'Mad Men' Finale Recap: The Long Goodbye

Season Six concludes with Don, Peggy and Pete at personal and professional crossroads

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on 'Mad Men'
Jaimie Trueblood/AMC
Jon Hamm as Don Draper on 'Mad Men'
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It's easy to get nostalgic whenever a season of Mad Men comes to a close, but knowing that only 13 episodes remain in the entire series, and by the end of "In Care Of," so many people were going their separate ways, it feels like all that's left is to find a way to say farewell to these enduring characters. And given how much time and energy Mad Men fans have invested in this show, we're going to need this next year and the series' seventh and final season to figure out how to let this dysfunctional group of indelible personalities go. Early prediction for next season? Bob becomes the new Don at Sterling Cooper & Partners. Like the erstwhile Dick Whitman, Bob has no past, a tendency to lie about his background and an eagerness eerily reminiscent of how Don wheedled his way into a job at Sterling Cooper in the 1950s. Now that Don and Pete have vacated the SC&P offices, and Bob has Joan in his pocket (the man wore an apron to carve her Thanksgiving turkey for heaven's sake), there's nothing standing in his way from making a swift Draper-esque rise to the top. Perhaps that's Matthew Weiner's thesis statement after all: There's always a Don Draper for every generation, and probably in every company. But we'll have to wait until next season for those answers.

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In the meantime, I'm curious as to how Don won't just be standing at the edge of a cliff (or rather an office window) for all of the final episodes, as he hit the rock bottom he'd been plummeting toward not just this season, but the series' entire run. After years of, to quote Jim Cutler, "questionable behavior," excessive drinking and disappearing for days on end without anyone batting an eye, Don's charmed life at SC&P came to a screeching halt when Jim, Bert, Roger and Joan ordered him to "take a few months off" without a set return date. Given that that was the same spiel Don and Roger gave to Freddy Rumsen back in Season Two, Don would be wise to not wait by the phone. The repercussions of Don's depraved actions have taken their toll on Sally as well. Just a few weeks after enrolling at Miss Porter's, Sally is suspended for buying beer and getting drunk on campus. Don's marriage to Megan appears to be over too, with Megan questioning "why we're fighting for this anymore." And this is with her remaining ostensibly oblivious to her husband's affair with Sylvia (neither she nor Arnold appeared this episode, leaving their future presence in the Drapers' lives ambiguous).

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L.A. Story
We've reached November 1968 – Richard Nixon has won the presidential election, and soon enough, this tumultuous year will be a thing of the past. But that doesn't stop Don from spiking his orange juice or drowning his sorrows in the middle of the day at a bar. A Bible-beating minister is preaching the word of Jesus to Don and his fellow drinkers, which of course triggers yet another flashback to Uncle Mack's Brothel for Mistreated Adolescents. One day, a minister showed up to the whorehouse spewing some very similar-sounding gospel about sinners, prompting Uncle Mack to throw him out along with his Bible. As young Dick stood on the porch, stone silent, watching the scene unfold, the clergyman had these parting words: "The only unpardonable sin is to believe God cannot forgive you." And we now have reason number 4,577 as to why Don is so self-loathing. The flashback is also important because we get a view of the brothel's white-with-green-trim exterior. Back in the day, it was a fashionable house in what looked like a halfway decent neighborhood. We then cut to a disheveled Don waking up in a police station drunk tank – turns out he punched the bar-hopping preacher.

When Don returns home that morning, Megan is so used to his nighttime disappearances that she doesn't even ask where he's been while he's pouring bottles of liquor down the sink. But in a rare moment of honesty, he comes clean as to his whereabouts, admitting that he's "gotten out of control." The forlorn look in his eyes relays the sheer desperation he feels to get his life back in order. Even though his grand plan sounds like something Pete Campbell would call a "temporary bandage on a permanent wound," and the fact that he completely stole Stan's idea for setting up a Los Angeles branch of SC&P (Sunkist wants someone local), Don, through tears, really does believe that moving to L.A. will solve all their problems. He figures since he and Megan were happy in California during those few blissful days in 1965 when they barely knew each other, all they need is to relocate to get that spark back. And since L.A. is a much better town for Megan careerwise, she laps up Don's drivel and quits her job before you can say "pilot season."

After Don announces his plans to his partners, he briefly exhibits a second wind, confidently pitching Hershey executives a heartwarming ad campaign about how he associates chocolate bars with his father's love. But as soon as he sits down, his hand starts shaking – paralleling Betty's numb hands from Season One – and unable to hide the truth about his past anymore, he opens up not only to the Hershey execs, but to Ted, Roger and Jim about growing up in a brothel. Jon Hamm is absolutely brilliant in this scene, conveying years of pent-up anger and sadness by describing his lack of childhood basics: love, affection and happiness. The only way Dick Whitman ever got a Hershey bar was by going through the pockets of the johns while they were being serviced, and only if he came up with more than a dollar. "It was the only sweet thing in my life," he gasps, bringing to mind a dark, demented version of Charlie Bucket's annual birthday chocolate-bar ritual.

Once the Hershey execs are gone, Don, realizing his brutal honesty just cost them the account, tells Ted to take his spot in L.A. (before the meeting, Ted had asked Don to let him go to California instead, because he too needs to save his marriage). Don now knows that running away won't solve his problems, and at least Ted has a fighting chance to keep his family together. Megan doesn't take this news well though, having given up her gig on To Have and to Hold. Plus she's already got a bunch of meetings set up on the West Coast. When Don makes it clear he's cool with having a "bicoastal" marriage, Megan is ready to bolt. For the first time, Don says the words "I love you" to his wife, but it's too little, too late. She puts on her coat and leaves the apartment, not to be seen again the rest of the episode. I was wondering where that set of brass balls Megan had last season went, and I am so glad they didn't go the way of Kurt and Smitty. L.A. may not be Minneapolis, but I think Megan is gonna make it after all – as long as she tosses up her hat on a beach somewhere.

The next morning, Thanksgiving, Don has his brief showdown with his colleagues, and is about to leave the building as the former creative director of SC&P when the elevator opens and Duck Phillips and Lou Avery emerge. Damn, the man's not even off the floor yet and already they've got a replacement lined up – and he couldn't be more of the antithesis of Don Draper. Lou was the obnoxious rival adman who spilled the beans that Vick Chemical was leaving SCDP while Don and Roger were at the airport en route to pitch Chevy. As if that wasn't enough to bruise Don's ego, Lou twists the knife even further when he asks, "Going down?" He meant the elevator, but boy does that term have multiple meanings.

One could argue that this development leaves hope for the Draper marriage now that Don's job is no longer keeping him tied to New York, but just as we doubted Don would remain faithful to Megan, it's difficult to envision a happy ending for these two. But before Don can repair his relationship with his wife, he needs to focus on his daughter. In the episode's final scene, Don takes his three children to a familiar-looking white-with-green-trim house in Pennsylvania, now dilapidated with garbage strewn out front and in what Bobby calls a "bad neighborhood." A little African-American boy sucks on a Popsicle on the front stoop as Don informs Sally, Bobby and Gene that this house is where he grew up. As Judy Collins' version of "Both Sides Now" begins to play, Sally looks up at her Don without disdain, because for the first time, she has what she's always wanted – knowledge about her father. The lyrics of the Joni Mitchell-penned tune could not have been a more perfect metaphor for Don Draper's existence: "I really don't know life at all" is the repeated refrain, with references to the beauty of life being blocked. Love is an illusion to Don, and his existence is ephemeral.

(Just Like) Starting Over
Pete spends most of the episode throwing apoplectic fits over his mother and Manolo (a telegram came through stating Dorothy, who apparently also married Manolo, was "lost at sea" while on a cruise), taking his anger out on Bob, as usual, who insists he knew nothing of Manolo's unscrupulous intentions. The two men continue trying to one-up each other until, upon arrival in Detroit for a meeting with Chevy, Bob manipulates Pete into proving he can barely drive when the execs encourage him to take one of their stick-shift models for a test run. The Chevy reps are not amused, and Pete is off the account. After consulting with his brother, Bud, and their lawyer, the Campbell sons decide, in the words of Spinal Tap, that their mother's case is "best left unsolved." "She's in the water, with Father," says Bud, referring to their dad's death in a plane crash during Season Two. And given her limited financial means, Manolo (who was, in fact, a gold digger complete with an alias), wasn't going to end up with an inheritance anyway. During a brief visit back in Cos Cob, in which it's revealed that Pete is moving to Los Angeles, hinting that he has resigned from SC&P (note he wasn't at the partners' meeting informing Don of his leave of absence), Trudy is able to put the recent events in perspective for her soon-to-be ex-husband: "You're free of her, you're free of them (meaning SC&P, especially Bob) – you're free of everything." Pete is repentant that things worked out the way they did, but as he watches Tammy sleep, we're reminded of how deep inside this arrogant, supercilious bastard lies a sad, lonely, unloved little boy. He's free of all constraints, but just as he hated living in the suburbs, I don't see him surviving long in California.

Going the Distance
The last time we saw Peggy Olson look this luscious is when she donned that blue dress and joined the boys at a strip club in Season Two. Jealous over Nan Chaough making regular appearances in the office, Peggy decides to play hardball with Ted, dolling herself up with a cleavage-baring minidress with a large pink bow, fishnet stockings, dangly earrings and Megan's entire makeup kit, and prancing into the conference room to announce she's heading out. The Hot Peggy effect worked, and when she arrives home after her disastrous date, Ted is waiting for her, and within seconds he's declaring his love and peeling off her dress. As they bask in their afterglow, both seem blissfully happy, and Ted announces he is going to leave his wife. The saddest part about this plot line is it didn't seem like bullshit – I felt the adoration that these two had for each other. But Ted's downfall is that he is a good guy, no matter how much he loves Peggy. So his only solution is to put 3,000 miles between them. He begs Don to let him take the L.A. office so he can have a real shot at not hurting his wife and sons. Peggy, understandably, is infuriated, and pretty much tells him to fuck off when he gives her the "Someday you'll be glad I made this decision" line. But while her personal life remains in shambles, she's poised to reap the most benefits of the office upheavals. We last see her working in Don's [former] office ("It's where everything is!" she tells Stan), sitting in his chair and leaning back. Both of her mentors are gone, and she's more than ready to start thinking about her own partnership.

Wrap-Up: It wouldn't be Mad Men without a time jump, but here's hoping that it won't skip over the summer of 1969. I want to see Sally strung out at Woodstock, and now that Joan has allowed Roger into Kevin's life (but not hers, she specifies) I want to see the three of them watching the moon landing together – with Joanie's new gay BFF Bob serving up space-themed cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

Previously: Off-Limits

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