“Going down.” That’s the last thing Don Draper hears in his office from the man Duck has brought in to replace him. The next scene shows Peggy sitting in Don’s office, looking out his window. This did not occur to me the first time I watched, but many of our more astute (or maybe morose) readers worried this was the moment Don’s body would come sailing past the office window, just as it does in the opening graphic. But then Slate’s own Fred Kaplan pointed out to me that the graphic actually ends with Don back in his chair, working, living. I think we all three agree in this TV Club that in the next and supposedly final season of Mad Men Don will probably be on his way up, even if he is no longer at the firm. Perhaps he will make it to A.A., or be closer to Sally, or live the groovy “bicoastal” lifestyle he offers to Megan. Surely he will be on his way to becoming the ’80s Don Draper we have all come to anticipate.
And what of Peggy? The symbolism in this finale was heavily pointing to Peggy joining whatever the era equivalent was of the Forbes list of most powerful women: her first-time-ever pants in the office (and what pants they were! red plaid! with a matching top!); her sitting in Don’s chair, very comfortably, rifling through his things; Ted’s injunction to her to stay behind in New York and build her career. Early on in this season Peggy had been heavily leaning in, bossing her underlings, giving Joan good advice. But then the office merger threw her off a bit, and she got sidelined again. In the next season, I am betting that Peggy morphs into Don: ruthless, untouchable, and harboring secrets.
One thing that struck me in this finale is how often we see the adults through the eyes of the children. Sally is the most cutting in this regard, as she tells her father on the phone, “Well, I wouldn’t want to do anything immoral,” and then follows that up with, “Why don’t you just tell them what I saw?” And then there’s baby Kevin, trying to work his magic on Roger, giving him a Thanksgiving table that, unlike the one his daughter threatens, isn’t empty. Those children—Kevin, Bobby, Eugene, Sally, all of Sally’s outrageous girlfriends—those are the Mad Men viewers. Matt Weiner, who is 47, is contemporary with the Draper boys. “She’s from a broken home,” Betty tells Don about Sally. But it’s broader than that. A show that seemed to be about what our parents were like is shifting into one about how they made us who we are. That’s what was so beautiful about the look that passed between Sally and Don in the last scene, an understanding between generations.
This was a strange season in that it seemed to throw up intriguing plot possibilities and then grow quickly bored with them—and then it always circled back to the disintegration of Don. I’m not sure viewers always appreciated being in such close quarters with a morose crumbling alcoholic—certainly not as much as our own Troy Patterson did. But at least we got our redemption in the end.
Gentleman, it’s been a pleasure clubbing with you this season. Seth, as you suggested: “Let’s all move to Los Angeles. We can be happy together there. Just three desks, a window, and the ocean.”
It’s all fun and games until someone shoots you in the face—
How Mad Men fought Vietnam: