This week on the season 5 finale of Mad Men, everyone confronts the reality of their dreams with differing results. For Don, the suicide of Lane throws him into a bit of a tailspin. Not only is there the guilt of Lane’s firing — only known to Don — but there’s also the phantom of his own brother’s suicide haunting him. In both cases, the desperate acts came on the heels of money and Don’s withdrawal, so it’s not surprising to see Adam come for a visit.
What is surprising is how little actually happens in the season 5 finale from a plot standpoint. But that’s Mad Men for you. The show always zigs just when you think it’ll zag. Last season, Don Draper announced his engagement to a barely seen secretary and the season before saw the gang leaving to start a rival agency. This season finale is nothing like the previous two, putting a premium on small moments instead of big game changers.
This season of Mad Men has been particularly gloomy and obsessed with the illusive concept of happiness. Was Don Draper really happy in his marriage to new wife Megan? Was he getting soft at work or just learning to relax? Would the changing times leave him behind? And what did it mean for the other members of SCDP, who have all had a rough time in their own ways this season? The finale doesn’t answer much, if any, of those questions. Instead, it’s more focused on the dreams these characters have and whether they would really be fulfilling.
We don’t get any answers because at its heart, Mad Men is a show about questions. Don Draper said it perfectly last week: “What is happiness but the moment before you need more happiness?” Matthew Weiner chooses to close out a season that was at turns shocking, traumatic and sometimes even maddening with a quiet finale. Maybe it only makes sense to end a run filled with prostitution, death and Zou Bisou Bisou with an LSD-tripping Roger and a classic Don Draper glance. Either way, I can’t wait to reunite with the mad men and women on Madison Avenue next season.
Eternal Sunshine of Beth’s Spotless Mind
Pete is having a tough time this week. If there was a theme for Pete this season, it might have been “face punching.” Most episodes either consisted of someone punching Pete in the face, or having the audience want to do the work themselves. This week, Pete is punched by not one, but two, separate people. I kept waiting for Pete to come home only to have Trudy punch him in the face.
Pete and Beth have one last hotel rendezvous together before Beth goes in for electroshock therapy. It turns out Beth is going through a “dark” period and electroshock is the only thing that helps. Pete is sure that if the two of them ran away together, it would help her. Pete has built up this whole magical romance between he and Rory Gilmore in his head that doesn’t at all exist in reality.
This comes crashing home when he goes to visit her in the hospital and she doesn’t remember him at all. He tells her instead of his “friend” that got involved with a married woman because he thought it would help him starve off aging, but it just makes him realize everything he has already isn’t right. There’s been a lot of noise about how Mad Men has been much more explicit with its themes this season than before. Whether this bothers you or not will probably have an effect on how you read the hospital scene with Pete, since essentially Pete is listing out his issues and then highlighting them for the audience. At least Pete shows some insight for the first time in a while.
Coming home on the train, Beth’s husband sits across from Pete and recommends they go out on the town. This is just too much for Pete, who reveals that he’s been having an affair with Beth. The ensuing fight is shortly followed by Pete insulting the train conductor, who then punches him in the face. At home, Trudy finally agrees to let him have an apartment in the city, but it’s a hollow victory for Pete.
Don is trying to stoic his way out of dealing with his toothache, which is getting increasingly worse. He’s also dealing with having visions of his dead brother, Adam. When he goes to the dentist, the gas makes him hallucinate Adam, which has to make this the most druggy season of Mad Men ever. The 1970’s, here we come!
Speaking of druggy, Roger is back on the LSD train. I mean, I guess technically Roger never really left the LSD train, since he basically hasn’t stopped talking about it since his marriage-ending experience. He calls up Megan’s mother for a little “dinner and conversation.” Because this is Roger Sterling, it involves neither dinner nor conversation, but she’s not into his idea of being his LSD support system. So he takes the drug on his own and stands naked in front of a window in the closing montage of the show. In an episode full of quiet moments and sober musings on happiness and life, Roger as usual lightens up the mood with drug-induced nudity.
Expansion is on the horizon, as Joan and the partners eye the upstairs office for SCDP. It appears that, thanks to good accounts and a generous death insurance policy from Lane, the company is doing better than ever before. As the episode closes, they draw a red X on the spot they hope to put a staircase connecting the two floors. SCDP once wanted companies to think they owned the upstairs, and now they actually do. But like with most things that seem perfect on the surface, this expansion comes at a terrible price.
SCDP isn’t the only one on the cusp of redefining their company. We finally get to see Peggy again, and what a welcome sight she is. She seems to be a bit adrift without the guiding hand and opinion of Don Draper. She’s about to develop copy for a “lady cigarette” and seems to be a bit thrown by how much responsibility she’s being given. With hindsight, we know she’s about to work on Virginia Slims. You’ve come a long way, baby.
At a movie theater, she bumps into Don and they have a lovely scene where Don tells her he’s proud of her. He says he expected great things from her; he just expected to be there when they happened. Scenes with Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm are always magic, and this one is no different. I hope the show reunites them again soon next season.
Meanwhile, Megan is having terrible luck with her career. She’s made a reel but is getting zero traction from it. Her mom slips up once, saying that the reel company is taking advantage of “hopeless people.” Later, she confirms this opinion, telling Megan she’s “chasing a phantom,” pretty much the definition of everyone on this show.
Megan steals her friend’s idea and asks Don for a part in a commercial handled by one of their clients. He initially refuses, telling her she doesn’t want to get the part that way. Megan reacts badly, moping around the house and getting completely flat-on-her-face drunk. Watching her demo reel, Don seems to have a change of heart and gets her the commercial.
As the episode ends, Don walks away from Megan’s commercial shoot in a dramatic, almost action-hero fashion. To underscore this, the music playing is Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” from a classic James Bond film. And indeed, Don Draper has lived twice. He’s the master of reinvention, after all. A woman comes up to him in the bar and asks if he’s with anyone. He doesn’t answer, just glancing over with typical Don Draper smolder.
What does this mean? We’ll have to wait until next season to find out. Until then, what did you think of the season finale of Mad Men? Were you disappointed it wasn’t more plot focused or did you like the quieter finale? Sound off in the comments.
(Image courtesy of AMC)
Tune In to Mad Men on the BuddyTV Guide App and chat with other fans about the episode, and you can also share your thoughts on the episode directly to Facebook and Twitter.