This season finale was, in a word, perfection. Throughout this entire season, I suspected we were headed towards a collapse. Towards the bottom of Don’s spiraling depression—but instead, we get hope. And I am reminded in every single way why Mad Men is the greatest show on television.
Here are the 5 things we learned from this week’s Mad Men.
1. Betty is Actually a Pretty Great Mother. She’s trying, she’s desperately trying. She wants to relate to Sally and she wants to help her in any way she can, but as she says: “The good isn’t beating the bad.” Sally is from a broken home, and while this isn’t a part of why she gets drunk and buys booze, Betty still believes it is, and she feels incredible remorse and responsibility. I was touched by this phone conversation—by Don’s long pauses with his head in his hands, by Betty’s sincerity, but Betty’s concern. It shows us that once removed from her horrible, stressful, distrustful relationship with Don—she becomes a balanced, healthy, smart, capable woman and mother. I like this Betty Frances.
2. Pete Gets His Karmic Justice, and I’m a Little Sad About It. Of all the rough weeks in Mad Men history, Pete really took the cake. First his mother falls off of a ship, or is pushed by her new husband / nurse / Bob Benson hit man Manolo. Then, in another epic Bob Benson set up, Pete loses his place at Chevy because he can’t drive a stick shift and in my personal opinion could very well have killed many, many people. While I was happy Pete got what has been coming to him for a very, very long time, I felt so much pity and pain for Pete this episode. Even while he and his brother declared it wasn’t worth the money to hire a detective to find their mother’s body who fell off of a boat in the middle of the ocean (as they said, she loved the sea anyways), I pitied him rather than hated him. And as I watched him say goodbye to his daughter, say goodbye to his entire life, I shed a little bit of a tear. As Trudy said, he’s free. But this isn’t where he wanted to be, and this isn’t where he wanted to end up. I wonder if Pete will be capable of learning anything from this.
3. Affairs Never End Well for the Mistress. Ted and Peggy’s romance finally comes to a head this week. First Ted’s family comes in to the office, looking so happy. Peggy gets sassy right back by wearing basically lingerie and popping into the office ever so coyly to say goodbye to the men of SCP. And it works—Ted shows up at her apartment and it isn’t as creepy as it should be, until he says: “Because I don’t want anyone else to have you.” God, he is just like every other man on this show. He says he’s going to leave his wife, but he won’t. He says he loves her, and maybe he does, but this isn’t any different from any of Don’s trashy affairs that he’s had over the years. As much as we might like to believe it is.
And so, he chooses California, a family, and a fresh start over the promises he made to Peggy. In fact, he begs for California because he’s a coward. He tells Peggy: “I have to hold on to my family or I’ll get lost in the chaos.” Alas, an affair never ends happily for the other woman. But I always say, it’s better to be alone than with a coward like Ted. And judging by the way Peggy was looking out that window in Don’s office, making herself cozy in Don’s chair on Thanksgiving Day—there is nothing but good, powerful things in Peggy’s future. She doesn’t need someone like Ted holding her back.
4. Don Just Wants to Find Some Forgiveness. In the first few minutes of the show, we see Don leaving the office in the middle of the day with the sole intention of getting drunk. Here he runs into a minister who tells Don all about God’s plans and his righteousness, which of course causes Don to punch him and wake up in prison, with no recollection of his evening. Which leads to—more flashbacks. In which, in an almost double of a scene, a minister is run out of the whore house Don was raised in, and yells: “The only unpardonable sin is to believe God cannot forgive you.” And the look on baby Don’s face is one I knew we would see on grown up Don’s face by the end of this episode.
Don needed to believe that California could be his forgiveness. That it could be his salvation, his new beginning. His rebirth. He tells Meagan, “It’s an opportunity to build one desk into an agency,” and I’m reminded once again of what Faye said to him when she left: “I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.” Don is trying to get this back again. He is trying to get back that first week with Meagan when they were happy in California. Trying to get back the joy he felt when he starting SCDP. Trying to get back the momentary joy he felt when he merged with Ted.
But, in his meeting with Hershey, after baring his soul in a way that I never thought I would see, he knows California isn’t his way out. Maybe he knows running isn’t seeking forgiveness. Maybe he knows he needs to work on his relationships rather than run from them. Maybe he knows he can be the better man Ted says he sees in him. Maybe he wants to believe again that he can be forgiven.
5. Some Final Thoughts. We end the season on a much more hopeful note than I could have predicted or hoped. Bob Benson will most certainly play a larger role in the next season, Pete has the potential to become a remarkably new person, Roger should by all accounts finally be able to form a bond with his son, and most importantly, I think we will see Don begin to mend. Despite the fact that Don is forced to leave the company for an unspecified amount of time (and this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Don as he has been drunk in the office for weeks, never makes meetings, and is always crying when he does go to meetings), I can only hope this will be beneficial for him in the long run.
Don has never been able to cope with his past—we saw it through out this season. Any time something earth shattering happened to him, the very next scene he was back to being Don Draper. He fell or jumped into a pool in LA, the next scene he was sitting pretty on a jet plan with Roger. He begs his door guy to tell him what it’s like when you die, the next scene, getting cozy in a cab with his wife. Don has always been able to run from his past, ignore it, disregard it as a part of who he is. But, after watching him with his children at his real childhood home—I’m hopeful that Don will start to put the pieces back together. Last season all I wanted was for Don Draper to be Don Draper again—to be sexy and dapper and just completely badass. But after seeing the realities of this over this past season, I want Don Draper to be Dick Whitman again.