The Chair has never been shy about his adoration for AMC’s Mad Men. In preparation for this Sunday’s season finale, here are his Top 5 moments… with a few honorable mentions (in the form of bonus gifs).
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you’re planning to binge watch these episodes and you aren’t up to date… you’ve been warned.
#5 – The Poor Dear…
Nothing is better than sex with an ex while it’s happening and nothing is worse than sex with an ex after it’s happened. Though it depends on through whose lens one is experiencing the before, the after and the sex.
This comes rearing its ugly head right at us in The Better Half, Episode 9. Betty, the remarried-to-someone-else ex Mrs. Don Draper, is headed to see her son Bobby at summer camp and is dressed in Daisy Mae short-shorts hugging her newly slimmed down figure. (Did Weight Watchers work? We assume so).
Don dutifully heads off to the country to reluctantly greet his son at camp when he happens to spy a very familiar woman’s leg and behind from behind. Never one to totally forget anything he’s left, behind or otherwise (pun!), Don gives his ex the Draper stare and she reciprocates with some Betty eye-batting.
Before we know it – well, it’s never that easy – there’s some disappointment, drinking, jockeying for position, odd motel room etiquette and convenient spousal absence and talk of the children first. And then, quite inevitably, these two people who seemed destined to barely ever stand within 30 feet of each other before smoke and fire emitted from either their ears, mouths of some other orifice, are back in bed – doing it.
The sex, as usual, wasn’t the point – though there was plenty of that. It was Betty’s observation afterwards, smoking away and listening to Don speak about his current wife, Megan. She looks at him, a huge weight obviously lifting off her shoulders, and touches his cheek gently.
That poor girl, she doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.
Pot? Kettle? Or has tea already been served to Don by his ex wife? Well, maybe all three. For now.
#4 Knife in the Gut
Just when we begin to think that Peggy Olson, the young smart career woman with a lousy personal life, might actually have a chance at having the semblance of a personal life, she stabs her boyfriend in the gut and he dumps her. Literally. Well, okay, in MM world it’s never quite that easy.
Peggy is the go-to ad writer these days and as one of the town’s top creative people is making some money. But instead of buying an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (bonus 2nd ave subway reference!), she’s talked into a larger but occasionally crime/rodent/roach ridden West Side abode by her liberal writer boyfriend, Abe (Note: Never listen to writer liberals of any era). In The Better Half, Peggy, thinking Abe is an intruder or something worse, takes her knife and stabs the interloper in the dark in self-defense. Only – it’s Abe – and he’s got a knife in the gut – and he’s bleeding. Really.
Fearing he’s dying on the way to the hospital (and who wouldn’t be in MM world), Abe looks at Peggy and takes stock of their life together – a life that he knows she isn’t quite happy with that he realizes is a sham he convinced himself he was happy with.
Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment. I’m sorry, but you’ll always be the enemy, he tells her, blade still inside.
Suffice it to say, they’re breaking up. Though Peggy has to ask just to make sure. Poor Peggy. Or perhaps not. Cause if this show is anything, it’s cheeky.
#3 “Comforting” Mrs. Rosen
What’s a worse Oedipal nightmare than walking in on your parents having sex? Walking in on one of your parents having sex with someone else. In the tradition of Shakespeare and Death of A Salesman this is what happens to young teenager Sally Draper in Favors, Episode 11.
We think it’s about Sally sneaking into the downstairs neighbors’ apartment to retrieve a note that reveals she has a mad crush on the Rosens’ dreamy 17-year-old son, Mitchell (who can blame her!). But what’s really happening is that while Sally retrieves the note she witnesses the discordant image of her father, Don Draper, in the midst of sex with Sylvia Rosen, Mitchell’s mom. Yuk. Double yuk. Triple yuk.
Then, once you have time to think about it, all you can really think about are Sally’s upcoming therapy bills. But all Sally is thinking is how to get out of there. Which she does. Pronto.
Don tries to reason with her but to no avail. And then in a final scene, banished outside Sally’s locked bedroom door (again.. who can blame her!), Don tries in vain to offer some sort of reason for what happened that his daughter will be able to understand. Says Don: I was only trying to comfort Mrs. Rosen.
Lame!! Sally is 14 and she’s Don’s daughter. She knows this confirms everything she ever feared about her father and men in general – and then some. Quadruple yuk. But in a very good way.
#2 Grandma Ida
Unlike most televisions shows or films set in the 1960s, MM doesn’t tackle historical issues head on but instead chooses to illustrate the issues through its pivotal characters who – like is usually the case in life – have nothing at all to do with the current event at hand. In The Crash, Episode 8, young Sally and Bobby Draper are left alone in Dad Don Draper’s swank Manhattan penthouse while he and his new wife Megan attend to their adult responsibilities. Enter an older Black woman who seems like the maid or the cleaning lady but says she’s their Grandma. Grandma Ida, to be exact.
Sally and Bobby find Grandma Ida clanking around in the living room but she claims to be the lady who raised your Daddy….I’m visiting. Didn’t nobody tell you?
As crazy as this situation seems, MM watchers AND Sally and Bobby realize that since we all know so little about Don Draper’s past that this could, indeed, be…possible? Well, we’ve witnessed stranger outcomes. Which is why when Grandma Ida orders Sally to come over here and give me some sugar Sally is finally too confused to do anything but respond.
Never mind that grandma turns out to be a thief and a liar while at the same time somehow avoiding offensive stereotype. The best moment comes when a confused Bobby seriously asks the question: Are we Negroes? (Delivered pitch perfectly – a stellar season for the most recent version of Bobby Draper).
With three words, MM captured the untenable tenor of the times. White people terror. Black people as the other, down to the outdated word commonly used to signal their identities. The whole sequence is profoundly disturbing and off-the-wall on so many levels. Which is exactly the point.
And finally, #1 – The Leg
It was the rub heard ‘round the world. Well, at least in the US. Among cable television watchers. Mad Men is never afraid to go there even while its audience isn’t exactly sure where there is – which makes the creative leaps all the more daring. And why almost weekly it finds itself the subject of a new Internet meme.
In Favors, Episode 11, new junior executive and always too helpful Bob Benson is in a closed door meeting with the ever-suffering Pete Campbell, who fears his senile mother could be having an affair with the nurse Bob recommended to take care of her. Suddenly, Bob gingerly but with very specific intent nudges his leg into Pete’s leg, as he offers a short explanation of perhaps there being nothing wrong with falling in love with someone who dutifully attends to your every whim.
Writers take note: The beauty of the scene, as usual with MM, has nothing to do with the actual conversation at hand but with the action and subtext – which become the main point of the scene. Is the mysterious Bob really revealed to be gay or merely just loving and helpful? Is Pete secretly gay despite his protestations and everything we’ve known about him? Does the not-to-be-trusted Bob really love Pete? Could anybody really love Pete? I mean, Pete doesn’t even love Pete.
As for Pete’s Mom – she’s not a pivotal character – no one cares.
As for Bob – We’re more intrigued than before and we have NO real idea where they’re going with it, even after watching the follow-up episode. Great work. Great television. That’s how it’s done.
As if we could finish it there!
So many gifs what to do! Click on any that don’t dance before your eyes!
Check back soon for a full recap of this week’s season finale! You’ll be glued to your chair, I’m sure.