Mad Men TV Club regulars Julia Turner and John Swansburg chatted with readers about the season finale, the highs and lows of season five, and what to expect from Season 6. An edited transcript of the conversation is below; read the complete conversation here.
Julia Turner: Good day, Mad Men fans. I’m still humming the tune to “You Only Live Twice.” What did you all think of this season’s finale?
John Swansburg: Greetings from the Metro-North platform in Harrison. Long story. Looking forward to chatting with you all. Julia and I were underwhelmed—anyone here care to defend the episode?
Marc Naimark: It was a letdown, yes, but it’s hard to beat the interest of the previous two episodes. Contrary to the TV Clubbers, I think Don loves Megan and falls in love with her again. She is full of life at the end of the episode, and I think he’s charmed. He goes to a bar, because where else is he going to go?
John Swansburg: I hope you’re right. It would be a little disappointing if he just went right back to his caddish ways.
Julia Turner: Why did you think Don left the episode more in love with Megan than ever?
Marc Naimark: When he watched Megan’s test reel, I feared we would be returned to the idea that he would believe that Megan is fake. I think that her constant mature and caring behavior (like about the toothache) is the proof he needs that her love is not fake. And so he’s free to fall in love with her again.
Julia Turner: I’m not sure I’ve seen Don worry that Megan’s love is fake. He seems to have faith in her love of him (and be more confused about what it means that she has her own dreams and ambitions).
Marc Naimark: I’m thinking about Megan’s scene with Sally, where she teaches Sally to “act.” There’s this historical fear of the falseness of actors.
Rio Hernandez: I started off this season really despising Megan, but she has really grown on me as they have expanded her character. At first, I think we were seeing her through Don’s eyes, idealized as the pretty trophy wife. But the reality of who she is and that she isn’t going to be his fantasy has been an interesting turn.
Julia Turner: But Beauty and the Beast is about finding the inner beauty in an ostensible monster. This episode seemed to be about the inverse: Don finds the inner sad sack within Megan’s beautiful, confident exterior. I tend to agree with the fans who suspect that may bring Don and Megan closer together.
Rio Hernandez: That’s an interesting point. I guess I took the shot of him walking from the fairytale set into the blackness, the darkness as she recedes in the distance, and the final scene of him which seemed to imply a return to old ways, as an indication that his choice to put her in the commercial was the death knell of their marriage.
Marc Naimark: Also, is Megan infertile? Was that what her mother’s remark was about?
Julia Turner: I think it’s just that Megan doesn’t want kids yet.
David Kinzer: I’m amazed you guys didn’t sound to taken with Megan’s storyline in the episode. In a career like writing, which is so difficult to establish yourself in, those questions of whether you’re going to make it and whether you have talent seem inevitable and, on the screen, very relatable.
Julia Turner: That’s an interesting point. I’m not that taken with Megan’s acting jones because I like her more when she is confident and self-possessed, not drunk and mopey. (I guess I don’t like robes either!)
John Swansburg: I agree. But I gotta say, I wasn’t mad at that particular robe!
Julie Kramer: I’m not sure what it says about Pete’s sexual chemistry with Rory Gilmore that the best scene between them was after she had had electroshock therapy.
Julia Turner: I agree. I’ve been trying to puzzle out the larger point of the Pete/Rory plotline. What does it mean to fall in love with someone whose personality and memories of you get wiped clean? Is that some larger metaphor for the ultimate unknowable nature of our partners?
Bridget Lehane: I think the character of Beth Dawes might be one of the saddest ever written.
Julie Kramer: Agreed. I wonder if Beth is a comment on Megan’s mother’s assertion about having an artistic temperament without being an artist?
Julia Turner: I would feel sadder about Beth Dawes if she didn’t feel so much like a plot device with no inner life.
Bridget Lehane: I thought Beth was a plot device in her first appearance, but the interactions here seemed to fill her out a bit more. Between her confession that she had had wild days and the fact that she lets her husband ignore her, cheat, and literally erase her feelings again and again, she strikes me as someone whose frailty appeals to bullies and whiners like Howard and Pete. I was surprised myself by how much more dimensional Beth’s story felt to me after this episode. As a device, I think it did a good job to give voice to Pete’s ennui that he didn’t really know he had.
Deborah Gobble: Anyone else see the “letting go” repeated themes: Pete lets go of Beth; Beth lets go of memory; Don lets go of Peggy, and Megan; Trudy lets go of Pete. I thought that was what the “extraction” was about, rather than Don’s guilt.
Julia Turner: That’s an excellent point about letting go. Maybe it ties in with the “phantom” idea that was laced through the episode as well. You have to let go of your dream of what someone else is to you, and let them be what they are for themselves.
Alena Murguia: Although I found the episode disappointing, I was thrilled to see Megan get her hands dirty last night. I hope that’s a signal of things to come because Don is always better when well-matched. Also curious if Lane’s suicide will continue reverberating as Adam sightings. That was strange. Please keep punching Pete.
John Swansburg: It would be really funny if Pete got punched twice a season from here on out.
Jeanne Gassman: My take on the finale is that everyone’s dreams came true—even if they weren’t what they had hoped they would be. Megan wants to be an actress, but she can’t get her first break without Don’s help. Pete wants that apartment in the city, but he doesn’t get it until after Beth is no longer interested or available. Peggy gets the job and the big account only to find herself in a dumpy motel room watching two dogs hump in the parking lot. And Don manages to make Megan happy, only to realize it could mean he ends up alone. The song, “You Only Live Twice,” seems highly appropriate.
Marc Naimark: Peggy is no romantic. She is delighted with her trip, even with the view (another) from her motel window. She got to take a plane! She’s staying in a hotel (well, motel)! It’s not Paris, but it’s new for her, and something she wasn’t getting at SCDP. She seemed very satisfied when she lied down.
Rio Hernandez: Agree with you about Peggy, and I think it goes back to the question: Are you a realist or a fantasist? Do you see things for how they are and accept them? Peggy has no illusions. Because her life hasn’t been charmed, like Megan’s, she is grateful for what she has. She doesn’t need the moon. She’s satisfied with her life and the flaws within it. I got the sense in the theater that Don misses her level qualities.
Fiona MacCool: The scene with Peggy in that hotel room was fantastic, the way she didn’t let the copulating stray dogs or polyester bedspread detract from her sense of victory and glamour at being sent on her first solo business trip. It reminded me of how the men on the show are impossible to please and are always restless and depressed, particularly when they succeed, and then there is Peggy, who began the show living with her mother and joining the typing pool and now has earned some independence. It would seem that is enough for her, for now…
June Thomas: Also, wasn’t You Only Live Twice the Bond movie where he had a short marriage? The one period where he was pinned down at least for a bit?
Julia Turner: What did you all make of the newfound success of the firm? The phones were ringalinging this episode.
John Swansburg: It seemed a little abrupt. But maybe it’s the car effect. All the partners seemed to think that the value of Jaguar far exceeded just the billings on that account. It was a stamp of legitimacy for the firm. Interesting that we didn’t hear anything about one account this week though: Dow.
Julia Turner: Good point about Dow. I also loved seeing Don rag on Ginsberg, now that Peggy’s not around to take the heat. So much for the boy wonder.
Wendy Harlan: Didn’t the Topaz people say they missed the women’s point of view on the new ads? And when they panned the rooms of people working, it was all men. Perhaps Peggy’s departure will be missed not just because she was good, but because she brought a different point of view than all those men.
Julia Turner: I noted that too. Perhaps it’ll be an excuse for trying to woo Peggy back. But more likely she’ll remain at CGC and become a rival. I hope so, anyway.
Rio Hernandez: And don’t you think they kind of made the point this season as to why there are no women at the firm? I am not sure any of the men have yet had the revelation despite what Topaz said to them.
John Swansburg: I don’t really understand Pete’s unhappiness. I feel like we’ve been asked to just accept that he’s no longer happy with Trudy. But in Season 3, I thought they’d forged a real bond. He seems to be plagued by an unspecific (and too familiar?) suburban malaise.
Rio Hernandez: It seems as if his character from beat one of the show has been him striving for what he thinks he should want, doing what he is supposed to do, but on the side, also trying to have his cake and eat it too. He fails miserably at all of it. He was sleeping with Peggy while becoming engaged. Now that he is finding the success he thought would validate him, he feels hollow.
June Thomas: One thing that depresses me about Mad Men is how down it is on mentorship—either it leads to hating the person you helped to developed (as with Roger and Pete; it doesn’t help that Pete is a pill, but he’s obviously good at his job), feeling you’ve failed them (Peggy and Megan), or lost them (Don and Peggy, and that seems to be what he fears with Megan). The only person who got where she is without mentorship (and after surviving Harry Crane’s sabotaging) is Joan—and look what she had to do to get her partnership.
John Swansburg: To paraphrase Don’s brother—that cut-up!—it’s been great fun hanging around with you guys the last 12 weeks. Enjoy the off-season, and see you for round 6.
Julia Turner: Many thanks to all of you (and my fellow recappers) for all the fun dissecting a truly brilliant season. See you next year. I’m off to catch up on Breaking Bad.
Julie Kramer: Thanks Slate writers for making Mondays a little less dread-inducing!
John Swansburg: BTW, The Millions has compiled a fun off-season reading list, if you’re desperate for some period detail.