Live-Blogging Mad Men: the Final Chapter

by Tom Watson
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In October, 1960 in New York, at the annual Al Smith dinner at the Waldorf – the traditional gathering of politicos and Catholics – Senators Richard Nixon and John Kennedy wore formal white ties and made jokes, as is the custom. Here’s a taste of JFK’s monologue:

Cardinal Spellman is the only man so widely respected in American politics that he could bring together amicably, at the same banquet table, for the first time in this campaign, two political leaders who are increasingly apprehensive about the November election [laughter] who have long eyed each other suspiciously, and who have disagreed so strongly, both publicly and privately, Vice President Nixon and Governor Rockefeller [laughter].

Mr. Nixon, like the rest of us, has had his troubles in this campaign. At one point even the Wall Street Journal was criticizing his tactics. That is like the Observatore Romano criticizing the Pope. [Laughter.]

But I think the worst news for the Republicans this week was that Casey Stengel has been fired. [Laughter.] It must show that perhaps experience does not count. [Laughter and applause.]

On this matter of experience, I had announced earlier this year that if successful I would not consider campaign contributions as a substitute for experience in appointing ambassadors. Ever since I made that statement I have not received one single cent from my father. [Laughter and applause.]

BullwinkleKennedy was the lighter side of 1960 politics, the playboy Democrat – but Mad Men‘s creators chose the dour Republican who, though of the same WWII generation, clearly represented the dark side, and not just in retrospect. Nixon is the one for Sterling Cooper and it’s a choice that informs the whole series, which concludes its first run tonight. History records 1960 as a bright, forward-looking year, a time of optimism and possibility. Despite the Soviet fears and our own internal struggles over race, the dawn of the 60s was a time of sleek design, bright colors, consumer culture.

How ironic that an iconic show about Madison Avenue – the ground zero of this bright consumerism – is so dreary and dark and filled with death and failure and loathing. Why did they choose the darkness – which could have, in surer hands, been more interesting – and why did they create a 1960 ad agency with no bright ideas, populated by hacks and frat boy towel-snappers?

Tonight, Mad Men hits Thanksgiving, post-election, post office orgy, post-heart attack, post-suicide, post cowardly sniffling by the unmanly Don Draper. While those big balloons floating down Central Park West change the mood? Back soon to find out.

And here we go…

As Jim Wolcott notes: “Since the series has been renewed for a second season, tonight’s homemade popcorn party will be able to unwind without any valedictory notes muting the festivities, and the program is being presented without any commercial interruptions so that the actors on screen can squeeze in an extra smoke or two.”

Will there be a Harvest of Shame reference? Edward R. Murrow’s famed TV documentary on working conditions of migrant workers aired Thanksgiving weekend, 1960.

I remember my grandfather bringing out those carousel slide holders on Thanksgiving and showing al the grandkids pics from his travels. I still have some stored away.

Geez, Glen lost a tooth.

The shunning of flesh and blood, Don passes his curse of ambition to Peggy (via Ayn Rand).

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  • October 19, 2007

    I never remember who the guy with the glasses is. Is it too late to get their backstories straight?

  • October 19, 2007

    Oh brother, young Mrs. Draper is pretty dense – so what’s the point?

  • October 19, 2007

    I hope Rachel runs in to Cary Grant on that cruise, and then they visit his grandmother

  • October 19, 2007

    I miss the commercials…(a tribute to the real Mad Men, I guess)

  • October 19, 2007

    Quiet here tonight, eh Ms. Peel?

  • October 19, 2007

    You know, things go out with a whimper. . . This is the most engaging episode to date.

  • October 19, 2007

    Yeah they do – I recall this happened with Lance’s swingin’ Studio 60 scene as well….holy crap, a real exterior shot. I feel liberated!!!

  • October 19, 2007

    This is certainly a women–of–MM centric episode.

  • October 19, 2007

    Ha! the statue on the window sill of the psychiatrist’s office

  • October 19, 2007

    Ah the family slide show – an emotional Don Draper.

  • October 19, 2007

    It would be interesting for the actual person who came up with calling Kodak’s slide thing “Carousel” to come forward

  • October 19, 2007

    Yeah, it’s the triumph of Peggy episode…

  • October 19, 2007

    I take that last comment back!

  • October 19, 2007

    The fantasy of Don as Father Knows Best. Dylan, the furthest sensibility possible from Don Draper. A strange ending, but not surprising

  • October 19, 2007

    I couldn’t watch it due to a phone call, but will watch it later. The “after show” though is obnoxious.

  • October 19, 2007

    Not surprising at all – and the Dylan, well…it’s early. Dylan is still Bobby Zimmerman and still in Minnesota.

  • October 19, 2007

    I was planning to just lurk here in the corner sipping my scotch and smoking my Lucky Strikes. Anyway, thanks for introducing me to this compelling but not always very good show, which has actually gotten better toward the end. The Dylan seemed a bit anchronistic, though. I was hoping for more Yma Sumac.

  • October 19, 2007

    It did get better toward the end. I have to say, the big hole at the center of this series brings it down – the lackluster character of Don Draper. He’s thinly written, inconsistent, and a less-than-arresting presence. The supporting cast is far superior to the lead couple…indeed, the ensemble cast around the agency has really found its rhythm. As we get to know them, it becomes much more compelling television.

  • October 19, 2007

    Jack Lemmon could have sold Don Draper, but he may be the only one who could have.

  • tristan
    October 19, 2007

    what a stupid show. As someone who was around during that period I feel mocked by it.
    Very good introduction, Tom.

  • Steve Paradis
    October 19, 2007

    Not sure why everyone seems to think of 1960 as the Dawn of a New Age, with everyone facing the Light in the East. Must be those piles of old Lifes and Looks in the summer place. A look at all those novels written by copywriters don’t exactly paint a bright picture, and iconic figures like Howard Gossage were hardly the rule–that would be Rosser Reeves. It was Nixon’s decade, not Kennedy’s.

    That having been said, the occasional melodrama jars badly with the near perfect mise en scene. I can understand Peggy not knowing she’s pregnant–but not for nine months. Or Don’s Monte Cristo bit–it may be hyperdrama, but not everyone can do what Sirk can do.

    I enjoyed the wrap party–about the only time I’ve seen these actors having a good time since ep 1.

  • steverino
    October 22, 2007

    Finally got around to viewing the final episode (strangely, was at the 2007 installment of the very Al Smith Dinner that Tom led his post with…). In any case, apart from the unnecessary melodrama of the unnoticed pregnancy (heh-heh – Pete’s got got a l’il whore-child of his own, now!), I thought it was the strongest episode yet – certainly the best ending. Any male viewer who’s been married more than a coupla years had to get a little misty watching Don’s slide show…I did, anyway.

    M.A. and Tom – thanks for leading us through the season. I’ll be back next year if you are.