1. California here someone comes! Having survived 1968 — the year when Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, and the Vietnam War became a nightmare — somebody from Sterling Cooper & Partners will be moving to Los Angeles to work on the Sunkist account.
Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) would like it to be him. Don (Jon Hamm) explains that it would be a demotion, and that L.A. is like “Detroit with palm trees.” (HEY!) “If you fail there, you’ll be out of advertising, because no one takes it seriously,” he says. Stan is insistent — he says it would be like building his own agency, and he would be a frontiersman. Don and everyone on Mad Men have been through a lot this season, and there’s been an atmosphere of dread and menace surrounding pretty much everything. As this finale episode, called “In Care Of,” unfolds, several characters will be looking to escape and start over, but as Jimi Hendrix wailed in “All Along the Watchtower” in 1968, they can’t get no relief.
2. Roger’s son-in-law is asking Roger for money for his business. Roger’s daughter, Margaret, is annoyed at Roger for not giving it over immediately. Roger is out of sorts and alone these days.
From left: Elizabeth Rice, Derek Ray, John Slattery.
3. It’s the morning, but Don is drinking already.
4. Ken and Jim come into his office to say that Hershey’s is seeking an ad agency. Don is skeptical: “They don’t advertise. They never have.”
Jim (Harry Hamlin) asks Don to try, and to take the lead. “I love Hershey’s,” Don says. He says it in a way that seems more meaningful than it should be. Also, I laugh every time we see Ken (Aaron Staton) with his eyepatch. This episode (directed by the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner) has a tonnage of pathos — but is also quite funny. The same can be said for all of Season 6.
5. Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) is back from Detroit, and is planning to move there to work on the Chevy account.
6. Bob (James Wolk) is back from Detroit too. And he’s brought Joan (Christina Hendricks) a toy car to give to little Kevin.
Roger, who is Kevin’s unacknowledged father, acts weird about the gift.
7. “You know what they say about Detroit: It’s all fun and games until someone shoots you in the face,” he says to Bob.
Joan and Bob are confused. Roger looks fretful as he walks away.
8. Don is drinking before dinner, which doesn’t thrill Megan (Jessica Paré).
9. She tells Don that Sally is supposed to speak with the DA’s office about the burglar who broke into their apartment. (Another discomfiting bit of Season 6.)
What Megan doesn’t know is that Sally is furious at Don, because she walked in while he and Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini) were having sex. Don tells Megan that he’ll talk to Sally at Thanksgiving; Megan reminds him that Miss Porter’s doesn’t have Thanksgiving vacation, so they have the boys only. “I read the letter,” she says. “Next step’s a subpoena.” He says he’ll call Sally.
10. Annoyed, Roger calls Bob into his office — Bob comes in two seconds later, annoying him even more. Roger says: “What are you doing, buying presents for that kid, leading that woman on? That’s another man’s kid. Do you know that?”
Roger tells him that he knows Chevy is expecting Bob to be a family man, and that playing with Joan’s feelings isn’t the way to go about it. Bob says he’s right. “Dammit, Bob, I’d better not be! I’m keeping an eye on you.” Slattery, always great as Roger, does a lot in this episode, unearthing the sad layers of Roger’s shouty, alcoholic, good-time-guy.
11. Don calls Sally (Kiernan Shipka) at school.
He tells her she has to make a statement about the burglar. “My calendar’s full,” she says. He tells her she has to do it, that it’s the law. “Well, I wouldn’t want to do anything immoral,” she says. Sally hangs up on him.
12. Jim comes into Ted’s office asking him to take care of the Royal Hawaiian account because they can’t find Don. “Again!” Ted says, exasperated. Where is Don? Don is in a bar.
13. A man doing missionary work tries to talk to Don, who is getting determinedly, angrily drunk.
14. Don has a flashback to his childhood in the whorehouse when another missionary type got thrown out.
15. As the man gets tossed out, Dick (Don) follows him to the porch. He says to little Dick, “The only unpardonable sin is to believe God cannot forgive you.”
16. Don wakes up in the drunk tank. “I shouldn’t be in here!” he yells out. “You’re right,” a voice answers. “You punched a minister, you should be in Rikers.”
17. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) runs into Ted (Kevin Rahm) and his wife and kids at the office. She feels terrible.
18. Pete gets a telegram saying his mother has been lost at sea. “She fell off a ship!” yells his secretary.
19. Deepest condolences!
This whole telegram is amazing.
20. Don is at home, pouring out liquor in his kitchen. Megan walks in.
He tells her he was in jail. Megan: “Why are you laughing?” Don: “Because I realized it’s gotten out of control. I’ve gotten out of control.”
21. He tells her he wants to move to California. “I just can’t be in New York anymore.” Megan is excited about her professional possibilities. “Small team, desk, sunlight, the ocean,” he says about what he wants for himself.
Don is stealing Stan’s idea, and his language: “We’d be homesteaders.”
22. Don thinks the kids would like spending summers there: “We were happy there. We could be happy again.” He has tears in his eyes. Megan bursts into tears.
This scene features both actors’ best work of the (strong) season. Jon Hamm has never looked worse on Mad Men than he does here, and he uses this glimpse of actual decrepitude to great effect. Don is sinking, but he wants to live, and wants to be happy. It’s a beautiful scene, and I love how Weiner frames it so there is light near them, but not on them.
23. Don tells the partners his decision. Everyone seems OK with it for their own reasons.
(It occurs to me that Mad Men is at its most earnest when it shows someone from the back.)
24. Stan, however, is furious.
And he is right to be.
25. Pete finds out his mother married her nurse, Manolo, whom Bob had recommended.
26. Pete heads to the elevator to find Bob — and because they’re about to go to Detroit together. Bob cheerily asks how Pete is, and Pete delivers the most quoted line of the season.
Bob swears he knows nothing about Manolo’s murder scam.
27. Peggy dresses up and flaunts it in front of Ted.
“Vixen by night,” says Harry, in what I’m pretty sure is Rich Sommer’s only line in the finale.
28. Pete and Bob are in Detroit. Bob manipulates the situation so that Pete, who doesn’t drive stick, is peer-pressured into “testing” a Camaro. He drives into the GM sign, humiliating himself in front of the Chevy guys.
This is the end of Pete and Detroit.
29. Peggy comes home. Ted is waiting for her. He tells her, “I don’t want anyone else to have you!”
31. Betty (January Jones) calls Don to tell him that Sally has been suspended for buying beer with a fake ID with the name “Beth Francis.”
She asks Don to pick Sally up; he says he can’t. “The good is not beating the bad!” she tells Don, lamenting Sally’s bumpy adolescence. He turns sympathetic: “Birdy, this isn’t your fault.” Don agrees to go get Sally. Megan, who has heard this whole exchange, tries to comfort Don.
32. Ted and Peggy lie in bed. They’re happy. “I don’t want to sneak around,” he tells her. “I promise we won’t have to.” She says: “I don’t want a scandal. I can wait.”
She sends him home.
33. Ted goes home to his wife, who thinks he was working, and he feels terrible.
34. Roger’s secretary tells Joan that Roger seems “forlorn.” She says she’d invite him to her Thanksgiving, but — and here is the true best line of the season — “Ralph’s stopped drinking, and you know little Ralphie’s spastic.”
35. Ted goes to talk to Don. He wants to go to California. Ted tells Don he needs to start over — with his family. “It’s my only chance, Don. I’ve got kids. I can’t throw this away.” And then: “I need you to help me put 3,000 miles between me and her or my life is over.”
“I need it too,” Don says. He tells Ted it’s too late, and that Megan is being written off her show.
36. As Ted walks out, he tells Don to have a drink before the Hershey’s meeting, because you can’t just stop.
37. Don does that.
38. Pitching Hershey’s, Don tells a whole lie about his father giving him a Hershey’s bar as a reward for mowing the lawn, and tousling his hair. “That’s the story we’re going to tell: Hershey’s is the currency of affection.”
It goes over OK. “Weren’t you a lucky little boy?” one of the Hershey’s guys says to Don.
39. He looks at his shaking hands.
40. Don interrupts the shmoozing, and tells them all the truth: He was an orphan, and he grew up in a whorehouse in Pennsylvania.
He read about Milton Hershey and about his school for orphans. “I dreamt of it — of being wanted.” Looking at no one, he tells them that one of the prostitutes would give him a Hershey bar if he stole more than a dollar from her johns. “I would eat it — alone — in my room. With great ceremony. Feeling like a normal kid.” He finishes: “It was the only sweet thing in my life.” Again: Jon Hamm is wonderful here in a scene the entire show has built to — Don/Dick beginning to tell the truth about his life.
41. “If I had my way, you would never advertise,” Don tells the Hershey’s reps. “You shouldn’t have someone like me telling that boy what a Hershey bar is — he already knows.”
42. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.
43. Don tells Ted that Ted should go to California. “Are you sure?” Ted asks. “I want you to,” Don says.
44. Roger: “You know you shit the bed in there.” Don: “I don’t care.” Roger: “Was any of that true?” Don: “Yes.”
45. Pete and his brother are on the phone with the cruise line trying to deal with the disaster with their mother. “It’s 1968! Surely you’re not telling me there’s still some international oceanic limbo where murder is smiled upon!” Pete shouts.
Manolo, the husband/nurse is on the run. Pete and his brother decide they’re too cheap to hire a detective to keep trying to find her body/Manolo. “She loved the sea,” says Pete.
46. Ted tells Peggy that he’s going to California with his family and leaving her. “I love you that deeply — I can’t be around you,” he says. And: “Someday you’ll be happy I made this decision.” “Well, aren’t you lucky,” she spits at him, “to have decisions.”
Here, Moss goes from being angry at Ted for thinking he had already confessed to his wife, to being annoyed at Don because she thinks he’s sending Ted to California because he didn’t really want to go himself. By the end, she’s devastated, and tries to mask it as anger — but it’s at a different calibration from the beginning of the scene, when she thinks she’s about to begin a life with Ted. So good.
47. Don tells Megan they’re not going to California. She is furious. “You want to be alone. With your liquor and your ex-wife and your screwed-up kids.”
“I used to feel pity for them, but now I realize we’re all in the same boat,” she says. Don tells her they’ll be “bicoastal.” She walks out. This scene is the inverse of the earlier one, obviously, which ends with the two of them coming together. Megan means to move to Los Angeles, with or without him.
48. Pete goes over to his old house — he’s giving Trudy some of his mother’s things. She tells him he’s free of everyone; he says he didn’t mean for it to happen this way.
49. Don arrives at an emergency partners’ meeting on Thanksgiving morning. Roger tells him they think it’s best that Don takes time off. They won’t give him a return date.
50. “Try and see it from our side,” Roger says. Don runs into his possible replacement, Lou Avery, at the elevator — with Duck, who is a headhunter.
51. “Going down?” Lou Avery asks Don.
He certainly is.
52. Roger goes to Joan’s for Thanksgiving. Bob is there too. “I’m inviting you into Kevin’s life. Not mine,” Joan says.
53. Peggy seems to have taken over Don’s office. She sits at his desk. This imagery is a little on the nose!
54. Don takes his kids to the whorehouse, and tells them this is where he grew up.
55. Never nice, it’s now a shithole.
56. A little black boy stands where a young Don stood earlier in the episode.
I imagine we’re meant to extrapolate that the neighborhood has gone from being poor and white to poor and black — a meaningful distinction in the late ’60s.
58. The song playing during this ending is “Both Sides, Now” by Joni Mitchell (sung by Judy Collins), the conclusion of which is “It’s life’s illusions I recall / I really don’t know life at all.”
But what if Don is shedding illusions, and trying to move toward something real as Mad Men comes to a close? It’s one possible ending for him. We will see!