The final episode of this season’s Mad Men crammed a whole lot in its 40, 45 minutes – betrayal, murder, slapstick. All of it culminating in a boom of an ending. While not the strongest season – some of the episodes even dragged – but the last episode was packed full of drama, revelation, tragedy.
“In Care Of” will probably be known as the episode that Don finally loses it. And when I say “it” I mean everything: control over his life, his marriage, his kids, but most importantly his job. His erratic behavior throughout the season has taken a toll on his work and his relationships with those around him – namely, Megan, Sally, Peggy and the others at the office.
It’s said that one must hit bottom to finally wake up: Don hit bottom by waking up in a jail cell or a “drunk tank” after a blackout from drinking. The next day he’s doing that old “I’m dumping all my hooch down the drain, ‘cuz I mean business” routine and Megan sees him. This is a farce of course – an old bit of theater that people do when they embark on a new change in life – think about it: how many times have you vowed to go on a diet and then proceeded to toss out all your chips and cookies from your cupboard? This is Don tossing out his chips and cookies.
Megan, who has displayed the patience of Job, is treated to a “let’s move to L.A.” speech that she falls for. It’s great for her because she can remove herself from the limited world of soap operas and become a genuine movie star. But alas, like everything else in her life, it turns sour.
Megan isn’t the only lady in Don’s life that has felt the sting of his instability: his daughter Sally is still nursing a mighty grudge from when she caught him in bed with Sylvia Rosen. Kiernan Shipka handily tosses out Sally’s sullen, terse replies to her father, each phrase practically soppy with contempt and resentment. Just hear her spit out “I wouldn’t want to do any immoral,” over the phone with Don before hanging up on him, and try not to shiver.
But like Don, Sally’s letting her angst and anger get in the way of what she wants to do with her life. No sooner has she gotten into her fancy schmancy private school, then she’s quickly suspended for procuring beer for becoming drunk and getting her girlfriends inebriated. Well, she is Don Draper’s daughter, after all.
Don gets a report of his daughter’s caper from her concerned mom, the suddenly infinitely-sympathetic Betty Francis, who finally may have realized just what a rotten job she did at mothering her offspring and has come to regret it. There’s real sadness when she expresses frustration that the bad “outweighs” the good. Don calls his ex-wife by her nickname – “Birdy” – within earshot of his new wife, when trying to assuage her guilt (and his own guilt). Both Betty and Don treated their kids in a strange way – almost as if they were these mini-adults that would somehow turn out okay, no matter what kind of awful mistakes they’d foist on them. That Sally’s turned out to be such a petulant, angry brat is no surprise. She has a similar feeling of resentment and entitlement that Don has – both had troubled childhoods, though Don’s poverty made his situation much more tragic and dire. But instead of offering his kids a more stable existence, his choices has forced them to acclimate themselves to lives of emotional insecurity.
But Don doesn’t do well with difficulty. If he can’t handle something, he just moves on, hoping it’ll just pass. And that’s what he wants to do with his kids. He asks Megan to move to L.A., and when she rightly points out he has kids, he quickly assures her that they’d trade in their weekends for a summer in California – I’d bet money that he’d even manage to make the “summer” mercilessly brief at this point.
But Don isn’t the only one interested in going to California – Ted also wants to go. In fact, he needs to go, because he got himself entangled with Peggy – who is also exhibited increasingly Don-ish behavior. Their affair lurches forward, but hits a nasty bump when his missus comes in with his two rambunctious kids. They walk out, and he seems to be parading his Leave It to Beaver family life in front of his mistress. Peggy is unnerved, and quickly gets her revenge by leaving the next evening in a tiny mini dress with a plunging neck line (it practically reaches her naval), and is drenched in Chanel No. 5 – when Jim Cutler rightly guesses the scent, Peggy quotes Marilyn Monroe and teasingly says, “It’s the only thing I wear.”
It’s Ted’s turn to feel smashed in the jaw and he turns up at her apartment. The two have a brief confrontation, during which he promises to leave his wife, to which Peggy retorts “I’m not that kind of girl.” They have angry sex that turns into blissful afterglow cuddling, only to have Ted sneak home with a haunted look on his face.
It’s then that he realizes he has to be away from Peggy. Like 3,000 miles away, so he begs Don for a reprieve. He wants to stay to move to L.A., and have Don stay behind. Don refuses – not unkindly – but isn’t privy to what Ted is going through. And it’s not like the guy’s too high on Don’s list of concerns – he’s going through some severe withdrawal and has the shakes – Ted quickly recognizes them and admonishes him, instructing him to wean off the sauce, instead of going cold turkey.
Which may have been a mistake, because at the pitch meeting for Hershey, Don junks one of his sappy sales pitches in which he imagines a Norman Rockwell painting of a childhood, where dad gets him a Hershey chocolate bar and the two share a moment. Instead, he opens up and shares his Southern gothic tale of growing up in a brothel, pick-pocketing a john to get enough cash to buy a chocolate bar.
And so finally it happened – Don’s carefully applied persona cracked and slipped. It’s not like no one knew Dick Whitman – Betty, Pete, and Anna Draper all knew about the story – but he was able to avoid having it intrude on his professional life; and then he allowed for that carefully-constructed life to cave in on itself. Needless to say, his woefully tragic story of a little kid growing up in a cathouse doesn’t endear itself to the Hershey folks.
But this catharsis doesn’t result in peace because that would make things too easy. Instead, it causes him more pain. He decides to let Ted go to L.A., and goes home to tell his wife that the L.A. thing has flatlined. Megan is understandably pissed – she gave up her job, and has meetings lined up with studio execs – but Don thinks the two can make a go of it by going bicoastal. It’s then that Megan’s sturdy, but ultimately destructable dam breaks and she pours out all her resentment – it appears that Mrs. Draper wasn’t as clueless as we’re led to believe, and she finally pours out a season’s worth of anger at how Don’s been treating his wife – she insightfully calls Sally and Bobby “screwed up kids” who she felt pity for, until she realized that she was in the same place they were – all held at arm’s length of Don’s affection. She angrily storms out of the apartment, to Don’s confused amazement.
Things get worse for Mr. Draper. Much worse. He pops by the day, early in the morning to see the partners – Roger, Bert, Jim, and Joan all waiting for him. And it happens. Don gets Freddy Rumsoned. And the unthinkable happens – Don Draper is unemployed. As he leaves, he runs into a gloating Duck Philips who’s ushering a new guy into the office, but before we can think “Oh, Don’s replacement,” we get a clue when we see Peggy in Don’s office, resplendent in a pants suit. In a bit of unsubtle filmmaking, Peggy sits in Don’s chair and swivels to face the window, mimicking the iconic silhouette of Don that appears on the show’s opening credits. It makes sense if Peggy becomes the head of creative – and if that’s the case, I’d love to see just how much of an influence Don has over her. In the past season we’ve seen Peggy’s personal live implode, but her professional life grow. Unlike Don, she rarely showed signs of his self-destructive behavior, but in this season, she allowed herself to get taken in by her feelings for Ted.
But bad things don’t just happen to Don, Pete’s also handed some raw deals. His demented mother ran off and married her gay nurse before reportedly falling off a cruise ship and becoming lost at sea. Pete gets this news as he’s on his way to Detroit with the creepy Bob Benson. Pete gets the best line in the episode when exploding with an angry, “Not great, Bob!” when asked how he’s doing. The two have a confrontation in the lift, and I remember thinking “Pete should shut up before pissing off Bob too much.” And my instincts are spot on, when Bob gets Pete behind the wheel of a Chevy; unable to drive stick, Pete backs into a display unit, much to the disgust of the Chevy execs, who send Pete packing back home.
Now whenever I see “Guest starring Alison Brie” I do a little happy dance because I know Trudy’s making an appearance. It’s been too long since we’ve seen the awesome Mrs. Campbell. Though the two split up acrimoniously, she has pity and sympathy for the guy. When he grouses his issues with her, she merely points out he’s finally free of his obligations, and that he should look at his life with renewed hope.
The Pete’s mom possibly getting tossed off the ship allows for some gallows humor, much needed in a serious episode like this one. When at the office with his brother, Pete tries to see about organizing a search for his mom – but it proves to be prohibitively expensive, and so the two Campbell men try to make the best of the situation by consoling themselves with “she loved the sea.”
But Pete isn’t the only guy who feels uneasy with Bob Benson – Roger sees his regular chats with Joan and is jealous – he thinks the handsome Mr. Benson will try and bed the bodacious Mrs. Harris – little does he know that Joan and Bob are basically living their own version of a late 1960s Will & Grace. Joan, always, the wisest and most thoughtful of the gang, sees Roger as essentially a bruised soul, invites him to her strange Thanksgiving, to share with her assembled family unit. It’s a strange sight to behold: Bob, in a frilly apron, carving a turkey, Joan’s little tyke in a high chair, and Roger, coming in, offering a gift of a crate of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. Not quite a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but a touching one, nonetheless – and it’s nice to see a genuinely kind and happy moment in an episode short of them.
The episode ends with Don taking his kids to where he grew up. I guess it’s a way for him to share himself with them, now that he’s got very little to lose. Sally looks at the house and then at her father with a new understanding and appreciation – I don’t think things will be great between the two, but at least Sally has some context for her father’s awful behavior.
And so another season ends. I think it’s interesting that the episode ends with Judy Collins’ cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic “Both Sides Now,” a pretty song about looking back and recalling the past – something Don’s been doing throughout the whole run of Mad Men.
So for the next season, it’ll be interesting to see how the writers handle all of this new stuff – I’m thinking that a great way to open the final season would be with Don back at the agency, with flashbacks to the down time, where we see how Don coped with unemployment.
It’ll also be interesting to see just how far Peggy’s going to go in her career, and what personal sacrifices will she have to make to achieve her goals – after all, Peggy’s road to success is never easy, and though she makes great strides professionally, it’s often her personal life that suffers.
I also will be curious to see what will the writers do with Betty’s newfound wisdom, strength, and maturity. I like it – it fits Betty very well. January Jones – not the best-served actress of the Mad Men lot – has been given some great opportunities to shine, so come Emmy time, I’m hoping she’s not lost in the shuffle.
It’s interesting because even though it’s called Mad Men, the show’s most interesting subplots involve the women (except for Don, of course). It’s the ladies’ journeys that I find compelling because they run a parallel race – both societal and personal – every step a female character makes is informed by the partriarchal environment she operations within – this is especially true in the cases of Peggy and Joan – both career women who find themselves thriving and succeeding in world dominated by men.
All the major characters reach some kind of impasse that he or she must transcend. It’ll be great to see just how they do it.