Mad Men‘s season four finale, “Tomorrowland,” follows one of the most simultaneously exhilarating and dour seasons of the series, which featured an all-time classic (“The Suitcase,” perhaps Mad Men‘s finest hour yet) and one of the show’s worst episodes to date (the tonally odd “Chrysanthemum and the Sword”), mixed in with a generally strong set of episodes in the season’s latter half.
Mad Men season finales often bring the unexpected, and “Tomorrowland” was certainly no exception. The last few episodes have been focusing so much on the uncertain future of SCDP (or is it just SDP, now that Bert Cooper has seemingly abandoned his figurehead position within the company?), but the opening of “Tomorrowland” gave only a brief nod to Don’s impulsive note before shifting the majority of the action away from the company and to another coast.
To be fair, though, hints have been dropped all season that Don would end up married (or in this case, engaged) by season’s end, and Megan, though primarily a bit player until recently, has shown a knack for being in the right place at the right time all along. And really, that’s what makes her so attractive to Don. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
First, there’s California. Much has been written about Mad Men‘s dreamlike quality when the action shifts to California, and this episode had that in droves. California is the disconnect, the very temporary reset button that pauses the often fast-paced action in New York and creates a much-needed lift for when things start to get bogged down both for Don and for the audience. I don’t know how I feel about California as a season finale, as that gauziness seeped into the action back at the office, but it did set up a nice parallel between Don and Peggy.
Don never seems more relaxed, happier or more at home than when he’s in California. Don can’t help but be himself when he’s there; not the self he created, but the man he could have been. Even in the absence of Anna, he still manages to be Dick (even going so far as acknowledging that fact to Bobby and Sally, in a scene that truly caught me off guard), and as Dick makes some questionable decisions.
Though it may well be that Don does love Megan, it seems more likely that California, plus the presence of his family, enveloped everything. Megan, as I said, was simply in the right place at the right time. Will Don regret this back in New York? The final shot, a look outside the window of his dreary apartment into the alleyway, seems to suggest that he will. Don found happiness inside of a little bubble, and that bubble, though it may last for a while, can’t help but be popped.
Peggy, too, creates a bubble of happiness for herself at SCDP (though we see the popping of this one before “Tomorrowland” is done), by nearly singlehandedly snagging the company its first new client in several weeks. Though she grossly overestimates the impact she’s had on SCDP (she claims she’s saved the company, when in reality she’s bagged a small client that’s struggling itself), it’s still a nice character arc and disappointing to see everyone overlook her accomplishment in favor of Don marrying his secretary. Plus, it was an absolute joy to watch Peggy and Joan (in a loaded conversation) cut through the artifice and really connect.
So where does all of this leave Mad Men at the end of its fourth season? With a lot of uncertainty. Last season’s finale was exhilarating and full of promise for a bright new era. This season punctured a few holes in that optimism. The first year in the life of SCDP was a rough one, and “Tomorrowland” hardly touches on the future of the company, getting back to the characters and the false sense of optimism they cling to. It’s not as exciting as last year’s finale, but it does shake things up enough to leave me wanting more.
The less said about Betty the better. She’s turned into something of a two-dimensional monster, and her arc this season has done nothing but test my patience.
Joan, as many suspected, didn’t go through with her abortion, but seems content to pretend that she’s carrying her husband’s child. I’m a little disappointed by that turn of events, as it seems a bit soapy for Mad Men (and really, one “pregnancy with a secret” plotline is plenty).