This week Mad Men ended a season that mainly focused on the increasingly degenerate Don Draper. He’s become a hopeless alcoholic. He barely phones it in at work, a place where he used to shine brightest of all. He is cheating on his wife with his neighbor, whom he sometimes makes his submissive. His daughter caught them mid-coitus. He purposely shamed his co-workers in a meeting. The list likely could go on for some time, so get comfortable.
Though in this finale, “In Care Of,” written and directed by Matthew Weiner and co-written by Carly Wray, Don gets some much-needed comeuppance – and it’s pretty brutal. Don’s tale is hardly the only sad story in this episode, as Peggy, Ted, Pete, and Roger all meet somewhat sad fates by this season’s end. While there have certainly much better Mad Men finales – and much better Mad Men seasons, for that matter – this one was successful in tying up the ongoing plot lines, as well as putting forth some truly memorable scenes and some brilliant performances.
The big shocker here, at the end of the episode, is that Don is ousted from the agency. Which makes sense, given the fact that he barely bothers showing up and when he does, he’s increasingly more unhinged at meetings and pitches. It does seem unlikely that Don’s “firing” will be a permanent one – while he is given no return date, he is Don Draper. Without Don Draper: Ad Man Extraordinaire, Mad Men ceases to be. Though getting fired really does cut someone down to size, so when he eventually returns to SC&P he won’t be infallible as he once thought.
But yes, the firm is completely justified in their decision to give Don some time to reflect on his actions and regroup. This entire season’s transgressions aside, let’s just think on what he did in this one episode to screw things up. For one, upset by his damaged relationship with Sally, Don skips out on work, without telling anyone, and goes on a bender in a bar. And gets thrown in jail overnight after he punches a nosy pastor. Of course, the pastor reminds him of a preacher john at his childhood whorehouse (cue the heavy-handed flashback!), but still… bad idea.
The main transgression, of course, is when Don completely destroys any hope of SC&P getting the Hershey’s account. He starts with one of his masterful pitches, filled with faux-nostalgia, a tale of how his father used to get him Hershey bars and how he knew he was loved, etc, etc. But then Don gets a flash of honesty tinged with TMI so he shares his real childhood memory of the chocolate. And it’s a doozy.
Don’s trying to quit drinking, because of the bar fight and Sally aping his drunken behavior at school, and is already in a place of vulnerability. And when his hands start to shake from withdrawal after the successful pitch, he lets it rip:
“I’m sorry – I have to say this because I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again. I was an orphan. I grew up in Pennsylvania. In a whore house. So I read about Milton Hershey in school, in magazines, or some crap the girls left by the toilet… and I read that some orphans had a different life there. I could picture it. Dreamt of it. Being wanted. Because the woman who was forced to raise me would look at me every day and she hoped I would disappear. The closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl who made me go through her johns’ pockets while they screwed. If I collected more than a dollar, she’d buy me a Hershey bar. And I would eat it. Alone. In my room. With great ceremony. Feeling like a normal kid. And it said “sweet” on the back. It was the only sweet thing in my life.”
Jon Hamm perhaps delivers one of his best Mad Men performances yet with this speech. His cadence becomes strangely stilted, as opposed to his usual smooth, enticing rhetoric. He’s not “performing” Don Draper here – he’s Dick Whitman, that emotionally stunted son of the brothel. And as the speech goes along, he becomes more and more unraveled, even breaks down in near tears as he says “And it said ‘sweet’ on the back.” The men at the meeting are in awe, frozen in their seats, as they just witnessed Don in full form. And now this? Roger doesn’t even think that his story is true afterward. We could sit here and try to psychoanalyze Don all day, but quite simply, he’ll never be able to shake being raised the way he was, the solitary childhood of eating a Hershey bar in the lonely recesses of a brothel. And, as demonstrated in his dual performance at this meeting, he will never be able to fully reconcile his Don Draper/Dick Whitman personae, which has clearly been to his detriment his entire life as he fails to forge strong enough bonds with those he loves.
Speaking of which, his marriage to Megan seems like it might be over. Don changes his mind about not relocating to California for the Sunkist account (more on that later) and Megan has already quit her job on the soap. That combied with Don’s increasingly severe alcoholism and emotional disconnectedness forces Megan to lash out and storm out of the apartment. Though, let’s face it, if Don did go ahead with going to California, would anything have changed? Probably not. His main reasons, it would seem, are that he wants to escape his damaged relationship with Sally, get away from his drinking environment, and also to rekindle the spark that he initially had with Megan when he first vacationed at Disneyland with his kids. California would have been a temporary fix to a permanent issue. Hell, he even copies Stan’s reasoning for wanting to go, verbatim – “It’s the opportunity to turn one desk into an agency.” Recycled words can hardly be genuine.
Perhaps this finale’s greatest strength, besides Hamm’s breathtaking performance, is the sexual crescendo and heartbreaking dissolution of Peggy’s relationship with Ted. Now, I was always on board with Peggy and Ted making it work – yes, he is married, but is a genuinely nice person who loves his work as much as Peggy does. He loves Peggy because she has the brightest mind and most active imagination out of anyone in the office. And while obviously a sexual attraction exists between them, their connection transcends lust.
Post Don humiliation last week, Ted is avoiding Peggy at all costs. So when his wife and kids meet him in the office, Peggy assumes he brings them there to throw his “happy marriage” in her face. To retaliate for this assumed attack, which really isn’t one at all, Peggy wears a short, sexy dress in the office and struts into Ted’s meeting to announce that she has to leave early. Ted is taken aback, but knows precisely why she is wearing that dress.
He waits in her building for her to get home and they make love with a chemistry that has been bubbling over now for months and months. Maybe years. Ted says he is going to leave his wife for her, and Peggy tells him to wait so there isn’t a scandal, and makes him go home to his wife. When he does, he is thrown back into the reality that he is a married man with children. And while he would love nothing more than to lead an idyllic existence with Peggy, filled with intellect, ideas, and great sex, he does have an emotional and moral obligation to his family. Which is why he asks Don if he could go to California in his place, to get away from his intrinsic pull from Peggy and focus on his family.
In this finale’s second greatest scene, after the dual Hershey’s pitches, Ted walks into Peggy’s office to announce that he is going to California. Elizabeth Moss and Kevin Rahm continue to amaze as Peggy and Ted, especially as Moss’ Peggy initially has no idea what’s coming. She smiles with pure joy as Ted comes into her office and then immediately thinks his relocation was Don’s idea. They exchange in bed was true, was meaningful – she can’t fathom that Ted wouldn’t follow through in making a life for them together. She slowly realizes what is happening and turns from romantic to embittered on a dime. He tells her that he has to leave because he does love her so intensely. And while Ted is an ad man, it’s not a line.
It would be easy to say that Ted is being a dick in this situation, especially because it’s impossible not to love Peggy, but he really does have to make an impossible decision here and it’s likewise impossible not to feel for him. While Ted did cave to his feelings for Peggy and finally have sex with her, he is, pretty much, one of the only characters on the show with a moral compass. Unlike Don, adultery weighs heavily on him, even when it’s with someone he truly, truly loves. I really hope that Rahm is a part of the show next season, because he’s become such a wonderful addition and his Ted is a breath of fresh air in a world that is otherwise so morally corrupt. Though I will mourn Peggy and Ted together, as their spark of chemistry was indelible and so enjoyable to watch.
Peggy will be just fine, no doubt. At the episode’s end, she is working in Don’s office, and in a reference to Don’s silhouette in the show’s opening credits sequence, her silhouette faces his office window and looks out, her arm draped over the chair. Peggy is now “draping” up a storm. With creative forces Don and Ted both gone now, it’s now Peggy’s game.
On the other end of things, Bob Benson is a fake person… and perhaps also an accomplice to murder? Maybe? Bob is becoming more and more of an unsettling presence in the Mad Men sphere, which is a delightfully creepy added bonus to the show. Even though Manolo “doesn’t like women,” he apparently married Pete’s mother, and the two went on a cruise during which time Pete’s mother went overboard. And Manolo is now MIA. Pete understandably flies off the handle at Bob, though the two have to still go to Detroit together to woo Chevy. Bob evilly makes Pete drive a Camaro in the showroom, seemingly knowing that Pete’s a bad driver, and in the show’s lone laugh aloud moment, Pete backs up into a large electric sign, knocking it down. Damn you, Bob Benson!
Pete is now off Chevy, free of his mother, and free of his family. Though he realizes that this is not what he wants after all. Pete’s story this season has been very compelling, and very tragic. He’s been virtually forgotten at work and squandered his family. And his mother went overboard on a boat at the hand of a gigolo. Like Don, in many respects, Pete has been stripped of everything and is now in a place to make some realizations about his life. He wants family. He wants respect at work. And how all he has to do is buck up and get those things. I do think he’s got to eliminate Bob somehow… he’s a major threat and so incredibly creepy.
Thankfully, Roger notices Bob’s creepiness. And is skeptical of him hanging around Joan, and also skeptical of the uncannily short amount of time it takes for Bob to arrive to his office when called. But Roger’s tale this season is also quite tragic, in that his daughter is revealed to be a vapid, monstrous debutante and that, like Pete, he is pretty much alone in this world. Joan invites him into Kevin’s life as she allows him to come over for Thanksgiving… would it be too much to hope for a Roger and Joan reunion?
Also, that Lynchian image of Bob carving the turkey at Joan’s will give me nightmares tonight.
This season on Mad Men painted quite a bleak picture of humanity, especially with its focus on Don’s declining morals. Though Don isn’t the only one with his cross to bear – most of the characters on this show, very intriguingly, are forced to walk this world alone. They are isolated from tangible human connections, despite the fact that they have to continue with their public guises. The season ends with Don showing his three children the now-ramshackle whorehouse that he grew up in. Sally looks at him, somewhat in awe. Don is making the first positive stride this season of bridging the world of Dick Whitman with the world of Don Draper – he is starting to let his children into the world that he has long closed off and hopefully with begin to repair the professional and personal damage in his wake.