* an earlier partial version of this article was accidentally published last night. It's complete now.
Have you wondered what happened to our series Mad Men @ The Movies? Well, Matthew Weiner and his team up and ditched the abundant movie references for most of season 5, leaving me to wish that I hadn't required movie references in order to write about the Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce worker-bees each week. Last week's "The Other Woman", a queasy game changing episode is the instant classic Season Five episode but for our purposes The Other Women this season on Mad Men are TV and Music (particularly the Beatles) which have stolen the pop culture referencing thunder from the movies.
Ratings and cinema references may be down (the former an obvious risk when a series disappears for long stretches) but quality, thankfully, isn't. Not at all. The finale is next week on June 10th, an exhaustive television evening given that True Blood returns and it also happens to be Tony Awards Night and I also have a birthday party to attend...
Much to look forward to. Much to write about. So herewith brief notes on the last four episodes...
Episode 9 "Dark Shadows"
In this episode, Megan (Jessica Pare) continues to pursue her acting dream and we learn that her friend Julia (Meghan Bradley) has won a role on "Dark Shadows". Everyone in the cast is acting out with jealousy winning the sin sweepstakes, hence the title. Betty's Envy Shock upon seeing Mr & New Mrs Draper's glorious rich Manhattan penthouse has her misbehaving almost subsconsciously. She attempts to spoil the newlywed bliss by way of her easiest weapon, daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka). January Jones continues to prove her undervalued misunderstood worth to the show with the funniest sickest Thanksgiving toast since the turkey-lurkey heyday of Christina Ricci in The Ice Storm and Addams Family Values:
I'm thankful that I have everything I want. And that no one else has anything better."
Cultural References: Dark Shadows the soap... not the Tim Burton movie obviously
Episode MVP: Betty (January Jones)
Episode 10 "Christmas Waltz"
Lane's money problems have him forging checks. Harry Crane runs into previous regular Paul Kinsey who has joined the Hare Krishna movement. Kinsey's written a terrible "speculative episode of the hit television series 'Star Trek'" which he hopes Harry will sell for him. Some clunky heavy-handed episode called "The Negron Complex". Meanwhile, Roger offers Joan money for their lovechild which she (naturally) refuses... because she is Joan. Don takes her out for driving, drinking, and divorcee dancing advice in a wonderful extended scene that easily outclasses the rest of the somewhat clunky heavy handed episode. Joan and Don will never be a couple --despite some fan wishes -- because this show is always true to its characters.
Cultural References: Star Trek the series, My Three Sons, Bewitched, Aly Khan international playboy, "America Hurrah!" the play,
Episode MVP: Don (Jon Hamm)
Episode 11 "The Other Woman"
I couldn't do this utterly spectacular episode justice without a few thousand words. (Sigh). The Mad Men, while competing for the Jaguar account (their first car!), make completely amoral decisions including essentially selling Joan Harris herself. Joan, understandably thrown but ever a mix of pride, sexual confidence, compromised cynicism and business savvy makes a surprising decision. Meanwhile Don takes Peggy for granted for the last time as she announces (gulp) her resignation. Exit Elisabeth Moss (?!?) one of the show's continual MVPs.
Cultural References: A Hard Day's Night (again)
Episode MVP: (tie) Joan & Peggy (Christina Hendricks & Elisabeth Moss). Hendricks and Moss have been magnificent Emmy worth players for five years and if one of them doesn't win for this series before it wraps, it'll be an eternal blight on the awards. It can't hurt to play such well written characters but year after year they seem to absorb and emanate and sell the show's difficult complex ideas about transitioning femininity between the 50s and the 70s.
Episode 12 "Comissions and Fees"
This season has been absolutely brutal to some characters and Lane, like Peggy, also tenders a resignation. This one is decidedly more desperate and far less triumphant. Matthew Weiner and his writing staff are malevolent gods. The office will undoubtedly be reeling in the season finale next week. In the episode's sweetest but still mature thread, Sally spends the weekend in Manhattan (with and without adult supervision) and gets her first period. But first she enjoys her first cup of coffee and her choice of movies with Megan and Julia -- Movie reference time!
Megan: I don't think there's really anything to see. [to waiter] Can I get some coffee.
Sally: [to waiter] I'll have some too.
Julia: He's not going to bring you coffee!
Megan: Ummm.... Georgy Girl, Alfie, Gambit, Night of the Generals, Blow Up?
Julia: Anything without abortions or foreigners in it?
Megan: Let's see. Fistful of Dollars? I think your father would kill me if I saw that without him.
The sneaky wit of the scene is the way it weaves in and out of the new late 60s permissiveness. Sally orders coffee and this seems to shock risque Julia more than a new boyfriend who wants to know if the curtain matches the drapes. The adult girls are having a very adult conversation which doesn't seem to phase Sally -- she claims "it's okay I have a boyfriend"... though she really doesn't -- and the adults forget to remember that it's inappropriate for young Sally... half the time. The other half of the time they're reminding themselves or each other that she's too young. They're clearly not used to a young teenager joining their lunch dates.
The punchline of the scene is that the waiter actually brings Sally her coffee. Megan jokes that she should have tried to order a drink. "I don't want a drink," Sally responds as if the suggestion is ridiculous, pouring heaps and heaps of sugar into her coffee. She's not a girl. Not yet a woman. I deeply apologize for the Britney Spears reference. Britney might not understand what's going on in any episode of Mad Men but the writers sure do.
Episode MVP: Sally (Kiernan Shipka)
Recommended Reading on "Dark Shadows"
Seven Deadly Shadows via Basket of Kisses | Power Rankings Grantland's always hilarious column -- though Sally Draper is way too low given that she bested both of her parents with her refusal to play along nicely with their secrets and lies.
...on "Christmas Waltz" Tom & Lorenzo on the unique relationship between Joan & Don | Capital "the spaghetti's on the wall" the discomfort of Megan in Betty's role
...on "The Other Woman" A terrific multi-epistle conversation at Slate on Peggy & Joan's parallel and divergent journeys.