I’ve come to expect a lot from ‘Mad Men’ finales. As I’ve said before, ‘Mad Men’ is a show in which not a lot happens – but everything usually bubbles up at the end of the season, and the finales tend to hit it out of the park. Just think back on the Emmy-winning Season 3 finale, “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” that set up the formation of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It left the viewer captivated and dazed to have to wait several months to see where the action picked up.
Well, ‘Tomorrowland’ – the Season 4 finale – doesn’t live up to the hype. It may be the most disappointed I’ve ever been in a ‘Mad Men’ episode. It wasn’t bad as episodes go, but I’ve come to expect so much more, and too many of this season’s plot points turned out to be red herrings. Or, we’ll have to wait until Season 5 to get the resolution, which is equally annoying.
So Don proposes to Megan – okay, that is certainly unexpected. But is it thrilling? Not exactly – and it was really the only surprising thing about this episode. It opens with Don dreading his trip to California and being counseled by Faye, whom he parts with by saying, “I’m gonna miss you, you know.” Did he perhaps know in the back of his mind that this was the end?
Betty, meanwhile, has sunk to a new low. After Carla allows Glen to see Sally before the big Francis move, Betty fires her on the spot, handing her cash like she’s a cheap floosy and robbing her of an opportunity to say goodbye to the children. Never mind that Carla has basically mothered your children, Betty – you apparently have a cold enough heart to terminate the relationship with a cold wave of the hand.
Back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Peggy gets wind (via Joyce) that panty hose company Topaz is in trouble. Thanks to one of Ken’s contacts, she impresses Topaz executives with clever campaign ideas and picks up her firm’s first account since Lucky Strike put a stake in its heart. And Don seems to pique the interest of the American Cancer Society by suggesting its ads will need to speak to teenagers. (Didn’t you love Roger’s question: “So, did you get cancer?!”)
Betty’s firing of Carla puts Don in a predicament: clearly he wants to take his kids to California, but that, you know, would require actual parenting on his part. So he invites the lovely Megan along with him, promising to pay her more than she’d make at the office. She’s perfect with the kids, singing them French lullabies, supervising them at the pool, going light on the scolding. Don even compares her to Maria Von Trapp, and I half-expected her to bust out with “The hills are alive…” in French.
Don also spends a night with her and seems genuinely happy. Or is it a happy escape from reality? Whatever the case, cut back to New York and Don is abruptly proposing. At first this scene seems like a dream, but no – it’s Don’s fresh start. The toothy Megan gleefully accepts, and soon they’re spreading the news in the office.
Peggy and Joan – whom we learn is still pregnant and gets a promotion to “Head of Agency Operations” – lament the agency’s “bullshit” in failing to acknowledge their contributions. “Whatever could be on your mind?” Joan asks, when Peggy waltzes in, eyes a-rolling. It’s nice to see them bitch together, but it made me wish we’d seen more of them in this season’s conclusion.
Betty, after yet another fight with Henry, encounters Don in their old house. She looks desperate and unhappy, but he’s on too high a cloud to notice or care. After she acknowledges she’s not as happy as she could be, he reveals his engagement, to her clear disappointment. Still, they toast to the old memories with a bottle of stow-away booze Don had no doubt tucked into the back of a cupboard.
We end with Don lying with Megan, looking, you know, contemplative. What’s in store for them? Are they really headed down the aisle? Will Don finally be happy, or is this merely another attempt to hide from his past? Will Sally adore her new step-mother? Can we really take another season of Betty on the sidelines, smoldering with jealousy and/or rage? Will Peggy become the ad firm’s star? Will the firm become “Sterling Draper Pryce” after Cooper’s supposed exit? Will Lane return to England? Will Joan’s hubby be killed in combat?
-Faye, understandably, does not take his engagement well. Her observation of his behavior is right on the money: “And I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”
-With Sally’s depressing trek all season, I was expecting something dreadful to happen in the pool scene. But like most of the episode, Nothing. Happened.
-Don half-heartedly acknowledges his past when Sally asks who "Dick" is. But he doesn't reveal much.
-It’s interesting that Don tells Megan, “I feel like myself when I’m with you.” Arguably, the only other people he’s felt that way about are Anna and Peggy. Revealingly, he tells Peggy about Megan, “You know she reminds me of you. She’s got the same spark.” Their exchange is sweet.
-We see nothing of Lane or Cooper, and barely anything of Pete or Roger. See what I mean about this being an empty finale?
I'll post more thoughts on Season Four next week.