MAD MEN season finales are never exactly earth-shattering barn-burners; they tend to be understated and affecting, relying on character drama more than big gimmicks (which is not to say last season’s new agency wasn’t significant). But this season’s denouement — while fitting the pattern of the previous three years — was actually rather fitting for this season as a whole: quietly dramatic.
Apparently the title — evoking the famous futuristic attraction at Disneyland — refers to Don (Jon Hamm) turning the page and looking ahead (while Betty cannot stop wallowing in the past). Don has spent this whole season running from his past, putting out fires, and realizing that Don Draper is not who he used to think he was. Remember how the season started: with that reporter asking “Who is Don Draper?” Good question. And while the former Dick Whitman probably cannot say for sure, he certainly has a better grasp on his identity now than he did when the season began.
“There is no fresh start; lives carry on!” Henry (Christopher Stanley) told Betty (January Jones), but Don certainly seemed to do his best to start over. Hitting the reset button, Don got married to a pretty young gal, his secretary Megan (Jessica Paré). Well, Faye (Cara Buono) sure called that one, when she predicted that Don would be married again within a year. Only she wasn’t so glad about being right. Don dreaded telling Faye, so he did it over the phone. He tried inviting her for coffee, but when she wanted to know why, he broke the news. “Are you kidding me?” she snapped. “I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things,” she said by way of ending the call. And then she started crying. Don seemed kinda wrecked, too, so Megan consoled him with a reassuring, “I love you, you know?” But does Don love her? It was a circuitous series of events that led to the proposal; a virtual textbook example of unintended consequences.
Young Glen (Marten Holden Weiner) came to visit Sally (Kiernan Shipka), and on his way out, he ran into Betty, who hates him almost as much as I hate this plot thread. She scolded him for dropping by, so Glen snarled right back at her: “Just because you’re sad doesn’t mean everybody has to be!” Sorry, but in that house, Glen, yes, it does. Because Betty is made of sadness. And bitterness. Even the selfish child recognized that Betty may be pretty on the outside, but she’s ugly and twisted inside. That inner beast came out when Betty fired Carla (Deborah Lacey) for letting Glen in. Betty fumed: “Do you think I’m enjoying this, after all these years?” Yes, Betty, I know you really did enjoy it. She wouldn’t even let Carla say goodbye to the kids.
Since Carla was unable to accompany Don to California with the kids, Don hired Megan (at twice her $70 per-week salary) to make the trip and take care of the lids. In a touching scene, Don brought Sally and Bobby to meet Stephanie (Caity Lotz). When Sally asked about the “Dick + Anna ’64” painted on the wall, he told her that “Dick” is his nickname. Sometimes. He seemed on the verge of tears as he looked at the crudely lettered signature. When he brought the kids back to the hotel he was a virtual zombie. But then he decided to go jump in the pool with the kids and Megan. It was as if he suddenly simply decided to get past Anna’s death. He plunged into the pool as a sort of baptism, washing away the Anna chapter of his life.
Don allowed Megan to have her nights free — but not the whole night. He slipped into her room, and eventually her bed. As Don lay beside her, Megan said she can tell he’s trying to be a better man. “I’ve done a lot of things,” he said. “I know who you are now,” she said. Well, that makes one of you.
In the diner, Don was impressed by how implacable Megan was when the kids argued and spilled a milkshake. In that moment you could see a light go on in Don’s head. The next morning, when she awoke, he was ready for her. “I feel like myself when I’m with you,” he said. “I am in love with you, Megan.” And he presented her with the engagement ring he was bequeathed when Anna died. (Okay, so maybe he hasn’t entirely closed the book on that part of his life. Oh course she said yes. Paré was really terrific during the proposal, trembling and breathless; she was the perfect match for Hamm, and really gave an impression of genuine excitement.
Y’know what else was cool? Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) saved the company! Thanks to a fortuitous visit from Joyce (Zosia Mamet) and her friend Carolyn Jones (Cassandra Jean) — it was unclear whether she was supposed to be the actress from THE ADDAMS FAMILY — who had just been fired from a modeling job. While Harry (Rich Sommer) was enchanted by Carolyn, Peggy realized that the company had fired its ad agency as well as Carolyn. She tipped off Kenny (Aaron Staton), who lined up a meeting with the company. But Topaz Pantyhose wasn’t simply rolling over; they made Peggy work for it, coming up with a bunch of ideas before throwing a quarter of a million dollars her way. But that account would be enough to keep the lights on at SCDP.
Don’s earlier meeting with the cancer society was particularly resonant as he discussed the targeting of teenagers by tobacco companies. He claimed the way to counter the alluring ads was to appeal to the sentimentality of teenagers. In an insightful moment, Don pointed out that teenagers are secretly mourning the loss of their childhood more than they are anticipating their futures. Even if they didn’t know it yet, they’re afraid to die. What Don was telling us was that he has been mourning the crumbling of his carefully constructed Don Draper identity. But he has to anticipate his future, because he’s not a teenager anymore.
Don ran into Betty at the empty house, and I have to admit that I was kinda scared for him because of what Betty was going to do when Don told her. “I met someone. I’m engaged.” Aaaaand…no explosion. “I don’t know why I’m surprised,” she snarked.
BTW, smart move by AMC to promote THE WALKING DEAD so heavily during the finale of its best show. Based on the comic book series, WALKING DEAD looks really creepy, and with Frank Darabont at the helm, I’m sure it’s well-done. I’m really looking forward to seeing it.