So, that’s it. After 13 weeks of insobriety, arguments, advertising and insolvency, the fourth season of Mad Men is over.
It’s been a strange rollercoaster of a year for Don Draper and his Madison Avenue agency SCDP, and just as Mad Men’s central figure has managed to pull himself out of his booze-addled mire, his company has suddenly found itself, like the silhouette in the opening credits, in financial freefall.
And yet, after weeks of drama and flaring tempers, this episode was unexpectedly cheerful. Remember the closing reel of Wayne’s World, which provided us with three endings – a happy one, a sad one and a Scooby Doo one? Somewhere in another dimension, there’s a 13th episode of Mad Men with a sad ending (where SCDP gets hit by a meteorite, perhaps), or a denouement where Roger Sterling is revealed to be the Devil himself (which wouldn’t be too far fetched, now I think about it).
The ending we get in this reality, meanwhile, is so absurdly cheerful that it almost feels like a particularly well-made parody. This isn’t to say it’s bad, by any means – it’s merely that its shift in tone and mood seemed rather jarring, at least to me.
Tomorrowland’s cheer began with a small yet promising glimmer of hope, as Don’s pitch to the Anti-Smoking Lobby is warmly received (“If it helps, I can guarantee you that Lucky Strike will hate this,” is Don’s winning line), while, later on in the episode, Peggy manages to secure a new client with a sterling pitch of her own.
Meanwhile, Betty’s rather irrational hatred of her daughter’s friendship with Glen (that creepy kid from season two, remember?) leads to her sacking kindly, long-serving nanny, Carla.
This leaves Don in a bind: hoping to mix personal matters, business and pleasure in a single trip, he intended to use a break in California as an opportunity to take his kids to Disneyland, sort out his affairs with the late Anne Draper’s daughter, and attend a few meetings in between. Unable to contemplate the horror of going on a vacation without a nanny to take care of the screaming kids, Don has the last-minute brainwave of inviting his smouldering femme-bot secretary, Megan, instead.
In an incongrously Mills And Boon few minutes, the trip to California mutates into a whirlwind romance. “I’ve been thinking about you so much,” Don tells Megan on a hotel balcony. A few minutes later, and Madison Avenue’s shrewdest operator has proposed.
From a dramatic standpoint, this eleventh-hour development is among the most perplexing in Mad Men’s four years. Don and Megan’s blossoming love is well played from an acting standpoint, but why has it been introduced so late, and so suddenly? What was the point of detailing, over several episodes, Faye and Don’s evolving relationship, which went from mutual distrust, to grudging respect, and finally, to genuine intimacy?
What’s most strange is how under-developed Megan’s character is when compared to Faye’s – while we’ve had weeks to get to know Faye, Megan’s a relative unknown. All we do know is that she’s disturbingly, impossibly perfect – bilingual, intelligent, good-looking, great with kids and apparently impossible to rile.
In fairness, the reaction of Don’s colleagues is one of equal incredulity. After much congratulation and back-slapping, Peggy and Joan retreat to a quiet office and, in what is by far the best scene of the episode, express their contempt for Megan in the most catty terms possible.
“I hope you’re happy and I hope she knows you only like the beginning of things,” says an understandably distraught Faye, when Don calls to tell her that their relationship is finished. Betty, meanwhile, offers a typically cold, “I’m happy for you.”
After the close of season three, which ended with divorce, the inception of a fledgling SCDP and much uncertainty, Tomorrowland ends season four on a rather less dramatic scene: Don and Megan asleep in bed together, as I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher plays in the background.
It’s a closing episode that hints at a peaceful, happy new chapter in Don’s life, but makes for a rather unsatisfying conclusion to an otherwise turbulent series – it’s certainly not of the calibre of the season’s pinacle, Hands And Knees.
Then again, maybe it’s all a ploy to lull us into a false sense of security. Maybe Megan really is too good to be true, and that it’ll be revealed in season five that she’s actually a scalp-collecting, Satan-worshipping serial killer. An uncharacteristic shift in tone for Mad Men, perhaps, but no worse than the Barbara Cartland romance seen in Tomorrowland…