The great strength of Mad Men‘s finales always seems to be their hotly anticipated one-on-one interactions between characters.
In “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” the third-season closer, we finally got to see Peggy have it out with Don; Don have it out with Betty; Roger call Don to task for his nastiness since the Jane courtship; Pete relish being courted by the higher-ups… and so on and so forth.
It was a dazzling episode, pretty much from the first scene—when Connie drops the bomb on Don, about Sterling Cooper being sold to and absorbed by McCann Erickson. Finally, the stars in Don’s eyes dull, as he lambasts Connie for using the word “son” as a guise for and precursor to abuse. He also venomously blames Connie for forcing him into signing the contract he’d successfully avoided at Sterling Cooper for years.
Connie’s revelation sets up the professional focus of the finale: the covert creation of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce! After leaving Connie, who withdraws his promises of business now that Sterling Cooper will be no more, Don begins visiting his superiors with the idea that the partners can divest from McCann Erickson, steal supplies and clients from Sterling Cooper, and form a brand new, grassroots agency.
Bert is the first approached; he isn’t a very hard sell. Though Connie claimed McCann would send Bert out on an ice floe when they took over, the Bert we saw this episode was far from a man resigned to old age and retirement. His face positively glowed with mischief and purpose in every scene from the one in which he embraced the new company idea to the very last frame. When he said to Harry Crane, upon inviting him into their secret Saturday planning-and-theft meeting (disguised as “carpet cleaning,” to deter employees from coming up to catch up on work over the weekend) that if he didn’t agree to join them, “We’ll have to look you in the storeroom until morning. I’m sure you understand,” we knew Bert would be down for building another empire from the ground up.
Roger was a bit more difficult to convince—but only because of his ongoing beef with Don. Roger was the first, but not the last of the episode to call for Don’s admissions of wrongness and sincere apologies. “You aren’t good at relationships,” he hissed, “because you don’t value them.” When Don immediately objected, saying that he valued his relationship with Roger, Roger called bullshit and Don, finally, admitted that it was his failed deal with Connie that’d helped him see the light. He’d let himself be fooled by silver-tongued flattery, when he should’ve been making amends with his true allies.
If you thought the confrontation with Roger would be the roughest of the ep, shame on you! Don still needed to woo Peggy to the new company, after all–and this following a season’s worth of largely unprovoked verbal abuse. His first attempt is met with Peggy’s awesome smackdown: “I don’t want to make a career out of being there so you can kick me when I fail!” (This, following her pretty fantastic observation that Don hadn’t even asked her to accept a position with his new agency, but instead had assumed she’d trail the suits to the promised land like a faithful family puppy.)
Later, having been humbled by a host of unexpected events at home, Don revisits Peggy, this time at home and, in one of those season-ending breathtakers Mad Men‘s become known for, he broaches the subject of hiring her far more gingerly and sincerely. “With you or without you,” he closes, “I’m moving on. And I don’t know if I can do it alone. Will you help me?” After having listened to Don admit that his life as he knew has been destroyed and he doesn’t like who he’s become, especially how he’s treated her (“I’m only hard on you because I think of you as an extension of myself–and you’re not,” he confesses.), Peggy tearfully tests him. “What if I say no?” she presses. “You’ll never speak to me again.”
With his wide, glassy, readable Dick Whitman eyes, Don answers, “No. I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.”
I swear, this is the closest I came to crying while watching this series since the, “I had your baby and I gave it away” speech Elisabeth delivered to Vincent in the Season 2 closer.
Speaking of tearjerking moments, let’s discuss Betty and Don breaking the news of the divorce to Sally and Bobby. Continuing her trend of outspokenness, Sally greets the news with open contempt and blame-placing for Betty. “Are you making him leave?” she accurately demands, then accuses Betty of driving Don away by making him sleep in Gene’s room. Then, she turns her venom on Don: “You say things and you don’t mean them,” she spits, “and you can’t just do that!”
As we (and Don) know, Sally has simply and eloquently summed up the whole problem with the Don Draper persona. And when Bobby grabs Don and refuses to let him go, Don is forced to try a different tack, since his cold declarations of fact have fallen flat with his children. “Nobody wants to do this,” he coos to Bobby. “But I need you to be a big boy.” It’s a wonderful scene, particularly as it ends: Betty looks vaguely ashamed and very sorry that the conversation with the kids has taken such a heartbreaking turn and interestingly, Don is the only parent either of the kids reached for, for reassurance or comfort.
But now, of course we need to backtrack. This whole sad scenario was set in place, unwittingly, at a bar. When Don admits to Roger that things aren’t looking good with Betty, Roger lets slip that Betty has taken up with Henry Francis (intel he culled from Margaret, who we know is friends with Henry’s daughter). Roger is sincerely sorry to have been the one to break the news. He claims he would’ve told Don earlier, but he thought we knew. But it’s pretty obvious he didn’t tell him because of their bitter feud. Now, “just when things were almost normal” between them, Roger points out, he hates being the bearer of such embarrassing news.
Don flies into a typical rage back home. And though he manhandled and verbally abused Betty, I loved some of the writing and acting in this scene. “You’re so hurt, so brave, with your little white nose in the air,” Don seethes. “You never forgave me,” he says, becoming Captain Obvious for a second. He calls Betty a whore and a “little Main Line brat,” in front of their infant and it’s horrible, of course, but it’s also clear that his tantrum is fueled by panic and rejection and a deep sense of loss (both of control and affection). We know this isn’t the first time Don has pushed and pulled and shoved Betty (we saw it first season), but here, Betty’s totally over it. She lays down the law, stating immovably that Don will grant her the divorce and won’t contest, even as he threatens to take the kids. (“God knows,” he says, “they’ll be better off.”)
This isn’t the final word on these matters, of course, and after Don has made amends with Roger, Peggy, and even Pete(!), he revisits the Betty situation, first in a last ditch effort to convince her she’s the same weak-willed flower whose hands wouldn’t stop shaking in Season 1. Then after failing at that, he calls her from the new hotel office where Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will operate, and concedes. “I hope you get what you always wanted,” he says and, for one of the first times ever, he’s being honest with Betty. “You’ll always be their father,” is her reply, suggesting that she was far more affected by that scene in the living room with the kids than she thought she’d be.
When last we see Betty, sitting next to Henry Francis on a plane headed for Reno, holding Don’s fidgety infant in her arms, she looks anything but content. I, for one, hope this whole house of cards with Henry comes crashing down during this six weeks they’re to spend in Reno “establishing residence.” He’s moving too fast and his strangely unconditional and abrupt willingness to father three kids he’s never even met is wildly suspect.
There’s one more thing I’d like to discuss at length, then we’ll hit on a few more loose ends. I know this is ridiculously long, but how can I end this recap without talking about the partners’ home visit to Pete?!
Interestingly, Pete is one of the partners’ first choices of potential employees to poach. Apparently, his attentiveness to client needs (a skill he’s acquired under Don’s regime) placed him head and shoulders about Ken Cosgrove, whose style is to “make the client feel as though he has no needs,” by any means necessary.
While the partners are finally ready to offer Pete the adulation he’s longed for, for three seasons, Pete’s flexing his newly acquired defiance muscles, calling in sick to interview with other agencies.
So when Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce comes knocking at his door, it’s fun to watch him go from boyish fear of being caught playing hooky to confident power player on the front line of a new business venture. He even gets to hedge, make the suits sweat, and demand a bit of groveling, especially from Don. Don, at this point in the episode, has no problems obliging. It’s weirdly gratifying seeing him ingratiate himself to Pete; it’s a role reversal for the ages.
There’s a lot more that should be covered: the Dick Whitman flashbacks, detailing Archie’s death and shedding light on Don’s aversion to “joining”/contracting; the return of the radiant, triumphal Joan(!); Peggy and Pete “sharing the desk”; Pryce’s bucking the British system; the awesomeness that was Ken Cosgrove *and* Paul Kinsey being left to sink with McCann Erickson… and so on.
Tell us all about your reaction to this episode (and the season at large) and weigh in with speculation about the series reboot. (Though I’m glad they didn’t reintroduce him last night, doesn’t it seem obvious that Sal will return as Art Director soon, or is that just wishful thinking?)