Remember how Helen Bishop told Betty Draper a few episodes back that the hardest thing about being divorced was getting used to the idea that "you're in charge?"
In her own twisted way, Betty has taken charge of her life by the time we get to episode 13, "Meditations in an Emergency," the denouement of the awe-inspiring second season of "Mad Men."
Betty isn't the only one who's coming into her own in this seg, written by Matthew Weiner and Kater Gordon and helmed by Weiner. Peggy Olson is capping an incredible period of personal growth with what is quite possibly the most grown-up thing she's ever done in her 22 (maybe by now she's 23) years.
It all unfolds against the backdrop of what is arguably the most tense six-day span of the atomic age. And near the end of this episode (that you don't want to end) is one of those gems of dialogue that will bounce around in our heads for the next nine months until season three arrives next summer.
"If the world is still here on Monday, we can talk."
But to start, let's focus on Betty. Her her storyline has been nothing short of gut-wrenching all season and, in contrast to season one, Betty's saga has been vital to the storytelling and our continued discovery of Don Draper/Dick Whitman. (Cynthia's thoughts continue after the jump.)
Kathy Lyford's thoughts:
Sunday nights just aren't going to be the same. Sniff.
I'm pretty sure my take on the end of the season is not what Matthew Weiner and the writers had in mind when they wrote it but I'm going to throw it out there anyway.
To me, the final three episodes are almost a trilogy, and they stand together, apart from the first 10 season 2 eps.
They had a very Dickensian feel to them to me, wherein all the core characters, most particularly Don Draper, are confronted with ghosts of their past, their present and their future.
Don got a glimpse of what his future might hold in episode 11, "The Jet Set." If he continued on the path he was on, he was in real danger of becoming one of those emotionally bereft gypsies, like Joy and her crazy family.
In episode 12, "The Mountain King," Don returned to his past, to Anna, the one person who "gets" him. In so doing, he was able to regain his bearings and remember what is important to him. And in this finale, which is still reeling around in my head, he faces his present -- uncertain though it may be -- particularly with the Cuban Missile Crisis looming. Does his life still include Sterling Cooper? Betty? Will he have another child?
I don't know. And I don't want to. I want to go along for the ride as it all unfolds in season 3, in its typically tantalizing "Mad Men" way.
Stuart Levine's thoughts:
Talk about going out in a blaze of glory, that’s exactly what the folks at “Mad Men” did in this revelatory last episode of season two.
What I got out of this wonderfully crafted finale is there are crises all over the map here: In the Draper household and at the office, but none greater than the one that President Kennedy is facing in trying to make sure the United States isn’t on the receiving end of a nuclear strike.
Relationships are both on the mend — Don and Betty — while others, like Pete and Trudy’s, feel like they’re falling apart. In the big picture, however, it all means little if Manhattan is a target of the Russkies, so everything’s relative.
Following Don’s baptism and rebirth at the end of the previous episode, he returns home and fully realizes the sin of his ways. He meets Betty at the equestrian center and tells her, “I had to have time to think about things” and adds “I was not respectful to you.” (Stuart's thoughts continue after the jump.)
By the time we get the mid-October time frame of this episode, "Mad Men's" china doll is no longer in danger of "floating away" if Don's not around to "hold her down," as Betty confessed to Helen in her surprise moment of openness with another human being. Betty proved her resilience and resourcefulness to herself during Don's unannounced three-week jaunt to find himself in Southern California.
This being "Mad Men," there's a hitch, of course. Betty does not have supreme power over her ovaries. She's pregnant, as we learn in the opening scene, which explains the "Mommy, you're bleeding" of the previous episode.
And she's miserable about it, because just as she's starting to get a grip, here comes a curve ball -- a big one. Her depression about taking one step forward and two steps back now is telegraphed in the opening scene where she's outfitted in the most drab, most mournful color we've ever seen on Betty Draper. Even when she was stumbling around the house after too many bottles of wine, she had more color about her than the gray dress she dons for the doctor visit. With her crinoline hoop skirt under-thingie flared out around the edge of the doctor's examining table, she looks like a dead upside-down tulip. It's a jarring image to open with.
Equally unnerving is Betty hinting at the idea of getting abortion -- a decade before Roe vs. Wade, of course. After the doctor tells her no more horseback riding, she bails halfway through the visit and heads -- where else? -- to the stables.
It's at the stables where we see just how much progress Betty has made. When Don approaches her unexpectedly after her ride, she gives him some snide grief about checking out without warning, but she takes his confession ("I was not respectful to you"), which she realizes is a pretty amazing gesture for the icy-cool Don Draper, in stride without any gesture to indicate how she's really feeling (I'm thinking she's still numb at this point). In fact, she sounds like a Sterling Cooper executive dispensing with an annoying client call.
"I can't deal with this right now," she tells Don, instructing him to call her later to "make arrangements" to see Sally and Bobby. From here, Betty is on her way to a strange kind of catharsis that will allow her to take a very big step toward forgiveness and reconciliation by the end of the hour. The path she takes to get there is as surreal and off-putting as Don's journey through the "Jet Set" was two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, back at Sterling Cooper, we see our mid-level heroes (Ken, Peggy, Pete, Paul, Harry, Salvatore) are scurrying to comply with the bosses' unusual requests for revenue projections and head counts. They know something's up, they just don't know exactly what.
At the end of the previous seg, Pete surprised us all by starting to treat Peggy like a peer, and not in a strained or forced way, but like it was coming naturally to him. He was genuinely happy for her landing the office -- he'd even predicted it for her right after Freddy Rumsen got canned. The new dynamic between Pete and Peggy continues in this seg as Peggy realizes that Pete hasn't let it be known that Sterling Cooper lost the Clearasil account because of his own domestic troubles.
Peggy gives him good advice -- which couldn't be more far removed from the advice she received from her mentor, Don, the last time she was in a real jam.
"Don't worry about the outcome, just tell the truth," Peggy says. "People will respect that."
Pete follows her advice as he walks into the office of Duck Phillips, who is very obviously making his way through that case of Tanqueray gin that Sterling Cooper's soon-to-be new owners sent him. (More on that later). Duck can't restrain his cockiness and winds up telling Pete that Clearasil is small potatoes, given what's in store for the agency. He even promises Pete a promotion, something he earned during the trial by fire of pitching American Airlines on Sterling Cooper on the heels of his father's death in the big American Airlines crash in episode two.
(Given that Pete's the kind of guy to joke about killing his mother a la Hitchcock's "Rope," that whole incident probably wasn't too hard for Pete but Duck doesn't know that.)
Into all of this moving and shaking, Don strides back into Sterling Cooper just as President Kennedy and the national newspapers have started to report on the magnitude of the superpower fight over Soviet missiles stationed on Cuba. Things couldn't be much tenser in the office, which is not exactly known for being laid back.
Don seems happy that his underlings have held together well in his absence (great line when he sees Peggy stepping out of Freddy's old office: "Do I work for you now?"). He's still genuinely distracted by his woes with Betty, even after he finds a pile of mail and correspondence on his desk. I think he found himself, as much as he could, in California, on the porch of Anna Draper's home in San Pedro and in the healing waters of the Pacific. As soon as he's back in his office alone, he starts looking out the window at the New York skyline. Doesn't look much like San Pedro, the one place in the world where Dick Whitman is free to be.
This being "Mad Men," Don doesn't have much time for reflection. Wham-bam, he learns from Roger that the agency has been sold and he's likely to clear $500,000 -- in 1962 dollars. He won't ever have to work again, if he doesn't want to. Don is stunned. To Roger, however, it's all about him.
"Kennedy's daring them to bomb us, right when I get a second chance," Roger tells Don, who presciently replies (with the help of writers who have the hindsight of history): "We don't know what's really going on. You know that."
Right about here, karma comes into the picture in a big way. Pete, having received the first real compliment ever from Don earlier in the day, tells Don on the QT of Duck's brewing coup attempt.
Around the same time, Peggy is getting a dose of spiritual foreshadowing as she talks to Father Gill after a service with her mother, who is visibly distraught over the Cuban crisis. Everybody's talking bomb shelters and bunkering in, so Mrs. Olson got busy in the kitchen to make some baked goods (there's something so wonderfully quaint about Mrs. Olson staving off nuclear war with a fresh batch of cookies).
Father Gill is also clearly distraught, so much so he lets the bounds of his priestly covenant to keep his confidences loose in warning Peggy that she needs to reconcile with God sooner rather than later lest she wind up in Hell.
"Hell is serious and very real," Gill pleads, after telling her he feels he was called to her parish in order to reach her.
"You cannot know peace unless you unburden yourself to God."
Peggy is Don Draper-calm in her response.
"You're upsetting me."
"You could go to Hell."
"I can't believe that's the way God is."
Father Gill looks confounded at that line and watches Peggy walk away. There's no more fundamental way to take charge of your life than that, eh?
For Betty, the key breakthrough, believe it or not, comes after she's dropped Sally and Bobby off at Don's hotel room. She rebuffs his overture to join them for dinner, preferring to be alone in the city on a night when New York City is pretty much losing its mind. Don shows her a lot of respect by not insisting or being patronizing about the threat.
Betty winds up in a bar for a sequence that is almost as dream-like as Don's stay with the nomads in Palm Springs. She's done some shopping, as we can see by the small department store bags she's toting. It doesn't take long before she's being hit on by a young good-looking guy in a skinny tie. She politely tells him to leave her alone, but proceeds to pound her drink (a gimlet) and then give him a sultry long look as she walks past him down the hall to the bathroom. Of course, he follows her.
Betty is in such a daze that she can't hold her head up. Her blond head literally drags along the redwood-colored walls of the hallway as her insta-paramour ducks her into an office with a couch, as she informs him "I'm married."
The most unexciting burst of passion ensues -- the sight of Betty undoing the man's belt is just sad, not sexy -- until he caps their tryst with, "So, what is your name?" Doesn't get any more tawdry than that. And that's the point. Betty's doing what Don has done, more times than she wants to think about. When she gets home to her dark house, free of kid obligations for the night, she goes right for a piece of cold fried chicken in the fridge. She doesn't even close the door before she starts in on it -- a very masculine move.
For better and for worse, Betty, illuminated by the light of the Frigidaire, is in charge of her life. The heartfelt note she receives from Don the next morning tugs on her heartstrings, for sure, but the random sex and, yes, the chicken were more important in the grand scheme, I'm convinced. (Also, reinforcing the significance of the chicken moment, when Betty rebuffs Don's offer to have dinner as a family, Sally mentions that 'Mommy doesn't like to eat.')
There's so much more color and detail, but in an episode this packed, gotta focus on the Really Major Stuff.
While we're still recovering from the Betty business, Don Draper gets his cutthroat groove back and then Pete and Peggy come along to blow away what's left of our minds.
Armed with the knowledge that Duck will be named president of the merged Putnam, Powell and Lowe/Sterling Cooper, Don is quiet in the meeting with the Brit bigwigs. Duck looks like the exec who ate the canary. Again, he can't contain his smug satisfaction at having engineered the deal, and he immediately seeks to put Don and the creative team in their place in sketching out his vision for the agency.
"We certainly don't need to be tied to creative's fantasies of persuasion," Duck says. When Don looks perturbed, he goes so far as to insult him by saying how much Don "loves the sound of his own voice" in pitching clients. Bad move.
Don's steamed. Duck assumes he has a contract and can't leave, or at least can't leave Sterling Cooper for a rival firm. He learns otherwise at an inopportune moment, in front of the new owners. Suddenly, Don has the reins of the meeting, and he makes it clear he's not playing in Duck's pond.
"I sell products, not advertising," Don informs the Brits. "If the world is still here on Monday, we can talk."
After Don walks out, Duck lets loose with an angry outburst taking credit for the merger. Bert and Roger and the Brits ask Duck to leave. And it's made clear that in a Don-vs.-Duck tug of war, Don wins.
Duck "never could hold his liquor," St. John Powell says, which makes the gift of Tanqueray a more Machiavellian move than we ever could have imagined.
As all of this is going down, we learn that Peggy has taken Father Gill's words to heart, though probably not exactly in the way that he meant them.
By this time, President Kennedy has made his famous Oct. 22 address to the nation, announcing the presence of nuclear missiles on Cube-er. I can't even imagine what kind of dread fear and panic that must've sparked. (My dad confirms that people were calling each other to say "goodbye," etc. In-sane.)
The Sterling Cooper offices are emptying out fast. Don has received a summons to come home from Betty. He's out the door without his briefcase and tells Joan to do the same. Peggy is looking unusually serene as she starts to head out, only to be stopped by Pete asking her if she wants a drink. He's clearly had a few -- and we saw earlier that he essentially told his wife Trudy that it was over between them -- and he wants to express his true feelings to Peggy.
"I love you, and I want to be with you," Pete says (I think those are the exact words Don spoke to Betty at the stables too).
Peggy lets him say just enough to get across that he's head over heels for her. And then Elisabeth Moss shows us what she's capable of, in a near whisper.
"I could have shamed you into being with me... but I didn't want that." She tells him her secret. She says it with confidence ("I had your baby and I gave it away") but as Pete's eyes are boring in on Peggy, she's looking away from him, off into space and rambling about how one day there's this "other part living outside of you..and you keep thinking, maybe you'll get it back." Hmmm, she sounds conflicted.
Pete, as the news sinks in, forgets his expression of love to Peggy. He's just stunned, and not in a good way, at least not immediately.
"Why would you tell me that?"
"I'm sorry Pete," Peggy says, putting a hand on his shoulder as she walks out of his office.
Thank goodness for pause buttons. I needed a minute to compose myself for the final scenes that follow.
We see Peggy, praying in bed and looking like she's about to sleep peacefully for the first time in years.
We see Pete sitting in the dark in his office, feet propped up with a shotgun in his lap. (Shades of Lee Harvey Oswald for sure.)
And finally, we see the Drapers at home, a foursome again at last. Not that everything's hunky dory. Betty is still keeping her emotional distance. After the kids go to bed, Don comes to the kitchen to talk to his wife.
It's partly an echo of the Peggy-Pete scene, as Betty sits down with Don to break the pregnancy news to him.
Slowly they clasp hands. Betty keeps her other hand pressed firmly against the table, as if she's holding on for dear life. Don stares intently at her, waiting in vain through the long fade out for a hint of joy on Betty's face.
Meanwhile, the crisis at Sterling Cooper is palpable, in that the English firm has decided to merge their ad agency with Sterling Cooper and several of the boys — Sal, Ken and especially Harry and Paul — are freaking out as they believe their jobs may be in jeopardy.
Pete seems unaffected by it, and with good reason. Being told by Duck that he’ll be the head of accounts, he has job security and feels the need to share what he knows with Don. That’s a fascinating turn of events from last year, when the two had a much more acrimonious relationship and he couldn’t wait to blackmail Don when he found out his boss isn’t who he said he was. Pete grew up a lot this season — not necessarily with Trudy, as their marriage is about to bust — but how he handles himself at Sterling Cooper and, wow, in that final scene where he confesses his love for Peggy.
Last year, he seduced her but there was no evidence of affection, nothing more than lust. In this whopper of a scene — and a season of great scenes, this one ranks very near the top of the list — Pete says he wants to be with her. Peggy responds by telling him she could’ve shamed him into being together and then lets it out about the baby. It’s difficult to get a full read on his reaction. It felt like a combination of shock, despair and guilt, but certainly more the former.
Both Elisabeth Moss and Vincent Kartheiser are wonderful here, and this should be the Emmy clip that’s remembered next summer. Moss, especially, seems able to shift from happy Peggy, to sad Peggy, to reflective Peggy at a moment’s notice and, because she’s so good, it’s something that’s almost taken for granted.
Another line that really struck me as significant was when Peggy and Father Gill were chatting — and that conversation always makes Peggy uncomfortable — but when they’re discussing the world events and she says “Nuclear war. We could be gone tomorrow.” His response: “Isn’t that always the case?”
Many characters here felt to me as though they were doing things as someone would do on what could be their last day alive. Don’s longing to be with his family and walking away from an agency that wasn’t going in a direction he was comfortable with, Betty’s one-night stand, Pete’s admitted desire for Peggy and her revelation about the baby and Roger willing to divorce Mona and pay whatever it takes to be with Jane.
Another topic that, underneath the surface, was playing an instrumental part in the episode was alcohol. Sure, everyone’s always boozing it up, but think about how Duck, who has sworn off alcohol, loses his cool in the meeting and, after leaving, is admonished that he can’t handle his booze. And isn’t Betty drunk, or at least a little tipsy, before deciding to hook up with the guy in the bar. Alcohol, one sip at a time, is ripping and tearing apart the foundations both in the home and office.
Other items that struck me as significant, or at least amusing, in “Meditations in an Emergency”:
-- The New York Times said it was best to tell our children about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Seems the Old Gray Lady was into child-reading back in the early ’60s.
-- Once the boys convinced Lois to let them know what was going on with the merger, she couldn’t hold back. And the chances of them keeping their promise and taking her off the switchboard if they all have jobs? Not good.
-- Duck’s animosity toward Don — and all of creative — is growing, and it might’ve cost him his job. Although Don walks out in the middle of the meeting, while leaving he says, “If the world is still here on Monday, we’ll talk.” His cool and calm demeanor is much better in the business world than Duck’s flying off the handle, and the Brits are quick to learn that having Duck running the show might be a terrible idea.
-- Loved Sally’s line at the hotel, when Don and the kids were going to have dinner and Betty says she won’t be able to join them: “Mommy doesn’t like to eat.”
-- Great work, again, by Colin Hanks, who, try as Father Gill might, was able to get a confession from Peggy. It took Pete’s proposal to do the trick.
-- And finally, huzzahs to Matt Weiner, his unbelievably talented writers and a terrific cast and crew for a tremendous season two. The Emmy-winning, and Emmy-deserving, “Mad Men” was an oasis of greatness in a sea of TV mediocrity. Lets all drink to that.