Episode 13: 'Meditations In An Emergency' -- Or, 'There's A Chill In Here'
Wow. Fellow fanatic followers of "Mad Men," what a fabulous final episode! (sniff sniff!)
Under the cloud of certain death associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, all decisions are heightened, and that goes for the delicate negotiations required between countries, agencies, and lovers. This episode proves that it's all about choice.
I loved the last scene, in the kitchen, between Betty and Don, but I was also awestruck by Peggy's growth. After all, she's still a 22-year-old female with a little-girl voice from a strict, suffocatingly close-knit Catholic family in Brooklyn. But something has given her the strength not only to break away, but also stand up to the ultimate authority -- the bullying, guilt-inducing Father Gill -- and to accept the teachings of the Church on her own terms. In sharp contrast to so many young women of her generation, who dream of finding a husband to determine their future, she is also able to set her own path with heightened -- if chilly -- clarity. The scene in Pete's office, on the very couch on which they conceived, was so beautifully written and performed that it gave me goose bumps.
Pete, who also has grown a lot in the episode, and actually gets kudos from Don, comes clean about his love for Peggy; he tells her he made the wrong choice and that she is "perfect." I didn't think Pete had it in him. (Earlier, when he asked her how he should handle the news of the loss of the Clearasil account, Peggy advised him "Tell the truth. Don't worry about the outcome. People respect that.")
And she in turn gets way past the usual agency talk of pimples and Popsicles to tell him the truth about their child -- a brutal truth that she had denied, even to herself, for so long. And he certainly didn't have the ability to respect her sudden confession. The news buried him in chaos, while Peggy clearly has her eyes on the prize (a life of ambition, and professional accomplishment, sans personal complications.) She gets up to leave, touches his shoulder, and says "Sorry" on her way out -- just the way a man would patronize a woman's emotional pain.
When Don returns to the office, he immediately spots the difference in his protégé (her hair, her name on the door, which leads him to ask, kiddingly, "Do I work for you now?") And perhaps the writers are telling us that at this point in her young life, Peggy is more evolved than her boss. After all, Don came to visit her in the hospital and famously told her to move on, noting, "It will shock you how much it didn't happen." Now she's beyond acting like it didn't happen. It happened, she "gave it away" and lost a piece of herself, but she's acknowledged the truth and is moving on, without guilt and entanglements.
Meanwhile, under the possibly earth-shattering cloud of who-blinks-first negotiations between the U.S. and Russia, the soon-to-merge Sterling Cooper employees are also playing a delicate game of political chess. Increasingly, head of TV Harry Crane is showing himself to be an obtuse jerk, only worried that JFK's speech will throw off his revenue grid for the night.
Crane, Paul Kinsey, and Ken Cosgrove try to divine what's happening, and do some inside spying and surveillance, exactly in the same way that the CIA is trying to infiltrate Russia and Cuba. In order to better pick which side they should be on, they lure Lois out of the switchboard room. Although she was fired from Don's desk, she comes across as whip-smart. I loved Lois' delivery of the dooming word "redundancies." (And her use of the phrase "trans-Atlantic," as those calls were known in those days.) She beseeches them to remember that she helped them, and get her off the switchboard, but they probably won't keep their end of the bargain.
Joan also once again proves that she has the aptitude to run something, but probably will never get the chance. She talks to Don, privately, about a "security protocol" -- but he understands that hiding under a desk won't do much. He's told by Roger (who comes off as a narcissistic jerk in this episode) that his impromptu 3-week vacation netted him a little over a half a million bucks, and he's free to reimagine his world, helped by some advance word from his new ally, Pete.
When the meeting with the Brits from Putnam, Pound, and Lowe about the takeover actually happens, Don is prepared for Duck's promotion. The no-longer-dry Duck accepts the presidency with a kind of Nixonian paranoia and anger. "Our business is about selling time and space," he announces, in a quiet rage. "There's no reason for us to be tied to the creative fantasies of persuasion."
And as Bert points out, Duck never once mentions the word "client." Don wishes them well, and says he won't be a part of it. Duck tells him "You can either honor your contract, or walk out that door and start selling insurance." Checkmate -- Don has no contract. "If the world is still here Monday, we'll talk," Don says, briskly summing up the apocalypse.
Betty is the other female character who has come out of the shadows and grown. Once her doctor, in his chilly office, tells her that she pregnant, she keeps repeating that it "isn't a good time." With all the secret talk of abortion (she's about 10 years too soon to have it done legally) she tries the old-fashioned method, riding a horse. That's when Don reappears and apologizes, saying he was not "respectful."
"Now I know that I'm not crazy. That helps," Betty says. But she still holds her ground, and tells him, like the ultimate PR person, that she has to get back to him about her schedule and seeing the kids.
With Don back, his kids give him the ultimate reception several times during the episode; overjoyed at seeing him, they yell "Daddy!!" That's the case when they're dropped off by Betty at his hotel room for an evening of room service and "Leave it to Beaver." I loved the difference in Betty's outfits: at her gynecologist's unheated office, where she got the message of doom and gloom, she wore a dowdy black dress from the 1950s. For her evening in New York City, she looks like a Hitchcock power blonde, in a gorgeous silvery suit and light-colored coat. On an evening when even Times Square is empty, she goes into a bar, and quickly gets the attention of a skinny-tied hipster guy. Though she rebuffs him at first, after she drinks her gimlet (and sees things through new eyes) she slinks by the man's seat on her way to the bathroom. He grabs her in the hallway, they start kissing madly, and end up on a leather couch in a back office doing the nasty. "What's your name?" he asks when it's over, offering the definition of anonymous sex.
Although earlier in the evening, Sally said that "Mommy doesn't like to eat," when Betty gets home she's ravenous, and opens the refrigerator, takes out a chicken leg, and eats it with her hands, exactly the way a man would drink out of a milk carton. It proves that she has an appetite for life again, and that she's willing to be a hungry pregnant woman. And her "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" foray, plus Don's heartfelt apologies, seem to even things out in her mind. She calls the office and tells him to come home. He does, leaving the office without a briefcase.
In the end, we avoided war through diplomatic means: we took our missiles out of Turkey. Something similar took place between Don and Betty. She did her mindless cheating thing, and Don experienced "far-out'' life in California. Now they are coming together for a compromise solution. She sits down with him at the kitchen table and tells him she's pregnant. He very carefully keeps gazing at her, trying to keep his emotions in check. All of their complicated feelings are conveyed in a moment that's wordless and beautiful: Don extends an open hand, like an olive branch, and she then places her hand in his. No use of force -- it's the ultimate metaphor of cooperation. They are together, and perhaps they'll see that relationships require compromise and forgiveness.
And let's hope the delicate negotiations that will allow "Mad Men" to come back happen soon!
And here's to the community of commenters who've joined in episode after episode with incisive, witty -- and, OK, I'll say it- -- brilliant posts. You know who you are, and I can't thank you enough. I've so enjoyed being part of the Mad Blog energy, and I hope we continue. To that end, please read and respond to the editor's note below.
"Mad Men" fans, this season may be over -- but should the "Mad Blog" go on hiatus, too? We can still go on talking about the ways Madison Avenue or media is depicted in pop culture. If you have any ideas about topics you'd like to see covered -- what about recapping the next season of "30 Rock," for example? -- please respond below. Thanks for your participation!