By Brandon James Smith
Sunday night's sixth season finale was the beginning of the end for Mad Men.
Creator Matthew Weiner has said the seventh season will be its last and that he's well aware of how it's going to end. After watching the appropriately titled “In Care Of,” I realized there's no reason for anyone to doubt him. The stage has been set. Much like the real-life psyche of the country back in 1968, every major character find themselves lost, at a crossroads, or both. As a country though, even in turmoil, we're resilient. And so are the characters of Mad Men.
Throughout its six-season run, Mad Men has been clear that the show is ultimately about the descent of Don Draper. Hell, it's even in the imagery of the opening credits. There have been countless theories, discussions and predictions of what fate will eventually befall the world's coolest ad executive.
Last Sunday we got a much better glimpse of that fate. Don didn't fall out of a skyscraper window, but he certainly fell. In fact, he skyrocketed to bottom and he did it in the most heart-wrenching way possible. After punching a minister, Mr. Scotch Into My Belly decided he was done (kind of) with the booze. He wasn't expecting to get the DTs though, or for anyone (Ted) to notice.
However his soberness brought some much needed clarity...
See, Don's life is buried under so many lies that the truth couldn't take it anymore and had to finally reveal itself. The truth chose to do this during a business meeting in which we saw a confident Draper giving a great pitch to Hershey, a pitch built on a story that again was built on a lie. However, somewhere between noticing his trembling hand and observing Ted's sad puppy-dog look, Don Draper made the decision to somewhat come clean about his past and that scene might very well win Jon Hamm his first Emmy.
We watched a man, who is usually the epitome of cool, have a semi-nervous breakdown at work, in a meeting, over Hershey's chocolate nonetheless. AND IT WAS PERFECTION. Of course Weiner would have Don finally break during a meeting with a client. Why? Because that has always been the one place where Don cannot be touched. Whatever chaos might be going on in his life, it's his sanctuary where he always has his shit together.
So we've discussed how the show is about Don's fall from grace and how it's the beginning of the end for him (and for the show). However, last Sunday, while Don Draper was being thrown in jail, losing his wife, losing his job, going through alcohol withdrawal, dealing with his past and trying to mend his tortured soul – Dick Whitman reemerged. Maybe the show is about the rise and fall of a mad man, but perhaps it's also about his redemption.
Think about it. To paraphrase a line Don once said in another finale, 'I realized I had two choices: I could die...or I could holster up my guns.' Despite losing everything, Don once again holstered up his guns, made the right choices and decided not to run away from his problems. Oh, he tried to at first. His way out was to move to L.A. with Megan, much to the chagrin of Stan and eventually Ted (who we'll get to in part two). But in the end, after the Hershey debacle where Don revealed in front of clients and colleagues that he grew up in a whorehouse and that Hershey's chocolate bars where one of the few things that let him pretend he was a normal kid, Don immediately told Ted he could have his spot in L.A.
The thing is, he didn't just do it for himself. He did it because, like Ted said earlier in the episode, somewhere deep down there is a good man within Don. If there wasn't, he wouldn't always be conflicted with inner turmoil while masking it with unlimited Old-Fashioneds and every other drink imaginable. So for the first time in recent memory, Don Draper sacrificed something for the betterment of another person.
Instead of going to the bar afterward, he went right home to tell Megan. He was honest with her and it went terribly. Megan was harsh (“You want to be left alone with your liquor, and your ex-wife and your screwed up kids") but understandably so. She's put up with way too much already and her walking out on Don is probably the best thing for her. Things don't get any better either as SC&P decide to put him on a leave of absence for an undetermined length due to his bizarre behavior and his 'come and go as you please' work style. As he leaves to get on that damn elevator (has anyone else noticed how much that elevator has been used as a plot device?), Duck Phillips and Lou Avery are getting off and Lou smugly says to Don, “Going down?” before pressing the elevator button. Ouch.
So yeah, Don just got demolished in the season finale. But again, and maybe I'm getting repetitive here, we don't see him go to the bottle. He's certainly not happy with his life at the moment, but for the first time ever, Don is facing his demons and trying to make amends.
We witness this in the final scene, with Don, Sally and Bobby all standing in front of a broken, dilapidated house in a slummy part of town on Thanksgiving. They all stare at the house, with Sally and Bobby confused, before Don says something very short but very personal - “This is where I grew up.”
Welcome back, Mr. Whitman.
(Editor's note: There was so much that happened in the MM finale that I decided to separate the reviews into two parts. The second part should be up later tomorrow. Believe me I haven't forgotten about Peggy, Pete, Ted, Roger, or even that swell Bob Benson fellow, who always brings everyone coffee.)