Mad Men Season 6 Finale and Season Review
Last Sunday, Mad Men’s sixth season gave us a conclusion that few viewers will forget.
I felt emotions watching this episode that I’ve never felt before from Mad Men. In a subtle way, not a mind-blowing way. Indeed, I don’t think Mad Men has ever given us anything like this before. It was a very special episode.
In an attempt to tackle it, lets break down the main plot threads. Later, we’ll try to figure out what their deeper meaning behind each is.
- Roger’s Family Woes Continue (Kiiinda In The Backdrop).
- Ted And Peggy’s Relationship Drama Coming To A Surprising Head.
- Pete Cambell and Bob Benson: FACE OFF (ultimately leading to growth for Campbell.)
- Don Draper’s Continued Embodiment Of The American Dream.
Point the first: Roger’s having some problems in this episode. His alienated daughter has a go at him, he feels serious envy of Bob Benson and his friendship with Joan.
“Looking forward to having you out in detroit, Bob,” Roger says.
Roger’s main development in this episode revolves around his closeness with Joan. Particularly, his illegitimate child with her. Unfortunately, there’s not much to say; characters in this episode divide into pairs who either reconcile issues or who part in confrontation. Roger and Bob Benson reconcile their difference, as Joan invites them both over to see her son on his birthday. It’s a nice resolution.
But, like with Roger’s personal life, things are getting worse for Don in his. Sally is more distant,
and she is laying it on thick with Don, refusing to attend court to testify against the thief who invaded their home. Basically making him feel guilty for what could be
Immediately, Don goes to the bar. A fantastic scene sees Don
overhearing a Christian man attempt to convert another individual at the bar to
teetotalism, to stay away from the dangers of drink. “Could you keep it down, I’m trying to have a drink.” Don says. _And_, as per usual, drama in his life leads Don to a flashback to his childhood.
The parallelism in the series’ structure is pretty staggering, looking back on it at this point. As Don approaches his twilight years, his childhood story is reaching it’s post-pubescent years. As he becomes a man in one story, he loses his manhood in the present.
Losing his manhood, and becoming increasingly perturbed. So basically, everything Roger does focalises back onto Don!
Now to focus on Ted and Peggy.
Their flirting and love playing escalate rapidly in this episode. Beginning with a significant glance between Ted and Peggy as Ted leaves with his wife, we see a brilliantly subtle show from Ted. His eyes convey so much tragedy.
As one of my close friends once stated- and it has held true thus far in TV history- you can rate the quality of any TV show based on wordless eye contact.
Peggy gets him back later, wearing what is practically a negligee, and parades in front of Ted, Harry Crane and Jim Cutler. It’s awkward, and also awful. It’s one of Peggy’s first real dick moves. She is totally messing with Ted. He has a wife, and while he did profess his love, in my opinion he took a real high ground by saying no to her, saying that they have to forget about it. The shades of grey on show in this show are pitch-perfect. As pitch-perfect as grey can be.
Then, again reaching what would traditionally be a logical end point for the series and these characters as we know them, Ted and Peggy get it on. Ted states that he’s going to leave his wife for Peggy. Fantastic debauchery.
Yet, ultimately, Ted does the right thing. In a way, I love him. He says to Peggy, he says, “I love you that deeply, that I can’t be around you. And I can’t ruin all those lives,” he says regarding his family. It’s unbelievable. In a show full of selfish ladder climbing and missed opportunities, Ted Chaough is a truly “good” guy. He’s like the anti-Draper. He’s genuine to the core. I wonder where his story goes.
Ted’s way out comes from Don’s shocking plan, stolen from Stan, to move to California. ”Honestly, I have bigger problems than this,” Says Pete, as Don announces his plan to escape West. And Pete certainly does. His brilliant narrative thread in this episode combines his mother’s absurd death at sea, going overboard, and Bob Benson sabotaging his chance with Chevvy.
Benson’s definitely a dark horse. Personally, I trust him. I think he’s another Don Draper; we know he has come to the firm with a dark past, and Pete has called him out on this just like Draper. However, in this case, Pete threatened him, and Benson has used the one thing against Pete that he knows Chevy can’t stand: the inability to drive a car. We haven’t even heard about that since season five of Mad Men. Sublime character development on the producer’s part, and further, character development which has built over time to develop plot later. Flawless storytelling.
The only issue is that Pete’s story borders on melodrama. On pantomime. There’s constant comedy among the death. “There are a lot of sharks,” says their attorney over the phone regarding where his mother went overboard. To a certain extent, this lightheartedness undermines the poignancy of the events surrounding Pete. Despite Season 5′s flaws, Lane Price’s fall from grace, which followed a much-similar trajectory to Campbell’s tragic plotline this season, was developed with a lot more subtlety and depth. At no point did it seem funny. It was just compelling, and ultimately, devastating. The tone of Pete Cambell’s tragic developments seems a little more inappropriate and offbeat.
Trudy makes a brilliant return, and Alison Brie does some real acting. She nails the wizened housewife act better than the naive housewife act she played initially as Trudy.
However, it’s Pete’s last moment in the show which takes the cake in this plotline. I’d argue it’s equally as significant as Don’s final moment, which we’ll discuss later. We see Pete going to spend a moment with his daughter before he leaves to sort out his mother’s estate, promising Trudy he won’t wake her up. And in the background, Trudy leans in the doorway while Pete strokes the child’s head.
It’s an exact repetition of the tableau which ended Mad Men’s first ever episode.
Is Pete Campbell a proto-Don Draper?
Pete’s plotline ends here- but we are led onto Don’s story. In which there is extreme upheaval in his life.
As he struggles to escape his horror of what Sally saw, his means of escape comes from two angles, which frame the rest of the episode’s narrative. Sterling, Cooper and Partners receive an opportunity to nab Hersheys, the brand. Ted leaves it up to Don, to deal with. Don says, “I love Hersheys.”
And Don’s other opportunity? Comes from Stan in the episode’s opening scene.
It’s one of the strongest opening scenes I’ve seen in the show: Stan, one of the best introductory characters in the recent seasons, comes into his own while approaching Don, requesting an opportunity to open his own office in L.A. It’s hard to tell what he embodies. Initially he’s a bohemian stud, a badass left winger, but he proves to be more and more enterprising.
But Don’s huge move, the episode’s huge “Uh oh” moment, also suggests something more significant.
Don suddenly expresses his own desire to move to California. That is a serious bombshell. He wants to move to L.A; he tells Megan not to give up her career, but what would that mean for her? She says Hollywood is opportunities. Is that solid enough? He says it’s an opportunity to build “one desk into an agency. We would be homesteaders.”
Stan’s exact words.
And more importantly, it’s manifest destiny. Don’s circular narrative is one of new beginnings and trying to leave the past behind. To push forward to new pastures, and forget about old, regretful ones. Which is, as Stan says, the American frontier.
However, in Mad Men, this displacement onto fresh pasture has almost never been locative. Not in the present-day story, at least. It’s been social. Don has been displacing himself up the career ladder and out of binding social obligations since season one. Although it must be said: his original flight took place before the show even begun, and was from rural outback into the city.
Perhaps the next season, the ultimatum of his plot arc, will see a final flight to the idyllic West? The logical end point of Don Draper’s, or should we say Dick Whitman’s, simulacritic journey through American society in the biggest boom it ever saw.
Naturally, Don’s theft of Stan’s idea has repurcussions. Stan is pretty pissed off. Don stealing his idea and his position must have cut deep. But yet again, Don is embodying America’s true nature. He gets in their first with power and entrepeneurial spirit, and claims the land before Stan officially can. Don obviously feels remorse, but ultimately he doesn’t mind. He’s safe.
The penultimate end point of this episode is a battle between who wants to leave for California. Ted wants to leave, telling Don it’s for his family, that he needs a fresh start. But Don, selfishly, also wants to go to California, and clearly doesnt want to relinquish the opportunity. It’s a pretty savage battle of the wits, but ultimately, the scene in Don’s office basically shows an unstoppable force, which embodies the selfishness of the American Dream, encountering a not-quite-immovable object of tragic failing-conviction.
Which leads to an incredible scene, SC&P’s pitch to Hershey’s chocolate.
This may well be the most significant scene in the show’s history. Don Draper initially provides another incredible pitch, describing Hershey’s as “the currency of affection.”
Then he looks at Ted. Ted, whose eyes betray death inside. Don’s hands start shaking.
And he tells the clients, the heads of Hersheys about how his real experience of Hershey’s as a child revolved around a prostitute who got him a Hershey’s if he looted enough cash out of a clients pocket. Not the placeholder story about his dad getting him Hershey’s, as he initially said.
This is probably the first time Don has ever told a childhood story to anyone in the show. He opens up, he bears his soul.
Then he tells Ted to go to L.A., instead of himself.
I’m not sure if it’s a plot twist or a character twist. He has taken the higher ground, possibly for the first time in the show’s history.
Telling Megan this, she then… Breaks up with him. Essentially. By doing the right thing for once, Don has been left alone.
Then shit gets real.
Because of the Hersheys outburst, and al the other outbursts, Don practically gets fired by SC&P. And Peggy gets his job.
Are we seeing another series-wide plot arc here? Is this Don’s expulsion from advertising? As Don becomes more genuine, is more true to himself, is he going to be eked out of a world based on fantasy and the selling of it?
Following the biggest foundation shift, nay, a foundation removal, of the whole show thus far, all we are left with for season 7 is questions.
In an unbelievable final scene, Don takes his children to see where he grew up. A redemptive moment. Sally looks at Don and seems to finally understand him. He looks at her, knowing this.
Is the whole show going to be a redemptive arc? A story of a man’s realisation as to what life is all about? That you have to acknowledge your past and live with it rather than run from it?
This is the first time the show has made me feel a strong emotion other than worry or horror or humour or mild serenity. It feels like the show has found its emotional core.
Not the direction I was expecting it to take before season 7. Let’s see where the show takes us.