Lola Kirke on Her Breakout Role in the Modern Screwball Comedy 'Mistress America'

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The perfect antidote to your late-summer movie doldrums has arrived in Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s Mistress Americaa rare comedy that feels both generationally specific yet utterly timeless. With their latest collaboration, they tell tale of college freshman Tracey (Lola Kirke), an aspiring writer who escapes the apathy of commencement after she reaches out to her step-sister-to-be, Brooke (co-writer Greta Gerwig), a gabby entrepreneur who whisks Tracey on a journey to an invariable amount of New York City hotspots. But the two butt heads when they find themselves spending an extended afternoon at Brooke’s ex-boyfriend’s lavish home in Connecticut—giving Tracey a bachelor degree’s worth of stories to tell in the process. At heart,Mistress America is a story about a budding artist who discovers her first muse, and the ways that experiencing life vicariously through another person can fuel creativity, for better and for worse.

But the major discovery of Mistress America is the arrival of its breakout star, Lola Kirke, younger sister of Girls’ Jemima Kirke, who has her first lead role after making waves as a backwater criminal in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. With her literary narration that bookends the film, and her character’s habit of developing a crush on her best friends, Kirke embodies the film’s nostalgic spirit—a young woman for whom college is an inherently transient experience, and the real learning comes off-campus. With her acerbic demeanor and youthful glow, the British-American actress finds herself more than adept at matching Gerwig’s comic rhythms, and she met with our press roundtable to discuss her character’s low-key fashion sense and the film’s clandestine friendship.

How did you and Greta begin working together on building the dynamic of your characters?

I mean, it was a pretty organic development of our relationship. Our dynamic outside of the film is definitely different from the one that you see in the movie, but there was no like, rehearsal where we pretended to be animals. I don’t know if anyone’s ever taken an acting class, they’re like, “Be a chipmunk now,” or something. It was a 60-day shoot, so it was–it just grew. And luckily, I really admire Greta—she’s incredibly inspirational to me as well.I think that’s really key to the relationship of Tracy and Brooke. I think Brooke makes Tracy want to be better than she is already, and I think that Tracy even says, like, she’s the type of person that made you want to be more like yourself. Even though you see Tracy come into her own kind of power,  and start speaking her mind the way that Brooke does, she doesn’t quite turn into Brooke. So yeah, it was a very organic development.

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This is your first all-out comedic role, and it’s an unusually fast-paced movie. I’m curious if you could talk about what it was like to get used to the rhythm of both the dialogue and direction. What it was like to work with Greta, who we’ve already seen in this style?

For me, in terms of approaching any text, it’s not like—is this a comedy, is this a drama. It’s more “What am I saying?” Because a lot of the time it will be inherent. It’s not about like, hamming it up for comedy. I also think that Greta and Noah’s writing really lends itself to being funny anyway, and there is a really specific rhythm. We’ve been getting asked a lot if the movie was at all improvised, and it isn’t. Noah and Greta are very much interested in everyone being word-perfect. And it’s actually kind of wonderful, because you want to be saying words that people care about. Coming from a stage background, you don’t work with playwrights that are like, “Yeah, just make it your own.” The words are the art form—along with other parts of it, obviously. And with film and TV, I think that gets left behind a little bit more. So it was really a pleasure to work with people who had really thought about the rhythm of what they were saying.

Considering this is a very New York movie, best online casino do you find the movie to be an accurate portrayal of characters taken from the city.

I think it’s very taken out of  New York life. But I can’t say that it’s New York-specific to right now. There’s something really timeless about the movie to me, and I think that’s because of the reference points that Greta and Noah were really inspired by, which was like, screwball comedies of the 40s from George Cukor to Ernst Lubitsch and Howard Hawks, and like Something Wild and other movies from the 80s. So there’s like, this bizarre hybrid of time that’s happening within the film, but I also think the way that Brooke and Tracy dress is really bizarre. Like, no hip New Yorker actually dresses like Brooke. [Laughs] There’s something really kind of off about her outfit to me. Tracy, by the same token, is kind of–I don’t even know what she’s wearing, that terrible sweater and a beret. Well, first of all, I wore that costume for 60 days, probably washed it twice—so that sweater smelled horrifying. I don’t know, there’s something definitely liberating about wearing clothes like that all the time. Like, ill-fitting jean and sneakers that I probably wouldn’t wear. I do wear berets a lot, much to everyone I know’s dismay.

But to speak to the New Yorkiness of it, I definitely think that Brooke’s like, hustle and aspirations to move upward are specifically New York. I mean, no one moves to New York to just enjoy themselves. I mean, I have enjoyed myself here, but you could go to like, LA or Scottsdale if you wanted to do that. I think that New York is all about changing your position in a lot of ways. I think Brooke also says that in the film. She says like, “You know, I wish it were feudal times so that everybody could just stay in their place and be happy there,” so yeah, I do think that the movie is specifically New York in the way that you have these really unique characters that just want to be something else and are hustling to do that.

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Noah Baumbach Talks Collaborating With Greta Gerwig on Their New Comedy ‘Mistress America’

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The perfect antidote to your late-summer movie doldrums has arrived in Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s Mistress Americaa rare comedy that feels both generationally specific yet utterly timeless. With their latest collaboration, they tell tale of college freshman Tracey (Lola Kirke), an aspiring writer who escapes the apathy of commencement after she reaches out to her step-sister-to-be, Brooke (co-writer Greta Gerwig), a gabby entrepreneur who whisks Tracey on a journey to an invariable amount of New York City hotspots. But the two butt heads when they find themselves spending an extended afternoon at Brooke’s ex-boyfriend’s lavish home in Connecticut—giving Tracey a bachelor degree’s worth of stories to tell in the process. At heart,Mistress America is a story about a budding artist who discovers her first muse, and the ways that experiencing life vicariously through another person can fuel creativity, for better and for worse.

Mistress America is Baumbach’s second film this year following While We’re Young, and it’s by far the more successful effort. The movie’s combination of lighting-fast pacing and guru-ingenue character tropes harks back to screwball comedies of the 1940s, but it’s Baumbach’s love of over (and under-)achieving city dwellers, the film’s tonal ricochet between outrage and bittersweetness, and the nuances of head-over-heels friendship that makes Mistress America such a delightful experience. We took part in a press roundtable and got to ask Baumbach a few questions about his craft.

Why do you think there are so few screwball comedies nowadays? 

I don’t know! And we didn’t set out to make a screwball comedy in any kind of way. But I guess it’s a kind of style or stylization that… I mean, maybe it’s a bit like film noir, which was as much a time as it is a style, in a way. And I wouldn’t call Mistress America a screwball comedy in any actual kind of way. But it does have that in mind. There’s that trope of a lot of those things where people end up in one place for a while, going in and out of rooms. And that’s kind of exciting about them—like in Bringing Up Baby, when they all end up in the house. But I don’t know why, except I guess it’s how people don’t really see the world right now in contemporary [film].

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Have you suffered from the end of a very long friendship? And how do you get over that? There are a lot of friendships that end in this movie. 

Oh, sure. I think a number of my movies deal with how you grow as an individual, and how you grow as a group, or in a couple—and can you maintain these relationships as you’re changing, or they’re changing. What’s in and out of your control. And this does have that.  What was also interesting for us is when Tracey says at the end of the movie: “My first semester of college isn’t even over.” When you’re in college, one month is an eternity. When you’re in a relationship in college for a week, it feels like forever. This a friendship that isn’t going to continue in some ways, because it can’t really. But it has some sort of major impact on both characters. And that there was something inherently melancholic about that—but also positive and joyful. That’s what the last image of the movie is, for me, I think.

This is in some ways the story of a budding artist and her muse. Between this film and While We’re Young, it seems like you’ve become really interested in the idea of intellectual property and the toll it takes on artists and the people around them. Can you talk about why you keep returning to this subject?

Well, in both movies—which I hadn’t even thought about, but it’s been brought to my attention—both kind of conclude with arguments that are being worked out between characters, that have these sort of moral or philosophical questions in them. But in both cases, I think that they’re emotional issues. It’s not that what they’re talking about isn’t real, or that it doesn’t have real significance or meaning to them. But in both cases you’re talking about being hurt by a person. And I suppose it seemed like a way to create some interesting dynamics, to play out what is essentially an emotional issue. Sometimes it’s easier to fight about that, rather than talk about being hurt. Certainly for Ben’s character in While We’re Young—he gets to it at the end of the movie. But, for me, the overarching thing that’s interesting is how people deal with these types of emotional issues.

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There’s this constant dynamic between who Brooke really is and how she wants to impress and succeed, and then there’s Tracey, who’s just trying to find her way. When you’re writing these kinds of characters, what are the guiding principles you’re looking for?

Well, with Brooke it was mostly the idea of Greta playing it. The idea of somebody who has all these things they’re doing, and half-doing—this kind of girl-about-town. But that there was one that she was, in the case of the restaurant, sort of pinning all her hopes on. And really it all came out of that. We almost created the character and the story simultaneously. It really kind of forms as we’re writing it. With Tracey, I thought it would be interesting to show college in the beginning of the movie in a way I feel I haven’t really seen in movies, how kind of lonely and boring college can be in the beginning. I feel like it’s often shown as like, parties, but that there could be real loneliness. That was interesting to try to convey in a movie, was that feeling. It’s really things like that that go into how these things develop. And then the characters sort of follow alongside that.

As a writer-director, is there a shorthand to working with a writer who is then the lead actress, or does that complicate it more because you’re from different points of view. 

Well, I think as writers we’re really working as writers, and we’re both able to walk away from that when we start shooting. Greta has a real ability to act our scripts as if—at least on some level—she wasn’t part of the creation of them. I find that even for every movie I make—and I’ve written or cowritten everything I’ve directed—there’s always a kind of split. That when I’m directing, I’m directing interpretively, and I think that Greta acts that way. She’s able to kind of just go interpret the character, now that it’s already written, so we don’t run into conflict about any of those kinds of things.  And she can have trouble on any given day with a scene or a moment. What she’s trying to work out is intuitive and emotional. It almost doesn’t matter that she’s written it, it’s something that she’s gotta kind of figure out. And it’s the same for me as a director. On every movie there’s always one where whatever plan I had, it doesn’t seem right and I have trouble visualizing it. It doesn’t matter that you wrote it, at that point. You’re coming at it fresh.

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I feel like music is always such an important part of your films, and you have so many great 80s songs on this soundtrack (Suicide, OMD, Toto) in addition to a woozy score by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips. Can you talk about conceiving the soundtrack for this film?

There was always kind of an 80s thing about it. The story and the kind of milieu of thinking about those two women in NY—this notion of a person being kind of removed from her quiet life, into a sort of wilder world with a wilder character—reminded me of the movies that were big for me when I was a teenager, like Something Wild and After Hours. I feel like there was a subgenre in the 80s—it was always these yuppies being taken out of their world. But even like, Lost in America had that. Desperately Seeking Susan. The underground, the counterculture versus, you know, he Reagan era.

And it brought me back to my own childhood, thinking about the music of that era. For Dean and Britta, who I have a long relationship with as friends and collaborators, we were playing a lot of New Order and OMD, and I thought, what’s the score version of that? What could we do? And they really came up with this terrific score. Then we used an OMD song. I always liked that Toto song a lot.

Greta Gerwig on Dangerous Female Characters & Her New Screwball Comedy ‘Mistress America’

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The perfect antidote to your late-summer movie doldrums has arrived in Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s Mistress Americaa rare comedy that feels both generationally specific yet utterly timeless. With their latest collaboration, they tell tale of college freshman Tracey (Lola Kirke), an aspiring writer who escapes the apathy of commencement after she reaches out to her step-sister-to-be, Brooke (co-writer Greta Gerwig), a gabby entrepreneur who whisks Tracey on a journey to an invariable amount of New York City hotspots. But the two butt heads when they find themselves spending an extended afternoon at Brooke’s ex-boyfriend’s lavish home in Connecticut—giving Tracey a bachelor degree’s worth of stories to tell in the process. At heart, Mistress America is a story about a budding artist who discovers her first muse, and the ways that experiencing life vicariously through another person can fuel creativity, for better and for worse.

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Gerwig, who co-wrote the script with Baumbach, thrives on the screen yet again as another larger-than-life character, one who never seems to stop hustling. As we watch Brooke’s plans to open a restaurant get foiled by her own overzealousness, it’s hard to remember the last time we met such an energetic, slightly crazy mentor figure in the movies. The erstwhile queen of regional low-budget indie features spoke to a press roundtable about her writing process, and her strong idea about what kind of female character she wanted to put on screen.

How does the writing process work? Is it all pretty fixed once you start shooting, or do you write things along the way?

We spent a lot of time with the script, and we don’t allow any improvisation. You can’t even change a word, you can’t make it ‘yours’. We spend more time on the script than anything else because I think for both of us the words are really paramount in the moviemaking experience. It really doesn’t alter at all. I mean, there might be an instance where we need like, a hair more dialogue because a shot is a little bit longer. I’ll go away and write a little intro, or Noah will write a little intro, but for the most part it’s exactly as written. It also cuts very closely to the script, so we don’t shoot a lot of things that we don’t end up using, and that’s been true on both collaborations we’ve had together. What you see on the screen is almost exactly how it read on the page, and I think it’s because we spend so much time on it.

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There’s so much in this movie about the modern work ethic in city life, and the ability (or inability) to wear multiple hats at once while trying to make a living. Does this idea come from personal experience or did the two of you research that kind of lifestyle?

You know, we didn’t really think about this movie as a commentary on the historical moment we’re living through. It was much more—it felt like it belonged to the 80s or the screwball comedies of the 40s. A friend of ours had started a successful restaurant, and we went and interviewed him about how that happened and what all the rules were—as well a people he knew that had restaurants that had failed and stuff like that. But it was less about reflecting a cultural moment, and more about creating this girl who’s existed in so many different times. I think the reason we were influenced by 80s movies, like Something Wild and After Hours and Desperately Seeking Susan, is because those women tend to have just an edge of danger about them. They’re not just charming or just effervescent, they’re kind of crazy, and they’re a little bit on the wrong side of the law. And there was something about those movies where we felt like that character had disappeared from cinema for some reason, because they’re hard girls, they’re not easy for you to digest. So in a way, even though we do have her awkward interactions with social media [laughs], the way she talks about just a quick tweet on Twitter—as if you need to say that entire sentence—those things are more about the character and less about the media, if that makes sense.

Why do you think that kind of dangerous female character has disappeared from modern cinema?

I have no idea why there’s certain cycles of people being interested in certain tropes in movies, or in characters. I don’t know. I think it’s probably a combination of factors. But I missed her—or rather, I miss that kind of woman. And you know, I kept saying the word ‘girl’, and they’re not girls—they’re women. That’s the other thing that I think is a defining characteristic of them, is they come across as women, even though they’re crazy and wild. They seem to have something more realized about them, even though they’re a bit bananas.

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Were there parts of both Tracy and Brooke that you identify with and can you talk about how you write from looking of your own life?

To be honest, the person I identify the most with would be Tracy. I’m really nothing like Brooke, but I loved playing her for the time that I did, and I loved writing her and getting inside of her head. But I think writing is a very complicated activity, and I don’t have a clear answer of whether or not it’s always acceptable to write about people. Because they can’t give their permission. They didn’t ask to be written about, and you do have a right to your story and recording what seems true to you or inventing other things off of it. But it’s a tricky thing to negotiate, and I think we wanted to explore that because we don’t have answers. If we did, it wouldn’t be that interesting, and there wouldn’t be that much of an argument. But Brooke has a point, and so does Tracy.

What’s interesting is that you only ever live life with other people. So then when you sit down to write, all the stuff you have to work with, even if you’re making something completely fantastical, the characteristics that i would be drawing upon to make it seem real would be things I knew. I think where it gets complicated is none of them are real people actually in the world. None of this stuff actually happened in any of the movies I’ve written. But there are details that correspond with details in life, that are then combined with fiction.

A line that Brooke has in the movie is, “Well, so much of this fiction did not happen this way,” and I think that’s the genuine response. Because you recognize some part of it—but then you think, that’s not what happened, that’s not what it is, I didn’t do that, and you identify with your own personal ego, with the thing that you know happened. And then you can’t believe that they’ve taken it and made it into something else. I really empathize with that.

In Frances Ha and this film, your characters have varying degrees of confusion and confidence—which would you say there’s more of here versus there? I think it’s interesting how you find ways to strike different balances at different points in both films.

When I think about these characters, I think about them as distinct people living in distinct universes. I would say Frances, although she was thwarted in her career ambitions, had a lot deeper sense of worthiness, both intellectually and what she was going to offer. Even though she wasn’t going to be a professional dancer, I do think she had a sense that she had something to say. [But] I think Brooke is on much less steady ground. She didn’t go to college, she’s at the end of what was kind of a successful run of dating vapid wealthy men—and we always say about Brooke that if she had ten percent less integrity, she would have done a thing of just marrying some guy and calling it quits. We love her more because she has more integrity, but God, doesn’t she wish that she had had less at certain points. I think Brooke’s existence is so much more of a hustle, and I think the central question for Frances is really very different. But it’s hard to compare and contrast, even though I completely understand the impulse towards that. But for me they just seem like these two completely different universes.

5 Highlights From Last Night’s Mad Men Finale: Buy the World a Coke

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For the last eight years, Matthew Weiner‘s Mad Men has teased us with the prospect of closure for Donald Draper, who has spent a decade in and out of marriages, love affairs, business mergers and interstate lines, all on a quest for fulfillment that never came. Don Draper had never found true love in any aspect of his life except his work. Fittingly, the show ended Don embracing New Age mysticism, only to watch it fuse with the world’s most valuable brand. “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke,” with its saccharine vision of globalized harmony, shows a utopia that never existed, and represents a particular Western promise rising from the political tumult of the 1960s. In fact, it’s a song that was originally developed by a creative director at McCann-Erickson in 1971, signifying that Don may indeed have taken his new outlook, returned to Madison Ave and monetized it toward ubiquity.

A double-faced symbol rife with varying, even discomfiting interpretations was as much as we could have expected from Mad Men finale, which did not take the lightly experimental route favored by classic endings like Twin Peaks or The Sopranos. Instead, it spent its final hour saying casual goodbyes to its spirited ensemble, all characters that made distinctly individualistic choices, to stay the course that they had already chosen and to never look back.

JOAN TRIES COCAINE AND REALIZES HER AMBITIONS.

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While on vacation with Richard in Florida, Joan tries cocaine, one fingernail at a time: “I just feel like someone gave me some very good news!” But Richard is thinking about their future. “Your life is undeveloped property,” he says, promising Joan a lifetime of wealth and happiness shacking up with him, away from the office. But Joan calls Peggy to set up a meeting while watching Sesame Street on a hazy TV with her son in the kitchen, resembling a glasses-clad domestic Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut. She proposes starting a production company together, as partners: “Harris-Olson. We won’t answer to anyone.” Yet Peggy relents, and so does Richard, who seems to not want Joan to be self-sufficient or ambitious. “I can’t just turn off that part of myself,” he says. He leaves her, and Joan stays the course. She is a self-made working woman through and through, and will not rest on her laurels this late in the game. We last see her running a new business from her own home, having accepted Roger’s promise to support their love child in his will, and all is well in the jungle.

BETTY TELLS DON TO LAY OFF.

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Don calls Sally at school, and she tells him about Betty’s lung cancer. He gets angry that Betty has requested to have the kids stay with their uncle after her death, rather than move in with him. Sally takes her mother’s side; she knows it would be easier for them to keep on living in a familiar environment. Don calls Betty immediately. He insists that he must do his part and take responsibility for what she’s leaving behind, but Betty refuses.“I want things to stay normal, and you not being here is part of that.” She wants the kids to have a father and a mother figure around, not someone who will constantly be coming and going. She knows Don better than he would admit to himself, and it’s here that we see the last remnants of what was once a strong, committed union between them.

DON VISITS STEPHANIE IN CALIFORNIA.

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Don/Dick goes to visit his niece Stephanie in California, whose baby is now being cared for by another family. He decides to join her on a trip to a spiritual retreat, which promises a daily regimen of yoga, tai chi, psychotechnics and group discussions. In one of the group exercises, the counselor has everyone stand in couples, so as to “communicate without words”. Don, lost in observing everyone else’s tender and honest interactions, gets shoved by his elderly partner, who isn’t having it. Later, Stephanie opens up to the group about her insecurity having left her baby alone, and gets irritated by her cohort’s honest and disappointed reactions. Don follows her out of the meeting and attempts to console her.“It gets easier once you move forward.” “I don’t think you’re right about that,” she says. He wakes up the next morning in their communal tent and finds that Stephanie has vanished, taking the car with her.

PEGGY AND STAN ARE IN LOVE.

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“There’s more to life than work,” Stan tells Peggy, after she tells him off about convincing her to refuse Joan’s offer and stay at McCann. She muses over this before getting a call from Don in California. He’s a wreck. “I never said goodbye to you. I just wanted to hear your voice. Ill see you soon,” he says. Peggy calls Stan in the other room to vent about this, and he consoles her. “When I see you, I want to strangle you. And then I miss you when I go away, and I miss you and I call you on the phone and I get the person I want to talk to.” Wait…what??  “All I want to do is be with you…I’m in love with you.” Peggy is dumbfounded, but then she begins to work it out for herself, in a series-best performance by Elizabeth Moss. “You make everything okay. You always do, no matter what.” He comes into her office, and the two of them kiss. It’s nice to know at least two people found love on this show.

THE FINAL PITCH.

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At the end of his rope and in a near-catatonic state, Don lifts himself up to attend one more group seminar. In a circle of a half-dozen people, everyone, including Don, turns to listen to a man named Leonard. “I’ve never been interesting,” he says. “I work in an office and people walk right by me. I know they don’t see me.” He describes the banality of domestic life, how his wife and kids “don’t look up when I sit down,” and has a theory about love. “You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it, that people aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize they’re trying, and you don’t even know what it is.” He bursts into tears, and Don gets up and gives him a long, hard hug. This is his doppelgänger—the man he could have been had he truly had an average life.

5 Highlights From Last Night’s Mad Men: Nowhere to Go But Everywhere

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After last week’s merger with McCann-Erickson, on last night’s Mad Men the characters experienced some growing pains atop the corporate ladder. The world of McCann is defined by chauvinistic ambition and there are three times as many executives to watch out for. This was an especially moody episode, with lightly surreal moments that ranged from deliberately stilted to incredibly candid, and felt as carefully controlled as the show’s best episodes.
THE FIRST (AND LAST?) CREATIVE MEETING AT MCCANN.
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Don settles into his rather insulated new office, which lacks the spacious windows and general amount of sunlight of his old one. A meeting with CEO Jim Hobart and “Ferg” Donnelly shows him exactly what he’s in for at McCann: a philosophy of entitlement in every aspect of the business, whether it’s a gift from Conrad Hilton, a sudden acquisition of Miller Beer account, and the promise of no-hassle dinner reservations and parking tickets. “I’m Don Draper from McCann Erickson,” he says as a pretend introduction, but something just doesn’t fit. In his first creative meeting, there are about 20 executives standing around, eating roast beef box lunches and leafing through spiral notebooks with the day’s proposals. “Is this every creative director in the agency?” “It’s only half of us,” Ted replies. As he intuits the passionless, inside-baseball tone of the meeting, Don’s attention span takes a flight of fancy when he sees a plane outside the conference room window, and leaves the room. They don’t need him where they’re going.
DON AND BETTY HAVE A MOMENT
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Don goes to Betty’s place to pick up Sally and drive her to school but finds he’s too late. Still, he finds his ex-wife reading Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria in the kitchen—lest we forgot she is not a graduate student in psychology. Betty looks as happy and confident as ever, because as she explains, this is exactly what she wants to be doing. “I’m younger than you, always have been, always will be,” she says as Don rubs her shoulders. She clearly still loves him, but she’s made a life on her own terms. Is Betty’s literature assignment this a harbinger of Don’s pull toward unstable women? Perhaps he would get something out of it. Regardless of subtext, it was a treat to hear him call her “Birdy” again for the first time in years.

DON GOES TO FIND DIANE

 

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Don drives to Racine, Wisconsin to find Diane. He shows up at Diane’s old house, where he meets her ex-husband’s new wife, and invents a role for himself as a salesman from Miller beer, who is coming to give Diane her prize. There’s a spooky reveal of Diane’s daughter on the stairs when she opens the door to invite him in, which gave the impression that Don is walking into a rabbit hole. “Are you looking for my mother? Anything she needs can go through me,” she says. As Don continues to make small talk with the wife, the husband comes home and immediately sees through Don’s ruse. “You think you’re the first one to come up here? She’s a tornado with a pile of dead bodies behind her.” As a devout Christian, the husband tells Don that Diane is “with the Devil”, and that only Jesus can save her now. The next day, Don picks up a hitchhiker, and is headed to Saint Paul, Minnesota. He’s not going back to work any time soon.
JOAN IS SEXUALLY HARASSED OUT OF THE OFFICE.
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A former partner at SC&P, Joan is assigned to work on her accounts with Dennis at McCann, but he sabotages the first call and is thoroughly unprepared for the job. She gets short with him, and he bluntly retorts: “Who told you you had the right to get pissed off?” This is only the beginning of Joan’s experience of sexism in her new work environment—a problem she attempts to overcome. “I thought you were going to be fun,” he says, and storms out. When Ferg Donnelly meets with Joan to size up the situation, he takes Dennis’ side, but offers to help Joan out—all while being totally creepy and vaguely threatening. “Let’s get to know each other.” The causally shady new man in Joan’s life suggests that she can either go to court or “hire a guy” to take care of the situation. But she prefers to deal with things head-on. She meets with head honcho Jim Hobart. “I don’t care about your SC&P partnership,” he says bluntly, and insists that she get with the program. Joan matches him by threatening to get the ACLU behind her: “I suppose it’ll be difficult to find a reporter who wants to embarrass you this deeply.” He offers her a severance package that is half of what she is owed by the company, and she refuses. But Roger convinces her that it’ll be easier if she just takes the money. Is this truly the end of Joan’s advertising career, or will she make a name for herself elsewhere before the series’ end?

PEGGY AND ROGER.

 

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Peggy is still going to her desk at the all-but-destroyed SC&P offices out of pride. “I am a copy supervisor. I am not setting foot there until I get my office.” She is waiting until McCann gives her the time and space she deserves in her position. On the afternoon she’s set to move into her new office, she hears ominous organ music coming from afar: it’s Roger, of course. The both of them hang out, reminisce, share a bottle of Vermouth and have more on-screen speaking time together in this episode than in the rest of the series combined—and it’s delightful. He plays a rag on the organ as she roller skates around the empty offices. He gives her Bert Cooper’s copy of the ubiquitous painting “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”, which she feels confident enough to put in her new office. The next afternoon, she enters McCann-Erickson with sunglasses and a lit cigarette, not giving a fuck. Let’s hope she’s able to promote some kind of institutional change from within, a fight that Joan was forced to give up.

5 Highlights From Last Night’s MAD MEN: What’s In a Name?

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The characters on Mad Men have always been determined to go out on top, but they never expected to have their futures handed to them on a silver platter. In this week’s episode, McCann-Erickson decided to absorb Sterling Cooper & Partners into their business. Their deal offers some of the biggest corporations in the world, so with ambition no longer the driving force in their lives, we saw the idea of progeny begin to haunt them all. Since the company’s future is now seemingly set in stone, it remains to be seen whether Mad Men will end in personal tragedy, a series of surreal dream sequences, an act of God (a.k.a. Matthew Weiner), or pure resignation to the way things are. With two episodes left, perhaps it will include all of these things at once.

STERLING-COOPER & MCCANN-ERICKSON ARE ONE.

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When Roger notices that the office lease for this month was never paid, the executives soon put two and two together: McCann-Erickson is planning on subsuming Sterling Cooper & Partners into their headquarters within the month. This puts everyone into a job-hunting frenzy, but Don quickly gets an idea after learning that Lou Avery is leaving his post in Los Angeles to move to Tokyo. What if SC&P became Sterling Cooper West, taking a handful of clients with them to Los Angeles and becoming a bicoastal competitive force? They spend the episode courting various clients and coming up with a roster sufficient enough to display prominently in their meeting with their new bosses. But when the meeting begins, they’re silenced abruptly. It’s already a done deal, but that it’s better than they could have imagined: “You’ve died and gone to advertising heaven.” With names like Buick, Nabisco and Coca Cola in their future, it’s clear that SC&P’s latest merger is about as good as it gets, and nostalgia will only hold them back.

PETE AND TRUDY LOSE THEIR PRIVILEGE.

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Pete and Trudy are shocked to learn that their daughter Tammy has not gotten into the Greenwich Country Day School, where Pete’s family name has been enrolled for generations. When they meet with the headmaster, they learn that she actually didn’t score well on the entry exam—and on top of that, Trudy didn’t bother sending applications to any other schools. She tells Pete that many of the admissions directors (all men) were getting “fresh” with her: “The husbands won’t leave me alone.” This sparks a familiar feeling of adoration from Pete, who promises her that he will find a place for their daughter. She returns her respect for him right back.

PEGGY FEELS THE PANGS OF MOTHERHOOD.

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Peggy is auditioning young children for a commercial when she learns from Pete that McCann is absorbing SC&P. Though she starts to look for other job offers, she begins to consider how her life may have turned out differently—especially after having an intimate moment with Pete, who fathered the child that she gave away over half a decade ago. When one of the young girls accidentally staples her finger, she has a shouting match with the rude mother: “Why would you leave an 8-year-old child in a midtown office building?” “You do what you want with your own children, I’ll do what I want with mine.” This hits Peggy harder than she expected.

Still torn up about it later, she opens up to Stan about her frustration. “No one should have to make a mistake just like a man does and not get to move on,” she says. “She should be able to live the rest of her life, just like a man does.” She tells him about the child she gave away, and how she has no idea where he might be. “I don’t know because you’re not supposed to know—or you can’t go on with your life.” There will always be the baggage of what could have been, and the uncanny symbol of motherhood recurring throughout her life. We see that Peggy accepts the decision she made with newfound clarity.

ROGER TELLS DON ABOUT HIS AFFAIR WITH MEGAN’S MOM.

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The SC&P executives go out for drinks after learning the future of their company, but of course, Don and Roger have stayed for the night shift. After opines about not having a son to take over the Sterling name, Roger tells Don that he’s going to see somebody, and that Don won’t like it. It’s Megan’s mom, Marie Calvet. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going away.” At this point in his incestuous lifestyle and career trajectory, Don couldn’t care less about who’s sleeping with whom. But Roger sticks it to him: “When I married my secretary, you were hard on me. And then you went and did the same thing.”

In his familiar drunken haze, Don goes to Diane’s apartment, only to find that she’s moved out, and a gay couple has moved in, with no information on her whereabouts. Unsurprisingly, one of the men invites him in for a drink. It’s just like Sally said last episode: Don oozes sexuality—but will he find what he’s looking for?

THE BEGINNING OR THE ENDING?

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It remains to be seen whether the McCann merger is entirely positive for the SC&P crew. Joan is certainly skeptical, as none of the companies listed off in their meeting were clients of hers. “We both know they’re never gonna take me seriously over there,” she tells Pete in the cab ride home. Meanwhile, Don’s secretary Meredith is the most confused out of anyone in the office, constantly put-upon by Don’s silence and private dealings, as well as the other secretaries’ taunts: “We should put a bell on you.” She finally confronts Don in his office, telling him that it is most decidedly “not a normal day. Everyone’s living in a fright.”

In the final scene of the episode, the executives call an office-wide meeting to announce the big news, but everyone responds with nervous chatter. “Hold on—this is the beginning of something, not the end,” Don offers, but they can’t be silenced. They all start to leave the office, and the executives are left dumbfounded. There has rarely been a more potently ambiguous ending on , a show where change never occurs without casualties. I suspect that we will be in for something special next week.

5 Highlights From Last Night’s Mad Men: The Emptiness Is the Problem

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The characters on Mad Men often reveal the most about themselves when they’re alone—but even then, they can remain a mystery to us. A particularly emotional moment in last night’s episode came when Betty Francis (née Draper) stood in her kitchen, placed her hands on the counter and stared downward at something we couldn’t see. It happened twice: both after the return of a surprise visitor from her past, and again after halfheartedly disciplining her two boys. Was it the realization of how quickly the world turns outside of her domestic comforts, or simply the burden of her ceaseless duties as a mother and a housekeeper? If there was a lesson to be learned from last night’s Mad Men, it was simply a matter of always standing your ground: be upfront and never apologize, or you’ll end up on the losing end.

SIZING PEOPLE UP AT THE OFFICE

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McCann invites company executives to a retreat in the Bahamas, and Don is expected to write “the Gettysburg address” on the state of the company, which is understandably a tall order; we never see him complete the task. (A classic exchange with Peggy: “Do you have my thesaurus?” “Probably.”) Meanwhile, Don meets with Ted and Peggy individually to discuss their ambitions for the office. Ted is simply interested in bigger accounts, while Peggy wants to “create something lasting,” and to establish a role as the first woman creative director at the agency. Don nags Peggy for further details on her life plans, as if to once again ask himself, is that all there is? “This is about my job, not the meaning of life,” Peggy says. “You think those things are unrelated?” he responds.

MATHIS GETS FIRED

Mathis, the green employee, asks Don for advice about how to deal with a snubbed client. Don, essentially, tells him to never apologize and to play it cool. But Mathis takes it too literally and makes a terrible joke, throwing his career under the bus. He busts into Don’s office, proving he isn’t able to take responsibility for his own actions. “You have no character,” he says. “Neither do you—you’re just handsome.” Don swallows his pride and retorts: “Everybody has problems. Some people know how to deal with them, other people don’t. You’re fired.” Let’s see if this will have any bearing on Peggy’s trip to Paris with Mathis’ cousin, who we haven’t seen or heard from in two episodes.

JOAN’S NEW MAN

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Joan travels to LA with Lou Avery on business. She’s staying at the Beverly Wilshire, where Warren Beatty is making conquests. As Lou courts Hanna-Barbera for his cartoon ambitions, Joan has a coup de foudre with Richard Burgoff (Bruce Greenwood), a newly divorced real-estate developer. He buys Joan dinner and wonders aloud how she could possibly be single. After they sleep together, he demands that she cancel her flight to “get lobster in Malibu, sit on lounge chairs by the pool in Santa Barbara…” “I need to work,” Joan says.

When she returns to NYC, Richard follows her, and she reveals that she has a 4 year old son. Richard is furious and accuses her of using him as a crutch. “I know what this is, and so do you.” He’s just sent his kids off to college and doesn’t want to be responsible for anyone else. But then he visits her at the office with a bundle of flowers, telling her that he’s buying property in the city and she can visit him at will—with or without the kid. Perhaps Joan has found the perfect compromise with an older, more experienced man who can be there for her whenever she wants, without any expectations of domestic commitment.

GLEN BISHOP PAYS A VISIT

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Sally is getting ready for a cross-country bus trip with her swim team, but someone knocks at the door: Glen Bishop, their old neighbor and Betty’s former precocious young confidant. He’s now a trim young freshman at SUNY Purchase en route to Playland with a new flame. To Sally’s dismay, he reveals that he just enlisted and is heading to Vietnam. “You’re gonna die! For what?” Sally yells, and runs upstairs. Glen leaves, as proud as he’s ever been. That night, Sally calls his school to tearfully apologize, but can’t reach him.

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The next day, after Sally leaves, Glen returns to the Francis residence to pay a visit to Betty. He sips a beer and gets close to her in the kitchen, confident as ever. “I know you’re mine,” he says, and tries to kiss her—but Betty hesitates. “This was going to be the one good thing that came out of all this,” he says. “I know you know the man I can be.” He then he reveals that he flunked out of college, and enlisted in part to hide the news from his stepdad. Betty sends him off, proud of him, but then has the previously mentioned moment alone in the kitchen. What has her life become after all these years?

DON SELLS HIS APARTMENT AND SENDS SALLY OFF

Don’s real estate agent, Melanie, comes into his apt in the morning and wakes him up. “The emptiness is a problem,” she says bluntly. “This place reeks of failure.” Don still hasn’t removed the wine stain from the floor from his tryst two episodes ago, nor has he rented any new furniture since Megan took off. “A lot of wonderful things happened here,” he says in his own defense.

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But when he takes Sally out to a Chinese restaurant with her classmates, one of her friends flirts with him: “You have a penthouse? When I watch TV, the commercials are my favorite part…” Sally accuses Don and his ex-wife of “oozing everywhere”, as if sex appeal was always their primary phenomenological trait. “You are like your mom and me and you’re gonna find that out,” he says. “You are a very beautiful girl, but you’re more than that.” He sends her off on her cross-country trip just before he gets the news that his apartment as just been sold. He stands in the hallway, sizing up the path that defined the last half-decade of his life. If the main existential question here is “where can a man live after the Upper East Side?” (and it surely isn’t), we have three episodes left to find out.

5 Highlights From Last Night’s Mad Men: Everything Must Go

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The ninth episode of Mad Men’s final season offered so many ideas of monogamous harmony gone horribly wrong. Nearly every major interaction was sexually charged, and mostly with pitiful results. The lone exception: the opening scene. Don Draper making a milkshake for his ex-wife Betty’s stepsons—a disarmingly cheerful moment that almost felt like a flashback until her husband Henry walked in. The scene worked as a twisted joke in advance of the marital discord that followed.

DON CHASES DIANA INTO THE DARKNESS.

It was a consummate Mad Men image: Diana and Don sit together in his kids’ bedroom the morning, surrounded by Day-Glo colors and sunshine. She tells him about her dead daughter, and the husband she ran away from. We see Don clean-shaven, hair slicked back, and hers perfectly coiffed. They look like they’re both in their early 30s—as youthful as one could look in that light, and in their circumstances. “Don’t you have to go to work?” she asks. “I don’t feel like it,” he says.

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How many half-whispered conversations and post-coital dissolves have we seen on this show, which are so often punctuated by demands that can never really be met? “I think if I were you, this would bother me,” Don says the next morning, anticipating Megan’s arrival: “but it shouldn’t. Because it’s almost over.” Don is quick to establish a sense of comfort in the face of impending chaos, but he’s running on fumes. By the end of the episode, he realizes that he can never truly put himself in anyone else’s shoes, let alone those of a single mother’s supporting herself in the wake of tragedy. “When I was with you, I forgot about her…I don’t ever want to do that.” She won’t run away, and won’t let Don run away either.

LINDA CARDELLINI’S BRIEF APPEARANCE.

In an episode filled with both new and returning guest appearances, we got a glimpse of Linda Cardellini’s Silvia, Don’s neighbor and flame from Season 6. They run into each other with their significant others in the elevator on the way to his apartment. Little seems to have changed between her and her doctor husband, Arnold, except that their marriage is perhaps even more stilted and passionless. It’s probably the last we will ever see of them. Diana recognizes that there was history immediately, asking Don how many girls he’s had in the elevator. “That’s not what that was,” he replies—but she already understands what kind of man he is.

MEGAN MOVES OUT OF THE APARTMENT.

Megan flies to New York to get her furniture back from Don’s apartment. She brings her mother, Marie, and her sister, Marie-France all on Don’s dime. Marie is quick to call the entire marriage a sham, making Megan grieve the situation out of her own insecurities. Since Don’s $500 cover isn’t enough to pay for the move and the lunch with Harry Crane, Marie calls up her old flame Roger Sterling, who smooths out the rest of the bill. Roger takes advantage of Marie’s invitation to take advantage of her in the now-barren apartment. Megan walks in on them after the act, having quit lunch early and avoided Harry’s gross come-ons. She is quickly reminded why she wanted to get out of this town in the first place.

“PIMA” RYAN  SEDUCES THE AGENCY.

SC&P finds itself in a torrid state of affairs when “Pima” Ryan (Mimi Rogers), a celebrity photographer clearly modeled after Annie Leibovitz, enters the office on hire to shoot a Cinzano ad for Peggy. She visits the office to take a look at her negatives and comes to a head with Stan, whose nose for competition leads him to take rather intimate photos of his own girlfriend.

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In the darkroom, Pima is impressed with Stan’s work, and seduces him—but she isn’t finished with her SC&P conquests yet. She enters Peggy’s office and tries to get her to let loose. “You’ve never been married? Me either. The adventures I would have missed.” Peggy resists her advances. She shares her experiences with Stan, whose confidence has also gotten a major boost. Will this encounter lead to an affair between the two of them, or was it merely thematic window dressing in relation to the rest of the trysts happening this episode?

DON AND MEGAN ARE OFFICIALLY OVER.

“Why did I believe anything you said?” Megan says to Don, in what will likely be their last encounter in the series. “Why am I being punished for being young?” For a long time now, it’s been clear that Don and Megan have very different interests, and their lives on opposite coasts functioned as a trial separation. Megan did her best to be a doting housewife, a surrogate mother to his children, and an adventurous sexual partner.

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But the novelty wore off for Don, and he found himself increasingly alienated from the countercultural lifestyle she began to enjoy in Los Angeles. Since the 1960s began, Don has always been less about “free love” than horizontal integration. As a result, the girl who Harry Crane described as “Ali MacGraw and Brigitte Bardot combined” is out of his life forever. He writes her a check for a million dollars, divesting himself of further responsibility. She hands him back their wedding ring. He returns home to find all the furniture gone: the wife who had everything left him with nothing.

Mad Men Catch Up: Prepare for the End of an Era Before the Final Season Premiere

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Spring may have finally sprung in New York, but leave it to Matthew Weiner and company to lure us back into our living rooms for a handsome dose of melancholy. Mad Men is coming back Sunday for its final eight-episode run, signaling an end for its ensemble of advertising executives, secretaries, housewives, and careerist saps swinging through the 1960s in Manhattan.

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This show has held us in thrall for so long largely for its thoroughly realized characters, whose ambitions are literally worn on their sleeves, and whose personal and professional lives are thrillingly (and often painfully) intertwined. But then there’s Mad Men’s unparalleled attention to period detail. The show set the bar for network production design, with its beautifully layered office environments, luxurious widescreen framing and vivid color schemes. Despite being shot almost entirely on studio sets, it’s still the most visually sumptuous show on TV.

So what can we expect from the final episodes? We know that Mad Men is a deeply nostalgic, pensive vision of the American dream—but it’s all told through the eyes of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who has spent seven seasons figuring out how to overcome his past life. Will he make it through this decade on his own terms?

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Here’s a quick refresher course on what happened at the end of last season:

A NEW MERGER.

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Jim Cutler attempted to oust Don from Sterling Cooper & Partners (SC&P) by claiming a breach of contract, after Don interrupted the business meeting with cigarette company Philip Morris. But the other partners—Roger Sterling, Bert Cooper, Pete Campbell, Joan, Ted—hadn’t agreed on this. However, as soon as Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Bert Cooper passed away and Sterling took control, selling half the company to McCann-Erickson and maintaining everyone’s else’s share. (In a surprise to no one, Cutler withdrew his complaint and decided to stick it out for the money.)

DON’S MARRIAGE IS QUIETLY COMING APART.

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When we last saw them together, Don informed Megan over the phone that he might get fired, and suggested moving to Los Angeles with her—but she refused. Their bicoastal married life had been on shaky ground for a while now, as Don could hardly spend a moment with Megan without making business arrangements, or gazing scornfully at her countercultural lifestyle. But most of all, he was unable to let himself be loved by her, or anybody else.

THE SLOW, DIFFICULT RISE TO POWER FOR PEGGY OLSON.

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Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) became SC&P’s de facto creative director when Don was placed on leave at the end of Season 6. But when she finally was put in charge of an ad campaign for BurgerChef, Don was assigned to her creative team, after having done none of the work he’d been given. After they reconcile, Peggy comes up with a brilliant proposal, but Pete asks Don to give the pitch instead of Peggy, and she is furious. When Bert Cooper died the night before the meeting and Don realized he might not have a job anymore, he did the responsible thing and gave it back to Peggy, and she knocked it out of the park. It remains to be seen how much of an uphill climb is left for this self-made woman.

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A FEW THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS SEASON:

THE END OF THE 1960s.

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Mad Men  has always embedded epochal American events and changing attitudes into the fabric of its characters’ lives, and 1969 was certainly no picnic. How will Weiner and co. deal with the Charles Manson murders? The stabbing at Altamont Speedway? The beginning of Nixon’s armament campaign in Vietnam? And they better not forget the Stonewall riots. One of the big conflicts on this show is whether the characters choose to remain woven into the prevailing establishment versus joining the counterculture—and come the 1970s, neither of those worlds will be spared.

DON’S INCESSANT SMOKING AND DRINKING.

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Since the beginning of the series, Mad Men characters imbibe and inhale like there’s no tomorrow. Will Don finally have the heart attack the show has been teasing for years? Let’s find out if Mad Men will end as a cautionary tale against downing everything the ad companies are selling—or if it finds a creative new way to reinforce those attitudes.

WILL PETE EVER MEET THE CHILD HE HAD WITH PEGGY?

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The first season ended with Peggy giving birth to a baby boy; in the second season, she hid her visible pregnancy by taking office leave for tuberculosis, while only revealing her secret to Don. She then told Pete about the baby and that she gave it up for adoption, and their relationship has been slightly awkward ever since (though when is it not awkward with Pete?). I have a sneaking suspicion that this thread will re-emerge in these final episodes, whether as retribution for Pete’s irresponsibility and Peggy’s long struggle, or otherwise. Until then, don’t trust any children.

WILL JOAN STAY SINGLE?

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The most sought-after character on Mad Men still lives with her mother and child in tow. Last season, she rejected the doting Bob Benson’s offer of wealth and security because, well, frankly, who could love a sycophant? I wonder if Joan will ever meet “the one”, or if she would still choose family and security (and occasional trysts with Roger Sterling) over starting something new.