Oh, Mad Men's third season. I wish you hadn't ended as well as you had. Because if you hadn't... I would feel utterly, entirely justified in my general distaste for and boredom with your tedious third season. Does the destination of the finale make up for a lackluster, directionless, uneven (if still, of course, sharply written, well-acted, sumptuous to look at) season that seemed to lack a cohesive narrative?
Obviously, I don't think it does.
But what a setup for the fourth season! I can't not watch it when it returns next summer. The finale set up a fourth season that, at least on the surface, promises the Mad Men that I was yearning for this whole third season. A Mad Men with focus (getting a new business off the ground), and tension (will we succeed? because if we don't, we are all SCREWED), and drama and ambition and... Joan.
Seriously, how happy was I when our core conspirators were clueless as to where any of the files they needed to gather were stored in the office and knew that Roger was going to call our wayward Mrs. Harris? And despite the too-few moments with Peggy after the first couple of episodes this season... how great was her standing up to Don? And refusing to get coffee for the guys?
I do think that, given the big deal made about not bringing anyone into the ploy that Don et al were pulling, I felt that when Peggy refused Don there was a major missed opportunity to play up "will we get found out?" tension. It just wasn't there, and it made the victory of the success of them all setting up their own agency slightly less "holy crap, I can't believe they actually pulled it off!" than it could have been.
Regardless... how great was the realization from those who weren't brought along?
Let's get to the things I didn't love. Um... Betty...? I have been cold to Betty this whole season (but just as cold as I've been to Don...) I just haven't cared about the Draper Family Drama the way the major seasonal focus on the final disintegration of this family unit required me to be. Was it hard to watch? Yes, and for all the right reasons. But, ultimately... I just don't care. I mean, I feel for the kids and all. But a big part of me is hoping that Betty flying off to Reno, and the final "goodbye" between Don and Betty over the phone, is the last we see or hear of the non-Don Drapers (though I'm sure it won't be... otherwise Sally and Bobby would've been with Betty and not at home with Carla). It's a fine line this show must tread as it presents things that we, as modern viewers, have a very solid opinion of (and are used to seeing) but asking us to treat it as new and different and shocking... because, in the 60s, it wasn't as commonplace (or obsolete) as it is now. Here, it's divorce, but also out of the closet gay men in the workplace, equality for the genders at work, interracial couples... the list goes on.
Speaking of gays in the workplace... where was Sal in the formation of the new company? I guess it would've been too easy, once they mentioned that they didn't have access to the art department / art room. And it was great to see Don kick in that door.
Bottom line: something happened in this finale. A lot of things happened.
My hope is that things continue to happen. Next season has been set up in a way that reignites me giving a damn about this show.
And, really, just having Joan back in the mix is a huge step up.