9 Burning Questions (Mostly) Answered: A Mad Men Postmortem
We've posted the recaps, we've tabulated the Power Rankings. The only thing left to do before filing the memories of Mad Men's third season in Movieline's storage closet is a quick postmortem. Specifically, let's ask and answer (and hopefully discuss) the nine burning questions that lead all of us into that glorious Aug. 16 premiere -- and that may yet help sustain us in the long offseason ahead.
1. So did Betty Draper have that baby or what? As deduced during the preseason, yes. And wasn't it well-behaved? It never required care unless the show's writers needed some way of humanizing Don in the doghouse, and it never cried unless a dramatic argument between Don and Betty required interruption. We should all be such lucky parents!
2. But is it Don's? This still isn't resolved to my taste, but it hardly matters at this point. Baby Gene is Henry Francis's problem now, which implies an imminent showdown in season 16 as Gene rebels against his adoptive father during a critical juncture of Henry's fledgling Democratic presidential campaign; "FRANCIS SON POT BUST," the New York Post will scream as Don shuffles by a Madison Avenue newsstand, quietly content with this karmic bitch slap.
3. How does Don fit in at the new Sterling Cooper? No one could have anticipated that this question would ultimately apply to an entirely new business venture, one that extracted not only Don but also Roger Sterling, Bert Cooper and defecting Brit Lane Pryce from the comfy wood-paneled environs of seasons past. Don's Hilton-required contract seemed about as controversial (and anticlimactic) a development as we'd get -- at least until the Brits flipped the agency to McCann Erickson. With his independence and mojo restored, Don can once again look forward to next season's Burning Question, "Where does Don fit in at the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?" I'd say that answers itself, but by now we should all know better than to assume anything.
4. Will big gay Sal Romano finally get a better arc? Yes and no. You had to love him getting some Batlimore bellhop ass by the 30-minute mark of the new season, but back into the closet he went until Lee Garner Jr. found him there later in the year. By that point it was too late, and when Don delivered his classic, caustic, heartbreaking "You people" upon firing Sal, it felt like we were watching an execution. Viewers haven't seen him since, and with Roger taking American Tobacco with him to the new partnership, you can't really like his chances of returning.
5. What's happening with Pete Campbell and Peggy Olson's love child? Who even knows? If Season Three taught us anything, it's that kids are only as useful as their episodic value allows. (See #1 above.) It's almost as though the writing staff recognized that tendency among itself and channeled its own guilt through little Sally's revolt. Anyway, the shared Olsen/Campbell desk at the Pierre will likely supply the battleground next season for at least some closure in this regard. Or at least Pete will discover Peggy's marijuana stash in the top drawer.
6. How's Freddy Rumsen's bladder holding up? Another dangling loose end: What happened to drunken pants-wetter Freddy during his leave from Sterling Cooper in Season Two? His comeback remains overdue, but let's be honest: The last thing the fledgling SCDP needs in a lush running around room 435 playing music on his zipper, so it's probably a coin toss for Season Four.
7. Would someone mind explaining what's going on between Don and Peggy? While we never did get much of an explanation, the arc just kept improving as Don and Peggy's weird favor-trading relationship swelled into a bruising workplace co-dependency. Whatever was behind it is best encapsulated in Don's unusually introspective mea culpa to Peggy in the finale: "I've taken 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. [...] 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. [...] With you or without you, I'm moving on. And I don't know if I can do it alone. Will you help me?" Come on. Would you have said no to that?
8. What does Weiner have in store for the Kennedy Assassination? Several readers cited Weiner's explicit reluctance to dig into another big meditation on Nov. 22, 1963. But most of us knew that a guy with an ego and an intellect like Mathew Weiner's wouldn't take a pass on the defining moment of the decade. Announcing Margaret Sterling's wedding date as Nov. 23 gave it away back in Episode Two, and Mad Men's handling of the cruel weekend after the president's killing was as well-paced and galvanizing as any event since the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was almost there with the professional jai alai league; at least Pete kept it for '64. We'll definitely need subplots.
9. Is that you, Dick Whitman? "Shit, meet fan," was the obvious early prediction as Don struggled to keep his past life a secret. Now, after Bert Cooper's blackmail stunt and Betty's Earth- (and marriage-) shattering discovery, it's hard to know if the worst is over or just starting. Don seems optimistic under the circumstances, and really, who can blame him? If we never see another Depression-era flashback again, it'll be too soon.