Last season ended with a pretty memorable tableau: “You Only Live Twice” played while Don walks off the set of a lavish commercial starring Megan as a princess. Season 6, then, was set up rather archly, by a high-camp Sinatra stretching out the word “dream,” cooing that you drift through the years and life seems tame. As this show has always been insistent upon dreams being shattered, upon curtains being admired then pulled back, it makes sense that Mad Men would lean heavy on displacement and deconstruction in its version of 1968. Over the episodes leading up to “In Care Of,” we saw a lot of intoxication and fantasy, a lot of drug haze and tripping, a lot of mirror images splintering. Don got high in Hawaii, in the office, and in a California movie mogul pad. In this episode, he hit bottom and punched a proselytizer in a bar. So that’s what it takes to get a man like Don Draper to stop his bullshit: a night in jail. In the spirit of all addiction rehab programs, he is finally coming clean, but with Draper theatrics. Forget sitting down in the living room for a family meeting around the coffee table; he’s going to drive his children to the brothel that raised him and show them its ruins on Thanksgiving day. Don’t even bother with closing the door and having a seat; Don is going to talk about his orphan status and his prostitute past in a business meeting, in front of a client. The man has poor impulse control, but he has a nose for what drama teachers call strong choices. Megan might have trouble making her two twin characters seem different from one another, but Don knows how to make a gesture. He has always been a fucking great actor.
Somehow we got from “You Only Live Twice” to “Both Sides, Now,” from love appearing as a beckoning stranger to clouds getting in our way. This season ends with a pretty memorable tableau, too: Judy Collins and the shadows of Don and his children creeping toward a dilapidated house that has held talismanic power for both our protagonist and the show’s writers in nearly every episode this year. I have hated maybe every flashback to Don’s childhood. They’ve symbolized the immobility of the character, his least compelling attribute. It’s a relief that Don will be spending season 7, fingers crossed, marrying his present and his past, insisting on a whole rather than the shards that made up a person no one knew. Throughout all the scenes where he has told women he loved them, he has remained a role-player. Perhaps that will stop finally. Maybe he will throw his hands up and accept, a la Mitchell’s proxy Collins, that he knows nothing about life at all. He only knew how to try to have one.
But, flashbacks aside, the thing that bothered me most about this season was not Don. It was Peggy. In spite of Duck’s appearance at the elevators, hinting that he was shopping Don’s position around to eligible recruits, Peggy is the one we see actually sitting in Don’s chair, her head neatly conforming to the silhouette exhausted by the show’s credit sequence. I don’t take this too literally. After all, Don has luck and the power of making his own decisions. She is the one who feels the pain of everyone making decisions for her, of having control and then losing it. It’s not enough, right, that she is successful. She wants in Ted or any of her other paramours what she cannot have. I am afraid, because of the way the show set her up this season, that she wants love above all else. If not utterly and soul-crushingly disappointing, this would be a drag at the very least. She often felt and feels like a device for men to use to access their desires. So what does that mean, writing-wise, for Peggy Olson? I don’t have that much faith in this show’s powers of subtlety and justice. I can’t hope she will find happiness when the rest don’t even know where to look.
Ugh. You want someone to come out okay in all these shows about anti-heroes and dipshits. Your Jesse Pinkman, your Adriana La Cerva. For me, that someone has always been Peggy, and I just don’t have a good feeling about her anymore. Either the writing of her character will fade into nothing, like we’ve seen with Betty, or she will continue on this path of standing in the shadows of men. It’s frustrating, and this plot line with Ted only underscored my frustration. God, Ted is the worst. Just the absolute worst.
Anyway, whatever, it’s fine, it’s just a TV show. Let’s look at where this season left us with everyone else. Joan invited Roger to Thanksgiving (with the turkey carved by Bob Benson). Pete is moving to California to start over after leaving Trudy and his kid, bungling the Chevy account once revealed by a vindictive Bob to be an exceptionally bad driver, and losing his mother to a gay con artist who thought he could marry and murder a rich old bat. (Joke’s on him, as that family has had limited resources for some time.) Ted is moving to California too, to get away from the love he feels for Peggy, finally consummated after episodes of googly eyes. Sally got suspended from Miss Porter’s after faking an ID and getting her friends beer. Megan was promised a move to California by Don, so she got herself written out of her soap, but Don’s not going out west after all, so we last see her running out the Park Avenue apartment in a huff that might lead to divorce. Finally, after his therapy session of a client meeting, Don is being told to take some time off while other suits are circling his office. He is telling everyone who he really is after all these years. Whew. I imagine next season will feel less like spinning wheels, as it’s the last of the series, but it’s still unclear where we will end up. Other than 1970, I mean.