This episode of Mad Men is going to go down in history for having one of the most on-the-nose episode listings ever. “Don has difficulties”. That was it. It’s right up there with the first season finale of Louie and “Louie has a bad time in general”. The season has been full of surprises, and the finale had its share of jaw droppers. We expect to be taking about Don Draper right up until the beginning of next season, so let’s get started.
Before we get to Don and his difficulties, I want to just get into Pete Campbell and Bob Benson, who are largely uninvolved with Don this week. I’ll admit to being a little baffled by Bob and Manolo still. I want to think Manolo is exactly what he seems to be, a nice caretaker who made Pete’s mother feel young again. But now we have the possibility that he married her, and then she fell of the deck and went lost at sea, and you don’t have to be Pete to find this a little suspicious. It could just be misinformation and coincidence. I think I’m giving Manolo the benefit of the doubt because I still want to trust Bob, and I don’t want him in league with a seducer of elderly women. I’m still willing to believe that Bob is exactly who he says he is – he’s a guy who’s trying to climb the ladder, he was in love with Pete before he realized he was wasting his time, and he’s legitimately a friend to Joan. He just seems to be the nicest guy in the world, and I want him to be the last well-adjusted guy on this show. Yes, he’s crafted a fake background for himself, but that’s to be expected. I just want Bob to be the guy who got a chance to start over and then actually did.
Pete’s reaction to his mother’s death is… interesting. We don’t even see a moment of grief – we see anger, irritation, paranoia. No grief. Which, in a way, I get. Not only has Pete watched everything in his life fall apart over the last year, but when he lost his father his grief was taken from him. He had to suck it up and be positive about air travel to help land an account. For a guy who’s already not great at dealing with things, that’s exactly the wrong lesson to learn. It’s going to be another log on the Pete Campbell bonfire of regret.
After being consistently awful to Bob, Pete suffers payback when Bob humiliates him in front of the Chevy guys. It’s almost like Bob watched Pete’s failures in Driver’s Ed last season. And while I’ve developed a weird sympathy for Pete, there is nothing funnier than when he makes an ass of himself. When you get down to it, Pete’s never in his element. In any setting, he’s trying to be accepted and hoping he won’t be exposed. He can make pretensions to the upper class or try to fit in with car guys, or try to relate to a client who’s a family man, but he’s not properly any of these things. Other than when we saw him drinking with Peggy recently, there’s never a time when Pete can be himself. He might not even have a self to be – he’s even more of a facade than Don Draper is.
One of the best scenes this week is Pete’s good- bye to Trudy. Now, I am not known to be objective about scenes with Alison Brie in them, but she has been amazing in her brief appearances this year. Throwing Pete out was a fantastic moment, but I’ve been worried about her since then. We’ve seen how the era treats divorced women, especially mothers. She always seemed to depend on Pete. We haven’t really seen what’s been happening with her, but it’s pretty clear that she won the divorce. Just look at her this week – she has a confidence that we’ve never seen from Trudy. And when she points out that Pete is free of all those obligations that have vexed him (“Now you’re free of everything”), we get one of the best exchanges of the week.
PETE: “It’s not the way I wanted it.”
TRUDY: “Well, now you know that.”
That is ice cold, and he completely deserves it. There’s no sympathy in the way she says it, no emotion for him to grab onto. She is letting him know that he’s let everything in his life go to hell, and it’s all been his decision. That line, “Now you know that” is such a fantastic delivery. It’s a side of Trudy we’ve never seen, and it makes me curious what the last year has been for her. I almost feel like you could justify a Trudy spinoff, because she’s clearly gone through the same kind of growth that the marquee characters have. We just didn’t get to see it.
I can’t decide if Pete will flourish in California where he can start fresh, or if he’ll just continue to self-destruct. I don’t know that he has the potential to be happy. He’s going to sabotage himself and hurt anybody who’s decent to him. It’s weird to think about what Season Seven can be – the cast is spread out across the country and Don might not even be in the firm anymore. But characters like Pete and Peggy aren’t just accessories to Don’s story. Even if he’s done with SC&P, it doesn’t mean we’re done with them.
And then there’s Don Draper and his difficulties. When you lead off with getting drunk and punching a minister, you can pretty much assume that the season is not going to end in an especially good place. He seizes upon the California idea pretty quickly, partly because Matthew Weiner knows we’re going to go nuts if he puts Megan “Sharon Tate” Draper directly in the path of Charles Manson, partly because maybe one more chance to start over will be the one that fixes everything. California’s been a place where he could always start fresh. And now it’s not even clear what he’s running from. He’s running from being Don Draper, really. It doesn’t matter where he lives – his daughter can’t stand him, he’s been cheating on his wife and letting it affect his marriage, his work has suffered. That’s all going to stick with him whether or not he packs up and moves.
I find his turn to be absolutely fascinating. His big moment kicks off when Ted asks to go to the LA office instead. Ted wants to make things right and to get away from Peggy. Don can act high and mighty, but he’s never once taken steps to get out of the path of temptation. And Don may be a lost cause, but Ted actually has a chance at being happy. It’s as close to altruism as he’s managed all season. He’s screwed Ted over a couple of times since they reached their agreement, and I think we all thought this was going to be the status quo.
The Hershey’s meeting if one of my favorite scenes ever on this show. It’s as good as the Carousel that ended Season One, only this time, Don’s lot lying to anybody. After his initial tale of a hair-tousling father, Don speaks honestly. I love that he opens with “Since I probably won’t see you again…”, which is aimed at the Hershey’s guys, but he’s also in the room with Cutler, Ted, and Roger, all of whom he will most definitely see again. He’s not talking to anybody but the client as he opens up. Amazingly, his story of growing up in a brothel still comes back around to quality chocolate bars (because he’s a professional, that’s why), but in the most depressing way possible. (“It says ‘sweet’ on the label. It’s the only sweet thing in my life. Those ingots of chocolate that are stored in Pennsylvania like the ingots of gold in Fort Knox.”) It is an honest pitch from the heart, even though the pitch is essentially “You don’t need to advertise. Even a sad orphan in a whorehouse knows about your product.” Per Matt Weiner, that whole speech was done in one take and Jon Hamm is making a run for that Emmy.
There doesn’t seem to be any benefit for Don in any of this, but he has to do it. He has to purge. Maybe he can only make peace with his past if he shares it. Or maybe talking about his life in the conference room is a trial run for talking to his kids. I can’t be sure of Don’s motivation, but it’s vitally important to him.
It’s the phrase “currency of affection” that gets me. He says it as a positive thing, but it’s actually deeply sad. It’s a nicer way of talking about buying love. That’s been sort of a theme of the season. Even aside from the brothel, we’ve had Don literally giving Sylvia money after sex (and also celebrating the initially altruistic act of getting her son out of military service with some bedroom shenanigans). Roger Sterling spends the episode trying to buy his way back into the lives of both his daughter and illegitimate son. For the most part, love (or affection) is not freely given on Mad Men. It’s something that needs to be bought, because these guys don’t understand that there’s any other way. It’s an idea that sounds positive, but if you think it out, “currency of affection” is incredibly sad.
He could have said that any other way. A token of affection. A symbol of affection. But he chooses the one word that reduces human emotion to a business transaction. And to some extent, Don might think he’s winning back Sally with his new openness, but it’s still a transaction to him. The more I think about it, the more I think that word “currency” means he hasn’t learned a damn thing. Feelings are a thing you can buy or trade for, and that’s what he’s going to do.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope we see Don Draper go into the final season as a better guy. But I don’t know. Is he going to take this possibly permanent sabbatical as a chance to connect with his family and work on his problems, or is he going to obsess over being ousted?
At least we don’t have to worry about Peggy at the end of the season. She’s hurt by Ted, but I don’t feel like she’d be happy breaking up a marriage. I just love that she ends the season sitting in Don’s chair. She’s come a long way since that meek secretary showed up for her first day of work. Generally, I feel like this season has left everybody else worse than when it began. Peggy, though, has had mostly positive changes. They may not have seemed that way at the time, but she’s done with Abe, she’s in a key position at a Top 30 agency. She’s the only person that I’m not worried about as we go into the break.
It was an excellent season, and somehow I think the Internet theories really enhanced my enjoyment of the last few episodes. Once you start looking for clues that Megan is a ghost or you’re waiting for her to get killed by a cult, those Draper meltdowns can really take you by surprise. And let’s be honest, if this season had been nothing but Ken Cosgrove’s angry soft shoe, it still would have been the best thing on TV. Seriously, that was fantastic.
I spent this whole episode waiting for the other shoe to drop, and kind of couldn’t believe what I was seeing when Don actually told the Hershey’s client about his whorehouse upbringing. If it hadn’t been for the faces of his co-workers around the room, I would have thought it was an out of body experience. After the meeting wrapped, I feared Don might be thinking of ending it all, despite the fact that he’s never seemed like the suicidal type to me. It’s really just the weight of all the years of secrets and lies that are weighing him down and he had to unburden himself. Roger calling him out on “shitting the bed” with Hershey’s really just confirmed what had been brewing all season. When in the past, Don’s work was his one saving grace regardless of the upheaval that was his personal life, this season, he’s been exposed as out of touch and unreliable on multiple occasions, mostly by Ted. And the final straw of that came when Sally found him with Sylvia. His entire world collapsed in that moment. He’d managed to compartmentalize his myriad affairs over the years and he’d never been caught in the act. Now, he’s been found out by the worst person possible and that’s not something a father can recover from easily, or possibly ever.
He’s spiraled ever since, day drinking instead of a meeting with Sheraton and punching a minister; stealing Stan’s idea to open a California office, even using his exact wording to pitch it to Megan. He’s been saying since the season premiere that he wants to “stop doing this”, but he was clearly helpless to do so until Sally walked in. That shook him to his core. And finally, after all the years of being able to smooth things over and come out unscathed, he’s now been ousted from his job and essentially left by another wife. She was never going to be the right person for him, even though she’s exactly the kind of woman he needs. He’ll just never realize it. Megan is the most modern person in his orbit, but Don has so far refused to really move ahead. Even Roger, with his ascots and horrible parenting instincts, is more up to date. We saw this coming as far back as the Stones concert episode, but we mostly thought he was just going to get old, not pathetic.
Sally’s been forever changed as well, but it’d be great if from here, we could see her and Don really connect and bond. It seems like she’s now the one person who has seen him at his very worst, and could also be his best motivation to turn his life around. That last scene was huge, and sets us up for a fascinating Season Seven. I was a little surprised that we got no closure with Sylvia and Arnold, but I probably shouldn’t be. It would make sense that she’d cut off all contact after what happened.
Bob Benson is another story entirely. He’s Don Draper 2.0, but different. Don was never running a con on anyone, he was just a man desperate to get away from his awful life who seized a crazy opportunity and embraced it fully. Bob seems to have taken a more calculated approach to re-inventing himself as a successful businessman, fixating on those he’d like to charm and grift along with his partner in crime, Manolo. He’s more of a Talented Mr. Ripley type. Granted, we’ve never really seen him out of an office setting (except for that brothel and the funeral for Roger’s mother, which were merely extensions of the office), but he doesn’t seem sinister. He’s just opportunistic and smart, especially with how he got Pete off the Chevy business without breaking a sweat.
Pete will always be an enigma. Is he really going to do well on the West Coast? He does seem to really look up to Ted, so maybe it’s the best thing for him, but it seems like his uptight stuffed shirt approach will really clash with the lifestyle. I think I might pay money for a buddy comedy starring Pete and Ted, actually. Poor, deluded Ted. He’s far different than the guy we met a few years back, but one who’s obviously turned on by the professional woman that Peggy is, and bored with his home life. It’s an old story. And Peggy did not want to be “that girl”, yet she couldn’t resist. Another old story, but one pitfall Peggy had avoided thus far. It was for the best that Ted left, because not only would their love affair not have worked long term, but being dumped has given Peggy even more grist for the mill. After a whole season of being put in positions she didn’t want (the merger that set her back for a time, the apartment with Abe), she’s finally firmly in the driver’s seat again, and she’s wearing the plaid pantsuit to prove it.
I loved that Joan was letting Roger into Kevin’s life as the hour drew to a close, and didn’t mind Bob being there, too. Leave to Joan to have a gay best friend before the world even knew that was a thing. We don’t have a road map for where everything is headed next year, but I think this show has proven that this is inconsequential. We’ll watch these people succeed and fail, over and over, because that’s just life. My only hope is that in the end, we get to see how things end up for everyone and find out if Don can ever be truly redeemed, or even happy.