mad men

Nussbaum and Hill: Mad Men Postmortem

Emily Nussbaum and Logan Hill have responded to the show on Vulture and Surf, respectively. But they can’t stop debriefing.

E.N.: As you pointed out in the recap, the finale was satisfying on a fan-fic level …

L.H.: So much so that I worry I’ve been suckered!

E.N.: “Joan is back!” and “Peggy gets hers!” But it somehow didn’t feel like some ridiculous holodeck of phony caper-ness. Especially because all that contrasted with the wrenching divorce scenes.

L.H.: Yeah, the tonal shifts were utter yin-yang: screwball one minute, Scenes from a Marriage the next.

E.N.: One thing I loved about the marriage plot was that, in a sense, the scenes were utterly generic: a confrontation about adultery, telling the children. But they also felt absolutely organic to this particular relationship. And there was this eerie toggle switch in Don’s confrontation with Betty …

L.H.: I felt like Don was was going through Kubler-Ross in FF. And RW. And FF again.

E.N.: On the one hand, he seemed like any powerful generic fifties dick calling his wife a “whore.” And yet it had so much specifically to do with the con-game between those two, it was chilling. I’m not usually sympathetic to Betty, but I really felt how scary he was. It was the flip side of his scenes with Peggy and Pete. All this insight, but used in an acid attack.

L.H.: Sometimes the dialogue can feel too WRITTEN. That fight seemed wild — the rage was almost nonsensical, as it ought to be.

E.N.: I agree with your recap about Sal. If they’d made up with Sal, it REALLY would have seemed like fan-fic.

L.H.: They’ve still got Lucky Strike — but maybe Sal could be on a freelance contract? Or Don could give him a new name — he’s good at those. Sam instead of Sal?

E.N.: As if he were on the Hollywood blacklist! He could wear a big mustache.

L.H.: Someone’s going to grow some hair if we get further into the sixties.

E.N.: I’m scared of Don’s post-divorce persona. I have this freaked-out image of him morphing into Viggo Mortensen in Man on the Moon. But I’d love to go to one of his parties in his new pad! Filled with drifters, Roger Sterling, and three-million red-flag-draped brunettes.

L.H.: And maybe Roger and Joanie can bring back something we’ve seriously been missing: inter-office sex. I mean, there’s been more backstage sex on Letterman than on this show. That’s just wrong.

E.N.: I’m not sure how I feel about Roger and Joan. In one way, I’m actually troubled by the warmth. John Slattery said once that he thought Roger was being literal when he called her “the best piece of ass I ever had” after his heart attack — that he adored her, but in this very specific, not entirely wonderful way.

L.H.: Maybe Roger did believe just that and nothing more. But maybe the disaster of Jane opened him up. Big picture: Did you see any of this finale coming? I thought it was going to be apocalyptic — not fun! I thought Duck was going to ride in and Peggy was going to be wrecked.

E.N.: We both thought the Duck hating would blow up — jinx. I did think the marriage might dissolve, à la The Sopranos. What do you think of Henry?

L.H.: I have no clue what he sees in Betty, other than arm candy. But maybe that’s all he needs: a perfect wife for political photo-ops. I don’t see a deep personal connection.

E.N.: I thought that, too, but Laura Miller (who I was watching with) argued that she had a classic appeal: fragility. That a certain kind of man wants exactly that — a perfect-looking weak vision to rescue and then prop up by his side.

L.H.: Daddy issues are everywhere, for sure. Will this be the end of the flashbacks?

E.N.: God, I hope so. It’s the one thing about the show I’m irrevocably opposed to.

L.H.: These, especially, were so on-the-nose.

E.N.: This isn’t an episode I think people are going to fight over. It was a very purely satisfying experience. A rare TV thing, nowadays. It felt like an event.

L.H.: It was a party. I think we all disagreed more over the course of the season, but the joy of this finale is that it’s so radical, much of what happened this season is just flushed down the toilet … What about the “the way they saw themselves is gone” line? Too much?

E.N.: I loved that, because it was resonant with so much more than JFK: Don’s history, Peggy’s baby, the divorce, of course. And Peggy is one of my favorite characters … for exactly the reason he praised her: She’s a broken person who is capable of compassion and wisdom because she sees the world through that lens.

L.H.: She’s bugged me occasionally this season, but her scenes were brilliant this week.

E.N.: Why did she bug you?

L.H.: That on-the-nose-ness. The way, in a few episodes, she said everything she was thinking in the most direct way, like some character blurting in Ricky Gervais’s Invention of Lying. But I began to see that she was maybe overcompensating as she was trying to figure all these things out, out loud.

E.N.: I’ve always worried that they would turn her into a simple, spunky Figure of Feminism, but I thought that didn’t happen this season. I loved that stoned speech to her secretary, and her pickup in the bar.

L.H.: In a way, the Duck subplot was great for her. I mean, no Figure of Feminism would sleep with Duck, right?

E.N.: Seriously. However! I loved that he has all these nicknames for her. Peewee?

L.H.: Ech! He creeps me out.

E.N.: I love her strange magnetic pull to creeps.

L.H.: I do think she’s secretly kinky. She definitely seemed so in that first affair with Pete.

E.N.: Totally. That sofa romp. The weird hunting fantasy. That’s the crazy thing about Peggy: She’s kinkier than Bobbie beneath the cardigans.

L.H.: And, quite possibly even Joan, who’s been with fewer men than Peggy, so far as we know.

E.N.: What did you think of Pete?

L.H.: I’m most happy to see him and Trudy proving that a marriage can work.

E.N.: I love their crazy bond.

L.H.: They have mutual ambitions, a similar sense of outraged privilege, and a practical sense of what it takes to move up. They seem to really need each other — and be aware of that. Other characters on this show don’t know that they need anybody else. The au pair incident really seemed to alert Pete to the fact that he’s no good without her.

E.N.: I always remember that in the first or second episode, he came back from their honeymoon saying, “She’s funnier than I realized!”

L.H.: I’d forgotten that! And there’s no better dance couple. Between seasons, I want a podcast series that’s just the two of them doing a different dance every week.

E.N.: But the au pair horror seriously prevents me from ever getting truly onboard with Pete.

L.H.: Yeah, rape will do that.

E.N.: Which is what the show does best: make it impossible for you to love the people in any clear way.

L.H.: Yeah, and the beauty of this finale is it makes it impossible to hate them in any clear way, too.

E.N.: What would you want for next season? Or does that even make sense to ask? Because one of the HUGE appeals of this show was, as you said, how it totally evaded expectations.

L.H.: Weiner loves to zig when we expect zags. And I love that. But I do want to see Sal back, for starters. I want to see Pete grow up a little. I want to see Don embark on some spectacular series of love affairs that does not involve Miss Farrell. You?

E.N.: I want them to maintain Joan as a complex figure, not a sassy heroine. She’s the most in danger of fan-fic reductiveness, in part because of how the audience responds to her.

L.H.: Yes, Joan is in danger of becoming a mascot. When so many people dress up as you for Halloween, it’s a worry. She’s the easiest to idolize — she never raped anyone, etc. It’s a low bar …

E.N.: I love that as a test of character on Mad Men. Raped someone? Gray area. Never raped anyone? ROLE MODEL.

L.H.: And what about the Roger roaring back?

E.N.: The scenes with Roger, Cooper, Don, and Pryce reminded me of how much I loved those guys. They’re the center of the show’s fantasy, from the beginning: these smart, acid, insightful cynics bantering about power. “You’re a clever boy, you’ll figure it out.”

L.H.: And Pryce is a great counterpoint. Mixing in his style does the whole ensemble good. You need someone who’s not crass and New Yorky in the mix.

L.H.:To wrap it up: How about one character you hope won’t come back?

E.N.: Stalky Hippiegirl, Miss Farrell. I just found her kind of exasperating, and she did enough by remaining in the car during that showdown. Also, she’d hold Don back next season.

L.H.: Exactly! I want to see Don moving on. For me, it’s Kinsey. I’ve liked him— he’s been a great comic foil — but I think his fatuous hep-cat cluelessness is played out.


Nussbaum and Hill: Mad Men Postmortem