Haunted by the past: Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Look familiar? Peggy’s new digs.

Last week’s recap: Funny expectationsFarewell to season ‘Sixties’

“The good is not beating the bad.”

Don Draper is dead. Not in the literal sense, presaged by the heart attack referenced in the very first shot of Mad Men’s sixth season, but the idea of what Don Draper is and what he represents is, if not banished, at last deeply cracked. The centre cannot hold, which is understandable when you’re an alcoholic with the shakes after going a day or two without booze.

I found “In Care Of”, the final episode of Mad Men for this year, deeply satisfying. These 13 episodes have been beguiling and scathingly funny, troubled and occasionally stagnant, but this effort, co-written and directed by series creator Matthew Weiner, pulled the series together and reminded us of how much is now emotionally invested in these characters. Small moments and simple acts of recognition had genuine weight.

At the end of the blighted year of 1968, with Richard Nixon now in the White House, the focus swung back to the salvation of family, in whatever form that might take. It was not for nothing that the final scenes focused on family groups, traditional and decidedly otherwise, or that the person who chose to be excluded from this was Peggy.

At the end of a season where she’d been caught between Don and Ted, and committed to the latter, Peggy decided to teach him a lesson when his wife Nan visited the office and Peggy imagined a slight. She wore a short black dress with a plunging neckline for a date, and made a point of parading herself in front of Ted beforehand. It worked. He was waiting at her apartment building that night, professing his desire.

“I don’t want anyone else to have you,” Ted confessed, adding that he would leave his wife and children. “I’m not that girl,” replied Peggy, whose office affair with Pete in the first season has forever shaped her behaviour. Ted told Peggy he loved her, and their passionate embrace ended up with them in bed together.

One of the things that disturbed Don the most, and perhaps finally forced him to reconsider his often appalling selfishness, is that his actions have some bizarre gravitational pull on those around him. In previous seasons it has caught Peggy professionally, while this year it was Ted who failed to see that in opposing Don he was becoming him.

At first Don planned to run away, announcing to his bemused partners that he wanted to relocate to California, to run a tiny office dedicated solely to the Sunkist account. He sold Megan on the idea – she admitted she had acting opportunities there but hadn’t even mentioned them to him – but then Ted came to Don and asked if he could take the exile in California. His family was at stake, and the unspoken addendum was he didn’t want to end up like Don.

The most damaging example of Don-like emulation was from his own daughter, Sally, who Betty reported had been suspended from her new boarding school for buying beer and getting drunk with some of the other students. It was not just that Sally was starting to drink, something that was now scaring Don after a night in the drunk tank after skipping a meeting to stew in a bar and eventually punch out a Christian minister offering salvation, it was that she used a fake I.D. to do so. She was, as Dick Whitman once had, constructing a new identity.

Betty, in a late night call to Don, was defeated, and his use of his old nickname for her, “Birdy”, signified their rapprochement. By the time Don pitched to Hershey’s, the confectionary giant, he was fixated on family and upbringing. His pitch, initially, was inspired make-believe, spinning out fake memories of a joyous childhood where his father bought him a Hershey’s chocolate bar from the drugstore after he mowed the lawn.

“My father tousled my hair and forever his love and the chocolate were tied together,” declared Don, and for a moment the room was quiet, and it was as if this nightmarish inversion of his famous “Carousel” pitch from the final episode of season one was going to sell, but then Don used the office to declare the beginnings of the truth about himself, offering a long, shaken confession.

It began with, “I was an orphan. I grew up in Pennsylvania. In a whorehouse,” and it was like some blackly inappropriate embrace of the truth in the very arena where the invented Don Draper had always excelled. Don added that he’d only got a Hershey’s bar when a whore bought him one for going through the pockets of the man she was in bed with and he recovered more than a dollar. “It was the only sweet thing in my life,” he added, effectively scuttling any hope of bagging the prestigious account.

Don told Ted that he could take the Californian posting with his family, but it was more about Don staying to face up to his past than wanting to help Ted, while Pete also had his eyes on California, especially after his Detroit assignment was shot down by Bob Benson, who has a hearty smile even when he’s screwing someone over.

Pete’s mother, a source of his discontentment, has been reported lost at sea, falling off a cruise ship after apparently marrying her nurse, Bob’s friend Manolo. Pete was furious, blaming Bob for Manolo’s actions more than he grieved for his mother, but at the GM offices in Detroit Bob had his revenge, luring novice driver Pete into a car he couldn’t handle and allowing him to have an accident in the foyer. “You can’t drive stick!” snarled the GM bigwig, which is Detroit-ese for “You’re off this account!”

Pete had a degree of acceptance, even making amends a fraction with his separated wife Trudy, but Don was angry when he was called in for a partner’s meeting and found four of them – Bert, Joan, Roger and Jim Cutler (what a find Harry Hamlin has been this year) – ranged against him, perfectly framed by Weiner as they sent him on a leave of absence, refusing even to guarantee a return date and adding the ignominy of having Duck Phillips arrive with his replacement as Don was exiting.

Having already exhausted the patience of Megan, who found her bearings and turned her back on him after Don broke the news about the relocation to California being off, and after she’d quit her soap opera role to prepare for the move, Don found himself with his three children, just as his colleagues were also in the midst of family. Pete sat with his sleeping daughter as Trudy watched, while Roger – whose adult daughter cut him off for not investing in her husband’s new business venture – was invited to Thanksgiving at Joan’s (Bob Benson was carving the turkey) so he could spend time with his secret son, Kevin, who has strong Sterling genes (it was another door for Roger to step through, per his monologue from the season’s beginning).

The exception was Peggy, who had thrown herself into her work after Ted’s piously threw her aside to keep faith in his wife. She was behind a desk, but it was Don’s and not her own, with the shot from behind emulating the iconic promotional image of Don’s outline. Don was doing something more important, taking his children to the now dilapidated ghetto property where Mack’s whorehouse, his teenage home, had once been.

“This is where I grew up,” he told them, and the shared glance with the previous belligerent Sally was heartbreaking. It was one line, and a few tightly edited shots, but it provided a climax to much of what this season has been digging at. Don’s refusal to acknowledge the past that he’d spent his adult life avoiding, even as it shaped his attitude to women, sex and love, finally gave way. For once, the good had beaten the bad.


Parental Leave: “Well, I wouldn’t want to do anything immoral.” Sally’s riposte to Don on the telephone, before she hung up on him, was the kind of blow she’d been aiming at Betty for years.

Cost Analysis: Pete and his brother Bud decide that the cost of pursuing their mother’s body and the truth about her death doesn’t equal her estate’s size. “She loved the sea,” they reason, leaving her in it.

Harsh But Fair: Roger’s daughter met his cheery refusal to invest with a slashing line – “What do I have to do to get on the list of girls you give money to.”

Calling Dr. Bombay: Did you spot what was playing on the television in the bar as Don got loaded? It was Bewitched, the story of a Los Angeles advertising man, Darrin Stephens at McMann & Tate, whose wife had a huge secret. After all the conjecture about Rosemary’s Baby being a guide to Don’s marriage, maybe it was this sitcom that hid clues (kudos to my Mad Men-watching wife for noting this, and other fascinating points shared here, over the last three months of Monday night viewing).

The End is Nigh: There are just 13 episodes of Mad Men left. Matthew Weiner has reiterated in interviews over the last 24 hours that the show has one final season to go. This year’s production has set a platform for what could be a fascinating finale. Whether it’s 1969 or 1970, Don could be in a radically different place in his life when the show reconvenes. Roger will still be Roger.

What do you think? How do you feel about Don now? Can Joan let Roger see Kevin and not succumb to his charm? Should Bob Benson be brought back for season 7? Where will this all end?

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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