By Santiago Ramos
[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet seen “Meditations in an Emergency,” the Mad Men Season 2 finale, this article will most certainly spoil you. But then again, why haven’t you already seen the finale? It’s been over a week! For a background to the show, see my previous post. For a summary of the finale, go here.
So we are left with a pregnant and afraid Betty Draper, in an ambiguous reconciliation with her husband, Don.
The reason why Betty’s pregnancy is inopportune isn’t only because her marriage is becoming sundered. It is also because the world she was raised in, and for, is disintegrating.
Perhaps, while contemplating a way out of the pregnancy, Betty is only thinking about the former issue; but in the distance, two superpowers are slowly rising against each other, marching towards mutually assured destruction. All along, however, we knew that the Cuban Missile Crisis wouldn’t end in war. The problem is, to paraphrase Walker Percy, not that the bombs will fall, but that they won’t.
Betty and Don are left with the question of how to keep on living, and this question takes on a more dramatic importance, because they also now have the responsibility of teaching a new person how to live—how to live in a world where nothing is holding as true anymore. Philosophy, to paraphrase Hegel this time, is always late to the scene. Betty is pregnant and does not know what to do. Neither, really, does Don.
So we’re left in a similar place where we had left off in the penultimate episode. The difference is that now the philosophical-ethical questions have become dramatic exigencies. The questions have been articulated within the fabric of the story, and the answers might come or they might not. Still, whatever happens now, I can say that both the strength and weakness of the writers of this story is their ability to place the questions into the story.
Sometimes, it gets annoying. It’s as if they are cluttering the story with too many references to the problems of the 1960s: the racial tension, the class distinctions, the subordination of the housewife, the closeted homosexual, the fear of the Bomb, even a child with a plastic bag over her head. Even if we say, yes, this is realism rather than naturalism, it still all seems too much. (At least the cast could poke fun of themselves on Saturday Night Live—hear Elizabeth Moss say, “I am a woman. I am not allowed to own a watch”).
But the excesses of the show do not outweigh its virtues, and nothing asks a question better than a child: what world will the baby be born into?
I have to draw the obligatory parallel to our own times. We’ve lived through many unforeseen, powerful events these last seven or so years, not least what happened on Tuesday. It either smells just like 1960, or we want it to be 1960 so much that we are making it so. (The comparisons with Camelot are already being made.)
We ask the same questions as Betty and Don. As a friend of mine put it on Wednesday morning, “It’s a little scary—the feeling of history advancing.”
For our own sake, and for the sake of good television writing, I hope the Mad Men scribes find some sort of resolution in Season 3. Something has to answer the hopes that Don is harboring, which he expresses by quoting these lines from Frank O’Hara’s poem, “Mayakovsky”:
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.
Now, let’s see if this is possible.