered the elevator is pure gold.

Yet another season of the best drama in television has passed faster than you could say “Sharon Tate.” “In Care Of” is an absolutely entertaining and poignant episode, perfect for the culmination of the series’ sixth season. As usual, being able to predict what will happen in a season is never as easy as it might seem when watching the premiere episode, because the writers always manage to steer the narrative into unexpected areas and threads. While important themes and storylines are introduced in the premiere (mystery surrounding Bob, Don’s depressing descent, Peggy and Ted’s relationship), the way the show explores them is always unanticipated and fresh. Who would’ve thought that by the end of the season Sally would have caught Don cheating on Megan, Ted and Pete would be on their way to set up shop in California, or that Don would be essentially ousted from the company and Peggy basically put in his place (for the time being)? This quality of unpredictability is an important aspect of the show’s success and overall enjoyment; we can speculate and theorize on the characters’ futures (this season alone saw an astounding array of fan theories), but the events never do unfold exactly the way one would think. As a result, the finale serves as a great conclusion for the season as well as a great set-up for the final one. Virtually anything could happen after the events of last night’s finale, as we have seen following great season finales of the past like “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” “Meditations in an Emergency,” and others. We leave the show in a state of transition. Both the agency and the personal lives of the characters are facing significant changes and shifts. Where they land before we revisit them for the last time is completely up in the air, which is definitely intriguing and certainly builds up anticipation for the subsequent season. Matt Weiner and the writing staff have developed and sustained one of the most successful dramas in television history and will no doubt bring the story together for a fantastic conclusion. Until then, we can enjoy the time we have spent with these amazing characters and delight in their company before it all comes to an end.  

 

Random Thoughts

— “Its all fun and games till they shoot you in the face.”

— Again, we are shown how alike Ted and Don really are. Ted’s inner Don comes out in this episode: wanting to run away from his problems, acting possessive of Peggy, succumbing to adultery. He might seem to be a bit nobler in his intentions, but he is capable of effecting and hurting others just as gravely.

— Love to see Stan. His confrontation scene with Don is great, especially since he voices everything that the audience is thinking and points out how selfish Don’s actions are, which I don’t think Don realizes at all.

— Love Peggy’s not so subtle attempt to make Ted jealous; that’s a great scene and Kevin Rahm completely sells his awestruck expression.

— Amazing wardrobe moments for Peggy this episode. The black mini baby doll dress is totally reminiscent of the outfit she wore when she thought that Abe was going to propose, down to the bright pink bow. Both dresses are worn to occasions in which she ended up being somewhat disappointed by her respective dates. The navy blue outfit she wears when Ted essentially dumps her is the same one she wore when he hired her to work for CGC (nice little parallel drawn between those two scenes, the beginning and the end of their odd little relationship). And, of course, one cannot discuss this episode without mentioning the amazing red houndstooth pantsuit (and a Ten Chaough turtleneck, no less) she wears in that final scene. She wears pants to work for the first time as she is given this pseudo-promotion. Also the color red echoes last season’s finale in which she wears two bright red outfits. In that episode she similarly rose in her professional rank and asserted herself as a working woman.

— Whatever happened with Avon? We can assume that they did call and that the agency got the business, but some confirmation of that would have been nice.

— While I really enjoyed the season, I would have liked to see more of Joan, I feel like she got a bit underserved. I would gladly sacrifice Megan if it means more Joan on the next season.

 

Rating
9.8

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