Greatest TV Episodes: Mad Men - Shut the Door, Have a Seat
This week's pick is from guest writer, Rebecca Brodeur...
I watch a lot of TV, and there's not many episodes I've watched that have made me stand up, punch the air with a cry of “Yes!!” So, for it to happen after an episode of Mad Men, well, that has to mark that episode out as a fairly special one, and that's why I decided to write about Shut the Door, Have a Seat, the show's season 3 finale. There are a few other episodes that stand out for sheer quality, but this is the one that drew an emotional response from me.
Please note that writing about the events of the episode are very spoilery for the show.
Mad Men has always been known for its slow burn approach to storytelling, it's often famously called a show where nothing happens because of the time the story takes to unwind, and because of how focused it is on character development, and unravelling the background of Don Draper that have inspired him to become one of the best advertising men on Madison Avenue in the 60s. By season 3, we know quite a bit about Don's family and work life, including his central deception and how it affects his relationships.
But in Shut the Door, Have a Seat, we get flashbacks to a central episode in Don's life, the death of his father. We also get to see his work life in flux, while his married life is dissolving. The massive advertising firm McCann is about to take over Sterling Cooper and Don needs to commit in order to try and fight the inevitable loss of control. Which leads to something we don't see often in the run up to this episode, Don telling his colleagues, including Peggy, Pete and Roger just how much he values them. Instead of the usual web of lies, Don at work, has to rely on the absolute truth to try and save the company. And Joan returns. And Lane Pryce, the often-wimpy Brit, actually turns on PPL. Yes, the gang are all back together and ready to kick butt in season 4 as Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Meanwhile, Don's home life is in turmoil, with his longstanding marriage dissolving, finally. We've seen his many indisretions, we've witnessed Betty's neuroses and how she deals with Don's big secret, so it's not that surprising that she's calling it quits and goes to see a divorce lawyer. And, after a devastating scene where they tell the children, and Betty gets to call Don a liar in front of her family, he eventually does another thing we're not used to seeing Don do. He gives up and says “I'm not going to fight you.”
And so something huge has ended, and something unknown but exciting has started. And in a season which built very slowly, and ended with my 'punch the air' moment, we were left with one of the most successful resets of a show I've had the pleasure to watch. It was at this moment I knew I was deeply in love with the world of Mad Men. I often recommend the show to friends purely based on how I felt at the end of season 3, that we got a pay-off when it was needed. And when it made sense to the story. That the peril of a takeover was just as sharply felt as some of the life-or-death situations in other shows.