The Carousel: Revisiting Mad Men: S3 Finale (“Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”)

Hi there, surprisingly loyal readers! One of these days we’re going to have to come up with a smoother way to introduce these discussions.

Look. I don’t feel like I have to hype this discussion up all that much. You all remember the end of Season 3. I can tell you all remember, because it got 16 damn upvotes. Even the name “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” implies intrigue and shenanigans. Who puts two periods in an episode title?! Lunatics, is who.

And I could do some sort of introductory comment on how this episode was received at the time (extremely well) or whether it’s held up over the years (yes) knowing how the changes promised by this episode actually panned out, but come on. Let’s just get into it.


This episode starts with a quiet breakup. Connie Hilton lets Don know PPL is being bought out by McCann, and as such, Connie will have to end their business relationship.

Don, who’s come to see Hilton as a father figure – how many other self-made, working-class dreamers does he meet in Manhattan? – lashes out, accusing Connie of promising a close relationship while keeping his distance. He also says Connie “comes and goes as he pleases”, and “doesn’t give a crap that other people’s futures are tied up in him”. Two thoughts:

1) Boy, Don sure has some thoughts about Connie that Betty might be able to relate to
2) Boy, this is sure foreshadowing for Don and Betty’s divorce
3) Don is the one coming and going as he pleases (well, mostly going) in the business world by the end of this episode. It seems he takes Connie’s advice to stop whining and take his work into his own hands seriously.

More foreshadowing and father-son relationships in the next scene, as Don suddenly remembers his father leaving a farmers’ co-op in the middle of the Depression, swearing to make it on his own. In a later flashback, we see Archibald Whitman never did manage to sell his own crops – he was kicked by a horse that night and died, victim to his own drunk optimism. Even before he consciously decides to start a new agency, Don is worrying subconsciously that he inherited his father’s hubris.

So Don goes to Bert, in another generation-clashing father-son conversation. Bert doesn’t have the rest of his life to start his career over, but Don wants nothing more than to build something new. “How can you not understand that? You did it yourself 40 years ago.”

If Don’s serious about buying Sterling-Cooper from PPL, he needs to grovel to Lucky Strike, and that means he needs to grovel to Roger. Roger makes him work for it, but in the end he doesn’t want to retire either. “So you do want to be in advertising after all”, he says to Don as his parting comment. So much for the guy who couldn’t even commit to a contract, in other words.

Back at home, Don maybe should be groveling to Betty like he was to Roger – but he refuses to take her divorce threats seriously. “You had a tough couple weeks,” he says. “I had a tough year,” she corrects him. Betty puts on a flawless cold front in this scene, which won’t crack until she tells the kids later, but Don can’t seem to notice the difference between her normal aloofness and how resolved she is about this.

That resolution stays firm even when she goes to an attorney with Henry and is told she’ll have to spend six weeks in Nevada, thanks to New York State restrictions on divorce. Henry tells her not to try for alimony from Don, since he can provide for her.

It seems foolish of him from a 2017 perspective, what with Betty’s young kids, but I suspect it’s the way these things had to be done. You just don’t marry another man’s wife and then let that man provide for you. Of course, Henry ends up living in Don’s house for a year anyway, so there’s that ideal gone.

Meanwhile, Lane tells the Sterling-Coo partners that they’re mistaken – PPL is just selling Sterling-Cooper to McCann, not being bought out entirely. In a phone call with St. John later, he finds out HE’S the one who’s been misled, by his own bosses. ALL of PPL is being absorbed by the soulless McCann behemoth, meaning Lane is in the same boat as the rest of Sterling-Cooper, AND his bosses won’t go to bat for him.

Newly bitter, Lane goes back to Don, Roger, and Bert – and the electric part of the episode begins. When Lane threatens to fire Don for his attempts at “conspiracy”, Don tells him to go right ahead. Throw Roger and Bert in, too.

In the sort of corporate backhandedness that wouldn’t work in the smartphone age, Lane will fire the entire leadership of Sterling-Cooper and send the news late enough that London won’t hear about it until Monday. That gives them the weekend to raid the office, raid the best employees, and raid accounts. And that gives them the bare bones of a new business.

[There’s too much that’s delightful about this conversation, but I especially like Lane’s euphemistic “obtain the materials required for continuity of service”, and his follow-up clarification “We have to steal everything.”]

And with that, the caper begins! There’s a lot of fun office supply theft, but first Don has to get more groveling out of the way to people he’s alienated over the years. Pete isn’t a surprising one – he’s already got his accounts lined up ready to go, because he’s been planning to quit and take them to some other agency. Also, he wants Don to know he’s not really sick. He just went to job interviews all day and threw on pajamas when they came over.

He demands to know what Don thinks his value is beyond the names of his clients, and Don senses that Pete – an account man who’s never wanted to be an account man – wants to be told he’s creative, progressive, and forward-thinking. So Pete’s on board, with Trudy acting as his priceless accomplice / secretary / father-in-law wrangler.

Then there’s Peggy. Don hasn’t noticed how much he’s alienated her this year, denying her equal pay and shooting down her pitches while Duck Phillips courts her. He tells her to join his new agency, never once stopping to think if she might have other offers. She lets him know she does. “I’m not gonna beg you,” he says. “Beg me? You didn’t even ask me.”

And eventually, he does ask her, in a way he could never do in his relationship with Betty. He explains all the ways he and Peggy understand each other and share a worldview. He calls her an “extension of himself”. He vows eternal commitment, in the form of promising he’ll always try to hire her. It’s a perverse, platonic marriage proposal as Don’s real marriage ends.

Speaking of that marriage, Roger accidentally spills the beans about Betty and Henry over drinks, and the ugliest Don scene yet ensues. I don’t think Don would act any kinder, or avoid shoving Betty, even if he knew she’s stayed faithful sexually.

The heart of the issue is that Don has had no choice but to see himself as the bad guy in his own story, and he doesn’t have to feel that way now that he knows about the “life raft” Betty’s been building behind his back. Finally getting to feel like the victim is powerful. But he and Betty both know he’s not a victim, and all she has to say to his accusations is “That’s right” as he looks increasingly sober and ashamed of himself.

Clearing up loose ends, Harry has to be dragged onboard with undignified threats (plus a hilarious elevator scene where Pete realizes Harry has no idea why he’s there) and Joan has to be brought out of retirement (in a fist-pumping reveal as she walks in). And Don has to kick down doors, and Peggy has to sass Roger, and the lights have to be turned off in the old, familiar office set for the final time. If Joan took her top off it still wouldn’t get this fan-service-y.

So most of the core familiar crew relocates to a room in the Pierre Hotel (“Accounts gets the bed!”), while others are left to find the ransacked office on Monday. Don quietly, finally accepts that his marriage is over, Trudy brings sandwiches, and Harry forgets the room number.

“Very productive” is the last line of dialogue in the episode. Spoken by Lane about their first day as Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce, it doubles as an assessment of the most plot-centric, status-quo-altering, crowd-pleasing episode of Mad Men. If the writers felt as nervously pleased with themselves in the writers’ room as the characters did in the Pierre, I wouldn’t blame them.

Seems, based on the one-sided phone conversation we hear in Roger’s office, that Jane was one of the earliest amateur conspiracy theorists about JFK. “Most interest that girl’s ever had in a book depository.”

Roger isn’t given depth that often in the early seasons, so hearing him nervously realize “I’ve acted like I’ve started a business before my whole life. But I inherited one” is a nice moment.

“You just assume I’ll follow you. Like some nervous poodle.”

All the variations of the title heard in the episode:
1. “Lane, please shut the door and have a seat.”
2. “Close the door. Have a seat.”
3. “Shut the door. Sit down.”
4. “I’m afraid I have serious business to discuss. Have a seat.”