We all want to know the same thing: what was Don’s response to the girls after that smash cut? That’s practically all that’s occupied me after the season closer. And that’s not to say that the episode, though low-key, was a total waste; rather, that last scene was brilliant enough to eclipse all that preceded it. But let me render that opening statement somewhat obsolete—sure, there’s some mystery as to what decision Don might have made, but the great thing about that ending is that we all know the answer already, don’t we?
We didn’t have any prior indication that Beth, Pete’s paramour, would be lingering about for any more than a single episode. Characters seem to come and go in Mad Men—even central types like Joan or Peggy can disappear for weeks. But I’m glad that Beth returned, and probably for the last time, because I feel like she said the most important thing in the finale, or at any rate, the thing most relevant to Don. The moment came as she was getting dressed in the hotel, after she told Pete that she would undergo electroshock therapy. “It’s so dark,” she said. “I just get to this place and I suddenly feel this door open... and I want to walk through it.”
Hasn’t Don been walking through that darkness this entire season? And wasn’t the open door that final scene in the bar? I figure Don goes with those girls and that he cheats on Megan. Of course he does—that’s who Don Draper is. The less capricious Draper that we’ve been subjected to since the tail end of Season Four is an impostor. We’ve been building up to this for some time: early on Don tried to suppress his libido in that dream sequence (you’ll recall in that recap we explained why the symbolism showed that Don had failed to kill off his desire to commit adultery), and Megan’s rebellious tenor—acting out at the Howard Johnson’s; leaving the agency and turning to acting—did nothing but add to the pressure.
But the most blatant sign that Don has returned to his old ways is that he went to a bar to drink. He knows he can attract women without effort; he knows what will happen if he’s drinking there alone. Don went there specifically for that purpose. Otherwise, why would he have gone to a bar at all? Three episodes back he would have gone home and drowned himself in red wine. I’m very interested to see how the sixth season will start. It would be sort of amazing if it opened with him and Megan already divorced, but that doesn’t seem likely; I’d love a reversal of the pilot episode—instead of Don seeing his mistress and coming home to his family at the very end of the episode, how about Don spending the whole episode with the family and having the new mistress revealed to us in the final scene?
I don’t really know what to make of the various Adam Whitman appearances throughout the episode. There have been clear allusions to Don’s half brother over the last few shows, but he was used clunkily here. The scene in the dentist’s office was particularly weird, maybe because the subtext was too blatant. So it’s not Don’s tooth that’s rotten, but his soul? That seems far too obvious; too obvious to be worth mentioning. Or was he referring to something else?
It was curious to see Don give Megan the ad spot after he’d already turned her down. (How about Megan vulturing the ad behind her friend’s back, by the way? Ugh!) It struck me as an attempt to get rid of the last major disagreement between them. He just wanted the argument about her acting to be over. But it might also be a subconscious move to oust Megan. If Don is over the relationship, then pushing Megan into her acting career would serve to get rid of her, especially if she’s acting on a screen. If she succeeds in advertisements she’ll be offered parts in films or television, and then she’ll have to move to Hollywood. Don won’t be going with her.
I found Pete surprisingly sympathetic, but I wonder if that’s because Don and Pete’s storylines are converging, and we’re seeing more of Don in Pete. At the start of the season I remarked that Pete was becoming the new Don—not in terms of profession or skills, but in the way his life was playing out. He had a home in the suburbs which looked identical to Draper’s, a young daughter, and an animated (but ultimately superficial) wife. Then he found himself a mistress, and promptly suggested that they move to California together and start anew. Don suggested the same thing to Rachel Menken in the first season (Pete was threatening to reveal that Don Draper was actually Dick Whitman). Now, Pete will have an apartment in New York. But for me, the icing was when Pete remarked, “I’m going to have the same view as you, Don!” He was talking about their new offices, but I interpret this as Pete essentially echoing parts of Don’s life.
And it was nice to see Peggy again! Our time with her was brief, but I got the feeling that she was a little disappointed with her new position. The work turned in by the writers was (apparently) horrible; it was demanded of her that she design a campaign for cigarettes when she doesn’t smoke; and when they sent her on the business trip, her room was a dumpy motel in the middle of nowhere. But her scene with Don was nice, with Don clearly still smarting over her departure.
I really enjoyed this season. I know opinions are mixed, but put me firmly in the camp of people that enjoyed it. We were provided with some of the greatest moments in the series, including what I consider to be the greatest Mad Men moment so far—Don staring into the empty elevator shaft. But I do appreciate some of the problems people had with this season. My one issue was that characters seemed to appear and disappear randomly across episodes. Maybe that’s because the episodes were mostly self-contained. At least, they appeared to be self-contained, but we saw some of the old material filtered back into these last two episodes. (The photo of Dolores worked itself back in. I was sure we’d get more of that subplot this season, but I was absolutely wrong.)
And with that, I guess we’ll be waiting until next year for more of Draper and his ad-man cowboys. What did you guys think of season five? And, does Don end up cheating on Megan, or does he stay faithful? Will they still stick together next season? This is going to be one hell of an extended break.