No current TV show generates more Monday morning conversation than Mad Men. With that in mind, Flavorwire is recapping Season 6′s Sterling Cooper & Partners drama by giving you a handful of talking points to spark your own water-cooler debate. Called “In Care Of,” last night’s season finale was, at least by comparison to the showy, death-obsessed premiere, a fairly subtle affair. But it also managed to cover almost a full additional season’s worth of plot points within an hour, and abruptly end the Don Draper breakdown cycle, taking the character to the first new place we’ve seen him in all season.
In fact, Don ended this year facing his two biggest fears: being found out as an imposter in the advertising world and committing to a personal life and, in particular, romantic relationship rather than just letting it fall apart so he can start over. And, rather than suddenly ascending to some kind of late-’60s nirvana, both of the things Don’s afraid of actually happen. The story he tells at the Hershey’s meeting about growing up in a whorehouse turns out to be the final straw for his partners, who have endured many months of alcohol abuse and unexplained absences. They tell him to take a few months off but won’t give him a return date. Meanwhile, at home, Don has finally messed with Megan’s life one too many times. When he tells her, after she’s already quit her job and lined up meetings in Hollywood, that he’s not moving to LA after all, she says, “I don’t even know why we’re fighting for this anymore.” Then, just like that, she’s out the door. This, apparently, is what happens when Don Draper attempts to stay in the same place and rebuild the life he’s destroyed, rather than just press the reset button.
And yet, the season’s final scene is somewhat hopeful (albeit plenty dark, too): Don drives to the decaying brothel where he grew up, with all three of his children in tow. This is the moment that all those painful (both emotionally and, let’s be honest, in the sense that they laid it on so thick) childhood flashbacks have been leading up to. Don’s kids are really all he has left now — he’s almost lost Sally already — and that Hershey’s pitch really went hard on the father-child bond, so perhaps we’ll spend next season watching him finally become a decent dad.
Beyond Don’s immediate story line — which, as far as I’m concerned, is more promising now than it’s been all season — “In Care Of” found various other characters flirting with, and even stepping into, aspects of his identity. First we saw Sally get suspended from Miss Porter’s for doing something straight out of the Don Draper handbook: seal her social acceptance by adopting a fake name (Beth Francis, basically her mother’s name, not to mention that it doubles as a rejection of her biological father). Then we experienced Ted’s dalliance with the idea of leaving his family for Peggy, a workplace romance that Matt Weiner has been fond of intercutting with pointed shots of Don and Megan. Ted even goes so far as to suggest that he and Peggy escape their lives by running away to Hawaii — another verbatim excerpt from the Don Draper handbook. (For her part, Peggy seems ambivalent about whether she wants Ted to abandon his life for her. On the one hand, she wants him and likes the idea of having that kind of power over a man; on the other, she also wants him to prove that he’s a better person than Don.) But finally, we see one character succeed at becoming Don in the best way possible: in the last glimpse of Peggy we get this year, after her boss has descended the elevator to hell, she’s sitting at his desk and looking rather at home.
Additional talking points:
- Sympathy for Pete Campbell: Just as Pete’s privilege and petulance once humanized Don, Bob’s revelation as an outright sociopath — I mean, check him out at Joan’s Thanksgiving dinner, right after Roger warned him to stay away from her — humanizes Pete. The poor guy is being gaslighted by an underling (sure, we laughed watching Pete take down the Chevy sign, but we felt for him, too), who also seems to have something to do with his mother’s disappearance at sea, after losing his own wife and child, while also being increasingly marginalized at work. It took a whole lot of adversity, but by the time I saw him alone with his kid towards the end of the episode, I actually empathized with Pete.
- The stairs: Odd things have been happening on the Sterling Cooper & Partners stairs all season, and I expected this episode to make good on that foreshadowing. It did, but in a subtler way than I imagine, as we followed Don down them and out the door, into the elevator that would take him away from a company he might not return to.
- What’s next for Peggy? Can we agree that this was kind of a bad season for Peggy? She ended one uninspiring relationship and then spent the rest of the year mediating between the boss she loved and the boss she’d grown to hate, eventually becoming nothing more than the symbol of Ted’s ethical dilemma. That final shot of her bodes well for next season, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for a better storyline to come.
- And speaking of female characters with unsatisfying trajectories, can Joan have a real storyline next season? Just wondering. Please?