The wrapper looked like what it was inside
MAD MEN! Why do your seasons ever have to come to an end? "In Care Of" left us with a whole slew of abrupt changes. Sally has been suspended from Miss Porter's (a classic child-of-a-broken-home move, am I right, Betty?). Pete's mom died (?!?!?!) while on a cruise with (her new husband and murderer?!?!?!) Manolo. Megan and Don's marriage looks to be over, or at the very least, fatally wounded. Things are looking pretty bleak (other than seeing Pegs kicking her feet up on Draper's desk). Much like bleak downward spirals, appearances and the power of deception have always been themes on Mad Men, and they were out in full force on last night's finale episode.
We have to start with Don, because any conversation about deceptive appearances has to start with Don, especially after an episode where he drops Dick Whitman truth bombs not once but twice. For most of Don Draper's existence on Mad Men, his wrapper has never looked like what was inside. His ability to lie convincingly is both a coping mechanism and most definitely the key to his success as an ad man. Who can pitch a wholesome family-centric Hershey-bar ad (or a carousel slide projector) like DD? However, his years of lying and his haunted memories have been a roadblock for Don in both life and work, with his behavior this season being particularly impacted by his suppressed past. DILEMMAS! Rather than letting his troubled history continue to subconsciously imbue his Sheraton pitch with suicide imagery or drive a wedge into his relationship with his children, this time Don just talks about Dick Whitman as if it ain't no thing.
On one hand, there's a HUGE amount of selfishness in his act. Did he really think he'd still have a job after skipping the Sheraton meeting in favor of a bender and then dragging his bummerfest of a childhood out onto the conference-room table for the Hershey execs? But selfish or not, Don in fact appears to be possibly the least destructive we've seen him all season. It's as if being called a monster by Peggy made Don realize that it's better to be a man with an unsavory past than it is to be a jerkish King Midas who turns everything he touches to crap.
At first, I thought his Dick Whitman Hershey pitch was an attempt to somehow get Ted tied to the account, thus denying him his California escape plan. However, he was just talking about Dick Whitman because he was tired of hiding behind the Don Draper facade. After previously admitting that he actually loved his kids (Planet of the Apes can have that effect, I guess) and after learning of Sally's own fall from grace, Don let his guard down around his children and actually let them in on a real fact of his, and in turn their, past. True to Sally's previous complaint, "You know what, why don't you just tell them what I saw," Don has always told rather than shown in most of his relationships, including his poor kids. It's significant that we are left with them seeing where Dick Whitman grew up, apparently without any further explanation. Given the look that passed between Sally and her dad, this moment of unprompted honesty might actually be enough to rebuild their relationship.
Speaking of, relationships are the worst, right Pegs? After episodes of Peggy defending Ted to Don by calling him "a good man," it was perhaps inevitable that his goodness would be key to his powers of both seduction and heartbreak. After being jealous at the sight of the happy Chaough clan leaving SC&P together, Peggy decides to doll up and parade herself past Ted on her way out of the office. When he shows up at her place later and professes his love, she claims that she doesn't want to be the girl that ruins marriages. It was Ted's promise that he would leave his wife, thus saving Peggy from being a mistress, plus his reputation in her eyes as "a good man" that convinced her. Peggy was sold by Ted's wrapper, a point that Don had attempted to disillusion her of earlier this season. Ted later decides that he IS a stand-up guy and ends up staying with his wife and breaking things off with Peggy and NYC. Ted was able to pick and choose when he wanted his label to match what's inside (and, in turn, who he was going a good man to), a point that a crushed Peggy pointed out to him. On the flipside, Peggy has had to attempt to hide her feelings for Ted all season and now is left having to pretend that none of it ever happened...without the benefit of a change of scenery.
Finally, BOB BENSON! While we certainly know more about the guy than we did a few episodes ago, I'm still completely confused by his deal. While Pete knows better than most the relationship between BB's label and what's beneath the surface, even he doesn't understand the extent of his capabilities (who would have thought that Bob could get the Chevy account all to himself and embarrass Pete in the process?). And how much of the Benson backstory does Joanie know? BB is a long way from a large- scale reveal that his label is a lie, so what will next season bring us? Probable spoiler alert: more lies.
Assorted thoughts/Next season on Mad Men:
• When clicking on the description of tonight's episodes, my TV helpfully told me, "In the Season 6 finale, Don has a problem." THANKS FOR NOTHING, TV!
• Can Peggy and Stan start a new firm and bring Eyepatch Ken and Ginsberg along with them? After 6 seasons, I'm getting a tired of the old guard (even the new old guard of Cutler and Chaough).
• With an auxiliary office opening up in California, does this mean we might run into Paul Kinsey again after all? And is Harry joining Ted and Pete out west?
Cruising for a Bruising
"The good isn't beating the bad," says Betty in one of the season finale's most affecting scenes. Her fluffy pink peignoir is no match for the harsh realization that her daughter could quickly be morphing into a miniature version of Don, drinking and influencing and taking on a fake identity, and we can practically smell the cigarettes she's stress-smoking. But her words could easily apply to many of Mad Men's other players, who in this episode's arc are coming to the same realization, and yearning for a fresh start.
Don, of course, has been building up to rock bottom since the season began, and by the time he's left the impromptu partners intervention, he's pretty much there. "Going down" says the Dancer-Fitzgerald executive who leaves the elevator with Duck Phillips, presumably at SC&P to take Don's place, and it's emphatically not a question. The falling-man motif that's been teasing audiences since the show began finally looks like a prophecy whose time had come, and when Don's elevator arrives I halfway expected it to be the empty void that arrived for him back in season five.
As for his rejection of God—which took the form of punching a lurking minister in the face—it was less convincing as a rock-bottom moment, even if it did lead to Don spending the night in the drunk tank and going home to pour out all the liquor on hand chez Draper. Since we've never been led to believe that Don and religion are anything more than passing acquaintances, his sudden rage—and the Teen-Don flashback that preceded it—seemed less like an existential crisis and more like just another moment where Don believes he's acting on behalf of a Big Idea, but is really just acting like, well, a selfish drunk. His belief that California would be a fresh start for him and for Megan was always too good to be able to actualize. Since California has always represented his escape, his well of untapped potential, living there wouldn't have solved his problems—it would have turned into one more place he needed to escape from.
Whether his only true means of turning over a new, sober leaf is to come clean about Dick Whitman and his squalid past remains to be seen. We've always believed that Don had more secrets than anyone surrounding him, but that's because his are the only ones we know about, and he's previously been able to spin his private pain into advertising gold. Once he "shit the bed" in the meeting with Hershey's—and Roger, that metaphor should never be associated with a chocolate product—the spell seemed to finally be broken: Maybe Don Draper's past doesn't make him special. Maybe it just makes him trapped inside himself.
It definitely doesn't excuse his treatment of poor Stan, who was ready to take his fringed suede jacket to California to work on the Sunkist account. The fact that Don not only stole his chance but his entire homesteading metaphor when he sold Megan on the idea underscored how desperate he was. But honestly, I'm just as happy for Stan's jacket and Peggy's plaid pantsuit to remain in New York and make beautiful 1970s music together.
Then there's Pete, whose fresh start comes after a string of escalating indignities. His rage at his new traveling partner Bob Benson after receiving a telegram about his mother being "lost at sea" with Manolo was unintentionally hilarious—when Bob asks him how he is, his clipped delivery—"Not great, Bob!" is a soundbite for the ages. And when BB gets Detroit-style revenge by goading him into that showroom Camaro, what transpires is his own version of The Lawnmower Incident and a sudden loss of his role with Chevy. (Though really, any Chevy exec who can look at Pete Campbell and think that he has "gasoline in his veins" probably deserves what he gets.) Like Don, there's no guarantee of a fresh start for Pete in California. But being free of his mother, his failed marriage, and his sad attempt at a swinging bachelor lifestyle could be a promising start. If anyone's going to dive into California's burgeoning self-actualization scene next season, my money's on Pete.
And finally, Peggy, whose false fresh start was signaled by her decision to don a black baby-doll nightie and swan out of the office in a cloud of Chanel no. 5, sending Ted into a bug-eyed frenzy of lust. But her real fresh start began after Ted pulled the oldest bait-and-switch in the book. It was painful to watch our girl get taken in, but I agree with ol' Turtlenecks that Peggy will be eventually be happy that their affair was cut short. Peggy needs an equal in both age and ambition, and even if she and Stan don't make my dreams come true and have a groovy creative power marriage, the finality with which she propped her legs up on Don's suddenly-former desk and gazed out at the city made my heart leap with possibility. In some ways, Mad Men has always been Peggy's show—we were first introduced to it through her gaze, and her character has grown and changed the most over six seasons—so perhaps season seven, now that Don is temporarily out of the picture, will be framed with her eyes. To cop a phrase from another classic working girl, she's gonna make it after all.
Assorted thoughts/Next season on Mad Men:
• Telegrams must have been the absolute worst way to receive bad news, right? So curt, so impersonal. Then again, maybe texts are worse. Facebook? Discuss.
• We're unlikely to see the return of Manolo—"aka Marcus Constantine"—but clearly he and Bob Benson have more in common than their sexuality. Will they meet again? And will Pete ever get to confront his new stepfather in person?
• Once again, Roger wins this episode for sheer physical comedy. His reaction when he asked his secretary to get Bob into his office and it took literally one second for Bob to appear, barely enough time for Rog to fire up a smoke? Those two are destined for some kind of Odd Couple situation now that both are ensconced in Joan and Kevin's life, and I hope it's a major feature of season seven.
We'll miss you the most, Joanie.
In the Family Way
Don Draper has never been much of a family man. Save one movie outing with Bobby 4.0. he's never cared much about his kids, and we know he hasn't given much thought to either of his wives. We also know he was an orphan who grew up in a whorehouse, a fact we were reminded of in one of the darkest, funniest SC&P meetings in history. (Note to future ad execs:The clients don't want to hear about the time you stole money from a john to buy their product).But something shifted in Don last night—maybe it was the delirium tremens talking, but he seems to realize he's been wrong all along. Megan dumped him in the process (and I don't blame her), but during that final scene when he took his kids to the house he grew up in, I believed he was a changed man.
Ted Chaough, the Anti-Don, has always tried to put family first. "I have to hold on to them or I'll get lost in the chaos," he tells Don when he begs to go to California. He knows he can't resist Peggy's charms, and that if he stays in New York it will break up his family. Whereas Don has always avoided his family and defined himself as an outsider, Ted relies on his family to know who he is. As a Peggy fan, I want to hate Ted for breaking my girl's heart, but I think he's right that in the end they're both better off. Of course Peggy is right when she gives Ted the business and delivers a classic Mad Men zinger—"Well, aren't you lucky. To have decisions." Sad, biting, and true all at once. Poor Peggy! At least she has Cat to help her get over him.
It speaks volumes about the Campbell family that I laughed out loud to hear that Dorothy Campbell had been "lost at sea." She very well could have been murdered by Manolo, but the combination of Pete's rage and the WASP-y dysfunction at the heart of every Campbell interaction made the whole scenario absurdly hilarious. (When the Brothers Campbell decide not to seek justice on Dorothy's behalf because it's too expensive and then justified it by saying she "loved the sea"? Come on, you know you
laughed too.) When Pete goes to see Trudy because he's leaving for L.A. (and when was that decided, by the way? While I was crying tears of laughter?) she tells him that he's finally free, and even though "free" right now looks like "sad and lonely and a stranger to your daughter," she has a point. Pete's family has been an anchor around his neck, for better and worse, and I think season seven will bring out a different side of him.
Family relations played a big role for Roger this week as well. In a way, he's an older version of Don, realizing he's screwed up as a father and trying to right past wrongs before it's too late. In Roger's case though, it is too late to make peace with Margaret—she can't stand him and she's kind of awful, both of which are his fault—but he's going to try again with baby Kevin. He's even willing to put up with Bob Benson carving the turkey to get a little QT in with his family. I don't trust Roger to stick with anything for long, so I hope for Kevin's sake he finds some good LSD connections to hold his old man's interest. Are we seeing real changes around, SC&P though? Could Roger morph into a better person, marry Joan, and live happily, wittily, stylishly ever
after? Doubtful, but until season seven starts I'm going to dream about it.
Assorted thoughts/Next season on Mad Men:
• What is going to happen in the FINAL SEASON OF MAD MEN? Don is single once again, but with a newfound commitment to family. Pete and Ted are both in L.A., with presumably less screen time to accompany them. Peggy seems destined for the corner office, Ken looks rakish with that eye patch, and Bob Benson isn't going anywhere. I can't wait!
Cultural references: More Nixon, and an episode of Bewitched was playing in the bar where Don was getting soused and blowing off Sheraton.
Inappropriate office behavior: It may have been the most awkward Hershey's pitch they're going to see, but at least those execs have a benchmark against which to measure others. ("Better than whorehouse kid, but not a winner.")
Most GIFable moment: Pegs, they hate to see you go, but they love to watch you leave. Rrrowr!