The sixth season of AMC‘s “Mad Men” came to a close Sunday night, wrapping up what has been arguably its most divisive season yet. As usual the highlights were in no short supply — the mini-movie meditation “The Doorway,” the amphetamine-fueled “The Crash,” Don and Betty’s temporary reunion in “The Better Half” and the final moments of “In Care Of” just to name a few — but despite great episodes for whatever reason this season never seemed to coalesce as well as in previous years. Throughout much of the season, it was unclear if the narrative deja vu was a flaw in the writing or sort of the point of the story being told. And coming off a phenomenal season five, you couldn’t help but feel that maybe season six just couldn’t reach the highs of last year’s paradigm-busting episodes. Ironically, the turning point for many this season came midway through when Don and Ted make a pact to merge Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler, Gleason and Chaough.
While the events to unfold in the wake of merger have made for great drama, it was for me, one of the rare false notes for the show. On another series, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the show bending over backwards to bring a central character back into the fold (in this case, Peggy) but “Mad Men” is one of the few shows that isn’t afraid blow up TV norms. In previous years, leaving the company meant forgoing a starring role on the show (bye Sal, Kinsey, etc.). The Peggy/Don relationship may have been the core of “Mad Men,” but I for one, was prepared to forfeit that relationship for Peggy’s arc to remain intact. Rather than feeling exhilarating (like when SCDP was formed under similarly improvised circumstances back in season three), this merger seemed to just flip the “undo” switch on Peggy’s growth away from Don.
The finale “In Care Of” — like the season itself — was full of huge game-changing moments but felt at times rushed and its odd rhythms kept some of those moments from landing. Don’s inappropriate admission of his actual history in the Hershey meeting is probably the biggest moment for his character in the entire history of the show but just didn’t hit with the emotional gut-punch that it needed to. While the final moments of the episode (set to Judy Collins‘ “Both Sides Now“) still brought things to a satisfying close, many huge developments that would’ve been mind blowing in their own right felt a little crammed arriving back-to-back in just 47 minutes. Ted and Pete are heading out to open a satellite office in Los Angeles which leaves Peggy is temporarily in charge of creative. Don is suspended from the agency he founded after a year of erratic and irresponsible behavior which also culminated in Megan walking out on him and also likely headed for the West Coast.
“Mad Men” mastermind creator/showrunner Matthew Weiner (who also directed the finale) spoke to various outlets about season six and though he remained tight-lipped about what lies ahead in the seventh and final season, he did manage to shed some light on a few mysteries.
Is Don Fired?
One of the scenes from the finale that did manage to land with the necessary punch was Don Draper (Jon Hamm) being forced to take leave from his company and frankly, it’s because the show has been building to this all season. Don’s been reckless at work and after merging the two companies he’s even more of a liability. So will this be the end of Don at SC&P? Weiner told the NYTimes, “No. I think his job is what it is. It’s a leave of absence. It looks bad. But there has to be some punishment for the way he behaved. Firing their most important client, forcing them into a merger and then waging war on his partner, and the destructive swath that he cut through the agency, killing the public offering and everything else, that cannot go without punishment. The Hershey’s meeting has little do with it. You have to be way, way more intrinsic than Don was this season to get away with that kind of stuff.”
As for Don’s campaigns this year, some wondered if his unintentionally morbid concepts meant he was losing his edge, but Weiner waved off these interpretations telling Hitfix, “I don’t want people to think Don is off his game. The clients are a little behind. I don’t think there should be any doubt that he is at the height of his abilities.”
Is Don’s Marriage To Megan Over?
Much of the first half of the season focused on Don’s affair with married neighbor Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) which many assumed would eventually be discovered by Megan (Jessica Pare) and likely bring about the end of that marriage. While Don was found out (by poor Sally), it looked like Megan had still reached her breaking point with her increasingly distant husband. So does Megan walking out (and bound for L.A.) mean they’re done for good? Weiner told the NYTimes not to completely count them out just yet.
“His marriage to Megan, you’ll have to wait and see where that ends. I loved her showing some backbone and I loved her realization that he is the problem,” he said. “When he went to California and was on hashish, you saw his fantasy version of her, which was her pregnant and tolerant of his philandering, and quitting her job. He’s beyond old-fashioned. What he proposes to her in the finale and when he reneges on that, even though we know it’s for more noble reasons that she thinks, I was glad to see her not just roll over and take that. I don’t know how much hope there is for their relationship, but I would not take that as a definitive ending.”
Is Peggy On Track To Become The Next Don?
After quitting SCDP last year we saw Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) blossoming early this season as lead copywriter at Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. Unfortunately for her character the merger saw her back under Don’s thumb and caught in a war between her two rival CD’s. But in the final moments, with both of them now out of the office, Peggy finds herself as the de facto lead creative. Does this mean we could see Peggy Olson: Creative Director next season? Moss told Vulture about her character’s unexpected position at the end of the episode, “You know, she’s sitting behind Don’s desk in his office — there’s literally nothing I can say about it without being more obvious!”
With Ted, Pete & Megan All Heading To L.A. What Does That Mean For Their Roles On The Show?
Big changes are on the horizon for the final season of the show with the finale sending several of the show’s central characters on their way to Los Angeles. But those worried that the N.Y./L.A. divide means they won’t be seeing Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) or Megan next season shouldn’t be too concerned. Weiner told Vulture, “No matter whether they’re in California or not, these characters are part of our story”
and reassured The Daily Beast, “I have not cut anybody loose. I really haven’t. I am interested in this world and I think that it’s a really, really fertile ground with great actors and great opportunities for the writers and directors, so we’re going to keep things where they are.” Cut to: Ted putting on his shades.
What About Bob Benson?
One of this season’s most fascinating and enigmatic new character’s was undoubtedly Bob Benson (James Wolk). Fans spent weeks putting forward various wild theories about what he might really be up to only to find out he was, like Don Draper, another man hiding from his past. While it seems that Bob’s storyline may have been concluded after he gets the better of Pete in the finale (and Wolk is committed to a CBS sitcom next season) Weiner told Hitfix, “I would say that the little thought I’ve given it, I don’t think his story is over.” Weiner also told the NYTimes he’d like to see Bob back on the show next season. “I would not say that we’ll never see Bob again. We only have one season of the show and I have a lot of people to juggle. But I would love to work with James [Wolk] again. He was fantastic.”
Wait, Did Manolo Really Murder Pete’s Mother?
Certainly one of the stranger story threads from the finale was the news that Pete’s mother had been lost at sea after falling off a cruise ship where she was vacationing with her caretaker (and husband?) Manolo. Pete suspects that she had been pushed by Manolo and confronts Bob (who first recommended the caretaker to Pete) about this. Is it possible that Pete’s right about Manolo murdering his mother? Apparently so. Weiner told The Daily Beast, “It doesn’t look good. I would say that she was [murdered by Manolo], yes.” While the development itself seemed a little soapy (or perhaps just rushed), it was worth it for the scene when Trudy (Alison Brie) sends Pete off finally free of his family ties, even if it wasn’t the way he wanted it.
Whatever Happened To Avon?
Earlier in the season, Joan (Christina Hendricks) risked her partnership by attempting to land Avon herself rather than be pushed off to the sidelines by Pete. While her meeting seemed to go well the show never exactly followed through on that storyline. Weiner told Hitfix that Joan’s pitch “succeeded” and he had “assumed it would be understood.” Perhaps the lack of repercussions or her inclusion at the final partner’s meeting that put Don on notice should’ve made it more clear but it would’ve been nice to see Joan get recognized. We’ll just have to imagine it happened off-screen during the several weeks that take place between each episode.
In any case, let’s raise a glass for Joan.
Does Matt Weiner Know What’s In Store For The Final Season?
Every season of “Mad Men” has managed to blow up the show we thought we knew and set the stage for the season to come. So does Weiner know what the ending of the show will be yet? “I will tell you one thing: we did not save anything. I have an image for the very ending of the series, and I won’t say whether it’s related to any of this, because why would I?” he teased to Hitfix. “My feeling was, we started off the season saying the world is in revolution, the world is in an identity crisis, similar to Don, Don is back to a place where he was maybe even before we met him. We wanted to get him to a place where he would be forced to acknowledge his behavior, and to do something a lot of us never get to do, which is to look in the mirror and admit that he is the problem, and maybe come clean a little bit. For me, the season was about learning more about him. We have 78 episodes of the show now, and I always want the finale to leave people with a feeling — not a cliffhanger feeling, but a feeling of the completion of the story of that season, and maybe the show.”
1968 was an incredibly turbulent year and that was reflected during these episodes. Can we expect the final season to take us through the end of the decade with Don on the path for redemption? “We painted ourselves into a corner but I always want the season finale to feel like the end of the show,” Weiner told EW. “So, can Don redeem himself? I’m not going to say if that’s even an issue. But I hope people feel a sense of joy or hope at that last moment because that’s what the season was working toward. And I’m not kidding: That event in itself, just looking in the mirror and saying that is a big deal for that guy. And for any of us… I live with each season as it is.” As for viewers who might be expecting that final image to recall the show’s opening of a figure taking a plunge out of the window of a Madison Avenue high rise, Weiner says don’t count on it. “[That] never occurred to me,” he told The Wrap. “That jump out the window was always meant to be symbolic and internal. I never meant it literally. I think it’s fascinating, though—I think people think it would be cool. But it hasn’t been an option. And now that we’ve had this conversation, I really can’t do it.”
Seventy-eight episodes in and “Mad Men” is still in a class by itself. Not many shows can manage to be both so purely pleasurable and still inspire you to read countless recaps, analysis and theories on a weekly basis. If you haven’t already given them a look, you should definitely check out the stellar episode recaps from The AV Club, Vulture and Grantland, which offered thorough weekly insight, as well as AMC’s own weekly behind-the-scenes video featuring Weiner and the cast discussing the themes behind each week’s episode. After the season premiere we wrote, “Not many shows have been able to maintain this kind of quality and consistency this far into their run. Even hall-of-famers “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” started
to falter a bit by season 5…” So while this season may have felt like the occasional wheel-spinning, it still contained
undoubtedly some of the finest hours of television produced this year. With just one season left to go, we don’t doubt that Weiner and co. are going to do everything they can to make it count.