Here be spoilers.
Once again, the folks at “Mad Men” have given us an extremely mind-blowing finale. Instead of dealing in “maybes” and “what ifs” like last season’s finale, this one dealt with the fall-out of quite a few big happenings. While everyone is still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Drapers are still dealing with the blow dealt by that little box of secrets in Don’s desk. During last week’s episode, I saw a parallel between the death of Kennedy and the “death” of Don Draper. Both put a quick end to a seemingly idyllic marriage; both left a poor replacement, a shadow of their predecessors (Lyndon Baines Johnson assumed the Presidency while Dick Whitman assumed the role of Betty’s husband – definitely situations that both America and Betty were less than happy with); finally, both left behind a lot of mess to clean up, and that’s what was happening in this episode.
While a lot of the tail-end of this season has focused on the Draper’s marriage (much like last season), it became clear here in the finale that things have been spinning out of control over at Sterling-Cooper very quickly. So here we see Don trying to clean up that mess while dusting away the crumbs of his marriage at the same time. Like the season premiere, the finale gave us a peek at Don/Dick’s father, and it once again provided a nice subtle background to Don’s struggle in this episode. His father, facing a financial crisis when he can’t get full price for his crops, decides to abandon ship and accept the meagre sum he’s been offered. As he’s heading off to make the transaction, drunk as Freddy Rumsen, he gets kicked in the face by his horse and dies right in front of Dick. Now we see Don trying to do the exact opposite of his father, not take the easy way out and bend to the will of someone else, but instead to forge his own business path.
Which leads me to Conrad Hilton. It seemed strange that he played such a huge role in previous episodes, then disappeared for a while after a disappointing pitch from Don. Then, we only saw him for five minutes, tops, in this episode. While I at first thought that this was a disappointing end for his story and his relationship with Don and Sterling-Cooper, he did admittedly play an integral role in this episode and the things that happen – big events that will certainly have an impact on next season. He broke the news of PPL’s putting Sterling-Cooper on the chopping block. Then Don basically accused him of being selfish for leading him on and making him sign a contract, which chained him to the sinking ship that is Sterling-Cooper. To which Connie smarts back that he’s become immune to the whining of others who haven’t made themselves what they are, like he has. Clearly this inspires Don to take the reins at Sterling-Cooper, or rather to take the reins long enough to ceremoniously let them go and hop on his own stagecoach.
But first, Don has to realize some things. It seemed to me at times that Don was waking up and realizing just what kind of impact he has on everyone around him. Much like America was waking up from the dream that was Kennedy’s Camelot, Don has to now define himself outside of Sterling-Cooper and his marriage to Betty. At points in this episode, it seemed that Don was the living embodiment of the old phrase, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Although he’s always been a fairly good father (I’ve never doubted that he loves his kids), here I really saw him realizing just what it’d mean to lose them. For once, it wasn’t, “What has Don done to screw up his relationship with Betty?” but, “What do Don’s screw-ups mean for his family as a whole?” As much as adultery has to do with the parents, there’s no denying that the repercussions for the family as a whole are being deeply felt. Huge kudos go to the writers and the actors (particularly Jon Hamm, Kiernan Shipka as Sally, and even Jared Gilmore, who plays little Bobby Draper) for making the scene where Don and Betty break the news to the kids so heartbreaking and real. I can’t even express the emotions that scene evoked, how visceral they were. I think every kid of divorce could attest that it nailed the “parents tell the kids” situation that comes during the dissolution of every marriage, and not just from the parent’s points-of-view. Bobby and Sally and even baby Gene have a long road ahead of them.
Not only was Don realizing just how much his actions had affected his kids, but he also found himself having to eat crow, throw out long-deserved compliments to his fellow Sterling-Cooper employees, and forge stronger alliances with them. He gave both Pete and Peggy the validation and appreciation that they’d both wanted to hear for so long (and they deserved it, particularly Peggy, although like Don said, Pete’s talents for looking ahead are going to prove extremely lucrative eventually; funny that THIS is what Pete is talented at, considering that he seems to need constant feather-stroking and immediate results). He and Roger began to piece their friendship back together, which was such a relief (of course, this required a lot of concession from Roger as well; it helps that he seems to have realized that perhaps Jane isn’t the perfect partner. In fact, she’s more like a second daughter).
The end of the episode found both Don and Betty on their new life-rafts – Don with the fledgling Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price and Betty with Henry, on a plane to Reno – while the remaining Draper family and Sterling-Cooper employees were left to man slowly sinking ships.
-I was so happy to see Joan come back. In fact, it seemed so perfect, I was surprised that Sal didn’t pop up by the end of the episode. I’m not going to rule it out. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the beginning of next season finds many more Sterling-Cooper employees jumping ship for Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price.
-Thank god they just sort of abandoned the idea of making Pete a partner. Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price is long enough without tacking on a Campbell (and if we tacked on Campbell, I don’t see why we wouldn’t tack on an Olson and a Crane, and then that’s just ridiculous).
-A lot of people have been complaining that there hasn’t been enough headway made in the Pete and Peggy storyline, and for good reason. It’s probably the slowest moving storyline on the show; nothing really happens outside of the season finales. In the first season finale, she had their baby. In the second season finale, she told him about the baby. Now, in the third season finale, they’ve both joined Don and are sharing a desk at SCDP’s makeshift headquarters. This isn’t much of a development, but did anyone else catch that look Pete and Peggy exchanged over Trudy’s head as she was passing out lunch? I’d say there’s some definite awkwardness in store for them. I’m not sure what I want to become of their story, but I know that something needs to happen. Having a kid together is not something that can be wholly ignored, as hard as they’ve tried to do this. Plus, they’re two of my favorite characters on the show, and I find that their interactions with each other make for some of the most amusing and even revealing moments for them.
-I also need to add Lane Price to my “favorite characters” list. He’s such a rebel, and his delight at being included in the whole ordeal was contagious.
– I don’t like Henry too much. He seems like a nice enough character, but his relationship with Betty has seemed hurried and slapdash. They have little chemistry. I am, however, looking forward to seeing how Betty acts in a different, “better” marriage. Perhaps she’ll be more likable, or perhaps she’ll be even more miserable. I think that she’s going to find that she’s sacrificed passion to obtain faithfulness, and I’m not sure if she’ll find that to be a lucrative trade-off. But if Betty’s with someone she feels she can trust, then we’ll get to see a side to Betty that’s not just “suspicious Betty” or even “jealous Betty,” which will be a nice change of pace.
-Funniest moments of the episode:
Pete feeling the need to announce Harry’s presence at their secret meeting.
Kinsey’s reaction to finding that Peggy had disappeared along with Don and everyone else. He’s so jealous. I love it.
Roger trying to read Joan’s hand-writing. Like Joan would ever write illegibly… pshaw!