At times, the sixth season of Mad Men has felt a little bit non-essential, but its triumphant finale has set us up perfectly for the final season.
I wrote last week about how there’s been a feeling of ‘it’s all been done before’ about Don Draper‘s troubles this time around, but in the last few weeks, things have come to a head.
Sally walking in on Don engaged in extra-marital fumblings was the catalyst for something really big, and we now know what it was.
Matt Weiner teased us with the idea of him starting up a Californian branch of SC&P, with Megan getting the chance to go to Hollywood and maybe become the hippie dream girl he imagined while high, but this was a red herring.
Instead, Don possibly sacrificed his marriage to help Ted save his, letting him move to LA instead to get away from the temptations of Peggy. Even when he does something nice for someone, Don can’t help but let people down.
But at least he’s recognising his demons at last, and in another of a long line of weird and vaguely disastrous pitches, he reveals himself with the story of his childhood growing up in a whorehouse.
It’s a powerful scene, apparently done in one take by Jon Hamm, and feels like a game-changer, with even Roger looking stunned at the end, and comes after a night in a drunktank leads to a recognition of his alcohol issues.
But self-realisation comes too late for Don’s career, and after he implodes Megan’s dreams of LA he finds out that he couldn’t have gone anyway, because he gets ousted in a bloodless coup by the rest of the partners (on ‘indefinite leave’).
With his marriage in tatters and his career on hiatus, all he can do is turn to the family he’s always neglected, including the daughter who now hates him. But instead of the same old Don, he takes them to meet Dick (in a sense) by driving them to the old whorehouse.
The final shots of Don and Sally exchanging a look were beautifully shot and acted, like she was looking at her Dad properly for the first time. Can he really move forwards by going backwards in this way? Is the ultimate ad man enigma going to become a real human?
Vincent Karthesier has always been the under-rated gem in the Mad Men cast and this was his finest hour, from the hilariously puffed-up fury at his mother’s suspicious death to the downcast realisation that he’s lost everything by getting what he always wanted.
The same can be said for Peggy, who ends the episode sitting in Don’s chair, ‘filling in’ for him while he’s on leave. It’s a long way from being his secretary, but she’s also lost Ted and never seems to be able to choose what happens to her. But unlike the men, at least she seems to still be moving upwards.
So now we have to wait until next year for the last ever season of Mad Men. Season Six turned out to be pretty darned good after all, with great costumes, snappy dialogue and Ken getting shot in the face. It maybe needed a really brilliant finale to pull the rest of it up to standard, but it definitely got that.