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postmortem

Recapper vs. Critic: Logan Hill and Emily Nussbaum Debate Mad Men’s Season Finale

AMC

Logan Hill recapped the Mad Men finale, and New York Magazine TV critic Emily Nussbaum has written about the disturbing evolution of Betty, but they just can't stop debriefing. Here they IM-ed a fervent dissection and debate over last night's season-ender.

L.H.: So, I wrote my recap, you know my instant reaction. How about you? Were you let down? Pleased?

E.N.: LOVED it. I laughed all the way through. I thought it was interesting you found it somber. I thought it was very outrageous and funny — like much of the season.

L.H.: I was left feeling somber by the end, but, yes, there were wild bits: CANNONBALLLLL!

E.N.: That was like something out of one of his ads.

L.H.: And when Joan said she found her happiness outside the office, and Peggy called bullshit on her, that practically made me cheer.

E.N.: That was my favorite scene, like a sex scene with two characters you've been rooting for. As much of a cathartic consummation as anything having to do with Don.

L.H.: Four seasons really makes a difference: the actors know each other so well they can pull off these little moments, turning these quick scenes into brilliant vignettes.

E.N.: It was great to hear Peggy's perspective on the engagement. Don's comment to her about how Megan had Peggy's "spark" was so insulting.

L.H.: Ugh.

E.N.: Everyone thinks Peggy only got her job because she slept with Don — they think that's the one kind of power women have in the office. And this development makes it seem like that's true, even for Don. Especially if he promotes Megan.

L.H.: And maybe Megan is not that smart. Remember the RFK call? And when Peggy's gal pal confused her at the front desk?

E.N.: I know! Don and Megan's engagement didn't come out of the blue for me, though. I bought it.

L.H.: How so?

E.N.: Like you, I think this is about his delusions: he thinks he's doing something new, but it's something old. He wants a blank slate who is dependent on him. I believe he was in love like this with Betty at the beginning too. Megan's obviously a lot warmer than Betty, but she's a perfect helper figure, someone who will fulfill all his image needs, but who doesn't know him at all.

L.H.: In some ways, I think she's an amalgam of all his other women — we were talking about this in the comments last week. We were wondering if she was faking it because she seemed to be picking and choosing a bit of everything: ambitious (like Peggy), good with kids (presumably like Betty, who she didn't know), artistic (like Midge), easy (like Don's last secretary), etc.

E.N.: Yeah, I don't buy that she just had a one-night stand with him spontaneously, then needed nothing at all emotionally. It was Rules-girl-esque.

L.H.: I do think that on this show, people try to talk themselves into things. Maybe Megan was just trying this out, not sure what it was or where it was going, and it turned into, well, THIS. At the door to her hotel room, she didn't exactly shove her tongue down his throat.

E.N.: Yes, true.

L.H.: He coaxed his way in. Though she was certainly happy to have him.

E.N.: I'm not saying she's some Fatal Attraction figure.

L.H.: Oh no — just that she's aware of what she's doing, right?

E.N.: She's crushed out on him in the way Allison was — but radically more savvy about her behavior.

L.H.: What did you make of this line from Don? "The number of things that had to happen for me to get to know you … but everything happened and it got me here; what does that mean?"

E.N.: I think he's high, basically. Hell, he could've said the same thing to Anna's niece. Or Faye.

L.H.: Every time he falls for a girl he reverts to grade school come-ons. I believe he said, "I like your hair" to both Allison and Faye.

E.N.: It's the romantic ret-con. It's not that I'm not sympathetic with Don's goony, heightened, in-love state: he's clearly infatuated with her.

L.H.: His grin barely fit on his face.

E.N.: But it's hard to miss that part of this is casting: she's a woman who can babysit and do what secretaries do. He needed one of these by the end of the year.

L.H.: Yet we know so little about Megan that anything could happen next season: Great wife, awful wife, secret CIA assassin …

E.N.: It reminded me of that crazy day when Sally ran away and he seemed to think he could deputize anyone with a vagina to resolve her emotional needs.

L.H.: Yes, anyone so long as it was not vagina-less him. He's a good dad in that he seems to love watching the kids being taken care of.

E.N.: Heck, if she hadn't kicked it, he might've ended up with Blankenship. But then, I'm obviously taking a Peggy's-eye view of this situation.

L.H.: Ha! Well, you've got the same spark as Peggy. I know Peggy would admire you …

E.N.: Gosh, thanks.

L.H.: That scene was brutal.

L.H.: Do you think Peggy was slightly jealous there?

E.N.: Yes, I do think Peggy is a little jealous.

L.H.: Don: "I have rules, Peggy ... " Remember that?

E.N.: I don't think she's especially hot for Don, but who wouldn't be insulted? She's seen him boink Bobbie, Allison, Megan …

L.H.: She's so often had to clean up his mess.

E.N.: Luckily, Peggy's getting banged like a bass drum by that writerly dude, Abe …

L.H.: Sex with a Madison Avenue war criminal is apparently hot.

E.N.: I had some fear that Betty would soften during the finale, making my Betty writeup moot.

L.H.: Not exactly turning a corner there, is she?

E.N.: I read Weiner's remarks about her on Vulture and honestly, found them a bit disturbing! "We all had mothers like this?"

L.H.: I did not have a mother like that.

E.N.: Neither did I. The thing is, I don't take issue with the notion that being a suburban mother back then was stultifying or deforming. But Betty goes beyond that.

L.H.: She's really moved into la-la scary movie territory. She just grows like a shadow on the wall. But I loved this line, "I don't know, Don: Things aren't perfect." Like, if things aren't perfect, that's a huge problem. She's wound so tight and has such a warped view of the world, that when life happens she just freaks the fuck out.

E.N.: I liked that scene between them at the end.

L.H.: Jones was good in that scene. She's got that way of being prim without being pursed. I feel like she's always just trying to swallow down the rage.

E.N.: I think my issue with Betty has to do with the way the show's women seem like icons as well as individuals.

L.H.: In that she would seem to stand for a type? Like "all mothers"?

E.N.: I guess I wish there were a way for the one angry, repressed mother to make her case, like Joan or Peggy or Bobbie for that matter.

E.N.: All of whom had a legitimate argument to make, even if they were acting poorly. Eh, I don't want to talk about Betty. I've said my piece.

L.H.: Well, I'll say my quick riff: For me, I really like the idea of having someone who's a main character like her, on a major show, who is so severely damaged and acting out.

E.N.: Yes, go on!

L.H.: It's that I am really disturbed by her, in a way I'm rarely disturbed by characters, because she does seem kind of sick to me: Jealous of her daughter to an extreme degree, controlling to a level that is crippling, and unable to accept affection …

E.N.: Very true.

L.H.: In a way, I've been thinking that her marriage worked with Don for a while because he was so guilty and caught up in his own mess that he left her alone. Henry's a good guy, he's not guilty, so he's always on her case, wanting her to be better. Don, for the most part, let her fester.

E.N.: It was to his benefit for her to do so, really. Because it made it look like SHE was the problem.

L.H.: Absolutely. And after years of festering, it's hard to imagine she could heal. I miss the days of her shooting pigeons in her nightgown: that was a kind of crazy I could get behind. Now it's edging up towards child endangerment.

E.N.: Yeah, I do find it hard to take it as a parent.

L.H.: Especially as a parent. But I also liked that knowing alcoholic-to-alcoholic smile, when Betty sees Don's hidden away a bottle of booze: "Aw ... so sweet ... "

E.N.: I watch the Sally scenes through my fingers, as if it were a horror movie.

L.H.: But Glen only seems creepy. He was the healthiest person in season four (well, him and Ken). He had her back, never made a move. He was a very good friend ...

E.N.: I'm not sure I buy Glen, to be honest. It's hard for me to imagine a little boy who would ask for Betty's hair, TRASH the place with eggs (very premeditated), drink beer and smoke, then treat Sally with idealized kid gloves. And then act as the Matt Weiner figure in that scene: "Just because you're unhappy doesn't mean everyone has to be."

L.H.: Sometimes, the most normal people on Mad Men come across like freaks because the rest are so nutty …

E.N.: It was a little Mary Sue to me. Mark Sue.

L.H.: Though I believe kids do that stuff. I did misdemeanory things as a kid, and for less noble causes. And I like to think that I was still sweet to middle school girlfriends.

E.N.: L.H.:= GLENN.

L.H.: Okay, I take it all back.

E.N.: It's interesting that he's been encouraging Sally to bullshit her mother. I'm not saying that's a BAD idea — Dr. Edna suggested the same. But he's very cynical, he filled her head with fears. Of her mother "doing it" with other men, having another baby and ignoring her.

L.H.: But it's true! Also, did you notice how commenters (and I) went nuts predicting all sorts of crazy things would happen this season?

E.N.: Like what?

L.H.: Deaths, mostly. I honestly thought Roger was a goner …

E.N.: Yes, suicide or heart attack. Joan isn't going to be happy when that baby comes out with a cocktail shaker in its wee fist … Roger and Don can now double-date.

E.N.: The scene of Don and Megan in bed really seemed parallel to the one with Roger and Jane.

L.H.: I thought so too!

E.N.: Right down to Jane's artistic aspirations — didn't she read Roger a poem?

L.H.: A horrible poem! I like her more than Jane, though.

E.N.: I do think the show is honest about the fact that people make relationship choices in very unconscious, pragmatic ways, no matter how romantic they feel.

L.H.: Unconscious and pragmatic. That's a great way to put it.

E.N.: I always loved how good a case Roger made for his own choices.

L.H.: Jane seemed to really want to be a rich man's wife. I don't think Megan went looking for that …

E.N.: It is interesting that Megan was fine with seducing Don under Faye's nose. Don ALWAYS begins relationships this way: as secrets. Faye was one too.

L.H.: Is there a conceivable universe in which Don marries Megan and never cheats ever again?

E.N.: No. I mean, it wouldn't be good for the show!

L.H.: TERRIBLE FOR THE SHOW.

E.N.: He was faithful to Betty for a while, came home on time, all that. And it was awful. They had to get drunk to make it through a family weekend.

L.H.: Big picture: Was this the best season yet? I think so. I thought the last couple episodes weren't quite as sharp, but I felt that shrinking the agency down to SCDP resulted in a season that was more focused and tighter.

E.N.: Except for the Betty bits, I'm just weirdly uncritical of this show. I've enjoyed every season in its own way. This one, I found fun and playful, seeing Peggy break into the counterculture, watching the gamesmanship with clients.

L.H.: It was smart they packed in so much fun to balance out Don's vomit. The middle of this season blew me away. It's one of those rare shows I've been willing to follow wherever, and one of those rarer shows that keeps surprising me.

L.H.: I can't say I was surprised by anyone's performance this year, but Moss and Hamm were incredible from start to finish — and their episode together, "The Suitcase," is as good as anything I've seen on a big screen.

E.N.: Yes, that was the standout. A fantastic duet.

L.H.: Okay, to wrap up, were you happy that the season didn't end with a BIG HISTORICAL MOMENT. That was a bit of relief to me, I must say. I felt like they broke up the formula this season: fewer physical symbolic objects, fewer BIG EVENTS, fewer looming metaphors …

E.N.: Yes! True. Did you think it would?

L.H.: I worried Vietnam would be the hook.

E.N.: There's always Tomorrowland.

Related:
Mad Men’s Rich Sommer Explains Harry Crane’s Most Uncomfortable Moments
Mad Men’s Megan Speaks!
Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner Explains Last Night’s Finale, Defends Betty Draper
Mad Men Finale Recap: Did Don Disappoint You?
Why Do the Mad Men Writers Make Betty Draper Such a Monster?

Photo: AMC