Sunday, 3 May 2009

MAD MEN 2.12 – "The Mountain King"

Sunday, 3 May 2009

[SPOILERS] The penultimate episode of season 2 is another razor-sharp endeavour that shines a light on new facets of the Mad Men cast; particularly Don (Jon Hamm), who is still taking timeout from Sterling Cooper to refocus his life in California...

In an effort to do that, Don arrives at the suburban home of Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton), the woman who was married to the Don Draper whose identity he stole during WWII. She was the woman who discovered Dick Whitman using her husband's name as a used-car salesman, but rather interestingly it appears they reached an agreement that suited both their needs. Don/Dick got to keep his new moniker (and associated documentation proving him to be the real Mr. Draper), while in return he's been sending music teacher Anna money to keep her in relative luxury. The two are surprisingly close, too; for Don, she's the only person in the world he doesn't have to lie to, and can be "Dick Whitman" in front of; while Anna treats him very much like a cherished son, back to tell her about his adventures in NYC. She even treated him to a divorce as a Christmas present, so he could leave and get married to Betty.

Their scenes together were superbly played by both Hamm and Hamilton. The former was particularly great, as flashbacks to Don in the early days of his new-life showed someone far more innocent, optimistic and personable than the Don whose perfect marriage is beginning to fall apart. Considering there isn't much physical difference in Don during these separate time-periods, Hamm creates a wholly different feel to Don through simple body-language and attitude.

At home, Don's wife Betty (January Jones) is beginning to feel the strain in the wake of Don's extended disappearance. Sally is beginning to step out of line (caught smoking in the bathroom), and seems to realize something is wrong with her parent's relationship these days. Betty placates her daughter with reassuring words and some new horse-riding boots, but will it be enough? And there was a intriguing throwaway comment from Sally, who spots her mommy had bled on the couch -– a sign that Betty has miscarried a baby while unaware of a pregnancy, perhaps?

At Sterling Cooper itself, the see-sawing of Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Peggy's (Elisabeth Moss) fortunes continues. Peggy, with her new hairdo, now has the confidence to ask Roger (John Slattery) for Freddie Rumsen's old office (to escape the xerox machine), and gets her wish. She even successfully wins a contract for a popsicle firm, almost single-handed, by taking cues from how Christianity promotes itself, and has started making witty jokes about sleeping with Don. The difference between Peggy here and in the season 1 premiere has never been more obvious.

Then, as Peggy moved into her new office, jealous Joan tried to take the sparkle off Peggy's career success by talking up her impending marriage to handsome Greg (Sam Page), despite the fact her visiting fiancé raped her in Don's office moments before, while being given the guided tour by his proud fiancée. That uncomfortable scene, with Joan forced onto the floor by Greg, risking total shame if anyone entered and forced to stare at Don's coffee table leg and pretend none of it was happening, was Mad Men at its most raw. It will be even worse if poor Joan decides to marry this monster, just because he's considered "perfect" by her friends, whose opinion she values so much.

Pete (Vincent Karthesier) felt the pressure of family again, as his wife's father called him to essentially try and blackmail him into going through with adopting a baby for his daughter's sake, or else lose a lucrative contract with Clearasil. Pete stood his ground over the matter, consequently losing the account, which he admitted to Peggy as he congratulated her on her recent acquisition of an office.

Plus, the merger of Sterling Cooper with Putnam, Powell & Lowe is going ahead, although I suspect Don would have argued against it if he were around. The SC partners assembled in a boardroom to discuss and vote on the merger, with Roger totally happy because it will help his divorce expenses, Cooper (Robert Morse) unsure but unwilling to be left behind in the dust, and his sister Alice (Mary Anne McGarry) a little annoyed that Don wasn't around to offer his opinion, but likewise won over by the money talk.

"The Mountain King" ended with Don still in California, taking a baptismal walk in the Pacific surf, undoubtedly about to return to New York with renewed focus. Will he make his marriage work? Will he reveal his secret to Betty at last? Will he admit to his infidelities and hope for a clean slate? Will he just have regrouped for another period of lies and deceit? What will he make of his company merging with a British rival without having been consulted? Will Don spot a terrible problem with the terms of the contract, or just be irritated Duck has masterminded it for his own reasons and personal gain?

Overall, Mad Men's really been on a roll just lately. This episode was another beautifully-constructed piece, focusing on various partnerships -– most notably Don and Anna, but even Sterling Cooper and PPL could be considered part of that equation. There appears to be too many little subplots to properly conclude in next week's finale to me, but that's not too much of an issue. I'm sure the big storylines will be given due attention and others will feed into season 3 well enough.

28 April 2009
BBC Four, 10pm

Writers: Matthew Weiner & Robin Veith
Director: Alan Taylor

Cast: Robert Morse (Cooper), Alison Brie (Trudy), Melinda Page Hamilton (Anna), Sam Page (Greg Harris), Missy Yager (Sarah Beth), Joe O'Connor (Tom Vogel), Brian Krause (Kess), Josh Braaten (Walt), Mary Anne McGarry (Alice Cooper), Collin Christopher (Ned), Gregg Perrie (John Dickenson) & Charles Weiner (Teddy)