Tonight is the much anticipated season three finale of "Mad Men" and there are so many issues to resolve. Will Betty leave Don? If so, will she leave behind those children she can barely stand? Will Peggy and/or Pete fly the coop for Duck's shop? What about Sal -- is he coming back, or still trolling around that park? Most importantly, how do we get Joan back front and center?
Heck, we don't know. "Mad Men" is a complex show and Matthew Weiner is a crafty dude. That's why we asked "Mad Men" expert Jesse McLean. McLean is a pop culture writer and author of "The Kings of Madison Avenue: The Unofficial Guide to Mad Men."
We asked McLean for predictions and also about how he feels the show deals with issues like family and race. He told us why he thinks family life is portrayed in such a depressing light, and why Joan makes him feel good.
WarmTV: What's your prediction for Don & Betty?
-My immediate reaction is to say they will split, up but since that's an obvious choice, it makes me wonder if it will actually happen. The series is so much about defying expectations. When she spoke to the family lawyer a couple of episodes ago in order to get a sense of it all, she found out there would be a lot she'd have to contend with if she did try to divorce Don. So they're probably still together in the finale, but maybe not by the beginning of season 4.
WarmTV: Will she take the kids, the ones she seems to hate?
-I don't think she'd leave the kids just for the matter of appearances. She resents the kids and what's required of her as a mom, but she would think leaving the children would look terrible.
WarmTV: What about Sal?
-I hope he's not gone. I thought in the opening episode that there was going to be a lot there for his character. And in the last episode his name was dropped again. Hopefully we'll see him again in last episode or maybe season 4. They're not done with him yet. While there are a lot of differences, there are still a lot of similarities between him and Don.
WarmTV: They have to bring Joan back, right?
-I think her return will probably be linked somehow with Roger. Neither of them seem to be enjoying their marriage. They both suffer from dashed expectations, and you get the sense that Roger is feeling the limitations of his marriage -- that he wasn't wrong necessarily about wanting to leave Mona, but that maybe he did it for the wrong woman. Maybe Joan will return in a Sterling Cooper capacity or something with Roger. Or maybe they will each cheat on their spouses. But without her, the show isn't the same.
It's a brave thing for Matthew Weiner to do because so much of the show has been about supporting characters, and he's been limiting them. Even Pete hasn't had a lot going on this season. But it's not so much a matter of Weiner trying to focus the spotlight somewhere else as much as he's biding his time. Everyone has their part to play. Weiner's a good conductor, I think.
Will Pete leave Sterling Cooper?
-I think he'll actually try to tough it out at Sterling Cooper. But I've always had a sense that Sterling Cooper wouldn't be the only agency, but I thought maybe Don would have split off and set up his own shop. I think there's a real possibility that Sal and Pete and Peggy show up across the street with Duck Phillips. That would add more interesting grist to the workplace politics mill. A couple of really intense rivalries there.
WarmTV: Duck and Peggy. That's weird, right?
-That was really unexpected. I don't know. It's odd. It's really just a matter of changing the way you look at the characters and that's really integral for a series if it's going to have longevity. But for some reason it seems more of a surprise looking at Duck, because of him going from being a paternal figure at first to now being a romantic interest, it's unusual and unexpected. But I'm glad to see him back. There's a lot more of a story to be told.
WarmTV: I was over Duck when he put his dog out on the street.
-Yeah, but the look on his face when he's walking away...
WarmTV: Doesn't matter.
-Well, those are tough streets for anyone two-legged or four-legged.
WarmTV: Don rarely acts like he cares about Betty, so why does he fight so hard to stay with her?
-The amazing thing about Don -- he's a cad and you can't feel bad for him if you look at him on paper. But the way these characters are written and performed, you get more sides to them. Some good and some contemptible.
It has been an odd course this season. Don has shown a certain amount of self-destruction and has taken a dark turn. It'll look like he has things back together but then he pulls the plug. Betty has gone from someone innocent and naive and spoiled, and to see the arc of what the marriage has done to her, too, is heartbreaking. I think of lot it is that they are both about appearances. The marriage and family is the surface he wants to perpetuate. Also, the fact that so much of it is this picture he has that he's trying to get. This American dream, and as soon as he's got it, it's not enough. But when it's threatened, he wants to hold onto it again.
I think season four is going to be a make-or-break season [for Don & Betty] just because in season two Don went through so much and went to an effort to fix things and then in season three he went right back at it again. There are only so many times you can do that.
What about Weiner's portrayal of family life in the 1960s. It's awfully depressing.
-It's funny, but having spoken to my parents about growing up in that time, there was that belief that kids were to be seen and not heard. That doesn't seem like my sweetheart grandparents, but for my parents, there was a sense that kids were pushed aside and something to be dealt with and not nurtured.
WarmTV: Like the episode where Sally was dealing with her grandfather's death.
-Yes, that child was falling apart and no one got that, they thought she was just being a kid. But to say there were no loving, nurturing families back then is a mistake. But happy families don't make for good drama.
We're coming up to a point [in time] when divorce laws change with no-fault divorces, so this is a preface to the family unit breaking down. There's a sense that's when the nuclear family really starts to break apart.
WarmTV: Weiner should do his next show about Sally as a rebellious hippie in a commune in California in the 70s.
-I would think there would be room for that in a Season 5 or 6 -- to start a final season in '72 maybe. It'd be really interesting to see the effect of all this stuff on the kids. Originally, Weiner wasn't planning to show much of the home life of the Drapers, which is unthinkable now. You really get a sense that these kids are gonna have a lot of stuff to work out. It would be good to see it as a fast-forward season at the end. TV series tend to wear out their welcome around a Season 5 or 6. I don't wish for the end of this series, but I hope if they do end it, it will be right.
WarmTV: How do you think the show deals with race? There was an interesting treatment of Medgar Evers' death.
-It's interesting on two fronts. In that episode, his murder is only briefly mentioned but Evers does show up in Betty's dream when she's going through the birth. There's that strange dream sequence and there's an African American man and you get the sense that's Medgar Evers, or at least that's what I inferred.
Weiner got a lot of flack in the first two seasons because race wasn't really dealt with, but he's had his eye on ball the whole time. The first scene in the pilot has got that exchange between Draper and the African American waiter, and even as Draper's talking to him, that other sort of thuggish waiter asks if the African American man is bothering him. In the first two seasons it was right underneath the surface. But a fairly accurate view because at that point it was all starting to happen, but it hadn't really reached New York yet. It was all happening in the South and those ripple effects were not felt at that point. So it's dealt with here appropriately, outside of having a character front and center. But maybe that would have felt forced.
And we're seeing the emergence of Carla.
WarmTV: In the JFK episode, we see Carla and Betty sitting on the sofa side-by-side smoking cigarettes and crying. They were shown as equals.
-Yes, and when the four little girls died, there was Betty's line to Carla about, "now's just not the time." It was fairly straight on and fairly realistic. There will probably be more African American characters next season.
WarmTV: Who is your favorite character?
-That's a tough one. Joan is probably my favorite character just because at the beginning of the series she was someone who knew what was going on and she knew how to work her way through the world that she's in. She has been fairly flawless in that and has gotten fairly far along, and gotten to do the things she wanted to do. There's grace in that character. Even when things haven't been turning out the way she expected, there's a real grace and dignity in the way she's written and performed that you don't see in the other characters. In a series that doesn't have a lot of heart-warming moments, that aspect of the show has made me feel good.
The "Mad Men" finale airs tonight at 10pm on AMC (with an encore at 11pm).