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Spoiler Alert Thursday: I Love You, Have a Seat.

The last episode of Mad Men didn’t just feel like a season finale — it felt like a series finale. So much has changed,* and so much has ended that I wonder if next season will feel like a spinoff series rather than a continuation of the same.**

One big change is Don’s willingness to be honest about how much he values the people he works with.  At the start of the episode he tells off Conrad Hilton for calling him “son” without actually giving a damn about his welfare.  It’s an unusual bit of truth-telling from Don.  But the rest of the episode has the S/C folks calling Don out in a similar way, and he’s forced to do some uncomfortable soul-searching about his relationships with Roger, Peter and Peggy.  Don is finally beginning his redemptive journey, possibly this time for real.  These conversations also give some closure to three major series-long arcs – Don’s competitive relationship with Peter, his difficult mentorship of Peggy, and his falling-out with Roger.

Don’s second scene with Peggy was notable for this bizarre speech:

There are people out there who buy things,
People like you and me.
And 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.

I puzzled over this for a while.  It’s very much like Peggy’s confession to Pete at the end of season 2, except rather less touching, and of course Don couldn’t have known about that conversation.  Don gives more or less Peggy’s same speech back to Peggy, but this time, it’s not about personal loss and self-denial — it’s a speech about his faith in advertising.  In a world where people’s very identities are vulnerable, consumption and advertising can provide a refuge and a stable sense of self.  Peter is valuable to Don because he has a progressive, modern instinct that Don lacks, but Peggy is even more valuable to Don — both professionally and personally — because she shares his fundamental insecurity and understands the connection between advertising and personal identity.  It’s a nice encapsulation of the themes of the show, but having it articulated so starkly contributes to the sense that the Mad Men we’ve watched for the past three years has come to an end.

So . . . predictions for season 4?  Will Ken and Paul move to Milwaukee and start working at a beer bottler?

*Not just plot points, but the whole feel of the show.  There was that scene where Joanie walks in and the camera stays on Roger’s, Don’s and Bert’s reactions for a sustained shot before finally turning around and revealing Joan to the audience.  It was uncharacteristically goofy and modern, and also kind of irritating — it felt self-congratulatory, and like the show was nudging the viewer.

**The buying-back-the-company twist is a little ridiculous, like when Sam bought the bar back from the Lillian Corporation and became Rebecca’s boss.  Also, I am totally unconvinced that Bert and Roger would want S/C back that badly.  Roger’s commitment to being an adman was only ever barely perceptible, and as for Bert, wouldn’t he take this opportunity to retire to Japan and dedicate the rest of his life to mastering ikebana or tea ceremony or something?


November 12, 2009 - Posted by | Spoiler Alert Thursdays, television


  1. I’m still not at all clear on what Bert Cooper does.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 12, 2009

  2. He’s the eccentric owner. Every privately owned company has one of those.

    Comment by Richard McElroy | November 12, 2009

  3. Okay, but to comment more seriously — how do we know that Don “means” what he says to Roger, Peggy, and Pete? How do we know it’s not just the next level of “what do you want me to say”? That’s where I think the season sets up continuity — in all these “high-quality dramas” you know that the optimistic season ending is going to lead to the disappointing beginning of the next one (the transition between seasons 4 and 5 of the Wire are the big example here, but you also have that with seasons 2 and 3 of Mad Men). Don might just be adapting more effectively.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 12, 2009

  4. Another question: Is anyone planning on watching The Prisoner (new AMC series)? I’m going to at least give it a try, because I think I owe them that much after Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 12, 2009

  5. Eh, I’m undecided on the Prisoner remake. I loved, loved, loved the original, and watched it like a million times as a kid, so I’m automatically defensive about any attempt to redo it. Plus, the remade Village looks so boring.

    I was surprised by how upbeat Mad Men‘s ending was, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense. The fifties are finally over, and a new era has to start.

    Comment by stras | November 12, 2009

  6. The Prisoner previews actually left me -less- intrigued–i felt like I was watching a series of completely unrelated images, narrated by Ian McKellen.

    Did they -actually- buy back the company? I got the impression they just left in the end and started anew, having all gotten out of their contracts and poached enough clients to pay the bills . I assume this would lead to years of litigation in real life, though I suspect it could all be forgotten by the time next season starts.

    Comment by Michael Schaefer | November 12, 2009

  7. And agreed on Richard’s point–in most privately-held companies, the founders tend to get loopy and distracted by the time their 60’s roll around, with far more competent subordinates actually running the day-to-day operations, thus leaving said loopy founders to pursue odd hobbies and roll in 1-2 times a week to pontificate about “big picture” stuff.

    They’re not all as extravagantly odd as Bert Cooper, but otherwise the character’s pretty spot-on.

    Comment by Michael Schaefer | November 12, 2009

  8. Did they -actually- buy back the company?

    No, they were shut out from even having a chance at bargaining. Pryce fired them and got fired himself, and they poached a few subordinates.

    Comment by ben | November 12, 2009

  9. Pryce fired them and got fired himself

    That was another thing that I didn’t get. Surely Lane had some kind of contract — PPL would have been careful about that, especially given how unhappy he and his wife were at being schlepped all over the place. Did he really plan his own defection and the founding of SCD&P without having the certainty of his own exit? He couldn’t have counted on being fired himself — PPL might have decided instead to demote him or ship him out to some punitively remote location.

    Also, don’t these people know about noncompete clauses?

    Comment by jms | November 12, 2009

  10. I thought getting fired was the way out of the non-compete clause. Who would sign a contract saying, “We can fire you at our sole discretion and you can’t work in our industry for a set period of time even if you’re fired against your will”?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 12, 2009

  11. I don’t know that much about it, but my understanding was that many non-compete clauses continue in effect even if you are fired. It makes sense, because otherwise an employee with an opportunity to go elsewhere has an incentive to just fuck up enough to get fired.

    Comment by jms | November 12, 2009

  12. Well then maybe this will be one of the ways that next season takes a darker turn.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 12, 2009

  13. After doing some minimal research, I don’t know much more — only that British common law only allows such clauses under very limited circumstances. Thinking back, The Girlfriend has indicated to me that account people moving on or starting their own agency and taking clients with them is fairly common in the ad industry.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 12, 2009

  14. & of course they do know about non-compete clauses, since that’s how Duck thought he was going to screw Don.

    Comment by ben wolfson | November 12, 2009

  15. Wikipedia seems to indicate that there might be more possibility of having a non-compete clause for an equity shareholder — which Don was at the time of Duck’s stunt, but none of them are any longer.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 12, 2009

  16. I think I’m confused. What’s the consequence of being under contract, which is made such a big deal of, if there’s no non-compete clause? What else could it have been, a contract for really well-remunerated indentured servitude? I’m being snarky, but it’s a genuine question — am I missing something?

    Comment by jms | November 12, 2009

  17. Okay, quick thought: Don says, “Fire us. Release us from our contracts.” Maybe that’s what Lane did — not just terminate their employment, but release them from their contracts. And the Wikipedia entry and other online sources have indicated that the range over which non-compete clauses have jurisdiction is pretty narrow (assuming Lane is just plain fired and would therefore still be bound by his, if he had one) — Lane was not an account man or a creative, he was just the money man. Can they forbid him from doing accounting? I don’t think so, because non-competes only seem to be allowed in cases of privileged information or trade secrets, i.e., Intel’s new chip design or knowing what the next ad campaign will be for your competitor. But they’re not revealing privileged information to competing clients in the same line of business — they’re just taking the clients themselves. And certainly clients are free to choose the agency they want, right?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 12, 2009

  18. (I mean, they make a big deal about how Lane has unilateral authority over the employees at Sterling Cooper, so presumably he could fire them on whatever terms he wanted.)

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 12, 2009

  19. It is also possible that corporate contracts have become more draconian since 1963.

    Comment by stras | November 12, 2009

  20. Maybe, but I would have thought the opposite, since federal regulation of private contract has become more careful since the early 60s, not less.

    Comment by jms | November 13, 2009

  21. I only sort of know what I’m talking about here, but employment contracts have gotten more fascist since the 60s, not less. It’s now not uncommon for people in certain jobs (assistants to the famous, Supreme Court clerks) to sign contracts containing permanent gag orders — forever prohibiting them from writing about their experience. It is my (limitied, perhaps incorrect) understanding that such a thing was utterly unheard of until the 80s.

    Was it really via non-compete that Duck thought he would screw Don? I thought it was simply by allowing prize-pig Don Draper to be sold — he was the one they were after and thought they were getting, but Don had it (and all aspects of his life) arranged so that he could walk at any time.

    Comment by oudemia | November 13, 2009

  22. Yes, it was via non-compete. Peter asked Duck if Don would be ok with his (Peter’s) promotion, and Duck said that he’d have to fall in line; that’s what non-compete clauses are for; and then again at the meeting with the limeys when Don said he didn’t care for the agency Duck had described, Duck responded by saying that Don’s alternative would be selling insurance.

    Maybe Don’s actually being screwed was going to come via his being sold, but the imagined non-compete clause of Don’s imagined contract was a sine qua non of its happening the way Duck wanted—with Don subordinated to Duck, e.g..

    Comment by ben | November 13, 2009

  23. You know who’s not a good actor? The British dude from The Nanny. His scenes are mercifully tiny but every time he’s onscreen, Mad Men turns into some dumb comedy with caricatured villains for a couple of seconds.

    Comment by jms | November 13, 2009

  24. And that person plays … St. John? The snivelling weasel? The other, non-St. John PPL muckety-muck?

    Comment by ben | November 13, 2009

  25. The guy on the phone who’s like, oh buck up Lane there’s a good chap. I think it’s St. John, but I’m not sure.

    Comment by jms | November 13, 2009

  26. I’ve been thinking about this way too much, but the business law aspects of the finale were incoherent and basically insane. In reality, the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would spend most of its first few years battling lawsuits, would have to pay back the old Sterling Cooper for the value of the business it stole, and would lose its clients and most of its revenue to litigation.

    1. I haven’t seen this reported anywhere else, but the episode was based on a real New York case from the 1950s, Duane Jones Co. v. Burke, 117 NE.2d 237,245 (N.Y. 1954). In that case, a bunch of ad men tried to purchase their ad agency, were rebuffed, and then launched a plan to steal their clients, terminate themselves, and set up a new agency. I’d quote from the facts of the case if it weren’t so boring, but it’s almost certain to me that Weiner learned of this case or had its story in mind when he wrote the episode — it’s almost the same series of events.

    Anyhow, in that case, the highest court in New York found the ad men clearly liable for a large sum The legal theory was that the ad men had breached the duty of loyalty that all employees owe their employer — which they clearly did. At a minimum, under clearly estabilshed New York precedent that applied at the time, McCann/old Sterling Cooper would be able to sue Don, Bert, Roger, and Pryce for the value of their lost business. So that’s one problem.

    2. Even more importantly, old Sterling Cooper/McCann would have a slam-dunk tortious interference case against each and every one of the new SCDP’s CLIENTS. The clients clearly understood from the Sunday-night calls to change partners, that they were disrupting the business of Sterling Cooper and interfering with its contracts with its employees. The critical thing here is that any single client who went with the new SCDP could conceivably be held liable for the entire amount of damage to the old Sterling Cooper. Obviously, clients faced with such a lawsuit wuold not sign up with the new SCDP, dooming it from the start.

    3. The whole “I have a contract” plotline was misguided and stupid. As people point out above, the big deal with Don’s contract was that it had a noncompete clauese. Indeed, the whole premise of the episode is that Draper was inexorably bound to a horribly burdensome contract with a covenant not to compete that somehow prevents him from leaving Sterling Cooper, but that somehow Don could get out of that problem by nominally being fired by Pryce. Two big problems: (1) normally, noncompete clauses still apply if you’re fired; (2) even if, by the language of Draper’s employment contract, the noncompete clause didn’t apply if he were fired, there’s no chance in hell that a Court would find that a clearly pretextual firing done in the course of a conspiracy to set up a new ad agency was sufficient to get Draper out of the contract. I mean, they very explicitly agree to make Pryce, the guy who does the firing a partner in the new agency. So, this whole plot-line was just mind-numbingly dumb and unrealistic.

    4. Finally, even if it could somehow avoid its massive legal liability, how is SCDP supposed to make money for its partners? It is an insanely top-heavy group, with 3 people who are aging figureheads who do nothing, one creative director, one “media director,” one copywriter, one junior account guy, and an office manager. Even if they could bring in some business, the draw that is going to go to the partners is going to be minimal at best.

    One of the things about Mad Men is that it’s usually pretty smart about business, but man oh man was this episode not there.

    Comment by Robert Halford | November 13, 2009

  27. Yes, St John. I hadn’t realized he was the Nanny guy. Ha! I rather love Lane Pryce and his guess-we’ll-see-more-of-her-next-season wife. (The evil Natasha from Bridget Jones.)

    Comment by oudemia | November 13, 2009

  28. I wonder if she knows that she and hubby were this close to being shipped off to India.

    Comment by ben | November 14, 2009

  29. Oh, and I was delighted to see Trudy using the chip-and-dip.

    Comment by oudemia | November 14, 2009

  30. It is an insanely top-heavy group, with 3 people who are aging figureheads who do nothing

    This, absolutely. It’s hard especially to understand what value Bert contributes to the group — Roger at least is necessary because he brings Lucky Strike with him (although I’m convinced by Halford that this is implausible), and Lane does something that Don and Roger seem to think is important. But Bert doesn’t do anything! I suppose this is why the show sent Don down that brief dead-end road of trying to get Bert to help buy back the company — this at least made some sense, since Bert has money. From there, the writers could just keep Bert on board for the rest of the scheme and hope that the viewers didn’t notice that Bert no longer served any purpose. I guess Bert supplies capital, maybe?

    Comment by jms | November 14, 2009

  31. Agree with most of the posters here – umm, what does Bert actually do? Anyone?

    Comment by eurail global pass | November 14, 2009

  32. This is really sophisticated spam right here.

    Comment by ben | November 14, 2009

  33. I’m embarrassed I let it through.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 15, 2009

  34. OK, but people do get fired and take (some of) their clients with them sometimes, right? I mean, I feel like I read about in gossip pages w/r/t agents and actors fairly regularly. So how does that work? (Or maybe it doesn’t? Or people only do it if they have the cash to pay damages? Or?)

    Comment by oudemia | November 15, 2009

  35. I think that someone needs to write a well-researched article on this topic, including some discussion of Robert Halford’s real-life event.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 15, 2009

  36. I saw Rob Halford’s Real-Life Event at the county fair once.

    Comment by ben | November 15, 2009

  37. Jerry Maguire totally proves it!

    But seriously, I agree with Kotsko — someone should. I haven’t seen mention of the Real-Life Event anywhere but here. Rob should go for it.

    Comment by oudemia | November 15, 2009

  38. Rob is probably too busy writing his history of the LAPD.

    Comment by ben | November 15, 2009

  39. The larger question here is–where did the former lead singer of Judas Priest acquire such impressive legal knowledge, and why did he deign to share it with us at Adam’s blog?

    I do disagree about the supposed value of the partners, however–sure, Cooper doesn’t -do- anything, but he’s rich and has lots of contacts, which can’t hurt. Roger’s uselessness was overstated at the start of this season–prior to that he was actually a very effective account man, and Don admitted as much when he said he was lost without Roger there to manage client relationships. And Pryce is evidently a fantastic accountant–is it really so hard to see how he might be useful?

    Comment by Michael Schaefer | November 15, 2009

  40. Another thing — why is the new firm called Sterling Cooper Draper Price? At S/C, Sterling came first because Roger’s father was the first founding partner. But as among the four founding partners of the new firm, I wouldn’t think that Roger would get first billing.

    Comment by jms | November 16, 2009

  41. Maybe for the sake of continuity? Maybe because Roger was bringing their biggest client?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 16, 2009

  42. Yeah, I would think they’d want to keep the recognizable part of their name intact. Although, along a Halford-related line of reasoning, would they have rights to that name? I mean, Sterling Cooper has been sold. One imagines the name has added value, even if McCann isn’t going to use it.

    Comment by oudemia | November 16, 2009

  43. A recognizable spoonerism of the two founding partners would be free and clear and attract entertainment business from the Midwest.

    Comment by K-sky | November 16, 2009

  44. I don’t think people in the Midwest, even in the entertainment biz, were inclined to smile on the thought of Roger and Bert spooning, back then.

    Comment by ben | November 16, 2009

  45. I’m having trouble with 43 — is curling a popular sport in the midwest? And they have pooled betting? Splain please.

    Comment by jms | November 16, 2009

  46. Pooled betting? Stupor.

    Comment by ben | November 16, 2009

  47. In this joke, curling is a popular sport in the Midwest. Also it was hung on the wall.

    Comment by K-sky | November 17, 2009

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