November 8, 2009

sterling cooper draper pryce

Matthew Weiner is nothing if not a builder. A skilled architect of each season of Mad Men. And the man does not lay one brick too soon. After the rush of information about Dick Whitman we got last year, we had ants in our pants during the first weeks of season three as our characters seemed unsettling calm.

One minute you're watching a slow and steady show, the next minute some secretary is running over your foot with a lawnmower.

The third season ended last night with "Shut the door. Have a seat." On the business end of things, the show garnered 2.3 million viewers, the highest of the season. Still nowhere near major network dramas (we won't talk about how much better Khloe Kardashian's wedding did on the same night), but a 33 percent larger audience than last season's finale. I've definitely felt a stronger buzz around Mad Men this season, and rightly so.

As she often does, Maureen Ryan at the Chicago Tribune pinpointed exactly why I loved this episode. It was a heist. She called it "Draper's Eleven". A group of unlikely allies coming together to pull off the ultimate heist (I do love a heist movie). And the writers have been setting up this idea of allies, rivals, and relationships all season. Sterling/Draper, Pete/Ken, Peggy/Paul, Joan/Greg, Betty/Don, Betty/Sally...

Of course, we must start with Don. With a harsh hand at the chopping block, Connie Hilton tells Don his agency has been sold. With the expression on his face leaving Connie's room and the memory of his father abandoning his farming co-op only to die drunk and alone as Don walks into Sterling Cooper, we see that Connie lit a fire in Don. But he can't keep it burning alone.

First stop, Cooper. Second stop, Sterling. These were some of my favorite scenes of the show.

Don: I wanna work. I want to build something of my own. You did it yourself 40 years ago. How do you not understand that? (and that's when he had Cooper)

Sterling (to Don): I want to see what you look like with your tail between your legs.
Cooper: You sold your birth right, so you could marry that trollop.
Sterling: This is your pitch? Well, move along.

Don: I can sell ideas, but I'm not an account man.
Sterling: You're not good at relationships because you don't value them.
Don: I value my relationship with you.

And there it is. Relationships. I would argue that Don isn't bad at relationships, he's just bad at seeing them for that they are. As we've seen much more of this season, he has a terrible childhood to thank for that. Disappointed in Sterling for marrying the trollop and selling the agency, he abandoned their relationship and didn't recognize how important Sterling actually is to him both professionally and oddly personally. This idea of re-evaluating relationships forms the basis for bringing a new agency to life.

Next stop, Pryce, who just got the unfairly late news of PPL's sale and feels like the neglected step-child. Lucky for all, he has the power to sever all of their contracts.

Sterling: Lane. We've worked next to each other for a year. Don't act like a stranger. We've got tea.
Pryce: Nothing good ever came of seeking revenge.
Bert: Nonsense. We'll make you a partner.

Sterling: Well, it's official. Friday, December 13, 1963. Four guys shot their own legs off.

And the plan is set in motion. But this means Don has more work to do on those aforementioned relationships. The most important of course being Peggy. Both Don/Peggy scenes had me cheering with my arms in the air. Good for her, and GOOD for him. The words had been hanging in the air for a long time.

Peggy: I've had other offers you know. That came with a sales pitch about opportunity. Everyone things you do all my work. Even you. I don't want to make a career out of being there, so you can kick me when you fail.

[Don comes crawling back the next day at Peggy's apartment.]

Don: I take you for granted, and I've been hard on you, but only because I think I see you as an extension of myself. And you're not.

Don: There are people who buy things like you and me. And then something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do. And that's very valuable.

Don: With you or without you, I'm moving on. And I don't know if I can do it alone. Will you help me?
Peggy: What if I say no? You'll never speak to me again?
Don: No, I'll spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.

And then there was dear old Pete who faked sick to interview with other agencies on this fateful day. Sterling and Cooper show up at his apartment to make the pitch.

Pete: Oh, am I getting a few more adjectives added to my title? Don't bother. I have other plans.
Trudy (from the next room): Peter, may I speak to you for a moment?

He is so lucky to have that lady. I hope we continue to see more of her (and he behaves). She cracks me up.

And with a much-craved pitch from Don, Pete is on board. As is Harry after some "sweet talking" from Cooper. It's obvious they were confident that Harry would take the offer for fear of wasting away in his mid-level office.

Cooper: We're starting a new agency. We'd like you to join us as our new head of media.
Harry: Are you kidding?
Sterling: Yes, yes we are. Happy birthday.
Harry: I should really call my wife.
Cooper: Mr. Crane. Harry. This matter is secret. If you turn us down, we'll have to lock you in the store room until morning.

And it's the moment we've all been waiting for. Joanie is back. Only Joan can pull this ragtag group together and get the plan in motion (who else noticed the "Fart Department" sign?). And in motion it is. Before we know it, the group officially walks out of Sterling Cooper (Pete's shot gun slung over his shoulder) and sets up shop in the Pierre Hotel.

Favorite early moments at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce:

Joan (wearing her gold pen necklace once more): Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, how can I help you? Yes, Harry, it's Room 435.
Roger: Peggy, can you get me some coffee? Peggy: No.
Don doing his own typing.

Back at the old agency, Paul is dismayed to find he hasn't been picked for the cool kids' team. Sorry, Paul. You have the desire to be an "alternative thinker" but you don't have the sincerity or the talent. And Pryce has the last laugh.

St. John: You are fired for lack of character!
Lane Pryce: Very good, Happy Christmas!

In the midst of the heist, I almost lost my energy for the Draper family. But there's no way Betty was letting that happen. Well, this is it. She hired a lawyer and boarded a plane to Reno with Henry Francis to earn her divorce. I have to say, with all the build up of Don's secrets over the years and Betty just now finding out, I feel a little rushed. But I suppose that's the point. Don has had the rug ripped from under him.

Two episodes ago, after Don finally confessed everything to Betty, I actually thought they might have a chance. Betty seemed to actually warm to the wounded bird. But a shot to JFK and a few glances at Henry Francis, and she's outta there. I wish we had seen more "courting" between those two. Are we really supposed to believe they're in love? But again, I guess that's the point. We're not seeing the last of Betty, and something tells me that plane ride to Reno doesn't equal riding off into the sunset.

In the end, we're not surprised. Don tells Betty to calm down, she's had a tough couple of weeks. Betty aptly retorts "I've had a tough year." That she has. And that after years of lies from an unfaithful husband. As Don says in the end, I hope Betty finds what she's looking for. I just don't think she knows what that is.

One one hand, I found this to be a clean break in the end. (Save for those poor, poor children) And I'd like them to move on and not go back and forth with Don/Betty drama next season. But on the other hand, I can't imagine this show without Betty.

So many questions for next season. Will these major changes actually stick? How does Betty fit as the only non-agency non-Draper character? Will Pete and Peggy share more than a desk? Have we seen the last of Duck, Ken, Smitty and others? Will Greg go to Vietnam? Will Joanie get the position she truly deserves? And what about Sal? With Lucky Strike still a client, will we ever see him again? Will Don get to be a big part of the children's lives? God knows they need him.

Cannot. Possibly. Wait.


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