June 24, 2013

“They Rumsoned him,” my friend texted me when this episode ended. And so they did. Don’s monologue in that Hershey’s meeting and Freddy Rumson’s urine-soaked pants were, in retrospect, stunningly similar cries for help.

The finale episode of Mad Men is titled “In Care Of.” The specific reference is to a letter Don receives summoning Sally to testify about “Grandma Ida,” the burglar. But the larger point of those three words is that, despite much falling apart, people took care of each other.

Things did fall apart: Don and Megan, Don and SC&P, Pete and the Chevy account, Peggy and Ted, Pete’s mother just entirely (“Mother lost at sea. Vessel searched”). But they also came together: Roger and Kevin, Ted and his family, Don and Betty, Megan and her career, and Don and the young Dick Whitman. In the balance of the episode, the sweet, caring interactions outweighed the negative ones.


“The good is not beating the bad,” says Betty to Don on the phone. For Sally, there’s a lot of bad to contend with, and she’s dealing with it by getting a fake ID – a standard response, really. Megan and Don deal with their unhappiness by imagining they might find good somewhere else, namely LA. In fact, everyone wants to start a new life in LA; the episode opens with Stan waxing poetic about the life he could build for himself there. In the lives of these characters, New York is tapped out.

Stan is the first to shape the vision: a one-man office handling the Sunkist account. Then Don appropriates his dream. But in the end, Ted needs it more and Don gives it to him. In his earnest plea, Ted says to Don, “I know there’s a good man in there.” There is, but it appears that the good man only emerges in the company of the child he was, and once that gate is open, it’s on. Don has just one drink before the Hershey meeting, and his hands don’t shake as he relays the true story of his childhood. Rather than deal in the currency of affection – something he has learned to do with precision – he tries to deal in the truth.


And what about Pete? Honestly, things worked out pretty well for Pete. Sure, Bob tricked him into losing the Chevy account, and yes, his mom did die at sea – but he looks refreshed when he visits Trudy with the news that he’ll be leaving for LA. “You’re free of her, you’re free of them, you’re free of everything,” she says, and she’s right. He says that this is not the way he wanted it – and he has lost his family, completely – but Pete has been given a fresh start. It’s weird to think of what Pete’s future could be. Imagine him in LA, marrying again and heading for the 70s? All we’ve known of him so far is past now.

Let’s look at our ladies. Joan has decided to let Roger be a part of Kevin’s life, and she seems happy with that choice. Betty seems to have forgiven Don, and that’s created a good thing between them. Megan is now released from her shitty, shitty marriage to pursue her dreams and live her life. (And she’s only 28. Her life may actually be about to begin.)


But then there is Peggy, who says to Ted “It must be nice to have decisions.” Ted cannot bear his love for Peggy – he sees himself with a future like Pete’s, or like Don’s, and it terrifies him – and so he leaves. Peggy is left with – what? With work. She sits in Don’s chair at the end of the episode and fits nicely into his trademark silhouette. In the Don/Peggy comparisons, this is a bit of a scary image. After all, Don is no longer worth emulating.

Peggy lost much of her agency this season, first in being left out of the decision to merge, and then in continually having others get credit for her work. Now, she’s lost love, and there is again nothing she can do about it. She has the skills to manipulate – case in point, that tiny dress – but the world she lives in leaves her with few real tools. Even after a profession of love from Ted, there’s no one caring for Peggy as this season ends.

At the whorehouse, the preacher tells young Don, “The only unpardonable sin is to believe that God cannot forgive you.” This episode provided evidence that these characters believe they’re worthy of forgiveness and of second chances. The moment when Sally looks up at her Dad as she sees he’s finally opening the door to his real self is pure hope – for reconciliation, for peace. Don believes he can be forgiven. So does Ted.


Alcoholism has of course been all over Mad Men since the beginning, but it becomes more palpable here. Freddy Rumson had a problem because he peed his pants at the office; that was enough to arrange a final meeting for him. It’s taken Don much, much longer to get to this point, but he’s reached it now. The season ends and his marriage is over, his job gone. He has no salvation waiting in California. But it seems he has started to accept himself, so maybe he’ll make it.

“Going down?” asks Don’s potential replacement, arriving in the elevator as Don leaves the office. Ah, elevators. The irony here is that, while Don has landed in hell, it’s exactly where he needs to be. Despite it all, this finale, set on Thanksgiving morning, was a hopeful one.


Some final notes:

– It’s strange that, after weeks of devoting paragraphs to him, I’m now only mentioning Bob Benson as an afterthought. He didn’t play the huge, revealing role in the finale that I thought he might. Weiner baited us all season, but there wasn’t a real payoff. Maybe it’s still to come.

– Presumably Sally is called to testify against Grandma Ida to help identify her. Sharp irony here, as she could more easily identify this “Grandma” than anyone her Dad is actually related to.

– It’s nice to see Pete and his brother agreeing on something (that is, not to waste money finding their mother’s body)! How oddly sweet!

– Roger’s story is a sad one, too – alone on Thanksgiving, he has to fight for a small piece of the second family he’s been banished from.

Re-live the finale on Portable.

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