Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Three, Part V (The Last)

Season Three of "Mad Men" concluded on Sunday with a series of seismic endings and beginning, Don and Betty Draper calling it quits on a seemingly picture-perfect marriage that was always bases on lies and surface realities, and Don and his partners at Sterling Cooper deciding to bolt the firm and begin their own, leaner agency rather than cheerlessly slave under the unappreciative yoke of new owner McCann Erickson. Honesty, respect and hard, but cleansing words and confrontations were the order of the day, with most everyone coming out at the end of the episode perhaps exhausted and feeling a bit swatted around, but also reenergized and replenishished. (Perhaps not Betty, but her capacity for happiness is questionable at best.) It was a reboot everyone in the Sterling Cooper universe needed badly.

The two previous episodes before the finale has to do with Don's past as Dick Whitman finally being discovered by Betty ("The Gypsy and the Hobo") and the impact of the Kennedy assassination ("The Grown-Ups"). With so much pivotal events going on, there wasn't much time for well-considered drinking. Certainly, characters were imbibing. "The whole country's drinking," said Pete Campbell to his wife, in the wake of the Kennedy shooting. But it was a shot here, a belt here. Nothing fancy. Nothing pretty. It was nerve-steadying drinking, sorrow-drowning drinking.

And so we saw Don throwing back plenty of Canadian Clubs, neat, particularly as he was hastily, desperately putting together the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce so as to at least purify his working self, even as his married self was going down for the last time. At home, the bottle of whiskey was seldom absent from his side. When Betty confronted him with "The Box," filled with incriminating evidence of his hidden, buried past, he was so shaken that, for the first time in the history of "Mad Men," Don could not fix himself a drink. Betty did it for him. After being banished to Baby Gene's room, the bottle of Canadian Club (with a different label than in earlier seasons) was always on the end table.

Roger Sterling, meanwhile, was forced to soldier forward with his daughter's wedding, scheduled, as fate would have it, for the day after Kennedy was killed. Only about half his guests showed up, dutifully raised their Champagne coupes. It was good to see Roger and Don bury the ax in the finale, even if it was done out of necessity, the two men needing each other in order to strike out on their own. It allowed for a familiar scene from seasons past to once again occur: Sterling and Draper sharing a drink at a dark bar after hours, Don with his rye, Roger with his Martini. Just like old times.

The season ended with the rogue members of the newly born agency—Draper, Sterling, Bert Cooper, turncoat Brit Lane Pryce, copywriter Peggy Olson, accounts man Pete Campbell, media director Harry Crane and office manager Joan Harris—setting up temporary shop at the Pierre Hotel. Pete's wife Trudy came in with a box of sandwiches and a cake for the hungry, busy ad men. Guess it'll take a little while to set up those office bars again. But then, it's the dawn of a new era. America's about to become very different. The Beatles are on their way, women's liberation, the Civil Rights movement in full flower, drugs, student protests, an unpopular war, Nixon, and more crushing assassinations. The office bar? Very old school. Very square. It'll get no respect from the new generation. Draper and Sterling may still by their poisons, but it won't make them cool anymore. To the kids in Central Park, they'll just be The Man. Uptight, locked in, responsible for everything bad with American. They might want to take a tip from Peggy and start puffing on something other than a Lucky Strike.

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