THE SHOW: “Mad Men”
WHEN/WHERE: Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT on AMC
REASON TO WATCH: Second-season finale.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The backdrop is the Cuban Missile Crisis - Oct. 22-28, 1962 - as it spreads confusion and panic in New York and the offices of Sterling Cooper, about to be purchased by a British ad firm. In the foreground, many personal and business issues arise, from the buyout to Don’s (Jon Hamm) disappearance to Betty Draper’s (January Jones) choice about her collapsed marriage to Peggy’s (Elizabeth Moss) spiritual crisis and on and on.
As usual, Roger (John Slattery) reduces global affairs to a personal level: “Kennedy’s daring ‘em to bomb us, right when I got a second chance.” But the missile crisis does have a way of concentrating everyone’s thinking, and some resolutions are made. Will Duck Phillips (Mark Moses) become king rat of the new merged firm? What will Don think of Betty’s big news? Will Peggy confront Pete (Vincent Kartheiser)?
BOTTOM LINE: So much praise has been heaped on “Mad Men” - much by me - that another positive endnote on this second season seems like just another cherry on a mountain of them. So be it: This season, almost miraculously, has improved upon the Emmy-winning first, and this finale upon last year’s memorable closer, when the Drapers prepared for Thanksgiving, and Don pitched the Kodak account. Both episodes are companions because they winnow the “truth” from the grand overarching deception of these lives.
As Don learned last week (from his former “wife”), “the only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you’re alone.” By Sunday, he has absorbed these words fully. “Mad Men” fans will notice that “Meditations in an Emergency” - the finale’s title as well as the Frank O’Hara book Don saw someone reading last season - feels like a series finale. (There will be a third season, even though creator Matthew Weiner still had no deal by deadline.) But as mere season finales go, this one is magnificent. TV’s best show just gets better and better.