News Column

'Mad Men' Goes Mad with Symbolism on Eve of Season Finale

June 23, 2013

"Mad Men" is almost done with 1968, and Don Draper still hasn't evolved into a more upright human. He's retreated into the fetal position.

A richly deserved "You make me sick!" from daughter Sally was followed by an unfair "You're a monster!" from protege Peggy at the end of last Sunday's penultimate episode. Don (Jon Hamm) just curled back onto his office couch to wallow deeper in the rejection of the only two people he values.

Bad for him, good for us: This season has been much stronger than the last, despite one too many tiresome, drug-induced trips through its hero's psyche. That time should have been spent with Joan, Stan and Ginsberg, or even Bob Benson, who's still up to something fishy.

Last season's death-soaked imagery culminated in a suicide. This season, with just one episode to go, the disturbing symbolism includes birth, too. If Don himself is slated for a rebirth after all these baby references, he'd better get started: Next season will be the show's last.

Early on, Don flashes back to his hard-knock childhood, spying on his pregnant stepmother's sexual exploitation.

Don's wife, Megan (Jessica Pare), has a miscarriage and earns a pile of Catholic guilt for feeling relieved.

Sally (Kiernan Shipka) was reading Ira Levin's novel "Rosemary's Baby" before her scary experience with an intruder.

Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) hears her boyfriend say, "I always pictured us having kids ..." and she gets so starry-eyed, she stops listening.

Joan (Christina Hendricks) folds baby Kevin's clothes while watching Chicago police crack skulls on the news.

Partying in California, Don has a post-hookah hallucination featuring Megan as a happily pregnant hippie in a Cher wig. Later, Roger (John Slattery) pulls him out of a pool, dripping wet and gasping for air.

Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) tells the agency's General Motors clients that his wife is expecting. They congratulate him with a blast of buckshot to the eye.

Megan tries to cook breakfast for her hung-over husband, but overboils her eggs on the stove. He eventually feels better, and they catch a movie: "Rosemary's Baby."

Peggy's at the theater, too -- allegedly doing research with her new mentor Ted (Kevin Rahm). She's excited about using "Rosemary's Baby" in an ad for baby aspirin: "You need to feel the conspiracy."

Don gets to play the baby during a run-through, and Hamm's delivery of "Waaah. Waaah. Waaah!" is six seasons distilled into three surreal seconds.

Based on the Jackie Onassis references last Sunday, we were in late October of 1968. Don, treating the Incessant Cough of Doom with an 80-proof breakfast, was starting to resemble the dregs of society in the Nixon scare ads on his TV.

This Sunday's season finale could show us Nixon's Nov. 5 victory, or creator Matthew Weiner could skip ahead a bit.

How about Pete Campbell and Bob Benson plotting Chevy strategy over turkey and cranberry sauce while Manolo takes Pete's mom to see "Barbarella"?

Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) could be dealing with fallout from the infamous Jets vs. Raiders "Heidi" game on Nov. 17, or Kirk kissing Uhura on "Star Trek" on Nov. 22.

That's also the day the Beatles released the White Album, which includes "Helter Skelter," which brings us to the Manson Family -- and an actress who was murdered while she was eight months pregnant. Is this why we've been hearing about babies?

"Mad Men" fans' paranoid water cooler rumblings began when Pare wore a white T-shirt with a red star, just like the one Sharon Tate wore for her iconic 1967 Esquire photo shoot. Questioned on Twitter, costume designer Janie Bryant replied "no coincidence!" Six Degrees of Sharon Tate took hold.

The film adaptatin of "Rosemary's Baby" permeated last Sunday's events. Tate's husband, Roman Polanksi, directed the movie.

Those pictures of Tate in the T-shirt? Those were taken on the set of "Rosemary's Baby." Tate appeared briefly, uncredited, in the movie.

Don watched Megan on her soap for a while last Sunday, then changed the channel to "The Patty Duke Show." Duke starred with Tate in "Valley of the Dolls."

Don and Roger attended a party at a swank Hollywood Hills house that could pass for 10050 Cielo Drive, where Tate and four others were murdered.

When Sally crushed on her college-age neighbor, her friend gushed, "You're living with Mark Lindsay!" Lindsay, lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders, was one of the previous tenants of 10050 Cielo Drive.

Tate herself was an upcoming actress who married a talented womanizer prone to depression. It's all a bit too obvious, probably, but Megan should at least start locking the door.

Then again, the red star was also a Viet Cong symbol, and Vietnam has been rampaging through Don's consciousness. Maybe the shirt was more Hanoi Jane than "Helter Skelter." But that's part of the joy of "Mad Men" -- parsing the pop culture, knowing that the writers are probably just messing with us. But it was hardly random when Don took little Bobby to see "Planet of the Apes" during a race riot, either.

Weiner has denied that anyone will die in the season finale, but it won't be a shocker if the season that began with Don witnessing a heart attack ends with one of his own. Or maybe he'll just have a three-bourbon lunch and take Bobby to see "Bullitt."

To reach Sara Smith, send email to Follow her on Twitter: @SarawatchesKC


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