Alert: Spoilers ahead.
Read the transcript of the chat we held about the show.
After 12 episodes of darkness, we saw the light. Or at least, trickles of light.
Yes, Don is ousted from a company he helped build. Yes, Megan may have left him. These things were coming to him. But, for the first time, we saw Don Draper reveal Dick Whitman. Not to his soon-to-be-wife, not out of pressure, not in a drug-induced state, but we saw him wholeheartedly come clean to colleagues and clients about his past, and then to the three people he loves (and struggles with) the most: his children.
There were so many moments when I feared this episode would be more of the same. Don in a bar; Ted and Peggy continuing their games; Sally causing trouble. I had a sinking feeling Don would attempt to escape his problems and move to California. Isn’t that what he did with Megan? He was miserable, so he found a way to start his life over by marrying a woman he spent a few days with in (of course) California. His affair with his neighbor Sylvia was also an escape. Most recently, he used alcohol to do the trick.
I was disheartened thinking he would just smile and sell Hershey with a lie about his childhood. I thought he would just continue to be a jerk to Ted, who, depending on how you see it, in a noble gesture or a cowardly one, decided he needed a move to California more than Don.
Finally, a whole season of hitting rock bottom forced Don to do what was best: To face his demons. Giving Ted a second chance in California was one way he was trying to atone for his years of sins. Maybe it was Betty’s use of the words “broken home” that gave Don the push to make Ted not repeat what he may view as the same fate of his children. Or, it was the increased notion that Don knew there was something terribly amiss about his recent erratic behavior. He knew he couldn’t run from who he was much longer.
The instance when he opened up about his real childhood, about the lack of love and the desire to feel normal, was one of the best Don Draper moments this show has seen.
And of course, after he attempted to right his wrongs, he was abandoned by some who were closest to him. First, Megan, after her hopes of starting afresh in California were dashed, decided she couldn't be with Don at the moment. Is this permanent? We shall see. Did she really buy that a change of scenery would fix their problems? Or did she have stars in her eyes when she heard the words “Los Angeles”? To her credit, Don didn’t fully help her understand why he needed to stay. I fear the reason is because, whether they moved or not, he knew their worlds were already too far apart.
Then, in a shocker, Don Draper was put on leave by the people who revered him the most. Even though he was barely present at work all season, it took the revelation of his “whore house” upbringings during a client meeting to really make the folks at Sterling Cooper and Partners finally show him the door (temporarily, in their words). To add insult to injury, he faced his replacements, our old pal Duck Phillips and Lou Avery, on his way out.
After a brutal encounter with his work colleagues, Don picked up his children and took them to a place they had never seen before: The very whore house where he grew up. In an extremely significant moment, Sally, who was (surprise? not really) getting into trouble at the prestigious Miss Porter’s boarding school, exchanged a look with her father that wasn't full of disgust (for once). For a father so mysterious she almost bought that she had a black grandmother, he attempted to show them a period his life he had tucked away. After an extremely unhappy season, this one moment was full of possibilities.
While Don gained and lost, so did Peggy. After months of flirtation, Ted proclaimed he would leave his wife for her. She very unconvincingly protested, saying, “I’m not that kind of woman.” But they proceeded to sleep with each other, and of course, by morning he changed his mind. After he told her she would one day appreciate this decision, in wonderful Peggy fashion, she delivered this punchline: “Well aren’t you lucky to have decisions.”
This season, Peggy may have lost in the romantic front. But what she gained is something season one Peggy could only dream of: Don’s office. She may be one of the most powerful women in advertising, and she did it on her own merit. It's hard not to root for her.
Last week’s episode had us rolling our eyes at Peggy and Ted’s office flirtation, but Pete Campbell, the usual office snake, somehow received some applause for the way he handled Bob Benson’s fake identity. Then again, he is Pete Campbell. And he decided not to check whether or not his mother was alive, or to press charges on the man who may have tricked her into marriage. Seeing him smirk at the end was hard to watch.
Leave it to Trudy to tell him what he should feel (in a wonderful, sarcastic manner): “You’re free of everything.” He’s getting that escape to California that Don yearned for. Maybe he’ll go through hell like we saw Don endure. Or maybe he doesn’t have that conscience that was eating away at Don. Either way, boo Pete. We were kind of rooting for you.
It would have been nice to see more Joan. Who knows what’s happening with her and Bob. Is he fooling her? Was he fooling us? Does he just try to get with anyone who will get him ahead? And how will Roger’s relationship with Kevin unfold? It’s good she let her son’s father come into his life. But it seemed like she did it more out of concern for Roger than for her son. What of Joan and Roger?
Overall, I was extremely happy with the way this season ended. It gave all the druggy, droopy, and depressing Don moments a reason. In a Draper flashback, and frankly the only one that I didn’t mind this season, a minister told a young Dick Whitman: “The only unpardonable sin is to believe God cannot forgive you.” Don was wrestling with his mistakes by continuously making them. He hated himself. He never did more harm or looked worse than he did. But in the end, he chose to deal with his own sins. He gave up California, maybe lost his wife and his job, but saved himself, and possibly, his relationship with his children.
Matthew Weiner isn’t like David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos.” While Chase didn’t put his audience’s wishes into consideration, we see Weiner repeatedly aim to please his audience. We saw glimpses of good in a crowd-favorite Don Draper return. Now, if only we had more of Joan and Roger.
Broken homes. Ted decided he shouldn’t leave his children and give them a broken home. Betty blamed Sally’s rebellion on the divorce. Do none of them realize that maybe the secret to happy children is happy parents? If Ted really loves Peggy, and I think he does, he should be with her and not in a loveless marriage. If Don was actually caring and more attentive than he has been, maybe Sally wouldn’t be misbehaving. Just a thought.
Peggy, sex kitten? We see her as a sexy woman, which we definitely haven’t seen a lot of in past seasons. And we see Joan trying to build her career to mirror Peggy’s. Remember when the men at SC once divided women into Jackie O’s and Marilyn Monroes? Yeah. Times have changed.
Megan, go away. I’m getting tired of her character. She’s right, what’s the use of them fighting for their marriage anymore? Hopefully this was her exit from the show. Also, she isn’t Sharon Tate. She just calls her husband’s kids “screwed up.”
Duck Phillips. Ugh. Working with Peggy again. How will that work out?
Nixon. Won. I was a bit worried when they mentioned Thanksgiving that we wouldn’t see a reaction to the election results. And we even got a reference to the slow growth of the religious right. Also, Don punched a minister.
Sally. How could you not love this character? Don’s one attempt of shedding some light on his mysterious upbringing could be the one thing that stops Sally from becoming a Betty 2.0 and possibly halt her defiance. She's been such a joy to watch this season.
“Going down.” We’ve seen more use of elevator metaphors and scenes than “Grey’s Anatomy.” And contrary to what Lou Avery said, I think Don has gone down enough. I think, finally, he’s going up.
Each season of "Mad Men" has its own themes that form the story arc for these 12-13 episodes. This season was undeniably focused on issues Don has been trying to escape for the entirety of the show. We watched him go through his own version of hell, a theme that started in the first moments of the season 6 premiere, when we saw this protagonist reading "Dante's Inferno." He suffered consequences for his misdeeds, and redeemed himself for others.
It’s been long said that in the next (and last) season of “Mad Men,” we’ll see Draper grow old. Where do you think the next season will start off? What are your thoughts? What did you make of Ted and Peggy’s relationship? Do you think Don will make a return? What will happen to him next season? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
To continue the conversation, feel free to tweet me at @swatigauri.
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsKatie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
Sarah Rodman is a TV and music critic for the Boston Globe.
Meghan Colloton is a Things to Do and Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.