The central question heading into Sunday night’s season finale of “Mad Men” was answered, but not entirely.
The question was: Would Don Draper’s trainwreck of a life this season lead to catastrophes in his personal and professional lives?
The best answer we can give, based on what happened in the episode seen Sunday on AMC, is this: He lost his job, kind of; and he lost his wife, sort of.
Here’s what we’re talking about, preceded by the usual Spoiler Alert — namely, if you haven’t yet watched the sixth-season finale of “Mad Men,” and you’d like to enjoy the episode without knowing in advance what happened on it, then stop reading. However, for those of us who watched, we have some things to discuss, starting now:
1) On the home front: Megan (Jessica Pare) left Don (Jon Hamm) late in the episode after he informed her they wouldn’t be moving to California after all (more on this California storyline below). It was a problem for Megan because she’d already quit her job on a New York-based soap and had begun preparing to pursue her acting career in Hollywood. As the scene ended, Megan went to a closet to get her coat (the setting was November 1968 — just before Thanksgiving). Don asked her where she was going and she said she had to get away. But it was far from a declaration that she was leaving him for good, or even for more than an hour for all we knew. And by the way, Megan never did learn he was having an affair all season with a downstairs neighbor.
So, the question hangs in the air ’til next season: Has Megan left Don for good? Our take: You couldn’t really tell from Sunday night’s episode, which means the two might easily and logically be together by the time the next season rolls around.
2) On the work front: Don seemingly got fired. The dramatic moment came in a special “meeting” at the office at the unusual time of 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Don walked in and found the firm’s senior partners, who informed him they wanted him to go on a forced “leave of absence” with no set return date, which seems like an outright dismissal, but not completely. The reasons for his dismissal: Generally speaking, it was his absences and unreliability (caused in no small measure by his alcoholism) plus an embarrassing incident at a business meeting (which we describe below).
When he left the office after this brief confrontation, Don even came face-to-face in the elevator lobby with his probable successor as creative director — adding to the improbability he’ll ever return from his time off to the ad agency he helped build into a Madison Avenue powerhouse.
And yet, this question also hangs in the balance: Is Don’s career toast? Our take: Of course not. This guy has an impeccable reputation in his industry. If he’s really out permanently at SC&P, then we expect he’ll be wooed by any number of other agencies, and will take clients along with him. And it’s also conceivable that he might clean up his act and return even more vigorously than before. Unfortunately, we won’t learn any of this for a year.
3) Don finds himself: Again, we feel the need to add a “sort of” here. But generally speaking, it was Don’s constant examining (and dreaming) of his origins — as an orphan who grew up in a Pennsylvania brothel — that proved to be his undoing at the agency. In Sunday’s episode, he suddenly revealed at a meeting with executives from Hershey how he learned the significance of Hershey bars during his hardscrabble upbringing. And it wasn’t the kind of “heartwarming” story these prospective clients or Don’s partners appreciated hearing. It’s what led them to “request” he take a leave of absence.
But Don himself seemed comfortable with it. As irrational as it might seem to air all this personal dirty laundry in a business meeting, it’s also a sign that Don is at least trying to be honest with himself and others about who he really is. In the episode’s final scene, he was seen taking his three children, on Thanksgiving, to the site of the actual brothel in which he grew up. It remains to be seen what he might tell them about the place, however — if anything.
4) And the rest … : In other storylines still up in the air heading into the “Mad Men” finale, Ted Chaough (pronounced “Shaw”) — Kevin Rahm — slept with Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Olson), then broke it off with her, telling her he couldn’t bear to leave his wife and family. In the end, he campaigned to move to Los Angeles to open a West Coast office of the firm. It was the move Don was going to make until he changed his mind. Both of them sought refuge on the West Coast for similar reasons: To build new lives after nearly destroying their own lives in New York.
And then there was the tale of Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and his mother, who has been in various stages of Alzheimers all season. He got word she fell (or was possibly pushed) off an oceanliner and was lost at sea. Our take: This was an odd turn of events for the “Mad Men” writers to concoct. In a weird way, it was almost played for laughs, as Pete and his brother conspired to get out from under the costs associated with paying rescue services to search for her body. In addition, “Mad Men” fans will recall that Pete’s father died in another kind of transportation accident — an airline crash.
In the end, Pete lost his mother (not that he seemed to care all that much) and he lost a power struggle with the devious Bob Benson (James Wolk) over the Chevy account. How this will effect Pete’s future at SC&P remains to be seen.
Who knows? Maybe he and Don and Peggy will go off and form their own agency. All we can say to that is: Wait ’til next year.