Mad Men on AMC ended its second season Sunday night, and as usual, I recorded the episode. I watched it tonight, and I wish I hadn't. There is a terrible hollow feeling when a series this brilliant ends, and there is nothing left to console me in its absence but the long wait for the boxed set on DVD, and even longer drought until Season Three.
Episode 13, "Meditations in an Emergency" had all the hallmarks that have made this series great, weaving the real life drama of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis into the Sturm and Drang of Sterling-Cooper's takeover (so relevant 40+ years later) and the timeless angst of betrayed families and broken promises. This final episode was all about power, leadership, and the redemption of confession.
The amazing and always riveting footage of JFK on TV in the background served as a litmus test and catalyst for Mad Men's characters, who always seem on the brink of something. A power grab, a nervous breakdown, a furtive and hopeless tryst in the back room of a dark bar. The looming nuclear apocalypse causes different reactions for our cast of mad men and women. Panic for some (who cares about the bomb...what about my JOB?), indifference for others. Peggy the budding star who gained a new office after landing the Popsicle account, fears for the loss of her soul. She confesses, finally, bringing last season's cliff hanger full circle. But the truth is told to a bewildered Campbell, and not to her weasel faced priest.
JFK draws a line in the sand for the Soviets, on a fuzzy black and white television. Don Draper draws a line in the conference room at Sterling Cooper after Duck (the darkest character of all to be sure...who could forget what he did to his beautiful Irish Setter) says creative will no longer be a part of the agency's primary directive. Don Draper, back from his A.W.O.L. Southern California sojourn, wants no part of it. He's gone. "I don't sell advertising", Don says, cool and measured as a fighter pilot. "I sell products. If the world is still here on Monday, we can talk".
This final episode was a poem to the subtle but essential qualities of leadership, at a time when we all yearn for its example. Don't blink. Don't stand down. Watch Mad Men.
And for heaven's sake...don't forget to vote.
Below, JFK's address to the nation in 1962.