“Is that all there is? Is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball. If that’s all there is.”
Lyrics from “Is That All There Is?” sung by Peggy Lee
IT IS April of 1970 and Don Draper, played to perfection by the force that is Jon Hamm, is laughing and telling a story from his raucously tragic childhood. It’s the flip side of the saga that got him placed on leave from SCP when he cried to clients in a professional meltdown that perpetuated a contagion of events that left him close to losing the firm he founded. That’s the setting in the photo above from AMC’s “Mad Men,” which began its final season Sunday. If the first of the episodes is foreshadowing of the greatness to come, it portends one of the most epic dénouements in episodic TV history.
Spoilers abound below… You can watch it online if you haven’t seen it yet.
Dedicated to Mike Nichols meant to me that something special was coming. Matthew Weiner delivered.
Speaking of delivering, Jon Hamm has still not won an Emmy for his performance and this must be rectified or the award will have absolutely no meaning anymore.
…most likely it’s just another reminder, and there were lots of them in this episode and tons in the seven prior, that life brings change and that change isn’t always what you wanted. Life itself isn’t always what you wanted. No person on Mad Men has lived a life that routinely reminds them about failed expectations more than Don Draper.
…Don continues to be unsatisfied. This is an episode-to-episode, season-to-season examination of his ongoing existential crisis. It’s what Mad Men has always ultimately been about. But here we are at the end, a full decade in the lives of these characters, and Don has blown through two marriages, countless women, vacations in paradise and the highest of work-related highs only to come back to the realization that it’s not enough. It’s not what he expected. It’s not what he hoped. Is that all there is?
– Tim Goodman [Hollywood Reporter]
The episode rings of the last scene in last season. Portrayed by Robert Morse, the brilliant Broadway actor, Bert Cooper has died and appears before Don Draper in one last solo performance of “The Best Things in Life are Free.” Seeing spirits is a theme.
Dick Whitman is becoming more and more comfortable in the skin of Don Draper, which is apparent at the top of the first of the final episodes. There’s something in that we’ll see mined throughout the season, I believe.
…and then there’s Roger’s moustache. I nearly fell off the couch. What a perfectly outrageous addition it is.
Nothing hit me more than Don’s reaction to Rachel’s death. That she appears to him during a casting session knocks him back on his heels. Her sister is cold towards him when he arrives to pay his respects as family and friends sit shiva. She makes sure he also knows that, “She lived the life she wanted to live. She had everything.”
When Joan and Peggy in the meeting with McCann Erickson, now the parent company of Sterling-Cooper, face sexual harassment that has been representative of the entire corporate American culture for over two centuries, it evolves into a source of friction between the women as well. The differences between how women like the beautifully curvaceous and buxom bombshell Joan, versus the attractive and serious Peggy, see the event play out. Joan’s balancing it all, being a millionaire partner, while all the boys could see were her tits, as Peggy thinks it’s all about how she dresses!
To salve her wounds Joan goes shopping and she’s got the money to stand on a fitting pedestal and be catered to, even if the saleswoman says that she can still probably get her discount. Joan’s gaze into the mirror could crack it, as she simmers at the disrespect she’s shown by both genders. She’s also got to admit that she’s used her body as a weapon to open doors for herself that put her where she stands today. No regrets.
Ah, the casting scenes, though. I was too wholesome, girl next door, so I never draped a chinchilla fur around my half naked body in an audition, but how I remember walking into advertising calls in New York City in the late 70s, Young & Rubicon and the other big ones, watching the men watch me. Everyone manipulating, playing the cards they have to get a little piece of whatever’s on the table. Some have fun at it and some are ruined by the game.
The feel of it, the authenticity of the emotional paths and carnage the characters experience, and the animal, sexual pulse.
Something tells me Matthew Weiner will care for these characters all the way to the end. The piece of the American era he’s captured and created deserves nothing less.