The episode description for the season finale of Mad Men, "In Care Of," was vague enough to be hilarious. It read, simply, "Don has difficulties." Of course, he's had difficulties all season; should the last be any surprise? What is a surprise is that in the final episode of season 6, Don becomes aware of his difficulties, and he starts to attempt to do something about them.
We begin at Sterling Cooper & Partners, where fancy new logos are everywhere, bearing, as agreed upon previously, no trace of the names Chaough and Draper (or the deceased former partners, Pryce and Gleason). Stan intercepts Don to tell him he'd like to head up the new L.A. office, which they're instituting having won Sunkist. Don warns him that “L.A is like Detroit with palm trees,” and “if you fail there you’ll be out of advertising." Stan wants to do it, anyway. Elsewhere in the office, Roger has refused to give his son-in-law money for, was it, a refrigeration business of some sort? Margaret is incensed, and asks how to "get on the list of women he gives money to." She disinvites her father from Thanksgiving.
There's some good news, though: an RFP has come from Hershey's to 30 ad agencies, and SC&P is on the list, Ken Cosgrove announces, wearing his eye patch. Ted's plate is full, so Don takes it. Pete seems to be happily moving to Detroit to focus on GM. Joan and Bob's friendship has continued, and in the office, Bob gives Joan a toy car for Kevin. Roger stumbles upon them and doesn't like what he sees: "You know what they say about Detroit, it's all fun and games until they shoot you in the face." Jealous Roger, who doesn't know half of it, then calls Benson to his office to tell him not to "play with Mrs. Harris's feelings."
At the Draper residence, an increasingly wan-looking Megan tries to stop Don from drinking too much, and informs him that a letter has come from the D.A.; Sally is being required to testify about the recent break-in by "Grandma Ida." Later, Don calls Sally to tell her she's going to have to give a statement about the burglary. In full fury about his affair with Sylvia, she says, "I wouldn't want to do anything immoral. Why don't you just tell them what I saw?" and hangs up.
Don heads to the bar as people at the agency try to find him. There, a man is proselytizing, and Don can't take it. “Jesus had a bad year,” he says, and there's a flashback to the whorehouse he grew up in as Dick Whitman, and to a minister who's being tossed out of the house by Uncle Mack. The man tells Dick, “The only unpardonable sin is to believe God cannot forgive you." Don wakes up in a jail and is told that he punched a minister. Compounded with his deep guilt and regret about what happened with Sally, this serves as a wake-up call. Back at home, he pours out his booze and tells Megan he realized "it's gotten out of control." He's also realized (thanks to Stan) that he doesn't want to be in New York anymore. (Of course, the last time he was in California he nearly drowned in a pool, but fine.) He's quitting drinking cold turkey, and he convinces Megan that moving to Hollywood will save their marriage. "We could be happy again," he says, and she cries and nods and hugs him.
In the office, Peggy is thrown by the sight of Ted's wife and sons in the office. Pete is thrown by the news, via telegram, that his mother has been lost at sea. In a meeting, Don tells the partners he wants to go to California. "Honestly, I think we can spare you," says Ted, and everyone else seems to agree. Don is no longer the shining star of the agency. He's worn everyone out, including himself, and especially Stan, who comes in to tell him he's not too thrilled about Don stealing his idea. “I’m going to have that sandwich on my desk," he says, "I need to get to it before you do." For someone purporting to have seen the light, Don is still acting as selfish as ever.
Pete learns further disturbing news about his mother. As he runs out of the office for a flight to Detroit, there's Bob Benson in the elevator. “Your boyfriend Manolo kidnapped my mother, married her at gunpoint, and threw her off a ship,” he tells Benson, saying he'll never let this go (despite his previous episode's promise to steer clear of Bob, the camel's back has been broken). Bob, then, can't let it go either, and in Detroit sets Pete up to drive a car that's parked in Chevy's lobby, knowing full well city-boy Pete is an inexperienced driver. Pete can't drive, and is taken off the Chevy account.
Peggy retaliates against the Chaough family visit by putting on her fanciest cocktail dress and a dusting of Chanel No. 5. She tells the men in the conference room she's leaving (all the better to see her). "Vixen by night," says Harry, as Ted's jaw drops. In the next scene, unsurprisingly, there's Ted waiting for Peggy in her hallway, asking about her date, wearing his blue turtleneck. She confesses it was terrible, and confronts him about bringing his wife to the office. He tells her he's planning to leave his wife, and though she protests — “I’m not that girl” — when he says he loves her, she stops protesting.
Betty calls Don in the middle of the night to tell him that Sally's been suspended. She bought beer for herself and her friends with a fake I.D., using the name "Beth Francis," and got drunk, and got other girls drunk, too. Betty is devastated. "The good is not beating the bad, she obviously needs more than I can give her,” she says. Don calls her by his pet name for her, Birdie, and tells her it's not her fault. “She’s from a broken home,” says Betty, and Don, who seems equally devastated, suddenly, agrees to pick up his daughter.
Peggy and Ted, together in bed, are making plans. Hawaii for Christmas, maybe? He doesn't want to leave, he doesn't want to sneak around. She says that she can wait, "I don't want a scandal." When he gets home, his wife calls him to bed and tells him he's been working too hard. He holds her, staring at the ceiling. The next day, Ted tells Don that he needs to be the one to go to California, to start over away from Peggy. "It's my only chance," he says, but Don says no, "it's too late." “You can’t stop cold like that,” says Ted, referring to Don's drinking and his own alcoholic father, and so Don has one drink prior to the meeting with Hershey's. There, he tells a candy-coated lie about how his father used to take him to the grocery store, where he'd be allowed to get anything he wanted, so he'd choose a Hershey bar. "Hershey’s is the currency of affection, the childhood symbol of love," he says, and the clients are swallowing it whole. Throughout this pitch Ted sits forlornly, and something in Don shifts. He starts to tell the truth. Why? Because throughout this season Don has had a soft spot for the children of others, and a newfound love for his own (whether he treats them like it or not). Because maybe it's not too late for Ted to go to California and reinvent himself as a man who's not in love with someone other than his wife. Because maybe for Don, who's already lived through many a reinvention, it's not too late to begin again, but this time, to tell the truth. Or because Don just can't help himself. Maybe all of the above?
And so, Don tells the potential clients from Hershey's everything, a neat summary of what we've learned in the flashbacks this season (and previously). He was an orphan. He grew up in a whorehouse. "The closest I felt to feeling wanted was from a girl who made me go through her john's pocket while they screwed, and if I got more than a dollar she’d buy me a Hershey bar," he says, " and I’d eat it alone in my room with great ceremony, feeling like a normal kid. It said sweet on the package. It was the only sweet thing in my life.”
“Do you want to advertise that?” asks a dumbfounded client, and Don goes one step further into workplace oblivion: "If I had my way you would never advertise." When the clients are ushered out, Cutler and Roger scrambling to patch things up, Ted and Don are left behind in the room together. Don tells Ted, "You're going to California." Outside, Roger tells Don he shit the bed and asks if any of the story he told was true. "Yes," says Don, a man who Roger knows even less in some ways than he does Bob Benson.
Pete and his brother decide, upon hearing what they know happened with their mother and what remains a mystery, that they will let it go, mostly because they're cheap. But there's a poetic beauty to it, they tell themselves. "She's in the water, with father," says Pete's brother. "She loved the sea," says Pete.
Ted tells Peggy he's going to California — she can stay in New York and have her life and career. He loves her too much, he says, to be around her, and has to hold onto his family "Or I’ll get lost in the chaos.” She tells him to get out, hated in her voice. “Someday you’ll be glad I made this decision,” he says, an attempt to soothe. “Well, aren’t you lucky, to have decisions,” she says.
In a similar theme, Don returns home to Megan and tells her they can't go to California, but they can be "bicoastal." She's infuriated, and confused, too. “I don’t even know why we’re fighting for this anymore," she says, and tells him she used to feel sorry for his kids, "but now I realize we’re all in the same boat.” He tells her he loves her, too little, too late, and she leaves.
Pete has returned to Trudy, but only temporarily, to bring her his mom's furniture. He's heading out to California, because suddenly he's free, though it didn't happen the way he might have hoped. “It’s going to take you a moment to realize where you are,” says Trudy. “You’re free of everything.” He says goodbye to his sleeping child, and Trudy watches him from the doorway. It seems that maybe he's changed; maybe these two, of all the broken couples, have a chance?
And then comes the intervention. The partners are assembled in a dark area of the office, and Don arrives. “Should I sit down?” he asks, and the answer is yes. A verdict has been reached, explains Bert Cooper. They want Don to take a few months off to regroup. It's too early for a return date. In his stead, Ted will oversee Peggy from L.A., and, as Don learns as he walks out, there will be replacements, too, including Duck Phillips.
It's Thanksgiving, though maybe it doesn't feel like it. Joan has invited Roger to her apartment for dinner — inviting him into Kevin's life, not hers, she specifies — and there, with Bob Benson, Kevin, and Joan's mom, they form a strange little happy family. Roger sets to work immediately charming Kevin.
Peggy, though, isn't leaving the office for Thanksgiving; there's too much to do. She's switched her cocktail dress for a plaid pantsuit, the first time she's worn pants on the show, I think. In Don's office, she takes his chair. Meanwhile, Don is far away, in Pennsylvania, showing his kids the whorehouse that he grew up in. It's in complete disarray now, a bit like the man who grew up there, and there's a small child on the porch of the house eating a popsicle. (As people have pointed out, Peggy won the popsicle account back in Season 2.)
Sally looks at her father, wide-eyed, at what he's sharing — recall, earlier in the season, she'd said she didn't know him at all — and together the family stares up at the house as Judy Collins' "Both Sides Now" plays. The show has never been that big on subtlety ... which doesn't mean it's not good.
As usual, the season end sets us up for anything to happen in the next one, which could, as it has historically, begin at nearly any point — a year from this moment? Earlier? Later? Will it be a final season of Don in rehab, literal or figurative, and if so, will his rehabilitation, or the new truth-telling Don, be any less self-absorbed than the old one? Will Megan come back, or will we catch a glimpse her successful Hollywood career from afar? Will Don have patched things up with Sally, or with the agency? What about Joan and Roger, Pete and Trudy, or Ted and Nan? I give better odds for the first two couples than the latter. What's Bob Benson truly after ... and what will become of Peggy who, in her last scene in this episode, took Don's place quite literally?
Wait and see.