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Meditations in an Emergency: Truth and Consequences on the "Mad Men" Season Finale

I am still in awe over last night's superlative and heartbreaking season finale of Mad Men ("Meditations in an Emergency'). In fact my only complaint is that it was too short; even after 50 minutes, I wanted more and especially didn't want the season to be over, especially given that we'll have to wait until next summer to find out what happened to our beloved characters.

Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and its attendant paranoia and fear, "Meditations in an Emergency"--written and gorgeously directed by series creator Matthew Weiner--brought to fruition two seasons worth of storylines as we saw Betty attempt to gain the upper hand over her philandering husband Don, watched (mouth agape) as Peggy told Pete about her baby, and watched Don finally take a stand rather than keep his mouth shut upon being told that Duck would be the new president of Sterling Cooper following the merger. And no scene has been as powerfully moving or as provocatively gripping as that final scene between Don and Betty. (I do believe I screamed at the television set when the picture faded to black, so desperate was I for more Mad Men.)

Last night's installment was all about telling the truth and we saw this theme play out several times in the episode as various characters unburdened themselves in various ways but none of these truth-telling missions was as fraught with peril or heartache as when Pete admitted to Peggy that he was in love with her and wanted to be with her... and Peggy told him that she "could have shamed him" into being with her, that she got pregnant with his baby and "gave it away."

Does Pete truly love Peggy? I'm not sure that reptilian Pete Campbell is capable of love but the closest he'll ever get to experiencing it is with Peggy, whom he claims "knows him." Was it completely inappropriate for him to tell Peggy of his love? Absolutely. Especially as he had the chance to have her in Season One and then treated her like crap for two seasons. I loved the scene where he basically told his wife Trudy that he didn't love her when she said that if he loved her, he would come with her to her parents' house to set out the Crisis and he replied by saying that he'd help her pack the car.

The scene between Peggy and Father Gill in which he told her that she was going to go to Hell unless she unburdened herself to God was absolutely beautiful and poignant, as was Peggy's soft-spoken reply to the priest who views it as his holy mission to save Peggy's soul. While she has learned to believe in God, Peggy can't accept that a vengeful God would sentence her to Hell and, rather than come clean to the priest, she finds the courage to finally tell Pete what she had done. (Can we please get an Emmy nomination for Elisabeth Moss already?)

Was it fair for Peggy to tell Pete? Probably not, but that's the problem with telling the truth: she may feel a weight has been lifted from her (afterward, she says her prayers and goes to bed) but for Pete, his entire world has come crumbling down around him, especially given the fertility problems in his own marriage. How can these two people work side-by-side knowing what they now know? And does it mean that Peggy now believes that Don's method of pretending that things never happened is as foolish as it sounds? That the past always catches up to you, no matter if you change your name, lose weight, or put things out of your mind?

I was impressed that Pete decided to tell Don the truth about Duck, even after learning that he would be made head of accounts under Duck's new regime. Was it the fact that Don finally admitted that Pete was ready to take on more responsibility, that he had passed Don's "test," that made him come clean about what was actually happening? Regardless, I think that Pete proved his loyalty to Don and then scene was the complete reversal of his attempt in the first season to blackmail Don with the knowledge of his true identity. His rationale for telling him speaks volumes as he tells Don that if he were in his shoes, he would want to know.

Do we think that Don would have behaved the same way had he been ambushed by Duck in the merger meeting had he not known in advance? I do but I think it would have been a hell of a lot more explosive. Still, I couldn't help but scream with glee when Don told an incredulous Duck that he didn't have a contract, after Duck said he'd either fall in line or be out on the streets selling shirts. (What, like Bubbles?) I'm glad that the contract subplot paid off here and the look on Duck's crestfallen face was absolutely priceless.

Last night also showed Betty coming apart at the seams. Learning that she is pregnant with a third child (and walking right out of the doctor's office without a word), she seriously considers terminating her pregnancy rather than reconciling with Don... and then seemingly embarks on a campaign to miscarry: drinking, smoking, and continuing to go horseback riding, despite her doctor's orders not to do so. But the true crux of Betty's issues come to the fore in the scene at the bar, in which she stumbles in and barely seems capable of ordering a drink. But before long, she embarks on a drunken tryst with a stranger (Chuck's Ryan McPartlin) after telling him that she's married. (So was he, from the look of his ring.)

I am sure that many viewers are wondering why Betty would stumble into the arms of a stranger when she had the opportunity to have an affair with someone she genuinely had feelings for. To me, that's the very point of Betty's transgression. Her would-be affair with her friend from the stables was too close to home, too messy, and too intimate. But a quick tryst with a stranger in the backroom of a Manhattan bar had no strings attached whatsoever. She would never see this man ever again, never know his name, and she told the truth beforehand: she was married and was up-front that this was meaningless sex. And when the man asked for her name, Betty didn't even lie; she just didn't bother to answer. Betty isn't the type of woman who engages in this type of behavior (the barman had to even tell her that if she accepted the drink from the man, he would try to chat her up) and that made this act an even bigger act of defiance, an effort to one-up Don and get even.

The gorgeous shot of her ravenously eating a chicken drumstick from the refrigerator belied this point even further: Betty had stepped outside her carefully ordered, structured life and had, for the first time, gotten messy. It's a view of Betty that is at distinct odds with how her family perceives her... and echoes (just as it cancels out) Sally's earlier line that Betty "doesn't like to eat." And yet the sight of her, alone in the dark feasting on a chicken piece, can't help but break your heart, even as it points to the veil of ignorance being ripped from her eyes.

Will this secret eat away at Betty now that she has told Don about her pregnancy? Only time will tell, but I can't help but think that some secrets should remain buried, that by bringing some into the light, one only hurts the receiver tenfold. Betty's sad voice as she told a speechless Don that she was expecting another child only made the previous hour's action all the more heartbreaking. Can they repair the damage they've caused to their seemingly perfect family (showcased in that shot of them gathered around the television) and move past their indiscretions? Or have they doomed themselves to a lifetime of regret? We'll have to wait to find out until next season.

Best line of the evening: "If I'm going to die, I want to die in Manhattan." - Pete

What did you think of Mad Men's season finale? Will Don and Betty ever be able to repair the damage to their marriage? Will Betty ever truly trust Don again and will she come clean about her own infidelity? Will Don stay at Sterling Cooper... and will Duck? And can Pete and Peggy ever move past now that they've confessed? Discuss.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Hi, great column on last night's amazing season finale of MAD MEN. I was struck by the fact that Don elected to leave his things in the office and go home to Betty empty-handed. Made me wonder if the changes at Sterling Cooper made him second-guess reconciling the marriage. After all, he was anything but happy about the pregnancy news. Fantastic show. Not an ounce of predictability whatsoever.
Anonymous said…
Nice work on the column - thoughtful. I think Duck said Don would be selling insurance, not shirts. Whatever, though, I'd buy anything from Don Draper. :)
I can't believe the season is already over but what an incredible way to end it.

I'm glad that Don is back in the Draper home, even if things aren't peachy between him and Betty. But I'm equally as happy that he returned to Sterling Cooper and was in fine form, unraveling all of Duck's plans with a few choice words.

Betty's lie (sex with a stranger) and Peggy's truth (about the baby) were both shocking and revealing. Both women had issues that have been slowly simmering all season and it was satisfying to see them finally boil over.

And to have all of this set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis was just brilliant. Can't wait for next season...
TVBlogster said…
This episode was explosive. It almost rivals last season's finale "The Wheel", but it held its own power.

I agree that perhaps some secrets should stay that way - at least in terms of Betty. Perhaps Don should hide his true identity, but I'm not sure how the marriage will succeed if Dick Whitman doesn't reveal himself.

Pete and Peggy? I'm dumbfounded at the beauty of that scene. It was stunning in terms of acting, writing, storytelling. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I like Pete. He's a fascinating character - filled with petulance and childish stubborness bred by his blue blood. Peggy is mesmerizing.

I cannot wait for next season.
Anonymous said…
I don't get the point of Madmen. Don't you people want to see something taking place today then in the past? Why do the "60s matter to anyone.
Anonymous said…
Wow. It's idiotic comments like Anonymous just made that make me worried about America.

I thought last night was amazing. Peggy was electrifying to watch when she told Pete about the baby. I didn't think she would go through with it but I have to give Matt Weiner credit for actually following through and having her spill her guts to Pete.

Don can't tell Betty about his true identity but it could bring them together. Remember when Betty's dad told her not to trust someone with no people? If he came clean about being Dick Whitman it could change things for them but I don't think he will ever be able to dispel the illusion he's created.
Anonymous said…
It WAS Captain Awesome! You just won me 20 bucks. :)
Anonymous said…
If there's a character to dislike, it's Betsy. She's vacuous and spoiled and altogether insufferable. But I did have a moment for her last night, not so much at the fact that she was pregnant although it was "not a good time, " but at the condescending way the doctor treated her. So perfectly of that era!
And if last night's show was all about truth telling, it was also about showdowns: Russia and the US, Don and Duck, the Father's view of Hellfire and Peggy's view of God.
Here's a question: what was Peggy talking about, exactly, in her scene with Pete? That bit about something being lost...I don't think it was only about the baby. It seemed almost as if she was looking into the future she might have, choosing a career over a family, and the regret she was aware that she might experience. It was very moving....
Anonymous said…
The final scene, with Betty and Don holding hands over the kitchen table after she told him of her pregnancy, spoke volumes - if only in a deliberately cryptic language. The viewer can't help but want to see a happy resolution to the fine mess they've created, but clearly a mutally unwanted pregnancy may well signal the fatal end of their deeply flawed, almost too-complex relationship. Was it just me or did Peggy seem sadly satisfied to share with Pete the revelation of their child's existance? And, if so, who could possibly blame her? I, too, wondered about the significance of her "lost" confession to Pete. It was intensely meaningful, but I'm not certain that I fully understood it.

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