Friday, November 20, 2009

Grey Area (Mad Men 3.13)

After the trauma of the previous week's JFK assassination, Mad Men’s finale took a much lighter approach. Consistent with its title, Shut the Door. Have a Seat offered fans a comfortable chair (or Wentworth) to cool down in after the wild ride of Season Three. That’s not to say important things didn’t happen. They did. And there’s still a lot to be resolved (Sal’s future, most notably). But a lot of loose character threads were tied up. In some cases, I felt these threads were a little too neatly mended as much about Don, Bert and Roger getting “the band” back together seemed a tad contrived.

While all season, Duck Phillips has been trying to coax Pete and Peggy (and perhaps others) to jump ship and join him at his Grey, the ad agency he now works for, it is Don, Bert, Roger and Pryce who actually accomplish this feat. So, it seems worth mentioning that at various points in Shut the Door. Have a Seat, many of the key cast members are uncharacteristically wearing grey outfits. Betty, Peggy and Joan most notably (Betty is "jumping ship" from her marriage while Joan and Peggy join in the new ad agency venture).

Connie tells Don that ad agency McCann Erickson is buying Puttnam, Powell, and Lowe -- and Sterling Cooper along with it. He's terminating his arrangement with Don. "My future is tied up in this mess because of you," Don complains, referring to the three-year contract Hilton's lawyers insisted he sign. It's just business, Connie replies.

The first shot of the episode shows Don waking up. He’ll be facing many surprises this episode: Betty’s affair, the sale of PPL, Peggy’s bitterness toward him, the fact that he really likes the advertising business. Echoing the title, Hilton invites Don to “have a seat.” That invitation will be uttered a number of times throughout the episode.

Connie releases the hold he’s had on Don in the last half of the third season. It’s notable that there will be a later reference to Bobby losing Don’s cuff links. Since these cuff links were a gift from Hilton and, at the time, symbolized Don’s servitude toward Connie, Bobby losing them would seem to show that Don is free. This also shows a parallel between Don and the father figure of Hilton and Don and his own son Bobby.

Conrad further tells Don that he’d be a “prize pig” for the new owners at McCann Erickson. Don's dislike for pork products having been established, his dislike for the new company is well ingrained. Don furthers the metaphor by describing the McCann Erickson shop as a “sausage factory.”

Entering Sterling Cooper, Don flashes back to his youth: Archie Whitman defies the other members of an agricultural cooperative after the price of wheat collapses.

For Don, the situation at Sterling Cooper directly relates watching his father’s struggles with the farm “co-op” from years earlier. As a child, Don seems to have linked the death of Archie Whitman (kicked by a horse) with his decision to give in and sell his at the deflated market rate rather than store it in a silo until the price came up. This would seem to inform Dick/Don’s subsequent efforts to, like Archie's proposed “silo,” avoid “relationships.” However, by episode’s end, Don, a smile on his face, seems to have overcome this as he surveys the new team working together.

Don informs Cooper about the sale and proposes that they buy Sterling Cooper themselves. Cooper resists at first, but then sketches out a potential scenario: Roger would have to be included because Lucky Strike is the agency's biggest account.

Continuing the motif, Bert complains to Don about being woken up for an “emergency” meeting at Sterling Cooper. When Bert expresses reluctance about buying the company back, a frustrated Don tells him to go “back to sleep.” There’s a glass of milk on Bert’s coffee table that’s echoed later when Carla gives the Draper children milk before being putting them to bed. There's clearly a link between Don's efforts to sell Bert on the idea of a new agency and Archie Whitman's attempts to bypass the agricultural co-op.

Don and Cooper reveal their plan to Roger, and Don apologizes to Roger for belittling his contributions to Sterling Cooper. Don learned from his Hilton experience that he isn't an account man, he says. Don's problem, Roger explains, is that he doesn't value relationships.

Before Bert and Don enter Roger’s office, he is on the phone (presumably with Jane) discussing the JFK assassination. There’s a subtle hint about conspiracy theories to come when Roger comments that some high government official (possibly J. Edgar Hoover) is upset that the assassination “happened on his watch.” When Bert and Don do bring up the McCann buyout, Roger echoes Hilton’s pork reference from earlier. He compares Don to “golden pork chop” under new corporate ownership.

The next day, Lane tells Roger, Don and Cooper that McCann is buying Sterling Cooper, but not PPL. Cooper names a buy-back price, but Lane says that McCann offered more.

A lawyer describes for Betty and Henry the difficulty she would have obtaining a New York divorce. "That's why people go to Reno," he says. A Nevada divorce would require Don's consent, but little else. Henry asks Betty not to request a financial settlement. "I don't want you owing him anything," he says.

There’s an interesting bit of dialog linking the action at Sterling Cooper with that at the lawyer’s office visited by Betty and Henry. Just after Roger, Don and Bert discuss why they no longer want to be compelled to join McCann Erickson, the lawyer in the next scene is pointedly discussing “grounds for divorce.” Betty, who wants to leave Don, is wearing a grey suit. In an earlier scene with Don, while informing him of her desire to leave, she is wearing a grey turtleneck. This is not unlike the turtlenecks Duck was wearing when trying to woo Pete and Peggy. The scene at the lawyer's office also echoes the clandestine meetings Duck arranged for Pete and Peggy. For Betty, the idea of getting a “Reno divorce” must seem “tawdry.”

Don has another flashback: Archie, drunk, tells Abigail that he will sell his wheat himself. He heads to the stable. A young Dick Whitman watches as Archie's horse kicks him in the face and kills him.

The Whitman money is kept in a green jar while Don is pointedly shown eating out of a blue container. This is consistent with Season Three's use of green to symbolize a yearning for change (as with Miss Farrell’s maypole dance) while blue represents the status quo. In this case, IF the Whitman’s had more reserve money, Archie wouldn’t have been forced to sell his wheat. In effect, the pragmatic need to put food on the table (blue) outweighed Archie’s desire for something more (green). Furthermore, Abigail is wearing BOTH green and blue. This corresponds to the two paths which have been presented to the characters in Season 3.

"It could be done," Lane says of the scheme to start a new agency, but they'd need Lucky Strike, plus additional accounts for cash flow. A telegram sent that day (Friday) wouldn't be read in London until Monday, giving them the weekend to secure accounts, assemble a skeleton staff and spirit away the necessary materials. "Well, gentlemen," Lane says with a smile. "I suppose you're fired."

Though it’s hard to make any predictions at this point, it would seem significant that the date of Friday the thirteenth is associated with the start of this new venture.

Don tells Peggy about the new agency and outlines what she must accomplish by Sunday evening. "You just assume I'll do whatever you say," Peggy responds. “I’m not gonna beg you,” Don says. "Beg me? You didn't even ask me," she says, declining the proposition.

As mentioned earlier, Peggy forces Don to “wake up” regarding his treatment of others in the office. This informs Don’s later decision to be part of team. Peggy’s remark about not wanting to let Don “kick” her around would seem related to Archie’s accident shown earlier.

Roger and Don visit Pete at home and offer him a role at the new agency. Roger admits that they need his accounts, but says that they also need his talent. "I want to hear it from him," says Pete, looking at Don. "You've been ahead on a lot of things," Don says. "Aeronautics, teenagers, the Negro market. We need you to keep us looking forward." A deal is struck: Pete will be made a partner if he delivers $8 million in accounts by Sunday.

Pete scrambles to find his pajamas when Don and Roger pay a surprise visit to his apartment. Ostensibly, it’s to support his claim of being sick. But, the hurried manner in which Pete throws on his robe is consistent with someone gathering themselves after being thrust awake.

Over drinks, Don tells Roger about the divorce. "So it's true," Roger says. "Henry Francis." Stunned, Don presses Roger for details. ‚ "I thought you knew," Roger says. "I’m sorry I told you, believe me."

Don wakes Betty that night and asks who Henry Francis is. "You never forgave me," Don says. "Forgave what?" she replies. "That I've never been enough?" She won't get a nickel, Don threatens, and he'll take the kids. "I'm going to Reno, and you're going to consent," she says. "You're a whore, you know that?" Don replies, grabbing her nightgown roughly.

An offhand comment by Roger forces Don to “wake up” to what’s really been going on with Betty for the last few months. And when Don does confront Betty about Henry Francis, he gets her out of bed. Also, at one point during the argument, Baby Gene wakes up crying as well.

Meanwhile, Don and Betty tell their children that Don will be moving out of the house. Sally takes the news hard. "Nobody wants to do this," Don tells a tearful Bobby.

Don is wearing an outfit (sweater over a white collared shirt) as was Lee Harvey Oswald when gunned down by Jack Ruby. Don seems to take most of the blame in delivering a damaging blow to his family. They certainly downplay the fact that the divorce is Betty's idea. Don is also being significantly hurt in the process. For this exchange, Betty is wearing a blue sweater (her usual color). In this case, she is putting up a front of normality for the sake of the children.

At Roger's behest, Joan arrives at the office, having already hired movers. She indicates what needs transporting and where to locate it. Don arrives with Peggy, and asks Joan to find him an apartment.

As mentioned earlier, Joan is wearing a grey sweater in this scene. This is an unusual color for her would seem to be linked with Grey, Duck's agency. Again, by poaching employees and clients, they are, in effect, doing what Duck had been attempting to do all season long.

"How long do you think it will take us to be in a place like this again?" Roger asks Don as they depart Sterling Cooper. "I never saw myself working in a place like this," Don replies.

At one point as the group rob the office, a box labeled "Velvetta" is shown being carried away. This could be a sly reference to the book "Who Moved My Cheese" which discusses how business people need to embrace change and be prepared to move to where the job is. The McCann deal certainly moved their cheese and they are taking it back.

"We've been robbed!" shouts Don's secretary, Allison, on Monday morning. Saint John calls and fires Lane. "Very good. Happy Christmas." Lane replies.

Following Allison’s discovery, there’s a quick bit of dialog where she expresses disappointment over the fact that Don didn’t leave a note. One usually associates “notes” with suicides not robberies. So, in a way, Allison’s remark may be linked to Mad Men’s imagery of a man falling down the side of a building. Making the act, in this case, deliberate.

The phone rings in a suite at the Pierre hotel. "Good morning, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce," answers Joan.

As mentioned earlier, the shot of the principle employees for Sterling Cooper Draper Price interacting in their new "office" is similar to the one of the co-op members in the Whitman kitchen. However, Don now reacts positively rather than negatively to this sight. Also, the hotel office HQ is quite similar to how Duck has been doing business for Grey all season.

Later, Betty sits on a plane with baby Gene on her lap and Henry Francis beside her. Sally and Bobby watch television with Carla. Don exits a cab in front of a Greenwich Village apartment building. Suitcases in hand, he enters the building.

After the heavy scene with Don and the children and what must certainly seem to her as the “tawdry” manner in which she’s dissolving her marriage, Betty sits on a plane to Reno contemplating the larger journey ahead with a less than enthusiastic expression on her face . Conversely, Henry Francis, in the seat next to her, seems fast asleep. It’s been pointed out that Francis is really awake and looking down at something. However, that his posture could be taken as sleep bookends with the first shot of Don sleeping at the episode’s beginning.

Suitcases are commonly used in Mad Men to symbolize a character's life. So, it's significant that the last shot of Don shows him carrying a suitcase as he embarks on a new chapter in his own life.

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