One of my favourite moments in the brilliant 30 Rock appears in the show’s own finale, when Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon attemps to discourage Jack’s ‘jump’ by demanding of him: “There’s so much to live for! Don’t you want to know how Mad Men ends?!”
This question would almost certainly be enough to bring me back from the brink of suicide. And after six seasons of illicit affairs, countless cigarettes and more scotch than even the most committed of alcoholics could handle, we finally, FINALLY appear to be getting close, at least, to an answer.
Season six has seen a number of big developments – aside from the rapid rate of Stan’s beard growth, we’ve seen the the rise of the creepily cheerful and generally elusive Bob Benson, Sally Draper’s less than pleasant discovery of her father with his pants down, and the loss of Pete Campbell’s picture perfect family, alongside his hairline. But one of the biggest developments has to be what (on reflection) has always been a foregone conclusion: Don Draper finally hits rock bottom. But while Don fell to an all-time low, Mad Men’s creator Matthew Weiner reached new levels of brilliance, with this episode veering deftly from moments of comedy to nail biting tension.
The times were definitely a changing in this season, with Vietnam a dark spectre in the background of the lives of all of SCP’s staff , but the finale focused on the more personal (and questionable) morality and evils in their lives, and in Don’s, in particular. After Sally is kicked out of the private boarding school the Draper charm earned her a place in, you couldn’t help but cheer in agreement as she hung up the phone on her hypocritical father sneering, “Well I wouldn’t want to do anything immoral.”
This incident also merited another of the now rare but increasingly enjoyable interactions between Don and his ex wannabe Stepford wife Betty – her quiet resignation over the phone that with the young Sally Draper “the good isn’t beating the bad” met with a touching moment of tenderness between the pair as he referred to her with the pet name of old, ‘Birdy’. This moment certainly wasn’t missed by current trophy wife and soap star Megan, either, lying by his side.
It was great to see Pete Campbell at his smarmy best, which went some way to compensating for one of Mad Men’s most far-fetched storylines thus far – Manolo, the manservant employed to keep Campbell’s mother out of Pete’s receding hair - apparently having pushed the old crow off the cruise ship they were travelling on, to her demise. The following exchange between Pete and Bob Benson, who greets him with one of his typically cheesy ‘How ARE you?’s, led to one of my favourite moments of this season, and certainly the most comic of the episode, as Pete yelled in response, ‘NOT GREAT BOB!’
Don’s judgement was questionable from the start of this episode – punching a minister in the face, attempting to go cold turkey (not advisable for someone who has whisky on tap), as well as extolling the virtues of Hersheys, which in my personal experience, tastes like crap and has a distinct vomit type aftertaste (I digress...). It got worse however, as he proceeded to ruin the ad pitch to the infamously ad free chocolate by telling them a charming anecdote about Hersheys bringing him the only childhood comfort he can recall... during his wretched orphaned upbringing in a whorehouse.
The veneer he's spent years polishing slipped away in a matter of 30 surreal seconds, as Don’s hidden past as Dick Whitman finally crept into his present, and his partners looked on in dismay and not a little confusion. This erratic behaviour cost him more than just his business partners - at home, Megan slams the door in Don's face, with no indication that she'll be back.
But the Hersheys pitch wasn’t the only unusual decision on Don’s part featured in this episode – after hijacking Stan’s relocation to sunny California - with utopian visions of him and Megan poolside, far away from the big city and his “messed up kids”, as she so charmingly put it, he enacted one of the only selfless acts I can remember in recent Draper history, giving up his place for Ted.
Ted, the supposed good cop to Don’s bad, finally succumbed to surely the most annoying romance any office has ever seen; he and Peggy's school girl giggles finally culminating in a night of passion at her Brooklyn hovel. Peggy was the one who, earlier in the season, told Don she had hoped Ted would rub off on Don, rather than the other way round. Ironically then, it was the differences she had so liked in Ted that ultimately went against her; unlike the serial philanderer Draper, Ted eventually decided he needed to put a few thousand miles between his family and the woman that could ruin it all.
Season six ended with Peggy quite literally wearing the trousers – the first time a ‘pantsuit’ has been seen in the Mad Men office - she had her feet up on Don’s desk, the ‘indefinite’ time off the partners had forced him into after his recent less than reliable behavior leaving Peggy to take the SCP helm. With both Don and Ted out of the picture, it will interesting to see which way she decides to steer…