Monday, November 09, 2009

The Fix

Embedded in last night’s season finale of Mad Man are two parallel solutions, one commercial, and the other artistic.

Much has been made about the price tag of each meticulously crafted episode. At over $2 million a show Mad Men cost a staggering amount to produce, and naturally, the money men at AMC have let slip that a fourth season may be too expensive for the network to green-light. Matt Weiner, the show’s creator, hinted as much in the press pool backstage at this year's Emmys shortly after accepting the award for best drama. So the question is, will Mad Men survive?

The answer might be yes. It turns out that the staff at Sterling Cooper, the ad agency the show revolves around, is getting smaller. Last night, through a series of cloak and dagger machinations, Roger Sterling, Don Draper and Bert Cooper jumped ship to start their own agency. The twists were comic and quick moving. Peggy Olson and Pete Campbell, initially skeptical, were briskly wooed along, shortly followed by Harry Crane and Joan Harris. Setting up shop in a hotel, the newer, leaner agency provides the commercial solution that might save Mad Men.

Against the backdrop of this corporate tumult, Matt Weiner was somehow able to exceed a few expectations. Last week’s blockbuster episode was perhaps the saddest Mad Men ever. Not only was it the assassination of JFK, the Draper marriage also suffered a mortal blow. The obvious metaphor of the end of Camelot is invoked when we learn in the same episode that Betty no longer loves Don. After an episode so bleak, a let down was in order.

Last night’s episode, however, looked forward. Things were laid bear, and the bitterness and distancing between Don and Betty was given a more immediate and physical aspect. But the feeling was on of motion. While much of this season has been a slow walk through mannered domesticity and small, interior lapses, the season finale was a fast jog toward a transition, evoking the melancholy of an ending and the nervous rush of a new beginning. This is the artistic solution that gives season four of Mad Men newer possibilities. It is certainly an achievement to get two parallel lines to meet, and Matt Weiner may have done that last night.

At the end of the episode we see Don Draper pulling his suitcases out of the trunk of a cab and making his way into what is likely his new home. The music that plays as the camera pulls away and the screen fades to black captures that thrilling uncertainty and wonder of a new start.