Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Thirteen, "In Care Of..."
This was probably the best season finale Mad Men has ever produced. And this season needed it. I'd pretty much given up hope for Don, yet he--and the series with him--were profoundly redeemed and I'm hoping it sticks for him this time. The ending of "In Care Of" strikes me as an inverted image of the end of the first season's finale. In that episode--which also happened right before Thanksgiving--Don had just given the brilliant ad pitch to Kodak for their Wheel, which he renamed "Carousel." While his family life was in disarray, he presented nostalgic photo images suggesting they were happy and perfectly suited. After it was over, he slogged home to an empty house--Betty having taken the kids to her father's for the holiday without Don--and we last see him sitting on the stairs, alone. In this episode--five seasons and about eight years later--Don starts out giving a pitch to Hershey's that is full of nostalgia and a false image of his childhood. In a far-away voice, he tells a lovely story of his boyhood and his father buying him Hershey's chocolate bars. "His love and the chocolate were tied together," Don lies. The candy is "the childhood symbol of love." The men from Hershey's like this sentimental evocation of their candy's power and seem to be considering advertising for the first time. But then Don looks over at Ted Chaough, who had just confessed to Don his need and desire to start over with his family--for his kids. And, who had mentioned his father's alcoholism to Don when he told Don he knew he couldn't just stop cold turkey. Here's Don's partner, wanting to start afresh and be a better father than his was. And there's Don, bullshitting about his own father, his family life in disarray again as his daughter continually rejects him. Don glances down at his hands that start to shake and--tells the truth. Which is also a touching story. He tells all of them sitting at the table--three of his partners and the candy execs--that he was an orphan raised in a whore house; that he was unwanted and unloved; that the closest he got to feeling wanted was when one of the "girls" let him go through her johns' pockets while she was with them and root out the change; and, that Hershey's candy bars made him feel "like a normal kid...It was the only sweet thing in my life." "You want us to advertise that?" one of the men says. With that, Don Draper's career at the newly-named Sterling Cooper & Partners is likely over and he is given the same chance to start anew that he granted Ted. (I wonder if Ted's absence at the Thanksgiving meeting signified that he felt differently than his partners about giving Don this "sabbatical." Did he vote yes on Don's forced time to "regroup" because he wanted to help Don also be free to get in touch with the "good man" Ted told him he knows is there? I'd like to think so.) Unlike the first season's Thanksgiving, Don doesn't spend this one alone. He's with his children. And begins their day with some truth-telling to them too with a visit back to where so much of his emotional damage occurred. He's taken the steps to move out of Dante's Inferno and into Purgatorio, the place to work through and off his sins.
In the post I wrote after the season premiere, I wondered who Don's Beatrice might be, if indeed the writers did intend--with the image of him reading "Inferno"--to start him on this pilgrimage. With Sally's look to Don at the very end, I'm wondering if it might be her. Correct me if I'm wrong and forgetting another instance of this, but I think that she might be the first person on the show to term anyone's behavior "immoral": "I wouldn't want to do anything immoral," she pointedly tells Don when he lets her know she's been subpoenaed in connection with the burglar case. He clearly takes that to heart since the next shot is of him in a bar, looking disturbed. The Jesus peddler comes in and triggers Don's memories of a travelling preacher who came to the whore house when he was a teen. Don has good cause to be wary of rigid moralizers. His step-mother was one and she made his life a living hell. Her kind of self-righteous moralizing is dangerous and damaging to others (like the young child she was raising) and is self-deceptive. Mrs. Whitman was a horrible, hateful woman--not a virtuous one. Yet, if Don's reasonable rejection of his step-mother's brand of piety and morals then leads him also to reject any other consideration of morality and a worthwhile basis on which to build a moral system, he is truly lost. To me, his behavior that we have witnessed for six seasons is so often immoral, not because it breaches a biblical or otherwise religious code, but because it hurts so many people--and hurts Don himself. At various points in the series, he recognizes that--as someone who was so hurt as a child--he wants not to hurt others: he tells Betty that he won't hit Bobby because he knew what it was like to be hit by his father; he won't participate in the prostitution of Joan and tries to talk her out of it because he knows how hurtful prostitution is--not because some religions rail against it but because it dehumanizes people. He shines in these moments, but in too many other moments settles into the patterns of behavior he observed and experienced while growing up--cruelty and the use of others for his own satisfaction and to help him closet off his demons. The brothel-visiting preacher was onto something when he told young Dick that "the only unpardonable sin is to believe god cannot forgive you." Don does seem to have always believed that he's unforgiveable. If he can find his way to forgive and accept himself, he might be able to pull himself up that mountain that Dante imagines in "Purgatorio."
I like the way this episode focused on fathers and each of the featured male characters' desire to repair the connections with their children rather than just focus on their sex lives. Don, Ted, Roger, and Pete are all shown to have regrets about their estrangement from their children. The images of Pete--who's never seemed to care anything for his daughter--tenderly stroking the sleeping Tammy's hair, seeming regretful as he's about to leave her to move clear across the country, and of Roger placing his hat on Kevin's head after accepting that Joan has "invited" her into Kevin's life, not her own, were touching. It will be interesting to see where they go next season. Ted Chaough proved to be the basically good guy I thought he likely was and that Peggy kept arguing was there too. I felt for both Ted and Peggy for the difficult bind they're in, but think Ted made the right choice. He seems to know himself so much better than Don when he tells Peggy, "I wanted this so much, but I have a family....I have to hold on to them or I'll get lost in the chaos." Peggy is understandably hurt and throws back at him, "Well, aren't you lucky. To have decisions." But, Peggy too has decisions. When Ted first told her he was going to leave his wife, she said, "Don't say that. I'm not that girl." But, she then started on the path to be "that girl." Saying 'no' to their feelings for each other is incredibly difficult, but Peggy, too, can make the decision to move on. She seems to start that process when she sits down in Don's chair and looks thoughtfully out the window. Too many talented and ambitious women in that period were made to choose between a career and marriage. Not enough men were willing to have a career woman for a wife. That's sad, but I hope she'll see herself as someone with decisions to make. Her future, too, is an open book for next season.
Megan is also an open question. She wonders why she's still fighting for their marriage. Is her walkling out of the apartment the sign that their marriage is over? It probably should be, but another thing to wonder about for next season.
Finally--the firm. I wonder what Joan thought about suspending Don--with no return date. Cutler and Sterling were standing near Cooper's chair; Joan was off to the side. What, if anything, does the tableau signify? And why did Duck show up? The new logo was the first thing highlighted in this episode--on the door and on the loud, orange coffee cups. It and the new name seem made for almost all the partners, but Don and Joan. SC & P can encompass Sterling, Cooper, Campbell, Cutler, and Chaough. No Draper, the man who reveals his undesirable low-class origins in a whore house. No Harris, the woman the male partners made behave like a whore to get her partnership. Most of the men at the company have no scruples about visiting and using prostitutes. But, I can't help but think that their suspension of Don at the end comes not just from his lapses and unacceptable behavior at the Hershey meeting, but also because these blue-blooded men can't abide the thought of partnership with a man who came from such a "sordid" background. I now really am looking forward to Season Seven.