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'Mad Men' Season 6 finale recap, 'In Care of'

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Don has taken the elevator ride straight to Hell.

“Excuse me,” Don yells behind jail bars. “I shouldn’t be in here.”

Yes, he should. And not just for punching a minister, even if that hatemonger deserved it. (MLK, RFK and the Vietnam soldiers aren’t “true believers”? Cue Sally’s eye roll.)

For the past few seasons, we’ve put up with Don’s philandering, deception and debauchery. He’s struggled to find inner-peace yet we stood by him.

This season, however, Don sunk to new lows. His fate wasn’t surprising, considering the first episode began with Don reading Dante’s "Inferno." Slowly he slipped farther and farther into Hell, each transgression worse than the last, from the twisted S&M fantasy with Sylvia to lying to Sally about his affair.

With the exception of Season 5, each season finale has been packed with gasp-inducing twist that left viewers in a state of ennui or frustration. Will Don finally get the happiness he’s seeking? He’ll have to go through Hell and back first.

Don finds a chance to start fresh in California. Granted, he took the idea from Stan, a minor sin in the grand scheme of things. But it only makes sense for Don to want to head west.

California is where he escaped from Betty drama toward the end of Season 2, submerging himself in the Pacific and absolving himself of his infidelities. California is where he proposed to Megan at the end of Season 4, believing he has finally found bliss. California is where he can start new.

At the end of Season 1, Don presented the tearjerker “Carousel” campaign to Kodak. He shared pictures of a happy family — his happy family. But at the end of the day, he went home and we saw his discontent with marriage, fatherhood and life in general. Only through his ads can he have happiness.

He could have kept up that farce with Hershey, a potentially new client introduced in the finale — and the type of account Don and the firm had always dreamed of. His father treating him to any candy he wanted, tousling his hair when he bit into the Hershey’s bar was convincing enough that I was tempted to buy one -- and I’m not the biggesgt Hershey’s fan.

But he didn’t stick with the lie. He looks at his trembling hand (nervousness or a sign of alcohol withdrawal? -- more on that in a bit), he sees Ted’s dour face and he makes a decision. It’s Ted’s turn to go to California.

But rather than be a sane individual and save the whorehouse confession for a therapist (which he desperately needs) and discuss the matter with Ted after the meeting, he reveals his seedy childhood to Hershey’s. Hershey’s! The company with so much money it has a town named after it. The company so covetable that they have 30 of the top agencies, with SC&P gracing their list, competing for their attention. “Hershey’s: Wholesome enough for whorehouses.” That’s Don’s pitch? 

But what a delivery from Jon Hamm! We’ve seen Hamm master Don’s shame with his expressive eyes and defeated posture. But to see him balance vulnerability with a sense of relief truly shows his range. How many Emmy consideration ads do you think we’ll see with that scene in the next couple months? 

After the meeting, Roger reams out Don, who brushes off his criticisms. He heads home, but not before saying goodbye to Dawn. “Happy Thanksgiving, sweetheart,” he tells her. She’s taken aback.

Usually I cringe when I hear “sweetheart” directed to secretaries in the office. But Don never uses that word — usually Roger does. What typically has a sexual harassment undertone felt like a bleak yet sentimental farewell. As he left the office, I got the sense that this was the end for Don, much like Lane writing up his errands before his harrowing suicide.

And it was the end for Don. At least, in terms of his career (for now). With this revelation of lies, he has descended into the Ninth and final Circle of Dante’s "Inferno": Treachery. Waiting for him are four of his partners, ready to mete out his fate, much like the giants guarding the entrance to said layer of Hell.

“This isn’t a trial,” Bert says resolutely. “The verdict has been reached.” His sentence? A few months off to regroup. And with Peggy taking charge (girl power!), Don must finally face the facts: He doesn’t get to make every decision in his life.

Giving up California -- his chance to redeem himself -- sent him plummeting to Hell, or at least his version of Hell. No wife (probably, since Megan left after Don disappointed her with the news they wouldn't go to California), no job (indefinitely). Now he’s stuck with his screwed-up kids (Megan’s words), a marred past and an arrest record. How I’d love to see that mug shot.

His sacrifice was the most selfless thing he’s done. Ever. Even helping Mitchell Rosen get out of Vietnam had ulterior motives, with disastrous consequences to his relationship with Sally. He only lost from letting Ted go in his place. 

This selflessness made us feel sympathy for him -- sympathy that was so starkly lacking this season. But we need to feel sorry for Don. Mostly because, dear God, how could you not? What an awful childhood Don had. And Betty was sniffling about Sally coming from a broken home. 

Side note: I hate the term “broken home.” Like Sally, I was a tween when my parents divorced. I’d rather see my parents split than feign interest in each other “for the kids,” like what Ted’s trying to do. Proof: Betty and Don are much better apart than together. 

The Peggy and Ted tryst was one I saw long coming but dreaded. When Ted brings his wife to the office, she shoots daggers at Peggy. Pegs then gets her revenge by sauntering into Ted’s office with a short, short hemline and low, low-cut top.

Let’s not forget her nonchalant, “Oh, you think this is for you? Ha, nope! I’m going on date -- in your face!” attitude. Girl sure does know how to bait them. Don’t forget the Chanel No. 5.

Later at Peggy’s dingy apartment, Ted is waiting for her to return from her failed date. “I don’t want anyone else to have you,” he confesses. She initially resists, but like every other crummy guy she’s fallen for, she gives in.

First he tells her that he’s leaving his wife for her, then he wants to run off to Hawaii with her (how fitting, considering that’s where Don started his descent in this season’s premiere).

But later that night, as he slinks into bed with his wife while drawing her into his arms, the guilt sinks in. He can’t do this to his family. He pleads Don to let him start new in California.

Don initially declines. “I don’t know what I brought out in you,” Ted says. “But I know there’s a good man in there.” This season, Peggy, Joan, Megan and Sally have all given up on Don. But for once, someone has faith in Don. A man he admires and envies.

Then Ted said something thoughtful and revealing: “Will you have a drink before the meeting? My father was — you can’t stop cold like that.”

It’s true: quitting cold turkey with seasoned alcoholics like Don can lead to seizures, comas or death. Don astutely takes his advice and pours himself a drink. Then when he sees his hand shaking, he realizes he really is out of control. The only way to gain that control and start new is by being brutally honest, just like Ted was with him.

Initially I was convinced that Don’s California concession was solely to help Peggy further her career without Ted hindering her. But seeing Ted’s desperate plea, his genuine concern for his health and belief that Don is a good guy makes me think that Don did this mostly for Ted.

Don’s chance to start fresh in California with Megan or himself isn’t going to happen, and he knows that. His traumatic childhood can’t be washed away with a swim in the Pacific or a trip to Disneyland.

Ted, on the other hand, has hope. No matter how much he loves Peggy, he decides his children are more important. Don’s never chosen his children over a mistress, and that’s ultimately what led to the demise of his relationship with Sally. The Don vs. Ted rivalry is fairly even-matched at the office. But Ted wins with in the family arena.

Don, at rock bottom, takes a hint from Ted and focuses on family. He comes clean and shows his kids his childhood home. A whorehouse. The more open he can be about his past, the more he can be at peace with himself. He’s started at the bottom before; Don can certainly climb his way out of the abyss. With this newfound sense of honesty, he might just find happiness at the end of the seventh and final season.

MORE HIGHTLIGHTS FROM "IN CARE OF":

BEST ROGER ONE-LINER: “It’s all fun and games until they shoot you in the face.” – Roger to Bob after feeling threatened seeing Bob bring Joan a gift for Kevin. Roger shouldn’t stress that Bob is moving in on Joan. That frilly apron he wore at Thanksgiving should have been a giveaway that it’s strictly platonic.

BEST ONE-LINER THAT ISN’T ROGER: “I’d tell you to go to Hell, but I don’t want to see you again.” – Uncle Mac

BEST MUSICAL CONTINUITY: At Thanksgiving at Joan’s place, “Moon River” plays in the background while she allows Roger to spend time with their illegitimate child. The song continues in Don’s office where Peggy’s wearing the pants (sartorial symbolism) and looking out to the skyline. At last, the two women are at peace with the world.

SADDEST ACCESSORY: Ken’s eye patch. Again. Hopefully he’s made a full recovery when we see him next time.

MOST DISCONCERTING STATE OF REBELLION: As much as I relish Sally’s eye-rolls and endless supply of sass, getting suspended and skipping court are taking the teenage angst too far. Even more troublesome is putting the fake ID in her mother’s name. Is that a hint that she’s doomed to follow in her mother’s footsteps?

CREEPIEST SOCIOPATH: Bob Benson. With all the Bob Benson conspiracy theories thrown around, I didn’t read one that hinted accessory to murder. Possibly as Charles Manson by way of killing Megan as Sharon Tate, yes. But as for Manny seducing then killing Pete’s mother in international waters and Bob turning a blind eye? Yikes. I did not see that one coming. Add Bob being in on the scheme to steal Pete’s mother’s money (or lack thereof) to the list of conspiracies.

MOST OVERBEARINGLY GROOVY LOGO: SC&P’s obnoxious ‘Austin Powers’ –esque font. Where’s Futura or Helvetica when you need them?

BIGGEST UNRESOLVED PLOTLINE: Ginsy’s mental state. Am I the only one who’s worried about this kid? I don’t want to see him institutionalized next season.

SOUNDEST INSIGHT: “She obviously needs more than I can give her.” – Betty about Sally. As hard as Betty says she’s tried -- and it looks like she really has tried this season -- her dysfunctional relationship with her daughter won’t improve by repeating her own mother’s parenting. The vicious cycle will continue, and she won’t be able to reach out to Sally aside from the occasional cigarette bond.

SADDEST INSIGHT: “I dreamt of being wanted.” – Don Draper

BEST LINE THAT SUMS UP DON DRAPER: “I used to feel pity for [your kids], but now I realize we’re all in the same boat.” – Megan tells Don, after pondering why they’re even fighting for their relationship anymore. I’ve been saying this the whole season, but they won’t last, no matter on which coast they reside. And hearing Don tell her he loves her didn’t sound convincing at all. My prediction: Megan will be in California rejuvenating her career and Don will find a way not to fester reinvent himself in New York.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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