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Formative TV Experience No. 11: Blues for the Toddler Soul
Good-bye, Dollhouse, It’s Been Nice; Hope You Find Your Paradise
brilliance

Mad Men Finale

  • 11/9/09 at 2:00 PM
Mad Men Finale

Photo: Carin Baer/AMC

My lord.

Like Logan — who pinpoints beautifully in his recap how much this episode cements the show's appeal not only as a series, but as a brand — I was thrilled to the bone with the Mad Men finale. The script, the acting, the emotion: This episode transformed elements that felt choppy (the Brits, the Don-Roger fallout, Peggy's disenchantment) into brilliantly structured foreshadowing. I laughed; I cried! And that's no glib joke, I mean it literally: It made me think and argue and feel, which is exactly what great TV should do, and it's going to be fun to see all the reactions online, because it's such a rich show to discuss.

I wrote this review last week, and in certain ways, my frustrations with season three were simultaneously confirmed and exorcised. The weakest element was once those overexplicit flashbacks to hillbilly land, but this flashback also seemed like the last time we needed to revisit Don's childhood. After three days of discussing Betty Draper nonstop with friends and on the thread under my review (where the Twitter "Betty Draper" weighed in to defend herself!), I found my feelings had shifted — not least because any characterization you can hash out for three days is fascinating by definition.

I still have doubts about Jones's performance, but I thought she was pretty spectacular last night, even as Betty did some wildly distressing things (like abandon her children for six weeks). But I had no trouble sympathizing with her, or feeling the strength and peculiarity of her wounded, frightened, defiant, brittle character — even as she made what felt like inevitable but terrible mistakes, like hopping aboard Henry Francis, her own marital fainting couch.

Mostly, Betty's vanity made more sense to me: I realized that of course Don needed to marry someone so resistant to seeing below the surface, because she had always been a dupe in a conman's game. He needed a "co-phony," as my friend Laura pointed out while we watched the episode. It's a humiliating thing to be exposed like that, and the show made their divorce into a metaphor for the worst possible notion of traditional marriage. And now that the con is over, Don is also free to have a relationship that is not so built on contempt, which in Don's case was grounded on his view of her as at once a shill, a prize, and yes, a whore: As long as he supported her fancy lifestyle, he was free to do anything he wanted. The bedroom confrontation blew me away, with that attack on Betty with her "little white nose." No matter how bad things get for Betty from now on, it's hard to imagine anything worse than being married to a man who views her this way.

And of course, Don himself has his own whore issues, not only because of his mom, but because of what he does for a living. He didn't love it when Bobbie called him on his own whorish nature last season, so it's no surprise that it's the insult he flings at his wife.

Now I'm going to AIM with Logan about the ep! There's so much to talk about — I haven't even addressed the pleasurably jaunty caper plot ... God, I'm going to miss this show during the hiatus.

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