Sunday, June 10, 2012

5 questions – and sub-questions – for the Mad Men Season 5 finale

By Rick Morris
Tonight marks the end of the fifth season of Mad Men, the iconic 1960s advertising drama on AMC.  I’ve been planning a Season 5 recap segment with fellow FDH Lounge Dignitary Kyle Ross for our webcast for several weeks now and I asked him after about the fifth or sixth episode where he thought they were going this year.  At that point, he didn’t know either.
Having just finished re-watching the entire Season 4 of Breaking Bad in preparation for another TV segment we’re going to be doing, this one with fellow Original Dignitary Nate Noy, I was struck yet again by why I asked that question about Mad Men earlier in the season.  Although those of us who love the “novel-like” TV shows like these two tend to lump them in together, the thrust is completely the opposite.  On Breaking Bad, the sole question revolves around how Walt (and, to a certain extent, Jesse) are going to extricate themselves from the threats to their criminal enterprise.  On Mad Men, following the stories of several lead characters – who, if their last names are not “Draper,” may come and go during the season – is more challenging.  Figuring out the way the puzzle pieces are fitting together on that landscape is a different kind of entertainment.
Well, I never doubted the writers and I was justified in believing everything would fit together as time progressed.  The last two weeks have been filled with some of the biggest shockers in the history of the program – Joan hooking to get a partnership, Peggy moving to the rival firm, Lane ending it all when his prideful check-kiting blew up on him – but they feel true to the progression of the characters over several seasons.
Going into tonight, I have five main questions – with relevant sub-questions – in mind for how the season ends.  The writers obviously had to pick and choose which elements of the last few weeks will be substantially advanced, but at least some of these threads will be addressed.
1 What will be the fallout from Lane’s suicide?  Is there any further exposure to the firm from how he maintained the books, keeping in mind that he lied about the money given away to employees for Christmas bonuses?  Did his resignation invalidate his partnership agreement and, if so, does his wife lose out on his company shares?  Will Peggy be shown attending his wake or funeral (an organic way to show her shortly after her big move)?  Will Sal (given Paul’s resurfacing a few weeks back, anything is possible)?  Will Lane’s mistakes continue to be known only to Don, or will the other partners learn of the circumstances involved?  Given that Don had made a turn back to his pre-Megan ruthless self (at least in business) before Lane’s body was discovered, will the Don side again be eclipsed by the Dick Whitman side that shows humanity?
2 How will Don, the show’s main character, be affected by the knowledge that his actions helped to contribute to the second suicide of a much weaker man?  Building on the last sub-question above, was Don’s kind indulgence of Glen at the end of the show any kind of precursor about him finding a balance between professional ambition and a moral compass, or will he find other ways to cope?  Given that he’s been drinking more heavily as the season progressed – and since last season made clear what an impediment that can be for him – will that be his mode of coping?  Or will the previously hinted-at return to marital cheating?
3 What will be the next major development in Don and Megan’s increasingly-troubled marriage?  Will Megan get an acting job that will take her away from Don for a period of time?  As queried above, will Don cheat on her (likely as a result of feeling abandoned by her)?  Since there is no question she would like to, will Betty be able to contribute to their problems?
4 How will the partnership be affected by last week’s main developments, Lane’s suicide and the aggressive pursuit of the Dow account?  Will Lane’s suicide become big news in Madison Avenue circles?  Will the circumstances of Joanie’s acquisition of voting shares become widely known?  Will any of the recent dark clouds at SCDP hinder the chances at the Dow business?  And if not, will Ken’s power play against Pete be successful?  If not, what will having Pete dealing with his father-in-law do to his marriage and career?  If so, what will that do to Pete’s state of mind?  In any event, will Pete now end up with the Campbell name represented in the firm’s name?
5 Will the dalliances that have come from Pete’s spoiled dissatisfaction with his life blow up on him?  Have we seen the last of the housewife he had become obsessed with and her husband, Pete’s traveling companion on the train?  Now that Roger doesn’t have to worry about being ratted out to his own wife – not that that ever slowed him down in the slightest – might he learn of Pete’s indiscrestions and then play a part in ratting out Pete to anyone who might care, whether it be Howard or Trudy?  Will Trudy find out at all?
Well, that’s a lot of questions that Matthew Weiner and company have stirred up in recent weeks as this masterpiece of a season has wound to a climax.  We’ll be monitoring them closely here and again, preparing a webcast in the coming weeks where we decipher what went on this season and what the program’s stretch run of the final two seasons might have in store.

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