Monday, October 18, 2010

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Four, Finale: Meet the New Don, Same as the Old Don

Season Four didn't conclude with a smashingly eventful episode the way Season Three did—where the Sterling Cooper troupe pulled off an "Ocean's Eleven" caper to pull the agency out from under the nose of the devouring, traitorous British. Instead, Matthew Weiner delivered another quietly excellent chapter in a season that has had many of them.

And it did contain one "surprise": Don got engaged, and not to the person you expected. But any astute viewer of the show saw that one coming. Jesus, Dr. Faye Miller herself—Don's main squeeze throughout the season—called it in episode two when she said Don was the "type" who got remarried soon after getting divorced.

Also, anyone who saw the way little Sally ran from Dr. Faye and into the arms of maternal, and beautiful secretary Megan, could guess which lady Draper would choose in the end. Though it went sour for him with Betty, Don still believes in the American dream he sells to consumers—the beautiful, docile, supportive wive and family, who don't question Dad too much, and certainly don't know his real identity and horrible secret. Faye was an attractive, competent, modern woman, a perfect match for Don in many ways, mainly intellectually. But she was no good with children, proudly didn't cook, and knew he was really Dick Whitman. Don grew and matured a lot this season, but not enough to see in Faye his life mate. He's still half living a lie. And I think even Draper knows he's probably backpedeled a bit in proposing to Megan without giving her the whole scoop on his fraught back story. Note that he begins the episode in the dark with Faye, and ends it in the dark with Megan, looking searchingly out the window. He's a lost man. Perhaps permanently.

Since "The Summer Man," where Don started to swim and cut back on the booze, "Mad Men" has been noticeably less centered on liquor. That One Drink Too Many has not forced many (or any) plot points in recent episodes. Faye drank little, maybe some wine. Megan doesn't seem to drink at all. Roger still hits the vodka and gin more than anyone in the office, but he's a creature of habit. Nothing new in his repertoire.

Hilariously, there was a pitcher of Bloody Marys on the table at Don and Pete's meeting with the American Cancer Society. I guess they don't care about liver disease or anything like that. Just cancer. Megan and her friend go to the Whiskey a Go Go during a trip to L.A., when she babysits Don's kids (and nets a marriage proposal). Betty's hubby Henry drinks a bottle of Ballantine while packing boxes and fighting with poor, sad, mad Bets. And Don drinks a Miller Hi-Life while in bed in L.A. First time that popular beer has been seen on the show.

There was, however, the very smart use of a bottle of Don's trusty Canadian Club in the last five minutes, where Don unexpectedly meets ex-wife Betty in the cleared out kitchen of their Ossining home. Betty has finally decided to move out (mainly to get Sally away from creepy neighborhood kid Glen). Don has come by to show the house to a perspective buyer. When informed that the movers have not done a very thorough job on the place, he knowingly reaches into the back of a high cupboard and finds an unopened bottle of CC. He pours some into a coffee cup, and shares it with Betty as he breaks the news of his engagement.

It's a tender scene—they don't fight—and an apt one. So much of the Draper marriage centered on drink. Don drank a lot, and Betty picked up the habit. Who knows how much shorter, and more bitter, their union might have been if they didn't have that eternal buzz to lean on. At the end of the scene, they both leave the kitchen, going separate ways, leaving nothing but the cup and the bottle on the table.

No comments: