Film and TV

Mad Men: The Real Don Draper (Again), Season Finale

(SPOILERS ABOUND) It has been a slow and steady race to the finish for this season of Mad Men. Last night concluded Season Five in a somewhat neat and tidy bow. I honestly went into this episode having no idea what it would be about. The biggest events of the season had already occurred and with no resolutions available to them. Had Peggy really left? Would she leave the show for good? How do they to go on after Lane's sad ending or do they gloss over it?

While last night's episode was not a rainy funeral scene, Lane's death appeared in more ways than one. He is spoken about several times, his chair at the partners' meeting is left empty and no one wants to take his office. Additionally, he had taken out a life insurance policy for the firm, which garnered the company more than $100 grand. He was worth more dead than alive. How depressing?

Don offers up 50 thousand to Lane's widow. She takes the money but not without reminding Don that he is only doing this to make himself feel better and not her. Needn't we forget that Don's firing of Lane may have been the thing to push him over the edge. But no one knows that except for Don. He has swallowed this secret hole and it's eating away at him in various ways.

For one, Don is being eaten by pain. Don has a "hot tooth," which is causing him extreme grief and making him look quite miserable. He refuses to see a dentist and attempts to numb it with alcohol (the tooth and everything else in his life). He is in such pain he cannot even kiss his wife. Don is also being eaten up by grief. He sees flashes of his younger brother Adam, who if you remember, also hung himself several seasons ago. Adam had reached out to Don and Don turned him away. The parallels between his brother's death and the most recent one are apparent, maybe overtly so.

Megan's mother is in town and she is being very unsympathetic to her daughter's plight. Megan cannot get work; her mom says it is due to her lack of talent, which is really nice for a mother to say. Megan hears from a friend that Don's company is casting a national commercial, and she begs Don for the part. Initially, he says no. This is not how Megan wants to get work. If Don is irked by his wife's decision to pursue her dreams and not his, at the very least she should put in the time and the struggle. Don never got a hand out (well, sort of), why should any one else?

Pete runs into his fair-weathered mistress on the train and she later calls him at the office asking him to meet her for some afternoon delight. He begrudgingly agrees and the two spend several hours in bed. For one nice moment Pete Campbell is a human being, capable of understanding his own complex feelings. He is a torn man, both torn in his desires and torn apart. He keeps filling a hole that has no end. His mistress is a similar soul, but crazy enough to admit that she's crazy. She is due to have electroshock treatment that day, and it's not her first time either. She fears that she won't remember Pete and, as we find out later, she does not.

Pete sees his train-buddy/cuckold on the way home and more or less tells him he has been screwing his wife. He gets decked in the face and then gets decked again by the train officer -- that's three people who beat up Pete this season for those counting.

Don finally goes to the dentist and in a gas-induced haze, his brother Adam reminds him of what a shit he is. His rotten tooth is pulled out but his rotten soul will forever be stuck in there. The idea lost some of its symbolism when Adam pretty much told us what the writers were trying to say. We get it; Don's rotten.

Partly due to the fact that Lane's death occurred in the office (creepy to work around) and partly due to the great expansion the company has seen, there are plans to move on up to a larger space in the building. Things for the company are on the rise. They have more business than they can handle; all is well on that front.

As the episode comes to a close, it is relayed that all is well on most fronts. Roger stands alone buck-naked in a bright light of LSD glory. He has found enlightenment this season, and he's done it all by himself. We see Peggy as a rising boss in her new company. She is Don, complete with minions and flights to far-away cities. She even runs into Don at a movie where he relays a "no hard feelings" to her. She has gotten everything she's ever wanted. Pete comes home with a bloody face; he blames it on being tired and driving. His concerned wife tells him that he should get an apartment in the city, which is what Pete has been asking for all along, a nice wife at home in the country and a place to put the ladies up in the city.

In the end, Don gets Megan the part in the commercial. She is ecstatic. She too gets everything she wants. As Don leaves the soundstage it appears to go on forever, Megan is in the very far distance and the soundstage leads, naturally enough, to a bar. It is a bar of the past, not this modern life we have been led to throughout the past 13 episodes. A young blond saunters her way over to Don and points out her interested girlfriend. The end question being, well Don Draper are you going back to your old ways? We are left with only a sly smile, assuming the answer to be yes.

This season required the viewer to see Don as a whole new person, someone happy, content, not hungry, anymore, for women or power. As the season went on, his behavior reverted, mostly due to setbacks that came with his current attitude. He was trying to be good and look what happened? His wife repeatedly defies whom he wants her to be, his best gal pal betrays him, he was turned down by Joan and then, the clincher, Lane commits suicide. Why be good when it's almost easier to be rotten?

The ghosts that haunt you will never truly go away, whether you are good or bad, they will just be shoved under beds temporarily. Twice this season we were reminded that Don is a sick person. Whether he is sick due to a bad tooth or a fever, it is in this sick state that his neurosis re-emerges. He is a person capable of stealing a dead man's identity and making it his own - chew on that for a moment. As much as we love Don Draper, this is not a trait one would call "normal behavior."

This season saw its highs and lows. It took a while to get into its groove and then it had to play catch up in the end. Every season seems to ask "who is Don Draper" or "who is Don Draper now?" Very poignantly Chuck Klosterman wrote early on this year for Grantland that this season gave us the real Don. Klosterman asked:

What if the 40-year-old Don Draper we're seeing now -- the one we don't fully recognize -- is actually the real person he's always been?
At the time I may have agreed, but not anymore. We can hem and haw all we want over Don's multiple transformations but there is one simple fact: There is no Don Draper. He died in Korea.

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Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig