Yowza. The only thing missing from "Mad Men's" season finale was the theme from "Rocky."
We were treated to the sight of Don Draper getting off the ropes, finally, after getting a big injection of his old smooth-but-smoldering fire back as he fights back and plots the course for the rest of his life. I'm guessing this episode, "Shut the Door, Have a Seat," will be popular with the fans, but crix may carp that it was a little too "Dallas" in terms of the tidy storytelling. The seg penned by Erin Levy and Matthew Weiner and helmed by Weiner (as he did for the previous season closers) seemed to offer much more in the way of conclusions and set a deliberate course for next season than past "Mad Men" finales. But I'm in the fan camp and can't complain. The lighter moments sprinkled throughout the episode offset some of the on-the-nose plot points - All in all, I loved this season. Sorry to see it end.
This episode was monumental for Don, natch. What the JFK assassination was to Betty, the jolt of McCann-Erickson buying Putnam, Powell and Lowe (and Sterling Cooper) was to Don. (I kept thinking about Albert Brooks in "Lost in America," telling anyone who'll listen that he's a senior vice president at M-E.) All the hard knocks and hard lessons learned of the season came to a head in fueling his single-minded determination not to become a cog at what he considers "a sausage factory." It's also made clear by the flashbacks to his boyhood with his hot-headed father that he wants to do everything he can to avoid being beaten down by life, to literally getting killed by a kick in the head from a horse.
By the end of this episode, as Don moves into his new apartment, you realize that for the first time in years he's really making a fundamental change in his life. He's (mostly) let go of the ruse of Don Draper, he's letting go of his idyllic vision of the wife and family, even at the great cost of hurting his older children, and he's starting to actually think about how he treats other people.
From the start of this season, Don was backsliding into his old patterns of fooling around in varying degrees (the one-night stand with the stewardess, the deeper entanglement with Suzanne) and keeping everyone around him at arm's length. I thought it was interesting that we didn't see Don running back to Suzanne, or into another's arms even though nothing's really stopping him. He's pouring everything he's got into the new venture. As he told Bert, "I'm sick of being batted around like a ping pong ball. I want to work. I want to build something myself."
This episode continues the "Mad Men" finale tradition of the Big Don Draper Pitch. In season one it was the famed Carousel sequence, in season two it was his reunion with Betty. This time around he's pitching himself and his empire-building ambitions to recruit Bert, Roger, Lane, Peggy and Pete into his long-shot bid to break away and plant their own shingle. And as we see, his enthusiasm is infectious, even to Bert Cooper after Don baldly accuses him of wanting to build "golden tombs sealing the rest of us in with you."
There were a couple of exchanges Don had early on in the episode that seemed to affect his actions. The first was Conrad Hilton basically calling him a crybaby for getting angry when Hilton delivers the scoop about the PPL/McCann-Erickson tie-up. Don's mad because it was Hilton's demands that forced him to sign a formal contract with Sterling Cooper, making him indebted to the new owners. And he was also obviously effected by the lack of consideration from Hilton for their relationship, accusing Hilton of of toying with him to "knock me down to size" and going so far as to call him a son.
Hilton, who is guilty as charged, shoots back that as a self-made man he's "immune" to people who "complain and cry because they can't" get everything they want. When Hilton asks Don if he's really that kind of person, it seems to set off Don's drive to forge a new path and not accept McCann-Erickson as a fait acompli.
The other line that resonates is one of many great ones delivered in this seg by Roger. "You're not good at relationships because you don't value them." Ouch. But it's so true.
Don has gone past the breaking point with his wife, but it's not too late for his closest professional relationship, with Peggy. Elisabeth Moss is fan-femme-tastic in the scene in which Don first tries to order her to take part in his startup.
"You just assume I'll do whatever you say -- like some nervous poodle ... I don't want to make a career out of being there so you can kick me when you fail," Peggy tells him. Don tries significantly harder in his second go-round, when he comes to her apartment just after delivering the news of the impending divorce to Sally and Bobby.
"You look awful," she says,proving that she sees beneath his surface.
"I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you," he tells her. If that's not a declaration of platonic love, I don't know what is.
Among Betty, Peggy and Suzanne, Don Draper gets a lot of schooling this season in how to treat women and a glimpse of what is to come from the distaff side in the years ahead. Peggy doesn't get coffee, not even for Roger Sterling. I loved how Peggy said a flat-out "no" when Roger asked her to fetch him a cup, and I really loved how Joan, who was sitting in between them, didn't pop up to serve Roger either.)
Don also goes through a bit of relationship repairing with Pete, articulating, at Pete's insistence how "forward-looking" he was to recognize the biz potential in "aeronautics, teenagers and the Negro market." It's as if hearing that from Don as important as getting his name on the door, which he didn't (according to how Joan answered the phone as "Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce).
And Roger and Don start to patch things up, out of necessity mostly, but also now that they have a few more things in common, like divorce. Roger genuinely hated to be the one to break the news about Betty and Henry Francis to Don. "Right when things were about to be normal again," Roger laments after he lets it out in the bar (a little extra payoff for Henry and his daughter being at Margaret Sterling's wedding last week).
Betty wasn't too big of a factor overall in this seg. But the more I think about it the more I'm thinking that her relationship with Henry "I'll take care of you" Francis is pretty unhealthy. How much time have these two actually spent together? Did I detect a slight bit of softening on Betty's part when she was having her "goodbye" conversation with Don, who was obviously feeling guilty for pushing and shoving her and calling her a "whore" when he drunkenly confronted her about Henry. His flashbacks of his memories of Archibald Whitman probably made him feel particularly guilty about being drunk and hostile with his infant son lying in the same room.
But even in his drunken fury, we got some real insight into Don's understandable frustrations with Betty.
"You're so good, and everyone else is so bad. You're so brave with your white nose up in the air," Don says with contempt. "You got everything you wanted and you loved it. ... Now I'm not good enough."
With a cooler head, Don promises not to fight her on the divorce. "I hope you get what you always wanted," he tells her. "You will always be their father," Betty replies, softly.
There's more to say but time is short. A few must-mentions before I turn in for the night:
** It's a joy to see Joan back in action with that pen around her neck again.
** Trudy -- great comic relief. She was used to great effect in the scene where Roger and Don come to the Campbell apartment to recruit the supposedly ailing Pete.
** Harry Crane -- once again, he's the luckiest boob in New York. Loved Bert promising to "lock you in the storeroom until morning" if he didn't say yes on the spot.
** The plot that Don et al concoct to raid the clients and files during the weekend had shades of the uprising of ICM agents that begat Endeavor. Fun to see the best and brightest of Sterling Cooper working in a hotel suite.
** Roger's line about a "golden pork chop dangling from my neck" made me laugh out loud. Loved Bert calling Jane "a trollope." Suits her.
** It was great to see Lane grow a spine in a hurry. ("Happy Christmas!") How could he not after the patronizing treatment from the home office. Sinjin on the phone actually says to him, "There, there Lane," when he learns that he's been kept out of the loop about the sale of PPL.
** "It's official: Friday, Dec. 13, 1963. Four guys shot their own legs off." Roger is nervous about going solo, as he noted that he only inherited his father's good fortune.
** Sally and Bobby. The scene where Betty and Don break the divorce news to them was pure heartbreak. Another fine perf by Kiernan Shipka, who's sharp enough to point fingers at both of her parents for bad behavior. But at least Don knows enough to hug a kid who's just been handed a nuclear bomb. Betty once again is too inside herself to reach out. Somehow I think the Beatles are going to be very important to Sally in just a few more months.
** Paul Kinsey -- left behind, again. I felt sorry for him.
** Mr. Hooker is so toast. "You're a sharp boy. You'll figure it out," Lane assures him.
** Loved the scene of Don and Roger leaving the office for the last time late on Sunday night. "Don't bother," Roger says when Don stops to lock the front doors.