Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mad Men: That ending

I wish I could post a video of just that ending. I buy the episodes through iTunes and I can go back and rewatch the really good bits and the ending of this season's finale is worth watching and rewatching.

We start on in black and white. We're watching Megan's "screen test". The camera pulls back and we watch Don watching. There is no sound at first so the sense of unreality created by the film is heightened. Then the music starts with a vague sort of French impressionist feel about it. At first it might be Satie, then it might be Debussy and then it sounds just like classic Hollywood.

What's Don thinking? We see him smile so his thoughts are affectionate but they are paternal. This is a change. I've rained some criticism on John Swansburg so let me give him full credit for spotting this first. His relationship with Megan has changed. She is no longer his equal but just another child with childish dreams she is seeking to satisfy.

Keep that thought in mind.

The next shot is the five partners walking out into the now available space one floor above. Except it isn't really. It's just the set where their current offices are emptied out. Our sense of unreality is heightened. There is a lovely joke on this in Pete saying he will have the same view as Don now. Literally the same. This must have been better for the actors because they, of course, are merely looking at a  blue screen where the "view" out the windows will later be dropped in.

And they all line up. The instant cliché has been to say they line up like super heroes. That's true enough but there is a prior source. They all line like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and the gang about to fight the gunfight at the OK coral. This is a profoundly unrealistic shot created by Hollywood.

And then we are in a fantasy set, only we don't know it's a set yet. And Megan, dressed up like a child's dream, comes out to Don and says, "I can't believe this is happening." Then she says, "You know I love you," and kisses him. But she only loves him because he can make her dreams come true. Megan has come way down this episode. She has become a child just like Betty.

This is reflected in her clothing. (And who do we blame? It was her choices that got her here.)

And then Don turns and walks off the set. Again, the scene is so cinematic. The hero walks away at the end of his triumph. Because that is what heroes do. Like the lover in a sexual fantasy, he walks away and doesn't stay around to clutter things up. Shane would always be a source of tension so he has to leave and the mystery lover would kinda clash with the husband. And so does Don here. He has to leave because that is what heroes do.

And then the music kicks in. We don't know that it's a James Bond theme yet. We only know that it's very cinematic and it perfectly matches the lone hero walking away. And he walks and walks and the camera tracks him. It's like he is walking through the universe.

And then the best part. This is sooo perfect. If you can go rewatch it, do it now.

The camera stops tracking Don and he goes by us into the dark and then walks out of the dark right into a bar. He walks out of the last scene going from left to right and he walks into the next one from left to right. There are no establishing shots in between. It's like one continuous act before our eyes. He just walks out of one set and into another set.

Because that is what heroes do. They walk out of one adventure this week into a brand new one next week.

The music has been continuous and now the vocal starts. We know the tune of course. It is one of the pieces of common currency of our era but we haven't pinned it quite yet until the vocal starts and when it does, we are in a Bond movie.

And a woman approaches him and asks him to light her cigarette. This is a perfect opening for a  film noir. And she asks him if he is alone. again, there has been an instant cliché about this: that the answer is that "everyone is alone". True enough but it's not at all inappropriate or unusual for Don to be alone. He is the hero and he is always the hero and the hero is always alone at the start and end of each adventure. This is the start of something new.

The only unfortunate thing is that they didn't have  the courage to end it right there. I mean to end everything right there; not just the season but the series.

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