“Mad Men” closed a truly great fourth season on Sunday, with a final hour (and go away right now if you haven’t watched it yet) that pulled its one big twist almost entirely out of left field.
The season’s focus on Jon Hamm as Don Draper, the newly divorced, boozing, needy, emotionally damaged ad maestro — who finally saw even his business start to unravel, triggering a master stroke in response — made for compelling viewing throughout. Moreover, the program’s historical underpinnings have become more interesting as it moves further into the 1960s, gradually bringing the building counter-culture movement into the picture. Just the thought of Draper coexisting with the Beatles sort of boggles the mind.
Yet for all of that, the last hour took another strange detour to the West Coast — which has happened on the show before — and saw Don impulsively become engaged to his secretary. It wasn’t disappointing, exactly, yet nor did it ring true.
Because of the emphasis on Don, his ex Betty (January Jones) has disappeared for large chunks of the season, and she’s been missed, mostly because she so perfectly captures the show’s basic essence: Yes, we tend to idealize the 1950s and days before the Kennedy assassination as simpler times, but that ignores all the boozing and smoking, bigotry and misogyny that preceded the various political movements whose modern incarnations still make Rush Limbaugh apoplectic.
While “Mad Men” ended in the middle, yet again — leaving fans to wonder what kind of time lapse will bridge the story into next season — over on Showtime “Dexter” unleashed its own fascinating curve ball (yes, I have baseball on the mind) in what’s becoming an extremely interesting season of that program, which has seemingly abandoned the notion of one season-long arc in favor of smaller yet equally delicious bites. Villain by committee, if you will.
The tease for next week seemed especially provocative, raising the question of whether an accomplished serial killer/vigilante like Dexter (Michael C. Hall) will help a novice (played by Julia Stiles) in her own personal quest for vengeance.
Throw in “Boardwalk Empire,” playoff baseball, “Sunday Night Football” and an unusually tasty episode of “Desperate Housewives,” and there was a little something for everyone on Sunday night.
The only thing lacking, really, was enough time to take it all in. Or, you know, something better to do than watch a lot of television.