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Posted at 09:22 AM ET, 06/11/2012

‘Mad Men’: This is where we leave them


The perpetually happy-go-lucky Don Draper. (Michael Yarish - AMC)

“You are chasing a phantom.” — Marie Calvet to her daughter, Megan Draper

Mad Men” finales have traditionally dropped a bombshell or two: an unexpected marriage proposal, a pregnancy reveal or a sudden birth, either of a newly promoted copywriter’s child or a new agency.

The season five finale offered none of that. After the recent, very different departures of Peggy and Lane Pryce, it seemed the show had no twists or glaring watercooler moments left in it right now.

It was just an hour called “The Phantom,” in which everyone continued chasing the phantoms, to borrow Marie Calvet’s words, that have eluded them all season long. Or, to put this in the terms Don Draper himself used last week, “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

After two excellent back-to-back episodes, “Mad Men’s” season-five finale felt like a moment in which we, the viewers, very much needed more happiness.

More “Mad Men”:

“Mad Men” recap: Episode 12

“Mad Men” recap: Episode 11

Interview with Aaron Staton, aka Ken Cosgrove

Hank Stuever’s review of “Mad Men” premiere

More recaps from “Mad Men’s” fifth season

Instead, what we got was further evidence that most of the key characters in the “Mad Men” universe remain profoundly unfulfilled people. We were also left with a number of questions that remain frustratingly unanswered. What’s going to happen with the Dow account and Ken Cosgrove’s father-in-law? Does Betty Francis need to be a character on this show since she wasn’t mentioned in the finale and barely appeared this season, other than to remind us that she’s gained weight but remains the vindictive woman we all know and love? Is Joan’s mother going to stop living with her now that Joan’s a partner and can afford to hire help that doesn’t nag her so much? What’s the deal with Ginsberg’s dad, or for that matter, Ginsberg in general?

We won’t know anytime soon. For now, this is where we leave a few key “Mad Men” characters, at least until season six begins, which hopefully will happen sometime before 2014.

Peggy Olson


(Michael Yarish)
I worried that we might not see Peggy at all in the finale, but there she was at Cutler, Gleason &Chaough, wearing power-red in her own office while barking out suggestions to a posse of junior copywriters. Ted Chaough assigned her something big: a campaign for Philip Morris’s “top secret ” lady cigarette. Like Don, he gave her no feedback. But he gave her no feedback, it seems, because he trusts her. “You’re a woman who smokes,” he told Peggy. “What do you want?” He even put her on a plane to Virginia so she could tour a tobacco factory and, based on the last Peggy scene we saw, briefly watch dogs humping in a hotel parking lot. Peggy was alone but, as master of her own destiny, she finally seemed content.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was clearly at a bit of a loss without her, too. The Topaz guys weren’t happy with the campaign that the genius Ginsberg came up with, and made it clear why: “You should get a girl’s opinion. I used to take that as a given around here,” one of them said. And then I was all, “Hooray, Topaz guy!” until he immediately followed that up by tactlessly referring to Dawn as “black coffee.” (Hey, remember when it seemed like “Mad Men” might deal with race this season? Yeah, that didn’t really pan out, did it?)

“I’m proud of you,” Don told Peggy when they spontaneously met at the movie house, while acknowledging, selfishly, that he wished he had some part in her new success. He forfeited that chance, though, because he never asked the simple question that Ted Chaough posed so casually: “What do you want?”

“Keep me on your call list,” Peggy told her former mentor. We suspect he will.

Joan Harris


(Jordin Althaus/AMC)
We cut directly from Peggy Olson, red power-suit wearer, to Joan Harris, the partner in royal blue making financial projections for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and demonstrating that she’s the only one concerned about how much they spend on new office space. That office space — one that gives Pete a view “just like Don’s,” he happily noted — is expensive. But it will take them all away from the place where Lane Pryce took his own life. And apparently that’s what they need. No one at SCDP wants to be reminded that their business has its own mortality rate.

Speaking of which, Joan remained raw after Lane’s death and believed her dismissal of the Brit may have led to his death. A little unsolicited advice, Joan: your oozing sexuality cannot and should not be expected to solve every problem this company has. More on that issue when we talk about Don momentarily.

Roger Sterling

Roger’s arc this season can be described as this: take LSD, divorce his second wife, then take more LSD. Oh, and seduce Megan’s mother. Given his responsibility for fathering Joan’s son, that’s a pretty limited narrative. But since it led to him uttering the following phrase — “What’s a Re-gi-na?” — I feel it all paid off rather handsomely.

Pete Campbell


(Michael Yarish)
Oh, Pete. Pete, Pete, Pete.

He got a bloody nose in the first episode of the season, “A Little Kiss.” Then he got punched in the face by the now-late Lane Pryce in “Signal 30” and wound up with his second bloody nose. Last night, he made it a trifecta by taking a punch from Howard Dawes that resulted in a bloody lip. He screamed at Howard for cheating on Beth, which prompted the skirmish. But really, Pete was screaming at himself for doing the same thing to Trudy.

And I was screaming at my TV because, for the life of me, I don’t get this whole Beth-Pete thing. Why would she randomly call him and insist that they have one last affair before she got electroshock therapy? She wanted nothing to do with him for weeks — months, really, within “Mad Men’s” timeline — and now he’s her one and only phone call before getting her mind erased? I’m not even sure what she sees in the guy. Hmmm. Maybe it’s the fact that, as he told that New Haven transit official, he’s the “president of the Howdy Doody Circus Army,” which is indeed a powerful position and a magnet for the ladies.

Anyway, it seemed to me that their whole encounter took place just to give Pete an excuse to make the moving and flagrantly “this explains the season’s themes” speech about how he had an affair because ”he needed to feel like he knew something, that all this aging was worth something.” Whatever the reason, his illicit behavior and idiotic fight with Howard ultimately got Pete what he wanted: his wife to agree that he needs an apartment in the city. Way to go, you Circus Army clown.

Megan Draper


(Ron Jaffe/AMC)
She went from “Zou Bisou Bisou” to playing the lead in what appeared to be the Swiss Miss version of “Beauty and the Beast” in the long-discussed commercial for Butler shoes. Not exactly a triumph for our Megan, who was reminded of her inadequacy by her dear, visiting mother Marie. “Not every little girl gets to do what they want,” she said. “The world cannot support that many ballerinas.” Now I understand why Sally and Megan get along so well: they both have Betty for a mother.

If Megan left Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to demonstrate that she’s independent from her husband, she clearly failed in this respect. In order to get a semi-legitimate acting gig, she still needed her husband’s endorsement, which he ultimately, reluctantly, gave. “You want to be somebody’s discovery, not somebody’s wife,” he advised her.

As Don watched her audition tape, one that revealed her alluring beauty to him all over again, it seemed like Megan was both his wife and, once again, his discovery. But will that feeling last?

Fine. We can’t put it off anymore. We need to talk about Don.

Don Draper


(Michael Yarish/AMC)
Don suffered through a raging toothache throughout much of this episode, a toothache quite obviously meant to symbolize his guilt over his role in leading Lane to kill himself. (Oh, the abscess in Don’s mouth is like the abscess in his soul I get it now.) In case that symbolism was somehow lost on anyone, the “Mad Men” writers also made sure Don had repeated visions of Adam Whitman, the half-brother who hung himself during season one, just to emphasize how responsible he feels for not just one suicide, but two.

And just in case that didn’t get the message across, Don also decided, with no approval from his fellow partners, to compensate the Pryce family via the collateral Lane put down after Lucky Strike’s departure: $50,000, ironically the same amount by which Lane extended the firm’s credit line. Don decided to issue that $50K check — one signed by his own hand — despite the fact that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was the recipient of Lane’s death benefit, which added more than three times that amount ($175,000, specifically) to the agency’s riches.

“Why would he do that?” Joan asked Don, befuddled by the deceased partner’s decision to designate the firm as his beneficiary.

Well, he might have done it to add another layer to Don’s guilt, to say from beyond the grave, “All I did was borrow $7,500 from you. So here’s $175,000 in return, you heartless ad genius.” Or Lane may have done it in part to assuage his own guilt over extending the firm’s credit line without anyone’s knowledge. Or, perhaps, it was a bit of both.

In any case, Don took that $50,000 to Rebecca Pryce, Lane’s widow, thinking that money could fix a problem. But he wasn’t received with gratitude. “Don’t leave here thinking you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself,” she coldly told Don before slamming the door in his face.

Sometimes, there really is no number. Don still hasn’t learned that yet. What has Don learned this season? Honestly, it’s been hard to get a solid beat on the guy over the past 13 episodes. One minute he seems as happy as he’s ever been: in love with Megan, getting his mojo back with smoothly delivered pitches to Jaguar and Dow, and even showing some affection toward his often neglected children.

But then the next, he’s still doing selfish things that indicate an underlying, deep sense of dissatisfaction, like ditching Megan at a HoJo’s or intentionally leaving Ginsberg’s Snoball creative in a cab or, in keeping with tradition, paying no attention to where Sally is. And as the season came to a close, we were still not quite sure, as of March 1967 April 1968, who Don Draper is.

As he strode away from the set of the commercial starring his beautiful wife and dreamily glided into a bar not unlike the one where he and Joan shared some yuletide cocktails. The sound of Nancy Sinatra’s theme from the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice” could be heard: “You only live twice or so it seems/Once for yourself and once for your dreams.” Don ordered (symbolism alert) an old-fashioned.

A young blond woman approached him at the bar and asked, on behalf of her equally young and lovely brunette friend, “Are you alone?”

Don turned his head. His eyes betrayed a curiosity. And then ... cut to black. Would he say yes? Would he say no?

After watching Don’s behavior over this compelling but semi-uneven season, we still don’t know. We’re left with only a question mark and a few wafts of smoke from a lady cigarette lit by Don Draper, “Mad Men’s” very own double agent.

By  |  09:22 AM ET, 06/11/2012

Tags:  Mad Men

 
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