If you're a MAD-MANiac who STILL hasn't gotten around to watching the Season Six finale...first of all, what the hell is wrong with you? Secondly, don't read any further.
This will NOT be a recap of the entire episode. Not even close. If you're craving such a thing, there's plenty of sites out there that can give you an exhaustive and entertaining rundown of every last detail. If you wanna hear some schmuck try his hand at his first ever podcast recap after just one viewing of the episode -- then you can check out my guest appearance on The Geek Girl Soup podcast. It runs about 45 minutes and feels only slightly longer than that.
Back to the blog...
From the start, MAD MEN has been tracing the opposite paths of Don Draper and Peggy Olsen. Peggy's journey has been clear, with obstacles ranging from her unacknowledged pregnancy, perpetually bad taste in men and the very challenge of being a woman in the 1960's.
1968 is well remembered as the year of tumultuous change and chaos in the US, and Peggy is constantly at the mercy of other forces. Unlike previous years, where she was in control of her destiny, she never gets the chance to make the choices that will guide her life. Instead, her lot is cast by the decisions of people like Abe (he decides where they live as well as being the one to end their relationship), Don & Ted (she has no say or input in the eventual merger and the resulting consequences, and even cheating doesn't occur until Ted forces the issue).
That's why she makes that remark to Ted about "at least he gets to make decisions". But that's her moment of freedom, and like in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, sometimes you have to swim through a river of shit to reach the promised land. The final image of Peggy, dressed like the next coming of Mary Richards as she assumes the seat and classic pose of Don Draper -- she IS the new Draper (whereas Bob Benson is Don Draper-Lite) at SC&P. I wonder if she may end up being the creative director next season, and who knows, maybe she'll hire Don to be HER secretary?
Draper's fall seems to either speed up or slow down depending on the season. The fourth season (AKA the year Jon Hamm REALLY should have won the Emmy) was the last time I thought his life had taken such a precipitous dive, but then he's figuratively saved by clutching to a life preserver in the form of Megan. But by the end of the following season, Don's back swimming with the sharks. Maybe he'll see Pete's mom as he floats on by.
Season Six opens with Don reading Dante's Inferno, and as time soldiers on, we see Don IS that figure in the opening credits, plummeting to lower depths episode by episode. His drinking has graduated to full-blown alcoholism -- remember when he would remark about Roger drinking so early in the day? Now he's fixing screwdrivers for breakfast and hiding booze in his morning coffee cup of joe. He ends up in a drunk tank, and he even gets the shakes. One wonders if in the final season, the man who has no friends will become a Friend of Bill W.
The visual metaphor of descending to the lower rings of hell is especially accentuated following his virtual dismissal from SC&P. We follow him as he take a slow walk DOWN THE STAIRS. And when he runs into Duck Phillips and Lou Avery at the elevator bank, what does obnoxious Lou say? "Going down?" I almost expected another empty elevator shaft to open in front of Don, as he tumbles to the lowest depths of hell.
Perhaps his final look at Sally, after revealing a secret about himself to the daughter who doesn't know him, is the slim strand of hope that Weiner has allowed us to have for Don. He's a man who's no longer able to charm his way into or out of any situation, and his history of lies, stolen identities and pilfered ideas has finally caught up with him. They say the truth will set you free, but is it too little too late for Don Draper?
My Final Oft-Expressed Thought: I have NEVER been a member of the Piss-On-Pete Peeps. Yes, over six seasons, he's had some of the most unlikable moments on the series. But in my estimation, he has not only acquitted himself, he is one of the brightest highlights of a stellar season. Much like Betty, Pete has grown, evolved, and appears to be in a much better place in his life by season's end than ever before, even if he doesn't yet realize it himself. As Trudy points out -- he's finally FREE.
I recently wrote a brief explanation of my frequent defense of Pete Campbell. Since that e-mail only made it as far as one or two other pairs of eyes, it felt fitting to rewrite it and share that here as my closing comment:
WHY do I stick up for Pete so much?
Because I find him more human and relatable than most other characters on this show, though I like or even love them all. It would be great to be eternally witty like Roger or effortlessly suave like Don.
But while we all may be witty at times, no one's ALWAYS on their game like Roger.
And though we all have moments of pure persuasive charm, no one's EVER as slick as Don.
And even when I do have moments of wit or charm, it's often a facade to cover up the "inner Pete". So that's why I cringe just a little bit more when he does or says something that's damnable, and why I stick up for him more than any other member of the Mad Men family. Sure, he's petty, vindictive, spiteful and prone to the occasional mood swing. Guess what -- that could be my next Match.com profile. I may sometimes joke about hating myself, but I still refuse to hate Pete Campbell.