SPOILERS FOLLOW IF YOU HAVE NOT YET WATCHED THE SEASON 5 FINALE. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.
So much happened in “Mad Men’s” fifth season, but after watching Sunday’s (June 10) finale, fans may feel like we’re somehow right back where we started — with Don Draper, unhappily married sitting in a bar chasing phantoms. And, hey, with Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” spinning the audience into the show’s hiatus, well, it’s the right impression.
The question we’re left with is, of course, will he or won’t he? And that’s a variation of what will be asked again when Season 6 arrives: Did he or didn’t he? Did Don Draper choose to seek fleeting comfort in the arms of another woman or does he resist temptation?
Let’s back up and talk about a book. But to avoid spoiling it, we won’t name it. The book encompassed an epic tale in seven volumes and though so much progress was made on a Grail-like quest, at the end it was all for naught because our hero ends up thrown by the wheel of fate back at the beginning of his quest again, doomed to repeat it over and over and over. But there is the chance that he will make a different choice — however miniscule — that will lead to a better, or at least different, ending.
And so it is with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) who still has a chance to make a different choice. Whether it be turning down the chick at the end of the bar or just realizing that helping Megan to realize her dreams doesn’t necessarily have to crush his, there’s a chance that he doesn’t have to end up a miserable (or not so miserable) cheating husband.
Don thought he had what he wanted, but all season he’s been chasing a phantom — a dream ideal of a wife whose beauty and intelligence are only exceeded by her willingness to be his home. As Megan demonstrated throughout the season, it’s not the part she’s hoping to get. Instead, she’s chasing her own phantom: the dream of an acting career. And Don, with some precedent, is petrified of her succeeding, fearing that she’ll leave him behind.
“That’s what happens when you help someone,” Don says to Peggy in the movie theater. “They succeed and move on.”
Not necessarily. And Don may realize that considering the fact that SCDP is still processing the death of Lany Pryce (Jared Harris) and that Don — thanks to an infected tooth — had visions of his dead brother, Adam (Jay Paulsen). Both people who, before their deaths, Don “helped.” He made the wrong decision in both of those instances — tough love — and the result was death. Loss. So when confronted with Megan’s standing on the edge of the abyss, he makes a different decision: to help her in the way she wants, not the way he thinks is best.
Here’s hoping the outcome is different. And there’s every expectation that it can be: He’s putting his needs second for another person — not a position he’s used to taking. So maybe that calls for a drink and a little cosmic test of faith. If anyone can pass with flying colors, it’s Don.
One more thought on that. When Megan asks Don to get her an audition for the Butler Shoes TV spot, he says, “You don’t want it this way. You want to be somebody’s discovery, not somebody’s wife.”
And maybe he’s right. But maybe she needs to make her own mistakes and using her husband to get an “in” on an audition is one of them.
Also worth noting:
>> Pete, as one Zap2it editor noted, would totally be a cutter in 2012. As it is, he’s a guy filled with self-loathing trying heal a permanent wound with a temporary bandage. This is the kind of mortal injury one sustains when chasing phantoms. Well done to Matt Weiner and Vincent Kartheiser for making us like this guy again after the last couple of episodes when we were basically pulling for him to take a header out a skyscraper window.
>> Julia Ormond continues to chill as Megan’s mom. “This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament, but are not an artist,” she says to Don, suggesting that Megan doesn’t have what it takes to be an actress but merely another expensive ornament in Don’s well-appointed life. That was after round 2 with Roger Sterling at his hotel. No wonder Megan’s got so much angst.
>> Speaking of Roger — he kept calling the Draper apartment and hanging up in the hopes of reaching Marie (Ormond). Raise your hand if the thought that creepy Glenn was calling the apartment to listen to Megan’s voice crossed your mind.
And thank you, team “Mad Men” for ending the season with several amazing images, but especially naked Roger Sterling (John Slattery) standing on a chair in the window of his hotel room.
>> Joan rules. She slept with a scuzzy client to get there, but now that Joan is a full partner in SCDP, she’s owning it. Why replace Lane when there’s a Joan Harris who can handle the financials and walk around with a can of spray paint masterminding the firm’s expansion into another floor of the building?
>> “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition,” says Rebecca Pryce when Don goes to her apartment seeking absolution for Lane’s suicide. Ironically, Don did the opposite. Lane’s position at SCDP was hardly ambitious — he was a pencil pusher — and Don’s final talk with him served to dash any hopes Lane may have about remaining with the firm.
>> When Don and Peggy have their soul-searching confab at the movie theater, she ends up by sharing her excitement about an upcoming business trip to visit a cigarette factory in Richmond, Va. “I’m flying on an airplane,” she says, proud of her accomplishment. And at the end we see Peggy, too, happy in her client-paid hotel room in Richmond, content in her career path. She’s on her way to getting everything she wants but, as we’re reminded by the dogs holding sexual congress outside her hotel room window, dreams realized usually tur
n out to be not so dreamy.
Okay, so what did you think of Season 5? Talk about it below and share your predictions for Season 6.