Now that, my friends, is a season finale. Nobody died (except poor Mrs. Campbell; let’s hope she was happily drunk on champagne), but everyone’s lives changed in last night’s hour, leaving us wondering deliciously where Matthew Weiner is taking us next — and appreciating how smoothly he took us back in time, and forward again. Listening to Don’s pitch to Hershey, you can’t help but remember his Kodak pitch, in the finale of Season 1, when he spun his troubled marriage into something picture-perfect, then went home to a dark, empty house. Here, he initially did the same thing, telling an idyllic tale of his father buying him a Hershey bar and tousling his hair affectionately. And then, noting his drunken tremor and Ted’s obvious misery, he did something Don so rarely does: He told the truth, to a shocked audience, about his whorehouse childhood, about how the sweetness of a Hershey bar (bought with money from a prostitute after he’d help her rob a john) made him yearn for a different life, a normal childhood. This candy pitch was anything but sugarcoated — but it was one of Don’s finest moments on the series, as a person if not as an ad man.
Earlier in the episode, it looked as if Don was finally getting things in place: “I’ve gotten out of control,” he told Megan, and he took steps to change things: quitting drinking, deciding to move to California to head up SC&P’s satellite office. California has always represented a paradise for Don; a place where you can start again, washed clean in the surf — and, as we know from Dr. Fay a few seasons back, Don’s always drawn to the beginnings of things. Megan was thrilled, plans were made, and two things happened: A tearful late-night call from Betty reminded Don that his daughter — suspended from boarding school for drunkenness — is turning out just like him. (“She’s from a broken home,” said a guilt-ridden Betty.) And Ted, unable to control his own weakness, begged Don for the California job; otherwise, his marriage would be destroyed by his desire for Peggy. “I have to hold on to them,” Ted said of his family, “or I”ll get lost in the chaos” – words Don took to heart. He’s staying, though an angry Megan perhaps isn’t, to try to begin again; to somehow be forgiven (as the minister in an early flashback alluded), to find himself and his children in the chaos.
It’ll be many months before we see “Mad Men” again (spring 2014, when the supposedly final Season 7 will air), so it seems right to consider our last glimpse:
– Joan, looking relaxed and happy, hosting Thanksgiving in her apartment with an impromptu family: her son, her mother, Roger, and Bob. (This episode, with Ted’s words at its center, was all about family.) I don’t think we ever saw a scene in which she changed her mind about Roger knowing his son, but she’s apparently done so. My biggest complaint about this season: We needed more Joan.
– Pete, stroking the hair of his sleeping daughter as Trudy watched sadly from the bedroom doorway, as he prepared to move to L.A. for his own new start. Interesting that Pete is, apparently, able to leave his child behind; Don, when it came down to it, could not. He’s finally free of his parents, of his stifling past; the man who can’t drive may be learning to fly.
– Peggy, symbolically sitting at Don’s desk (“This is where everything is”) as she worked late — wearing pants, which I don’t think we’ve ever seen her do in the office, even on a holiday. Angered by Ted’s decision to walk away from a possible life with her (though it’s not so much that she’s angry about him doing it, but by him having the power to decide), she’s focusing on work. How high might she rise?
– Megan, walking out the door, concluding a season full of doorways. Will we see her again?
– Don, untethered, with his children. We just watched as the partners (including a silent Joan) basically gave him the Freddy Rumstead treatment: he’s been asked to take a vacation, with no definite return date. (Legally, can they fire him, as he’s a partner? I’m not sure. But interesting that the parallels between Don and Sally continue: they’re both suspended.) For Thanksgiving, he drives to Pennsylvania with his children, including a surly Sally, and shows them the house where he grew up — a first step at mending the rift with his daughter, who a few weeks ago said “I don’t know anything about you” to her father. Our last glimpse of Season 6: Sally, seemingly moved by the site of the run-down house, gazes at her father with something other than anger. He looks back at her. It won’t mend what’s broken in their relationship, but it’s a beginning.
It’s been a pleasure chatting about “Mad Men” with all of you this season. What did you think of this final episode? And of the season overall, which I thought started very slowly but eventually became mesmerizing? Will you stick around for Season 7? I know I will.