The scene that saved “Mad Men”

elle-01-don-sally-h-lgnApril 23, 2014 – Word on the street is that television is more popular than movies these days. The buzz is all about “Game of Thrones”, “Downton Abbey”, “House of Cards”, and even the return of “Mad Men”, a show that has lost some momentum in the last few seasons, yet was once the darling of the Emmys and Golden Globes.

Despite the decrease in viewership, and Don never learning from his mistakes or owning up to them, I vowed to stick with it. After a lackluster season five, my hopes were saved in the last 15 minutes of the final episode. It began when Don told Hershey executives, “The closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl who made me go through her johns’ pockets while they screwed. If I collected more than a dollar, she’d buy me a Hershey’s bar. And I would eat it alone… in my room with great ceremony… feeling like a normal kid. And it said “sweet” on the back. It was the only sweet thing in my life.”

Sad yes, but this was a huge turning point for a man who hides every aspect of his life from his family and co-workers, and assumed the identity of another man to disassociate from his childhood.

Don’s confession did not stop there. In the last scene, he stood with his kids in front of the dilapidated brothel as he showed them where their father once lived. I applauded his efforts, especially with his daughter Sally, who had earlier caught him in an uncompromising position that no child should have to witness, especially when the activity in question didn’t happen with his wife. It was the best season finale scene I could imagine, which gave me hope for the future.

When “Mad Men” began its sixth and final season on April 13, I waited anxiously to see what became of Don’s and Sally’s relationship. Instead, we saw Don, still on leave from his job, but back to his old ways, trying to pick up a woman on a plane. Were the writers going to ignore last year’s spectacular ending? Did Don learn nothing from losing his job, his daughter, and his wife?

If I had been patient one more week, I would see that he had indeed learned. The process was slow, but it was happening. The scenes between Don and Sally in Sunday’s episode were superb, and possibly the best this series ever offered. When the two venture out on a road trip back to Sally’s boarding school, Don does his best to talk to his daughter, who remains stubbornly silent. Don does not give up though, and aside from telling her she is like her mother when she is angry – I did not care for that – he handles the situation correctly, acts like the adult, and continues trying to reach her. Not only was the writing terrific, the acting was top-notch, and those scenes should already be in the hands of the Emmy nomination committee.

Cheers to Jon Hamm and Kiernan Shipka for making me believe again. Even though I would have stuck with “Mad Men” to its final episode, these two have renewed my faith in the show, and will make it a pleasure to watch until the end.

 

 

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“There’s something about an Aqua Velva man”

March 23, 2012 – Forget the NCAA tournament. The real March Madness begins on Sunday, when the long-awaited 5th season of “Mad Men” returns to television.

After a year and a half wait, fans will finally get to catch up with the quintessential Aqua Velva man, advertising extraordinaire Don Draper, and his family and office mates.

When last we saw Draper and the gang, it was 1965. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had to fight for survival after the loss of the Lucky Strike cigarette account, Joan announced her pregnancy (with Roger’s baby), Betty’s second marriage was falling to pieces, and Don had asked his secretary to marry him after witnessing how well she handled his children.

We won’t know for sure how much time has passed for the characters until Sunday night, but rumor has it that it’s now 1967. In real time it’s been 17 months – way too long – and that is something that concerns the show’s creator Matthew Weiner. With so much time passing in between seasons, he worries that viewers won’t come back. But the cast is remarkably talented and unique, and coupled with excellent writing, “Mad Men” is a huge favorite, so he probably has nothing to worry about.

If you haven’t seen the show yet, you’re missing great TV. They’ve been showing reruns on AMC to build up to the season five premier, but even if you’ve missed those too, there’s no reason why you can’t begin watching now. They always provide a nice recap in the beginning, which won’t get you completely up to speed, but will lay the foundation.

Actor Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper, normally gets most of the attention, but the cast is a true an ensemble, which makes it difficult to pick a favorite. One character who definitely stands out is Kiernan Shipka, the young actress who plays Don’s daughter, Sally. Though too little screen time is given to the talented child star, she’s believable and impressive when she is on. Not only did she played the troubled child to perfection in seasons past, especially when her grandfather passed away, but she captured the pre-teen years perfectly last season, challenging both her mother and father. I especially loved when her father managed to score her Beatle’s tickets. Her screams, when he gave them to her, were a delight to behold.

I saw Shipka interviewed a few years back, and she presents herself as a mature and grounded child. She mentioned that although she plays the part of Sally Draper in “Mad Men”, her parents won’t let her watch it because they feel she’s too young. Now that she’s a few years older (she was 7 when the show premiered and is now 12), perhaps we will see more of her on screen, and she’ll be allowed to see the fruits of her labor.

Sunday night, 9 p.m. ET/PT, AMC, two-hour premier. Be there or be square. (That’s sixties lingo for must see TV).