Mad Men's fourth season.
This photo and caption reveal nothing about Don Draper's (Jon Hamm) state of mind at the end of
This photo and caption reveal nothing about Don Draper's (Jon Hamm) state of mind at the end of Mad Men's fourth season. AMC
The last time I gave any details about a show I was reviewing and praising — the season premiere of Showtime's Dexter — I got some e-mails and comments from listeners who were upset that I was ruining the show for them by revealing plot details. It didn't seem to matter to them that the plot points I was discussing were from the previous season. But it matters to me, so before I talk at all about last night's Mad Men and Rubicon, let's get something straight.
Here's my official position on what are called "spoiler alerts": Before a show is broadcast, I'm very careful about how I describe it. I want viewers to enjoy the same surprises I did. But after it's been seen by millions of people, if you want to wait a few days to watch it on TiVo — or a few months or years to see it on DVD — that's your business, not mine.
After all, there are always people who still haven't seen that movie where the big surprise twist at the end is that the guy is a ghost. Or the girl is a guy. Or the secret word is a sled. How long do we protect them, and keep our critical mouths shut? With movies, it's fair to keep quiet during its original theatrical run. But on TV, an episode's national premiere is its original run. So if you don't want to know even the most general details about last night's Mad Men and Rubicon, look away now.
[Note: If the previous paragraph didn't convince you, maybe this will: There are many, many spoilers for both Mad Men and Rubicon ahead. Proceed at your own risk.]
This season of Mad Men began, quite literally, with the question "Who is Don Draper?" It ended, after a year of crisis at work and aimless hedonism at home, with the most surprising of twists: Don Draper was happy. So happy that he surprised not only us, but himself, by taking his secretary, Megan, as a babysitter on a Disneyland vacation with his children — and then presenting her with a engagement ring.
Rubicon on the other hand, surprised us by ending with ... a non-ending. The hour started perfectly, with Will, played by James Badge Dale, instructing his intelligence team to connect the dots — but to be careful, warning that just because all leads were pointing to the same conclusion, that didn't make it so.
In the end, Will followed his own trail, and ended up implicating the boss of his own agency, and confronting him on the roof. We knew this confrontation was coming, but all we got was a tease and a non-ending. The writers clearly were more concerned with setting up a Season 2 than in concluding a Season 1, and that's where I cry foul. I can, and often do, defend TV series that start slowly by comparing them to novels and saying they deserve time to build. But the fans who stayed with Rubicon all season deserved more. They deserved a conclusion.
My final conclusion is that TV on Sunday nights, even without Rubicon and Mad Men, is alive and very, very well. Boardwalk Empire, on HBO, just presented its best episode yet. Showtime's Dexter just set up an intriguing new plot with Julia Stiles as a victim saved by Dexter, and about to turn vigilante herself.
BBC America just premiered Luther, an impressively intense new detective series starring Idris Elba, the actor who played Stringer Bell on The Wire. And next week, AMC premieres its newest series, The Walking Dead, which I've seen, and I love. But for now, I won't say any more than that. Don't want to spoil anything.
David Bianculli is founder and editor of TVWorthWatching.com, and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey.