We’ve seen several brilliant “Mad Men” finales over the years, but “In Care Of” is a true showstopper.
The series could literally end right here, with every character having undergone a tremendous six season arc. But there’s one more season to go (barring any last minute decision to extend the run even longer), and considering everything that happens in “In Care Of” we can’t wait to see it.
If there was a single recurring complaint lodged against this overall excellent season of “Mad Men,” it was that Don Draper seemed stuck in a rut — which, as “In Care Of” solidifies, was exactly the point. After the illusion of happiness he found in his marriage to Megan was shattered, Don fell back into his old habits with a vengeance. He cheated with a married neighbor. He drank more than ever. And at work? Well, as Pete put it in “For Immediate Release,” he was Tarzan swinging from vine to vine.
It all finally caught up with him. The past two episodes saw Don lose Sally, then Peggy. Now Megan is finished. His partners in the firm are very near done. Don has successfully pushed everyone out of his life.
He needed to hit rock bottom to make peace with his past. And now Dick Whitman can start to rebuild.
[Note: In the spirit of showrunner Matthew Weiner declaring
that this season is about Dr. Arnold Rosen telling Don, “People will do
anything to alleviate their anxiety,” we’re tracking the happiness of key
characters week by week. And now, one last time…]
The “Mad Men” happiness index, week twelve:
1) Joan (last week, #1): Becoming a partner wasn’t always a smooth ride for Joan (mostly because of how she got there), but she’s ending the season seemingly more stable and content than anyone else. No one’s making decisions for her or telling her what to do. It’s her call to invite Roger to Thanksgiving, and spend time with Kevin.
2) Bob Benson (last week, #5): Well, Bob certainly came out a winner, didn’t he? Roger accused him of toying with Joan’s affections and Pete accused him of being an accessory to murder*. No matter. All Bob has to do is set Pete up to test drive a car with a stick shift and Pete promptly embarrasses himself right off the Chevy account. And Joan happily allows him to don that apron and cook a Thanksgiving meal in her apartment, with Roger as a guest.
*(Matthew Weiner may not have foreseen the “Bob Benson’s a psycho killer!” theories that circulated online, but having Bob’s pal Manolo marry and possibly bump off Pete’s mother at sea plays like a darkly funny twist on that idea. It also could suggest Bob isn’t quite as savvy or perceptive when it comes to fellow grifters as he might think he is.)
3) Roger (unranked last week): Roger’s barking up the wrong tree when it comes to Bob and Joan, but that unfounded jealousy could be exactly what Joan needs to remind her Roger cares. Joan’s decision to allow Roger into their son’s life couldn’t come at a better time — Roger’s daughter bans him from Thanksgiving after he declines to make another investment in her husband’s career. Here’s hoping Roger has it in him to do a better job with both Kevin and Joan.
4) Pete (last week, #4): No one’s world turned upside down quite as dramatically this season as Pete Campbell. Trudy threw him out, his career started to flatline and now his mother joins his father lost at sea. Pete even blew his shot with Chevy by doing exactly what he swore he wouldn’t do last week: mess with Bob Benson. So, time to head to California? We’re not quite sure if Pete is joining Ted to start up the west coast offices of SC&P or what, but if he heeds Trudy’s kind words (“It’s going to take you a moment to realize where you are: You’re free”) this could be the beginning of something great for Pete. I’m rooting for him, honestly.
5) Peggy (last week, #8): What a roller coaster this finale was for Peggy. Her ploy to get Ted’s attention and stoke his jealousy with that tiny little dress worked. He showed up at her door, vowed to leave his wife and took her to bed. She told him she didn’t want a scandal, and she could wait. Ted had other plans. “Well, aren’t you lucky, to have decisions,” Peggy practically spits at him when he tells her he’s decided to move his family to California. But it’s not all heartbreak for Peggy. She winds up in Don’s office on Thanksgiving, ready to assume his role right — as she tells Stan — “where everything is.” As we observe Peggy from behind — looking out Don’s window and striking a Draper-like pose from his desk — we know she’s exactly where she’s always wanted to be.
6) Sally (last week, #7): She’s acting out at school and she still doesn’t want to have anything to do with Don. When he calls her up to explain she’ll need to give a statement about Grandma Ida, Sally sneers “Why don’t you just tell them what I saw?” It’s a verbal punch that hits her cheating father in the gut. But now that Don’s finally ready to open up — and let her understand where he comes from and how he was raised — will they be able to mend their fences? It’s doubtful Sally will ever again be daddy’s little girl, but Don may be able to help her avoid becoming a little girl lost.
7) Betty (last week, #3): Betty’s maternal instincts may not always be spot-on, but is there ever a doubt she’s trying her best? Because she doesn’t know what happened between Sally and Don, Betty blames herself for Sally acting out. “I’ve done everything I can think to do everything my own mother did and it doesn’t matter. The good is not beating the bad,” Betty tells Don over the phone. If Betty had all the facts, chances are we’d be seeing a very different side of her (with good reason). But sad Betty is touching enough to break guilty Don’s heart, and ours.
8) Ted (last week, #9): Oh Ted, you chump. After finally succumbing to his feelings for Peggy, he turns into a frightened child running in the opposite direction. Maybe Don recognized some of himself in Ted when he tried to warn Peggy that Ted’s not such a noble guy. Still, Ted has his reasons for bolting to Los Angeles, even if he should’ve had them in mind when he dropped by Peggy’s apartment. “I wanted this so much, but I have a family,” he tells her in her office. “The world out there… I have to hold onto them, or I’ll get lost in the chaos.” (The sentiment calls to mind the words of Ginsberg’s father in “The Flood”: “Now’s the time when a man and a woman need to be together the most — in a catastrophe.”)
9) Don (last week, #10): Always ready to run from his problems, Don made one last ditch effort by stealing Stan’s plan to set up a shop in California. (“Just let me set up the homestead,” Stan tells Don. “I think it’d be exciting, to build one desk into a real business.” Two days later, Don tells Megan he wants to move to Los Angeles: “It’s an opportunity to build one desk into an agency. We’d be homesteaders.”) But Ted’s panic attack got in the way. And Don finally snaps.
Could you even breathe during Don’s pitch to Hershey? We’ve seen Don use his past to his advantage in business, trade on his knack for spinning lies and masterfully sell the illusion of a perfect life, but we’ve never seen Don so nakedly vulnerable. So honest. So real. (And it’s only appropriate that once Don stops peddling the lie, he’s flat-out awful at his job: Roger and Jim watch him in horror, while Ted is simply stunned.) That shocking display of honesty costs Don his job (his fellow partners require him to take time off and “regroup”) and probably his second marriage (Megan understandably goes berserk when Don backs out of California). But the price just might be worth it if he can regain his soul.
“This is where I grew up,” Don tells Sally, Bobby and Gene as they stand in front of the Pennsylvania whorehouse we’ve seen in sporadic flashbacks this season. And Don Draper has never looked more mature.
10) Megan (last week, #2): While Don ends the season on a hopeful note, we can’t say the same for his wife. Except it’s probably for the best
that she finally got so fed up with Don she had to leave. It sure sounded like she was calling it quits on their marriage (“You want to be alone with your liquor and your ex-wife and your screwed up kids,” she yells in frustration after he breaks his promise to move to California). Who knows what Don might do, if anything, to try to salvage it, but hopefully Megan follows through and moves to Los Angeles on her own. She wouldn’t be the only character headed that way. (We’ll leave any resulting speculation involving 1969’s Manson family murders in California to the conspiracy theorists.)
Falling off the index: We had an all too brief sighting of poor Ken Cosgrove — and his eye patch — in the finale.
That’s a wrap on the happiness index for Season 6. If you’re in the mood to reminisce, take a look back at all the highs and lows: week eleven, week ten, week nine, week eight, week seven, week five, week four, week three, week two and week one.
And because it’s probably going to be stuck in all of our heads this week, here’s Judy Collins’ cover of “Both Sides Now”: