Wow. The biggest surprise of the third season finale of Mad Men isn't actually a plot point, but how light and almost exciting it manages to be. For a show that's normally so tense and tightly wound, this week's episode has a quick pace, and at times, a sense of humor. Of course, there is still disappointment and heartache; some of our predictions for the finale come true, but some go sadly unfulfilled.
Without further ado, let's talk about the door that closes and the one that opens this week, and as usual, the finale's five maddest moments, when you read more.
- So long, Connie: It's eccentric hotelier Conrad Hilton that breaks the news to Don that rival agency McCann is buying PPL, and Sterling Cooper along with it. Don's plenty irate, as it's Hilton's fault that he was signed into a three-year contract and is thus, trapped. However, Don's bitterness quickly turns to ambition, when he rallies Burt, then Roger, to buy back Sterling Cooper from PPL. Pryce is unhelpful in even supplying the purchase price for the men, quashing the buyback plans, but then another scheme is launched: Pryce fires Don, Roger, and Burt so they can form a new agency.
- Draper Dissolution: While an exciting change is happening for Don in his career, back at home a bleak change is coming. Betty informs Don that she's seen a divorce lawyer and advises him to do the same. It's painful watching these two spar, and I wanted so much for them to figure out how to fix it — but the ball is clearly in Don's court and he does nothing to sway Betty to call off the divorce. Sure, he tells her to, and even suggests that she might need psychiatric help. Oh, and he tells her that he gave her everything she wanted materially, insinuating that should be enough. Don may know what his clients want, but in his marriage, he has no idea what Betty wants.
- Irreconcilable differences: Don sheepishly tolerates the divorce talk until he's having drinks with Roger, who spills the beans about Betty taking up with Henry Francis (I do have to say, it is rather nice to see these two getting along, acting like buds). This sends a drunken Don home to wake up Betty for a confrontation about her indiscretion, and things get nasty and uncomfortably physical. Again, Don manages to push Betty into even more resolve, and she tells him that she's going to Reno to initiate the divorce. Don and Betty devastate the kids with the news of their separation, and Betty makes good on her threat to go to Reno after Don softens a tiny bit — to tell her that he won't fight her.
- Don, at your service: One of my favorite parts of this episode? Seeing Don put through the paces by Pete and Peggy. He's always treated them like underlings, and they finally have the opportunity to assert themselves. Don obliges them both and tells them how valuable they are, but not before Peggy pushes back. Her backbone straightens when she's first told of the new company and assures Don that she's had "other offers." Luckily, Don doesn't take no for an answer, and visits Peggy at home, telling her he'd spend the rest of his life trying to hire her if she turned him down now. It's so touching to see Don put aside his ego to acknowledge these others, and it makes me sad that he can't do something similar for Betty.
- Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce: The gang's back together! It's thrilling good fun watching the new company assemble — Roger and Don get the agency's most prized employees one by one, plus my favorite: Joan! She's a necessity to help find all the files and materials in the office, and, they realize, a force that had been holding the company together. Her role in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (can you say "Michael Scott Paper Company"? I told you these two shows have a lot in common!) is a given. With everything coming together so perfectly, though, I wondered why Sal isn't also called in. I suppose we have next season to look forward to for that. Speaking of, next Summer can't come fast enough.
It's interesting that the finale also weaves in flashbacks of Don's early childhood, as this season's premiere did. What Don is remembering now, though, is how his father died. The elder Whitman was faced with losing his home, and after breaking free of the cooperative, readies a trip to the city to sell his crop. His spooked horse kicks him in the head, killing him, with the young Don as witness. It's an obvious parallel to Don's circumstances, who's losing his home, as in his marriage; and, losing his home, as in his life's work. Of course, he only manages to take control of one of those.
So what did you think? Did this season wrap up the way you wanted it to? And even though we won't see the Draper family or the worker bees of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce until the fourth season returns, you can still join the Mad Men group in the community to chat about the show year-round.
Photo courtesy of AMC