(Lots of spoilers)
As folks who know me know, I'm more than a little Mad Men obsessed. I wrote a whole honest to god essay about Betty Draper (Francis) at the start of the season this summer. I've had multiple dreams about the show (more about that later) . More than that, though I think it's probably permeated my thoughts over a longer period of time, and I've had more discussions, with more people, about how they've responded to it, often in a deeply personal way, than just about any other work of art in any medium that I can think of. That the thing this is true about happens to be a television show would have bothered me once upon a time, but it doesn't now.
Sunday, I had some folks over to watch the finale. As it unfolded, we started asking each other, "Is this really happening?" as if we expected Don to reassure us "It will surprise you how much this never happened" and Allison to insist "This really happened." Which it did: he really proposes to Megan, he really says all those gooey things with that glazed look that we've only seen when he was trying to sell furs to Roger in a flashback, things that he referred to in the very first episode as "invented by guys like me to sell you nylons." When Joan and Peggy shared their conspiratorial cigarettes, I was delighted, not only for a hint of solidarity to conclude this season of the rise of the working woman, but because after the long slog out in California, we finally saw that someone besides us thought this was ridiculous, that we're allowed to laugh at him.
So, Don. Don Don Don Don. Perhaps this says something about my level of cynicism, but I was more annoyed and angry with Don after this episode than ever before, including when he blacked out and forgot to pick up his kids. The problem is, I don't know if this is his fault, or the show's. I don't know if I hated it, like Amanda did. I do think it was crazy to dump the firm storyline so completely: I'm happy as anyone to see Peggy triumph, but panty hose ain't going to cut it. Overall, I have this weird trust in the show, that they're fucking with us on purpose, giving a finale that's not really a finale, making us wait to see exactly when Don is going to snap out of it. But why did he fall into it in the first place? Does the guy just go crazy every time he goes to California? (As one of my friends mentioned on Sunday, we never really found out what was going on with those international playboy types he ran away to in season two.) I get that it's kind of a twist from the earlier Don-almost-improves-but-then-runs-away scenarios, running away from a marriage and and running into one are almost the same thing. Exactly how did he get from mourning Anna to this?
But then I think, maybe this is why it's a brilliant show, maybe not everyone would react this way, maybe someone like Megan to take care of him is the best he can do, since he's certainly terrible at being single. And hey, once's he's married he'll have better luck scoring again. (When he's married to a brunette, will he start cheating with blonds?) I mean, I don't really think this, I actually want Faye to blackmail his ass. But I imagine how people might have a very different reaction, and how all throughout the California interlude, you're trying to see what Don is signaling, how deep the self-deception goes, or if an actor thinks of it in terms of self-deception in order to put it forward.
But here's what I'm thinking about the most: Betty and Carla. Peggy and Joan may be able to reach across the divide, but not these two, not in this life. How absolutely infuriating that Carla finally gets some lines but only when she's being dispatched from the Francis household and, presumably, the show? In one of my recent Mad Men dreams (yes, there have been more than one), I was pitching a show to Matthew Weiner, saying that he should do an episode that follows Carla home, and shows her teenage son, recently politicized, taking her on for working for someone like Betty. In a Times interview, Weiner defends the lack of black characters by saying that was the reality of advertising at the time, but I don't buy it: they showed us Peggy's family, which is anything but part of that world, why not Carla's? I find it telling that The Wire was so good at showing us black (male) characters, and Mad Men is so so good with white (female) characters, but never the twain presumably can meet, as if we're all like Peggy and Abe in the bar, arguing about who has it worse, unable to take in more than one injustice or struggle at a time. Then things got really weird: I was looking on IMDB, and Deborah Lacey, the actress who plays Carla, isn't listed on the full cast list. Just not there. And the only photos I can find of her won't upload onto the blog. Is the whole internet trying to play some meta-dark joke commentary? Forget one episode: as a commentator on this great post by Sady about Betty's sad silences puts it, "I want to know about the sadnesses and losses of Carla. That ought to fill up a few seasons. Or a few dozen." .
My other Mad Men dream? Jon Hamm with a Tom Selleck moustache representing himself in court in his divorce from Megan. It's going to be a long wait until the next season.
ETA: Here is a great piece by Salamishah Tillet on the show's "All of the blacks are men, all of the women are white" problem, complete with the photo of Deborah Lacey I can't upload.
ETA: Finding this picture of what Ida Blankenship really looks like almost makes up for everything.