|Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) Jamie Trueblood/AMC|
I don’t know why I ever doubted this show. Maybe it’s because most of this season has felt either meandering or repetitive. Maybe it’s because I went into this finale assuming it wouldn’t resolve anything and leave me unsatisfied, like season 4’s “Tomorrowland” and season 5’s “The Phantom”. I was pleasantly surprised that “In Care Of” hearkened back to the classic Mad Men finales of the first three seasons that genuinely felt like the climax and resolution of their respective seasons. Suffice it to say, “In Care Of” really feels like a finale. Pete finally finds some version of happiness, even if it wasn’t what he expected or intended, Don strives to make a change for the better and Peggy finally ends up in the position we were all hoping for since the series began. In many ways, this could’ve been a proper series finale, since almost every character gets a resolution, but fortunately we have one more season to watch these characters as they finally transition into the 1970s. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, though…
Don Draper’s biggest villain over the course of the season ultimately wound up being his own conceived identity. The old Don Draper that we fell in love with in the first season, the smooth-talking, old school masculine ideal has gradually become the thing that has held him back. He can no longer rely on his old tricks with a happy wife, a happier mistress and co-workers who were totally in awe of him and his work. Simply put, Don Draper has become old, which was expertly addressed in the season premiere. Over the course of the season, we’ve seen him drop top clients for selfish reasons, sleep with his mistress who also happened to be Megan’s best friend as well as his ex-wife Betty and ultimately feel emptier than he ever had before. As we go through this finale episode, Don’s drinking is becoming a significant problem and his judgment becomes spotty at best. After getting an angry phone call from Sally, he goes to a bar, gets drunk and punches a minister for preaching to him. After getting thrown in jail for the night, Megan tells him that things have gotten out of hand, and he placidly agrees. His behavior has reached the point of embarrassment, 10 times worse than throwing up at a funeral in the season premiere. When a new opportunity from work arises that would force him to move to California, he sees it as yet another chance to start over. He impulsively goes after the opportunity, telling a thrilled Megan that he could work on the Sunkist account while she pursues her acting career in LA. As a viewer, I was frustrated yet understanding of his behavior, considering he’s practically made a living reinventing himself in new places. I didn’t know if the show would be courageous enough to move Don to California for its last season, since this is a show that keeps Betty in its rotation despite being disconnected from every character except occasionally Don for the past three seasons.
When Ted expresses his own desire to move to California, I thought of the concept of “sonder”. Taken from “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows“, sonder refers to the feeling you get when you realize that each person you pass on the street has their own complex life full of hopes and dreams, disappointments and regrets, yet most of those lives remain invisible to you until the day you die. When Ted tells Don that he needs to go to California so that he himself can start over, something registers in Don that Ted really does need this opportunity more than he does. He finally recognizes the complexity of Ted’s life and eventually acts accordingly. Ted is cosmically drawn to Peggy in a way he can no longer feel towards his wife, and he tries to step up and be an honorable man and leave Peggy before he does something stupid. What I loved about Ted’s storyline over the course of this season was how it showed that Mad Men very well could have been about Ted this whole time and it wouldn’t have been all that different. Ted may excel at his job but he mostly feels unsatisfied with his life, especially at home. Mad Men could essentially be any of these characters’ stories, and California represents the idea of escaping one’s unsatisfactory life in the hopes that all problems would go away with a simple move to the west coast. Ted realizes through a passionate night with Peggy that he has gone too far and risked jeopardizing his marriage as well as the lives of his kids, and he doesn’t want to do that. He steps up, and he’s a better man than Don could ever be in his current situation, so he deserves the move to California more in the long run.
Pete is another character who could easily be the protagonist of Mad Men. Driven by his own insecurities, Pete worked very hard for acceptance at his job and remained unhappy through each rise in power. Bob Benson became yet another mystery man for Pete to go up against over the course of this season, and this episode proved why he couldn’t trust him. Pete finds out that his mother is lost at sea after allegedly being thrown off a cruise ship by her caretaker Manolo, who is close friends with Bob. Pete assumes that Manolo threw her off after tricking her into marrying him just so he could get her fortune. Pete feels the need to escape and start over in California just as much as Don and Ted do, considering his failed marriage, his dead parents and his increasing isolation at work. So that’s exactly what he does. At the end of the episode, Pete visits Trudy one last time and drops the news that he’ll be moving to California. I found it interesting that there wasn’t a scene involving Pete making plans to move there, but the show doesn’t really need to considering the state of his life. It’s unclear if the move is going to be permanent, but if it is, his presence in this office will be sorely missed.
Fittingly, the climax of the episode (and the season, really) comes at the meeting with the Hershey executives. In the ’60s, Hershey had traditionally been considered a product that didn’t need advertising. The company never needed to be wrapped up in an inauthentic package to convince the public to buy what they were selling. As Don mentions in the meeting, the wrapper to the chocolate bar looks exactly like the bar itself. What you see is what you get. In a show filled with characters consistently constructing false identities to others in order to feel happy, or gain acceptance or rewrite their past, Hershey is a representation of authenticity. After pitching a fabricated story to the Hershey executives, he reveals the truth about his identity, that he was an orphan raised in a whorehouse. He admits to the executives that Hershey was “the only sweet thing” in his life, which is why the brand had such significance to him. This is the first time we’ve seen him acknowledge his true identity publicly, and it’s clear how freeing he feels admitting it, especially to his co-workers. Though the pitch is rather unsavory and essentially forces Hershey into considering other ad agencies, Don is free. Though this is a great personal victory for the character, it is not without consequences. It only seems right that the very next morning he is put on suspension from the company until further notice, considering his cavalier attitude about dropping huge clients and his shoddy work ethic. To make matters worse, as Don leaves the office for the elevator, he is greeted by Duck Phillips and Lou Avery, implying that Sterling Cooper & Partners are already looking to replace him.
I’ve intentionally left out Peggy until the end because of her arc over the course of this season and the series as a whole. We’ve seen Peggy rise from mousy, naive secretary all the way up to copy writer capable of handling her own clients. Intriguingly, Peggy’s storyline this season was ultimately about her not having choices, having to succumb to the men in her life making choices for her. After leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce on her own terms at the end of last season, she found newfound power at the CGC agency, but that all changed when Don and Ted agreed to merge their agencies. Back working under her old bosses, Peggy felt stifled and powerless. At home, her boyfriend Abe broke up with her, essentially citing irreconcilable differences. Finally, her newfound work flirt turned lover Ted leaves to go to California in this episode, basically blaming his love for her as the primary reason. For all intents and purposes, Peggy should feel terrible about her life at this point, and yet the final scene we get of her this season is one of hope. It is a moment Peggy fans have been waiting for since the first season: pouring herself a drink, she sits in Don’s office in Don’s chair alone with a look of pure satisfaction on her face. With Ted gone, she is now the de facto creative director and with Don gone, she can finally come close to replacing him as a partner. Stan pops his head in and ask what she’s doing there and she simply replies, “It’s where everything is.” It’s a brilliant line of dialogue with double meaning that encapsulates Peggy’s ambition perfectly. As she sits in a near identical pose to Don’s in the opening credits, she has essentially achieved her dreams, made even better because she really fought to get there.
But where does that leave Don? As Lou Avery rather brilliantly asks him “going down?” when crossing paths at the elevator, it seems that he’s in a worse position than ever before, despite his breakthrough moment at the Hershey meeting. when he breaks the news to Megan that he’s not moving to California, she storms out in a huff saying that she’s going regardless. Yet, there is still hope for our old friend Don Draper. In the final scene of the season, he brings Sally, Bobby and Gene on a road-trip to Pennsylvania to the whorehouse in which he grew up. It is a moment of hope for Don that he can finally address his past without fear and show his kids (especially Sally) who he really is. Many critics, myself included, have commented on this season’s lack of character development on Don’s part. The character was mostly spinning his wheels, not learning from his mistakes and repeating history in the worst way. But here we finally have some real change in Don Draper. Going into the final season, there is hope that he can adapt and be satisfied with the life he’s lived despite his struggles.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this very well could have been a series finale for Mad Men. There is hope for almost every character and each of their storylines ends naturally. The idea that people don’t change has been a huge factor this season, and it has been executed with varying degrees of quality. Yet with “In Care Of”, it seems that these characters really are capable of change if they want it badly enough. Mad Men is a show better taken as a whole, almost like a novel. Though each episode sort of has a self-contained story, its grander themes and purpose are better appreciated on a season basis rather than its individual episodes. In its last three episodes, this sixth season definitely won me over in terms of what Matt Weiner and company were trying to accomplish. Mad Men has always been a slow-burn show compared to 99% of television, choosing to move at its own pace. Going into the last season, I have hope that the show will end as strongly as it began when it first burst onto the scene and reward fans for their continued dedication.
MVP: Jon Hamm
SEASON GRADE: B+
SEASON MVP: Jon Hamm
AWARDS POTENTIAL FOR MAD MEN – SEASON 6