Mad Men, Season 6

Don Draper Finally Hit Bottom
Talking television.
June 24 2013 11:32 AM

Mad Men, Season 6

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Don hit bottom. For real this time.

madmen_finale_sally
Kiernan Shipka and Jon Hamm

AMC

Hanna, Paul,

Has the fever finally broken? Is Don ready to dismantle the elaborate marketing campaign he’s been substituting for a personality, and at last get in touch with the real Dick Whitman beneath the invented identities and the self-deception?

He’s fooled us before. There was that time a while back when he curtailed his drinking and started swimming laps at the gym. Didn’t take. Instead, he’s gone around and around again on the wheel of suffering. Every time he seemed to hit bedrock, it turned out to be a false bottom.

But something does feel a little different this time. First, he’s got the attention and support of his colleagues. That quasi-intervention staged by Roger, Jim, Bert, and Joan (who couldn’t even meet Don’s eyes) was a new twist. In the past, everyone around him assumed that Don would land on his feet, and he was left to sort his troubles for himself. Just having some external affirmation that he can’t continue like this might be enough to snap him out of his vicious cycle.

More than that, though, I sensed that Don himself is tired of the games. Recall that in the concluding episode of Season 1, Don drew on his own emotions to pitch the Kodak Carousel—arguing that the public can be engaged if they have a “sentimental bond with the product.” Don clicked through slides of his own family and described the “ache” he felt. Then he skipped out on spending Thanksgiving with them. The whole pitch was, at base, a lie.

This time, Don pitched Hershey with another lie—an invented Norman Rockwell tale about a childhood he never had. But then he realized he couldn’t tolerate the falsehood. Not with Hershey. Not with the only product that could make him feel “like a normal kid,” the “only sweet thing in my life,” the product he wishes “would never advertise,” never attempt to be anything other than it already is. It’s no coincidence that a man who cannot reconcile his wounded inner child with the face he presents to the world would praise a Hershey bar by marveling that “the wrapper looked like what was inside.”

And so Don begins the process of making himself into a product that doesn’t need to advertise or wrap itself in something deceptive. He fesses up to the Hershey folks, unable to maintain his lie when he might never see them again. And then that visit to his childhood home—the imperative to show his children, especially Sally, who he really is—felt like the beginning of a new, brighter chapter in Don’s life. And not a moment too soon. I’m not sure many viewers could put up with yet another season of a Don who never progresses, and is doomed by an inability to escape his past.

I’d much rather Season 7—Mad Men’s last, if Matthew Weiner is to be believed—let Don evolve and find some peace. Let’s watch Peggy fall apart in the throes of an emotional crisis. She’s so sick of being tempest-tossed by the sudden decisions of the men around her. I’d enjoy seeing Peggy hit a career peak (as you note, Hanna, she pulled on some fairly symbolic trousers, and sat in Don’s office chair—I half expected her to portentously slip her feet into his wingtips under the desk) as she also hits the bottle and breaks the hearts of every man in Midtown.

I’m not sure what to make of Pete’s Season 6 denouement. I will note that cruise ship chaos remains a bizarre feature of international waters. Legal recourse is sketchy when it comes to crime on the high seas. And a remarkable number of passengers mysteriously disappear overboard. (Twenty-three in 2012 alone. There are entire web sitesabout it!) I’ll be interested to see how Pete handles his new freedom from his family. It certainly didn’t take long to make peace with his mother’s absence: When considering whether to fund a search for his mother’s killer, he and his brother demand a “ballpark” figure for expense, and then quickly decide, well, “she loved the sea” and thus need not be avenged. But Pete’s ability to sever ties with Trudy and his child seems less clear. That tender bedroom scene as he parted suggested Pete possesses depths he doesn’t always reveal.

Sally’s foray into bad girl-dom last week was just the start, apparently. How telling that she approximated Betty’s name when she made a fake ID to buy beer! She’s a Betty in the making. Do we think Don’s attempt to finally level with her will be enough to calm her destructive impulses? That look between them as the episode closed was quite moving. Another hope for Season 7 is that, when we’re not watching Peggy spiral out of control, we get to see Don develop a real relationship with these kids he’s been ignoring.

Another thing I’m looking forward to in Season 7: a whole new aesthetic. The times they are a changin’, design-wise. Did you see Stan’s blue plaid blazer paired with brown shirt and paisley tie? Or the cheesy update of the SC&P logo? Get ready for more of that. Earlier seasons looked so sleekly retro in a way that shaped today’s popular culture, driving clothing brands like Banana Republic to develop Mad Men-branded looks. Will any clothing outlets—other than musty thrift stores—be offering Stan’s outfit as the hot new seasonal trend?

Paul, I gather you have some personal connection to the noble Milton Hershey. Please open your soul as we gather around the conference table. But don’t shit the bed.

Everyone in this room has their own story to tell,

Seth