28.6.13

The Idiot Box - Mad Men's Season 6 Finale

Maybe you're sick of hyperbole, of the whole "Golden Age of Television" thing cable snobs like me keep spouting ad nauseum.

So take this for what it's worth: Mad Men's Season 6 finale was the single best episode of television I've ever seen. 

(SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP)

There's no better way to put this: Don Draper converted. 

He reached his lowest low, and he repented. After losing the the trust of his daughter, the only person he loved who still respected him back, Don went on a bender. If there hadn't been a whole season of Mad Men left to go, it would've made perfect sense if he'd simply leapt from the windows of SCDP (or whatever it's called now) and plummeted to his death, a scene we've watched in the opening credits for over six years now. The decline over Season 6 was slow. It started with the requisite Don Draper infidelity, but then it just went deeper and darker until Peggy was calling Don a monster to his face, and Sally caught him shtupping her crush's mother.

The latter moment was this year's most devastating piece of televised drama outside of Walder Frey's dining room. As we started the episode, I idly wondered to Mindy about how they'd ever redeem a character so deep. "I don't think they can," she said.

That's the thing with story, though: the lower the low, the higher the highs. Sixty minutes later, Don Draper had, against all odds, changed for the better. Maybe those changes will stick, maybe they won't. We'll know when Season 7, the final by all accounts, bears out.

First, though, I want to talk about the writing. Mad Men has always excelled at perfectly worded one-liners, and they were a dime a dozen in "In Care Of". Here are a few!

"You know what they say about Detroit. 'It's all fun and games 'til someone shoots you in the face." - Roger 
"The good is not beating the bad." - Betty 
"Vixen by night." - Harry Crane 
"I told your neighbors I was a cop." - Ted
"Well, you should go home before they kill you." - Peggy 
"Well aren't you lucky. To have decisions." - Peggy 
"The only unpardonable sin is to believe God can't forgive you." - unnamed pastor from Don's childhood at the whorehouse.

There were more, but it's that last one that stands out. If Jesus has ever been invoked on this show, I don't remember, and he was only discussed here by two pastors, neither of whom could be referred to as "good". But it didn't matter. That was the last line Don hears before he...well...repents.

It's not an immediate thing. Through the rest of the episode, Don is faced with a number of decisions. In his pitch to Hershey execs, he is stunningly honest, exposing his childhood to his coworkers for the first time, and jeopardizing the business along with it. He waffles at first when Ted asks to take his place in California, but later relents, theoretically sacrificing himself for Ted's inherent goodness and honor.

I don't know how to look at it any other way. It's not as if Don Draper prayed a prayer. That would be bad drama. At his lowest point, Don Draper realized how far down the path of lies and corruption he had gone, and he rejected the darkness in favor of truth and good. You capitalize those two words, and it's code for God. The last scene, where he connects with Sally for the first time since that relationship was ruptured, is cathartic. Honesty can sometimes mean losing everything you hold dear, and Don has lost everything that made him Don Draper. But he's free and things are looking up. Really, truly up.

Of course, there's a whole season of Mad Men left to go.

5 comments:

  1. Jordan, the last glance between Don and Sally had me in tears. It was the look of hope, not a lot but enough. A part of me would be happy if that episode had been the finale-finale...it was just that good.

    And yes, Harry Crane's line made me choke on my drink. Beautiful!

    John

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    1. What do you think, John? Is the conversion analogy over the top? I was just so stunned by all of it that I might be overstating things. On our podcast, Christian didn't fully buy my conversion theory, but he also thought the season didn't end on that much of a high.

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  2. Season 6 has been wonderful. And, frankly, it's hard to watch anything else and not feel a pang of disappointment that it's not an episode of Mad Men. I'm having withdrawal! Maybe a clue it's time to try Breaking Bad?

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    1. Yes, check out Breaking Bad. I would say it's arguably the best show on television. I look forward to Game of Thrones more, and Mad Men had an exceptional season, but Breaking Bad is still probably #1.

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    2. Okay...summer watching assignment accepted!

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