Was the Hershey’s Meeting Don Draper’s First Step to Redemption?

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
June 24 2013 4:24 PM

Don’s Breakthrough

Did the Hershey’s meeting set Don Draper on the road to redemption?

Jon Hamm as Don Draper.
Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men

Courtesy of Jaimie Trueblood/AMC

Slate’s Mad Men “TV Club” writers Hanna Rosin and Seth Stevenson were on Facebook on Monday to chat with readers about the Season 6 finale. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Seth Stevenson: How did everyone feel about the final episode?

Johanna Humphrey: I don't know if it was just the music at the end (Matthew Weiner uses the closing music in very interesting ways) or that I was expecting all season for someone to die, but I feel like next season will be redemptive. The closing shot of Don coming to grips with his past might be signaling a reversal of this season, where we saw him sliding deeper and deeper into the abyss. It might not be a happy ending, but I imagine we'll see a different Don next year. (I've said this before—and was wrong.)

Hanna Rosin: I'm with you, Johanna. Anyway, how much lower can he go? The trick will be to make a clean, open Don still feel like Don. Maybe the harder trick will be to make him still interesting.

Seth Stevenson: Me three. I think viewers couldn't have taken watching Don take another spin on the wheel of suffering. It was time for some evolution. I'm OK with a sobered-up Don in Season 7. Let's have Peggy spiral out of control!

_______________________

Cathy Pike Maynard: I had to watch it twice to absorb it. I thought it was one of the best-written to date. I think it's Jon Hamm's time to win an Emmy.

Hanna Rosin: What was your favorite scene?

Cathy Pike Maynard: My favorite scene was the last shot of him showing the kids where he grew up.

Hanna Rosin: I loved that scene, too. The house was over-the-top, but it was also beautiful. I really bought that scene.

Andrea Serna: I also watched it twice. I loved the closing scene. It gave me hope for Sally.

Seth Stevenson: Yes, I found myself surprisingly moved by the look that Sally and Don exchanged. You could sense their relationship becoming stronger as it overcomes Don's mistakes. And Sally might have realized some of the privileges she takes for granted.

Monica Chiaramonte: I think with this final scene all the flashbacks during the season (hated by so many, not by me though) made sense and made this last scene even more powerful.

_______________________

Sam Perez: SPOILER ALERT! The scene right after Don receives his forced hiatus, we see Peggy in an office. She sits with her back to the camera but facing the windows. Was I the only one who thought we were about to get a flash of Don falling to his doom?

Hanna Rosin: Brilliant! Morbid! It didn't cross my mind, but maybe that's what was being hinted at.

Scott Brannon: Yeah, I was waiting for that to happen as well. Scary.

Seth Stevenson: Now that would have spurred some water-cooler talk! I did feel Peggy's commandeering Don's desk chair—suddenly wearing pants, no less—was a bit heavy handed. I half expected her to find Don's wingtips under the desk and slip them on.

Hanna Rosin: You are all leading me to believe that Peggy will carry next season—Peggy as Don, icy cool, brilliant, hiding secrets of her own. Very “end of men.”

Seth Stevenson: Yes! I vote for a Season 7 with a reformed, optimistic Don and a Peggy who is at the top of her game careerwise but loses control of her personal life. I want Peggy commanding the conference room, then clocking out to do some boozing and to break some hearts.

_______________________

Cathy Pike Maynard: I loved it when he shook hands with the Hershey’s reps and told them that he may never have a chance to meet them again. He wanted to come clean, even to them. I thought it was so poignant.

Seth Stevenson: He couldn't lie to representatives of the product that was the only thing that could make him feel "like a normal kid"—the "only sweet thing in his life." He couldn't spoil it. He doesn't even want them to grubby it up with advertising.

Hanna Rosin: Agree that's what was so moving about that scene, how a Hershey's chocolate bar was genuinely critical to his well being, his sense of childhood and normalcy.

Jeremy Stahl: Watching that boardroom scene, I felt like it was kind of too melodramatic, too over-the-top, and too cringeworthy. But maybe that was the point, though?

Hanna Rosin: I liked it because it took me so much by surprise. It was the way he never changed his posture or expression that moved me. It was also that we have been waiting for this release all season, as he's nearly lost it at board meetings in nearly every episode. And in some ways we've been waiting for this public reveal for the whole of the series. The one problem is: I think the show's writers are more enchanted with Don's rise and fall than the audience is. Am I right?

Laine Doss: I like Don when he's at his oily best. A humble, sober Don? Meh.

Seth Stevenson: I enjoyed Don finally letting the façade drop. He just couldn't lie to the Hershey's guys—the product meant too much to him. Like a Hershey's bar, Don is ready to let his wrapper "look like what's inside."

Jeremy Stahl: Because the timing and location of that "therapy session" was so inappropriate, it felt forced to me. Like he just had to do something to ruin himself, not necessarily to be an honest, better person. Don obviously did not care at all how the consequences of his actions would come back to hurt him, and that bothered me.

Andrea Serna: I think his big mistake was having a drink before the meeting. It loosened his senses just a touch.

Mona Ereiqat Finucane: I thought it was incredibly awkward and cringe-inducing (in a good way). The best part was after the meeting, when Roger asked him if any of it was true.

Hanna Rosin: And he said "yes" with confidence and no hesitation. It's funny that the season started with Roger on the shrink's couch. That's where such revelations should happen. But these guys aren't built for that, so it happens at a client meeting. Makes you think Don has not been avoiding his demons with advertising—he's been working them out somehow.

Patrick Denton: Is it possible next season sees Don Draper's ”redemption”—maybe he forsakes his heretofore traditional, upper-class trappings of success in favor of substance and meaning? That would be so cheesy.

Hanna Rosin: I suddenly had a vision of Don in a "Habitat for Humanity" T-shirt, scraping the paint off the outside of that house in the final scene, handing out popsicles to all the kids in that neighborhood.

_______________________

Hanna Rosin: A call out for some Bob Benson theories: Did he know about Manolo? Is this like the situation in the ABC show Nashville, where Juliette Barnes got played by her "friend”?

Andrea Serna: Bob did not react in a horrified manner, which is what any normal person would do. Perhaps he knows of Manolo's violent tendencies. I was honestly surprised that Pete didn't attack Bob.

Johanna Humphrey: I think Pete was relieved that his mother was dead, honestly. And I don't feel strongly that Manolo killed her.

Hanna Rosin: Wasn't it incredible how quickly Pete and his brother moved into the instrumental mode with their mother? Too expensive, she's dead anyway, a trial won't bring her back, and she loved the sea. Pete, who can be so irrational and vengeful on so many matters, can make such rational calculations when he wants to.

Seth Stevenson: So great when they're asking about expenses. "To bring your mother's killer to justice?" "Ballpark."

_______________________

Mona Ereiqat Finucane: I loved the ambush with the rest of the partners at the end. He didn't seem to care too much, just left and walked out. Pretty much followed his pattern all season.

Jeremy Stahl: I liked this, too. The actions of the partners didn't seem so much a betrayal as a natural conclusion to what Don had sewn all season long. That's another reason I didn't love the Hershey's scene, though. It wasn't a therapeutic breakthrough to me at all, but just another kind of lame piece of self-destruction. I prefer Don when he's winning rather than losing, and the boardroom thing was a very sad-sack moment to me.

Seth Stevenson: I dunno; this felt a smidge different to me. Don's never been confronted so overtly by his colleagues, in force. The external push might help him along.

Hanna Rosin: Disagree, Jeremy. I thought for the first time Don was in charge of his own self-destruction. We have gone from him being led around by his own subconscious since Episode 1, walking around with a dazed look on his face, not realizing where his demons are leading him. But at the end of this episode, he finally took control of it. His firing was a natural consequence of that decision, but it didn't hit him as a tragedy because he knows he needs to break free.

Seth Stevenson: I'm with Hanna. He at last dropped the façade, after beginning his pitch as a lie about an invented childhood. He found he simply couldn't lie to Hershey. That's what it took to make him confront the Dick Whitman within.

_______________________

Brad Barber: Been my call for about two years that Don will end up next season living out the falling man intro graphic. I really think the series will end with him jumping.

Hanna Rosin: Jumping! But he's happy now! The truth is out! Can't he just live clean into the ’80s?

Brad Barber: Don will be pushed closer and closer to failure. He will realize he has exhausted his quiver of identities and his only way out will be suicide. Next year will be the last season, so why not?

Hanna Rosin: Because he is moving away from the age of sin and redemption into the age of recovery, where everything is forgivable and everyone can start over.

Seth Stevenson: Seemed like Don had a real breakthrough this time. Ready to face himself in the mirror and make some changes, no?

Johanna Humphrey: Will we ever see a sober Don? Would that even be the same Don?

Seth Stevenson: Don in early seasons drank his share, but it never torpedoed his work. I'm actually eager to see a return of a sharp, incisive Don who susses out human nature and uses it to his advantage in the professional realm.

_______________________

Seth Stevenson: Bit of a side issue, but I felt like this episode was where the fashion aesthetics really jumped ahead in time. Stan's paisley tie and plaid blazer combo! Yikes! And the cheesy redesign of the SC&P logo. The show will have a very different look as it heads into Season 7.

Johanna Humphrey: The SC&P logo looked like The Price is Right.

Hanna Rosin: Seth, I'm finding the clothing/font/furniture overhauls really distracting. In our minds early ’60s is classic so can stay in the background, but early ’70s is garish and in our face, so I keep expecting Starsky and Hutch to walk into the office

Seth Stevenson: Yup. Banana Republic offered a Mad Men–branded line when Don's look was sleekly retro. Narrow lapels came back in a big way! Much harder to see polyester and paisley make a triumphant return. But I think it will be fun to chuckle at the aesthetics of Season 7, even if they might not spur a global fashion trend.

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

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