|Photo Credit: AMC|
“I hope he's in a better place.” Meredith, the slightly dingy but capable secretary, says this as Roger tells her he has to fire her, since her former boss hasn't returned. He then corrects her, reminding Meredith her boss—one Donald Draper—is not dead, but Meredith isn't talking about the great beyond. “There are lot of better place than this,” she says.
Don of course has died many times over the last seven seasons, metaphorically speaking, reinventing himself and starting anew over and over. The latest one has taken the form of a cross country drifter, one whose current location is Utah, where Don is tinkering on souped up cars with a few other mechanics, and taking up with the lady of the garage.
The good times come to an abrupt halt though, when Sally calls and reveals Betty is dying. Don, of course, calls Betty immediately and pushes to take care Gene and Bobby, but she holds firm, saying they need a stable home life, and to keep things as normal as possible. And Don being away is part of that. The haunted look that washes over his face prove she's right. Don may call consistently on the weekends, but Betty knows children need a stable, constant presence in their lives, and Don, however valiantly he may try, can't be the guy.
Don eventually lands on the doorstep of Anna's niece Stephanie's house, offering her Anna's ring as a sort of penance (or something to hock when she needs money), and saying he wanted to stop by and see her baby. Stephanie calls bullshit, and explains her child is living with his father's parents—the opposite of what looks to be Don's future arrangement with his own children. She knows Don is in some kind of trouble, at least the mental/emotional kind, and invites him to go with her to a commune that includes things tai chi and meditation and views divorce as a creative experience.
You can guess how well Don fits in with this bunch. Predictably, he looks befuddled and uncomfortable, feelings that only intensify when the woman standing across him follows the instructor's orders to give her honest reaction to Don's presence by pushing him..
More demons pop up during another group session, when Stephanie reveals she didn't like being a mother. Don obviously has his own mother issues, which another guest rubs more salt in when she tells Stephanie her mom left when she was a child, and like her, her child will never get over that sense of a abandonment. Don's biological mother didn't deliberately abandon him the way Stephanie (or Roger's daughter Margaret) have abandoned their children, but her death left him with similar feelings, while his stepmother viewed him as a burden, withholding her love from him. Even with all this, he tries to give the same bad advice he gave Peggy (another woman who decided not to raise her child) to Stephanie, telling her to move forward, but she questions whether that's possible. Given all we've seen Don endure, we know it's not. Overcome with emotion, she questions his reasons for coming to see her or trying to hand off Anna's ring like some family heirloom, reminding him they aren't family, before running away and leaving Don alone.
At wits end, Don puts in a person to person call to the closet thing to family, or at least a kindred spirit, that he's had: Peggy. “I know you get sick of things, and you run. But you can come home,” Peggy tells him. “Don, come home,” she says, her tone borderline motherly, before asking him just what he did that was so terrible.
“I broke my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man's name, and made nothing of it,” he answers, sounding absolutely broken and shell-shocked. No lies, no self-deception, no excuses, no compartmentalizing. This is Dick Whitman talking. At last, we have a breakthrough.
Well almost. That comes courtesy of Leonard, a business man who feels ignored and invisible at his job and at home. He talks about not feeling loved, then realizing that his plight hasn't been a case of not getting love, but being unable to receive it. He then relays a dream about being inside a refrigerator, having it open and seeing everyone smiling at you. However, the same smiling faces look past you, or at something else. Then the door closes, and you're alone in the dark again.
Leonard breaks into a body-wracking sobs, and something comes back to life in Don, who goes and hugs Leonard as they have a full on cry together. The last shot we see of Don is the furthest thing from the man we met in 1960; clad in loose clothing, eyes closed in meditation and releasing a sonorous “ohm” a smile slowly spreads across his face as the guru talks of discovering a new you. It's an idea Dick Whitman certainly knows something about, but his latest self seems born not out of fear or desperation, but out of self-awareness and the clarity that comes with going through a personal hell and coming out the other side. He at last seems to have found, if not happiness, some measure of contentment.
And he's found inspiration for his next great ad. The episode ends with the iconic, real-life Coca-Cola commercial from that era, a client Peggy mentions when trying to talking him off the ledge, which uses a multicultural, hippie crowd like the one Don meditated with. It implies Don went back to New York and created what's perhaps the most famous ad of all time. It's a fitting send off for a man who has channeled so much of his own inner turmoil and sense of ennui, as well as his hopes and aspirations into his work. Part of Don's breakthrough is in realizing everyone experiences those feelings, and he is not alone or unique in that sense. As Dr. Faye once put it, he's a regular person, just like everyone else.
Peggy's made head roads at McCann. Pete stops by on his way out to Kansas, and wishes her well, saying she'll be creative director in a decade, and people will brag about getting to work with her. “No one's ever said to me,” Pete tells her when she balks slightly at the compliment. “Imagine. A thing like that,” she says, responding with one of his signature phrases.
Of course, the major revelation is Peggy and Stan's declaration of love, a realization that hits her, as her boss once put it, like a lightning bolt. After telling Stan about Joan's offer of becoming a partner in her production company and getting into an argument (one, like nearly all their arguments, is rooted in her ambition and his seeming complacency) about whether she can or should do it. She apologizes for calling him a failure (yea it got real) the next day, and Stan says she'll be great at whatever she does, but he doesn't want her to leave, which leads to how much loves being around her and how he always wants to be with her.
“I want to be with you. I'm in love with you,” Stan tells her. “I love you Peggy.” The confession throws Peggy for a loop, and she cries and bumbles her way to saying she's in love with him too, and rom com conventions aside, you really feel these two people truly had no idea they felt this way about each other until now. They're both creative people. Stan is extroverted and open where she is introverted and reserved. He understands her work and her constant striving, and helps give her perspective on both, while she challenges him to demand the best from himself artistically. They're good together.
Joan isn't as lucky in love. Her time since leaving McCann has been marked by gallivanting around New York and when we first see her, Florida with Richard. Richard pushes her to expand her horizons (“Your life is undeveloped property”) and to think beyond her two-bedroom apartment and life in New York, an idea she seems open to. Still, her old life pulls her back via Ken Cosgrove, who asks her to look through her Rolodex and find a producer for a film for Dow Chemical. Joan calls Peggy and asks if she'll take the job (and the extra money). When the two sit down though, Joan talks about turning the one-off job Ken handed her into a real production company, with her as producer and Peggy as head writer and partner. Harris and Olsen. Sisters are doin' it for themselves!
Peggy, as previously mentioned, stays with McCann, and Joan's new path doesn't sit well with Richard, who knows building her own business will require lots of her time, as he did it himself. He says he doesn't want to root for her to fail, but he clearly wants a life full of travel of all adventure and no work, despite Joan believing they can have both. When Joan makes it clear she can't shut off her ambition to build something of her own (another echo of the Don Draper ethos), he walks away, wishing her luck.
Her interaction with another wealthy silver fox goes much better. Roger stops by Joan's place and offers to put their son Kevin in his will. We get an update on a-hole Greg(he had twins with some nurse and acts like Kevin never happened), Roger reveals he's dating Marie and the two of them come to a place of understanding and peace with their long, complicated history.
In the end, Joan puts her own dreams over those of the man in her life, Peggy opens herself up to a life that includes professional and personal success, Marie and Roger settle into a fiery, but satisfying groove (Roger's learning to speak French!), Pete and Trudy become the jet-setting king and queen of Wichita, Kansas, Sally's eases into her new role as surrogate mother, and Don finally appears to be getting comfortable in his own skin.
The circles of life and work continue. And this is where we leave Mad Men.
--Hey, Gene spoke his first words! And it only took seven years!
--Marie to Roger: “Yell at me slower or in English.”
--Roger and Joan on Greg's knowledge of Kevin's real father:
--Roger: “So he[Greg] knows?”
--Joan: “No, he's just a terrible person.”
--Though the characters are friendly toward one another, what ultimately pulls them back in each other's orbit—from Peggy and Joan, Joan and Ken, to Don's presumed returned to New York—is work. These people aren't necessarily friends and they never really were. However, they share a common bond and kinship of rolling with the punches of Sterling Cooper's many incarnations and fighting in the trenches together all these years. A noticeable motif in this finale, and really the entire series.
--Joan on cocaine: “I feel like someone just gave me some very good news.”
--Don's truth moment with Peggy was gut-wrenching, though I have to take exception with him saying he made nothing of his stolen identity. After all, becoming a legendary (in ways good and bad), creative genius/rock star has to count for something.