SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN'T CAUGHT THE SIXTH SEASON FINALE OF MAD MEN, YOU'RE CURRENTLY MISSING OUT AND THE INTERNET PROBABLY ISN'T A SAFE PLACE FOR YOU.
The final episode of Mad Men's sixth season was a masterpiece. It starts out with Stan Rizzo pleading his case to Don, hoping that Sterling Cooper will send him to California, the land of hookers who take traveler's checks, so that he can handle Sunkist and have the opportunity to "build one desk into a real business."
Soon thereafter, the Sheraton folks stop by Sterling Cooper and no one can find Don. That's because a conversation with his daughter, Sally, has driven him to drink. One second he's at a bar arguing with a minister and the next he's sitting in the drunk tank for punching that minister. After spending the night in jail, the saddest Don Draper to ever sad is back in his apartment, dumping booze down the sink.
This is the single most depressing scene in the show's six-season run.
Don and Megan talk about his drinking problem and how terrible things have gotten. As he's wont to do, Don plagiarizes a bunch of Rizzo's platitudes about California and tells Megan to start looking for acting gigs in Hollywood because he can't spend another minute in New York. Rizzo's S.O.L.
The insufferable Ted/Peggy thing finally apexed. Mrs. Chaough comes into the office with Ted's kids and Peggy's not exactly happy about it. (Worse than that, maybe, is that they're all going to the movies. Peggy's got a soft spot in her heart for The Dark Room.) So, homegirl gets a little revenge when she throws on a litte black dress (emphasis on the little) and some fishnets and blatantly struts out of the office in a successful attempt to get Chaough's attention. When she returns from her crappy date, he's waiting in her building and they finally consummate their irritating relationship. Ted's ready to leave his wife, but Peggy talks him down because she's "not that girl."
Eventually (and unstartlingly), he can't live with the guilt of what he's done. Chaough begs Don to pass on the California spot so he can move out west with his wife and children and start a new life away from Peggy.
Bob Benson and Joan are still close and Roger Sterling is not having any of it. Sterling is a territorial brat. Hilarious, but equally possessive. Let's remember that this is a man who prodded Don Draper way back when by overtly hitting on Betty and then starting a new life with the man's secretary. For as perceptive a guy as Bob Benson seems to be, he's saddling up awfully close to The Beloved of a man who took extreme pleasure in firing Bert Peterson... twice. When Benson brings a toy back from Detroit for Joanie's son, Kevin, it's not much of a surprise that Sterling immediately proceeds to summon Benson to his office to drop trou and mark his territory. The fact that they both end up at Joan's for Thanksgiving is tangible evidence that she (still) holds all of the power in her relationship with Roger.
And Sterling isn't the only one with "1. Bob Benson" at the top of his sh** list. Pete Campbell receives word that his mother has "fallen off" a ship after marrying her former "caretaker" Manolo. Pete's convinced that Manolo—whom he hired on Benson's recommendation—married the senile Mrs. Campbell and killed her, thinking she had considerable wealth.
The Pete Campbell/Don Draper comparisons have never fit better. They're both divorced, they're both orphans, and they're both about to have a crappy Thanksgiving.
Speaking of Don, the scene that shows him at the bar, drinking by himself, is backed by Don Cherry's "Band of Gold," which happens to be the same song that played when we met Don Draper in the show's pilot episode (as he's at a bar, drinking by himself). Additionally, it's a bit poetic that that first conversation we see Don have—debating cigarette brands with a waiter—ends with the waiter remarking that, "Ladies love their magazines." Especially when you consider the Marcy Playground bomb that Draper goes on to drop during the Hershey's meeting (emphasis mine):
"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 whorehouse. I read about Milton Hershey and his school in Coronet magazine or some other crap that the girls left by the toilet. And I read that some orphans had a different life there. I could picture it. I dreamed of it; of being wanted. Because the woman who was forced to raise me every day would look at me like 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's 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."
This might be one of Weiner's meaningful coincidences? At the very least, it was the most authentic moment we've seen from Don Draper. His hands shaking with sickening sobriety, his voice quivering with hesitation. It's almost as though Dick Whitman is clawing his way out from beneath the Don Draper suit. Then, Don follows up his monologue with a little morsel of personal advice for the chocolate guys:
"If I had my way, you'd never advertise. You shouldn't have someone like me telling that boy what a Hershey bar is. He already knows."
Don concedes, allowing Chaough to take the vacant position in California. He leaves the office and breaks the news to Megan. She's (rightfully and finally) done putting up with his excuses, selfishness (toward her) and broken promises. It looks like the Drapers are breaking up (again).
And Don's crappy week is just getting started. Torpedoing the agency's shot at Hershey seems to have tipped the scale at Sterling Cooper. He's invited into the office for a Thanksgiving Day partners meeting that he thinks will result in Ted heading to California. He realizes too late that it's an ambush. The partners inform him that he'll be taking some time off for the holidays. Even Roger responds to Don's "Et tu, Brute?" with the callous suggestion that Don should try to get his sh** together. The real kicker, though, is that Duck Phillips shows up early and passes Don at the elevators on the way out of the building.
Peggy sitting in Don's chair, looking out the window of his high-rise corner office was an emotional bookend to the firm's coup. Six seasons after being introduced as Don Draper's naive secretary, she's going to get to sit in his chair and do his job.
The season ends with Don and his children standing outside of the dilapidated Pennsylvania whorehouse from his childhood. Upon learning that her father grew up in this place, Sally's facial expression indicates a realization that she's not the only person with screwed up parents. Her crappy childhood doesn't make her unique.
Joni Mitchell plays us out as, somehow, things feel like they're turning around for Dick Whitman. Sure, he's been dumped by his mistress, dumped by his wife, caught sleeping with his mistress, and ambushed by his business partners, but he's got a few months off and newfound sobriety to look forward to. Plus, he's immensely talented, his name has already been taken off the Sterling Cooper letterhead, and he prefers to work without a contract. The clouds no longer in his way.
Oh but now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost but something's gained
In living every day
His son asks if Hershey was named after the candy, or if it was the candy that was named after the town.
"There was a man named Hershey," Don replies. "And he made enough chocolate to build a town."
- When Don calls Sally to discuss her testimony concerning their burglar from earlier in the season, Sally's sarcastic "Well, I wouldn't want to do anything immoral" response was only one-upped by her, "You know what, why don't you just tell them what I saw?" Don might want to duck before that double entendre hits him between the eyes.
- "Nixon's the president. Everything's back the way Jesus wants it." - Don Draper
- The whole New York vs. Los Angeles thing feels very Californication. Different type of show, obviously (and a little lower brow), but the conversation about the evils of both cities is an essential theme to the sleezy, hilarious Showtime sitcom.
- Betty's naive "The good is not beating the bad!" after Sally was suspended for buying beer was followed by one of her most perceptive comments through the show's six-season run: "She obviously needs more than I can give her."
- "I love [Don's screwed up kids] to death. I used to feel pity for them, but now I realize we're all in the same boat." - Megan Draper, finally getting it.
- The second saddest scene in the history of Mad Men was when Draper reluctantly offers Ted booze after climbing on the wagon. He has no idea what he's doing and we can all feel the awkward.
- When Ted pleads with Don to give up the California spot, Don replies, "They're writing my wife off her show. It's too late, Ted." The Drapers split at the end of the episode, so this is another example of Mad Men talking about itself.