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“Who is Don Draper?”
That was the question that opened this season, and much of it has dealt with Don attempting to find the answer. Having lost his family, his company, even Anna, the person he may have been closest with in the world, exactly who is left? In a year that has seen him attempt to give up drinking, start exercising, and achieve professional highs (his CLEO victory) and lows (losing Lucky Strike), he now, in the season finale seems to have come to some kind of understanding of, if not who he is, at least who he wants to be. And that person is…Roger Sterling?
Yes, Don seems to be following in his friend’s footsteps by proposing to Megan, his young, beautiful secretary who he hardly knows. It’s the exact action he mocked Roger for two years prior, and one that lead to a falling out in their friendship, something which Roger humorously acknowledges with his “see Don, this is how you behave” response to Don’s news (Roger had a bunch of fantastic one-liners in this episode. My personal favourite being when Don returns from his meeting with The American Cancer Society; Roger shouts out “Did you get cancer?”).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The episodes leading up to the finale have focused heavily on SCDP’s financial troubles in the wake of Lucky Strike’s departure, leading many viewers (myself included) to think that this episode would wrap up that plotline, similar to last season’s finale, ending with the company either being saved by a out-of-the-blue benefactor or going under. Instead, we’re given an understated turn of events, where Peggy and Ken bring in the company’s first new client, Topaz Pantyhose, since they lost Lucky Strike. It’s more a metaphoric victory than a practical one. The quarter of a million dollars it brings it won’t be a drop in the bucket compared to the 22 million lost with Lucky. But it, combined with Don’s strong showing for the ACS, give the impression that the company’s worst days are behind it. Though it might take a while, it seems that Don and co. will eventually pull themselves out of this mess.
So, with that out of the way, we’re left with Don on a family vacation, taking his children (and Megan) to California. While there, seeing how good she is with his children and how happy he makes her, and with a ring in his pocket thanks to a visit to Anna’s old house, he decides to pop the question.
Now, it’s easy to jump on Don for taking the easy way out, proposing to this young trophy. But, to be fair to Megan, we’ve never really been given any reason to dislike her. All we know about her is that she seems kind, is great with Don’s children (the scene where she reacts calmly to Sally spilling her milkshake, where Betty would have yelled at her, might have been what sealed her in Don’s mind), and has ambition to be more than a secretary. And, for his part, Don seems more relaxed around her than he’s been with any woman since Anna. He even allows the Dick Whitman persona inside him to come out. When Sally asks who “Dick” is, who wrote his name on Anna’s wall, Don admits that it’s him. And when Megan asks Don where he got the ring, he initially lies out of habit, but then retracts and admits that it belonged to an important friend of his. Don even can’t wait to tell everyone in the office about their engagement, when in the past he’s kept all of his personal life a secret at work.
So while it’s tempting to write Megan off, especially since she’s been in competition with the intelligent and strong Dr. Faye, the other woman in Don’s life, that isn’t fair. Even if she turns out to not be all that she seems, she certainly can’t be a worse mother than Betty, who continues to get worse and worse; now firing Carla because she dared to let Sally see her friend Glen. I had hoped earlier in the season that Betty might stop being so one-dimensionally horrible, but that seems to not be in the cards.
It’s hard to know where Don’s decision to marry Megan will lead him, but for now he seems happier than we’ve ever known him, about to marry a woman who hardly knows might be just what he needs. It’s an interesting idea, but one that couldn’t help but feel that's somewhat underwhelming for a season finale. Perhaps it was my fault for expecting similar fireworks to last season’s ending, when they went out and started their own company, and Mad Men has never been a show which has repeated itself. But I felt like many of the plot-strands where left a little too open for my taste. I want to see the company pull itself out of its hole. I want to see Sally Draper assert herself as a young adult. I want Peggy to say the things to Don that she now says behind his back (although the scene with her and Joan making fun of Don for his engagement announcement was fantastic). I want to see if Roger can actually go out and make new clients. It’s very possible that these plotlines will continue into next season, but for a season ending it just felt too open for my taste.
But that is one of the risks you take when watching a show that so clearly wants to go in different directions than you expect. And, while it might be my least favorite Mad Men finale yet, that isn’t really much of an insult, and it didn’t take away any of my excitement for next season. Will Don actually transform into Roger, complete with all the regrets he has for his life’s mistakes? Or is this actually the move Don needed to make to finally make peace with who he is and find some happiness. I can’t help it if I want to know the answers now, but I don’t doubt it that when they finally get here it’ll be worth the wait.