The season 6 finale of Mad Men aired last Sunday and once again I am joined by Kerensa Cadenas to discuss all that went down in the finale, the season as a whole and what our hopes are for the final year. Mad Men is a show that sparks a multitude of articles (including here on TV Ate My Wardrobe) and these discussion pieces have been the most fun as we lament the actions of Don and cheer on the likes of Peggy and Joan as they continue to navigate a world dominated by men. One of us feels more sympathy towards Don by the end of this episode, but it’s actually Ted who is on the receiving end of our Sally Draper-esque disdain. We also discuss why everyone suddenly wants to move to California and the all important new addition this year; the wonderful and mysterious Bob Benson.
Emma: We have a lot to talk as so much has happened since our last Mad Men discussion post; crazy conspiracy theories never amounted to more than just chatter, Bob Benson has shown that could teach Don Draper a thing or two about leading a new life and Sally started to spiral after picking a terrible time to try and retrieve a love letter.
I’m going to start with Don as he was the subject of our first discussion as we had both become increasingly tired of his behavior and descent into assholeville. Since then Don has continued to be a tough character to route for but they did something in the finale that made me do a 180 on my season 6 Don Draper feelings – he told the truth. This wasn’t a forced confession like his one with Betty, but a moment of clarity where he let the veil drop and he revealed part of his true self. It doesn’t make up for all of his actions this year (particularly when it comes to his affair with Sylvia) and it doesn’t justify all of those flashbacks (really did we need that many to understand that he is damaged because of his whorehouse upbringing), in fact hearing Don talk about his experience gave a lot more insight into his feelings about that time in his life than the flashbacks did. I get that we needed to see the exterior of the whorehouse so the final scene would have a bigger impact, but I don’t think we needed every other flashback that we’ve endured this season.
It’s the 1960s so their version of an intervention is giving someone an non specified leave of absence and while Don has done many terrible things in the past and probably needs to take a break, it’s a shame that it was a moment of reflection and honesty that has his partners kicking him to the curb and like I said in my review at least Freddy Rumsen got a night out and not a Thanksgiving morning ambush. The look or lack of look that Joan gives is heartbreaking and while I can’t judge her too hard (she’s got Kevin to think about after all), it’s sad to see him out on an island by himself in all of this. To top it off he gets to see his likely replacement and old nemesis Duck. It’s surprising that Don takes it as easy and as well as he does but he is resilient and been through much worse. Instead of hitting the bottle he takes his kid on a tour of the places he grew up and like the brief moment on their California trip when he took them to Anna’s house he reveals part of who he is.
Unlike the partners at SC&P they don’t turn away from him and the look that Sally gives him is one of wonder as she finally gets to learn about her father and who he really is. Sally has already seen one part when she walked in on Sylvia and Don sleeping together – Don lied and this is what he does best. Last week she uttered possibly the most devastating line of the series as she smoked with her mother “My father never gave me anything,” though both of them spending the night in a variation of a drunk tank shows that he gave her something – a desire to get drunk into oblivion. I pretty sure I’ve said this a million time but it’s worth repeating – Kiernan Shipka is one very special actress and I’m spellbound whenever she is on screen, it’s hard to believe that she is only 13. All I want for her is to end up as an Elijah Wood child star example and that she stays free of any kind of Lindsay or Amanda Bynes post child star shenanigans.
Ted is has been positioned as Don’s antithesis – he is light where Don is dark, he is sober when Don is drunk, he’s reliable etc and the one person who has consistently beat the Ted is awesome drum is Peggy. Last week Peggy called Don a monster and while his actions have been pretty despicable, he’s never led her on in the same way Ted has done. Oh Ted you finally succumbed to temptation and desire, did the classic “I’ll leave my wife” and then did the standard switcheroo and is now running away to California. Don spent the whole time trying to convince Peggy that Ted wasn’t the white Knight, partly out of his own selfish needs but also out of protection in a way as I think that Don really cares about Peggy, he just doesn’t know how to express this kind of sentiment.
I have WAY more that I want to say about Peggy (and especially that AMAZING pantsuit and being in Don’s office at the end) but I want to throw it to you and see what you think about Don’s clarity and revelation in the pitch meeting. Has this finale changed your opinion on Don?
Kerensa: The finale didn’t change my opinion about Don at all. I do think that Don did realize something in that pitch meeting perhaps about himself and perhaps about how he will treat his children going forward when he shows the three of them the home where he grew up.
But in another truly Don moment, he comes to clarity at a time where it’s completely self serving. It’s all about his emotional growth, his path with no regard to what talking about his growing up in whorehouse means for the business, the other partners even Hershey’s. Yes, maybe it’s a step in the right direction for Don emotionally but like with all his other actions it still doesn’t take anyone else into account. Like everything else he did in the whole episode, I’m especially thinking about his rash decision to go to California and then take it back without really thinking it through at all or how it would affect HIS WIFE MEGAN. And also that he didn’t even second guess taking the idea from our boy Stan–who would be a much better fit in California with that fringed jacket and all his joints. I’m increasingly becoming convinced that Mad Men is about a bunch of scared boys who can never deal with the responsibility of their actions and have to runaway to deal.
With Don’s leave of absence, I’m guessing a lot of that is that how do they fire him if he’s a partner? But I think they had every right to do so. Don’s behavior all season in the context of his work has been sloppy to nonexistent. He’s at the bar more often than he’s at the office. I feel like we’ve had many scenes where Don will just come in bewildered “We have a meeting?” They had to do this. While I would say I don’t know if I saw Don as rock bottom as like say in “The Suitcase,” (think that’s right) it’s been an increasingly downward spiral that his luck, good looks and perceived sexual charisma (I say perceived here because that sweaty Don/Sylvia sex that Sally spied made Don completely vile to me) could only carry him so far before he fell entirely.
On the Sally front, I completely agree that last week’s line was beyond devastating. And it does seem like Sally has unfortunately inherited Don’s tendencies for self-destruction. However, I am going to disagree with you about the look that Sally gives Don. I thought it was a mix of pity and even disgust–and in that sense might end up understanding Don better than she realized. I do agree that Kiernan Shipka is completely brilliant–if she is able to stick with Miss Porter’s–I want a Sally at boarding school spinoff.
Ted. Ugh. I have a lot to say about Ted. But before we get to discuss more about Ted and specifically Peggy, I want to know what you think about what happened with Megan.
Emma: I really want a Sally Miss Porter’s spinoff – it will be like Gossip Girl in the late 1960s (but better). Plus Sally already has the headband/manipulation skills to perfection.
Oh Megan, I’m glad that she finally stood up to Don and that they left it ambiguous as to whether she has left him. All season she’s been set adrift and suffered the same issues as Betty with trying to fit her into the overall story. I know some people resent the screen time Megan takes up (this is very much the opposite of how I feel) and my only criticism of her this season is how oblivious she has been. Maybe oblivious is the wrong word, she’s known that there has been something wrong all year but she’s been willing to ignore it and pretend that everything is ok. The California move would be perfect for her as an actress and now that she has quit her job I think she’ll make the move anyway, especially as LA seems far less unstable than the East Coast at the moment (of course that will all change Megan conspiracy theory alert). There’s an interview with Kevin Rahm who plays Ted over at Vulture and he mentions a Megan, Ted, Pete Three’s Company type spinoff – I totally want to see that.
The only tie that Megan has to New York is Don and it’s hard to see them having a bi-coastal relationship (though it’s not outside the realm of possibility). Megan deeply cares for Don’s children, even if she refers to them as damaged; it’s very telling that she is not part of the trip to the whorehouse (fun for all the family!). Don calling Betty “Birdie” is a sign of affection and this can’t be pleasant for Megan to hear – if only she knew what went on at the cabin – especially as she has been trying to break through his many walls all year and been met with nothing. When Don tells Megan that he loves her, I really believe that he does but Megan’s “Fuck the agency” is also her way of telling Don “Fuck you.” This line loses some of its dramatic impact thanks to AMC’s censorship and it will sound better when I get the DVD.
I’m hoping we get more Megan next season, but at this point (like all things when it comes to Mad Men speculation) it is unclear.
And then we will move on to our girl Peggy.
Kerensa: OMG in a Sally/Blair face-off, who do you think would ultimately reign? I don’t think I could even guess!
I agree entirely. I really hope Megan did leave him. And I agree with you on the oblivious criticism–Megan’s not stupid, she knew there was something wrong and never addressed it for whatever reason. I hope she makes the move to California as well (although I don’t want to lose her on the show) and I agree that I think it’s hard to see Megan and Don having a bi-coastal relationship.
I didn’t think about Megan’s absence on that trip to the whorehouse–but you are right, it is super telling. On that phone call, when Don calls Betty “Birdie,” you could just see the hurt on Megan’s face. It was heartbreaking. And yeah, maybe Don loves Megan, but I don’t think he’s really capable of loving anyone especially in the ways they need, you know? Ultimately, I think Megan’s much better off without him.
So, there’s so much to talk about with Peggy. You already mentioned Ted a bit–should we start there?
Emma: Now I want to see face-offs between different TV characters much like that show that puts different historical groups against each other (the internet tells me it was called Deadliest Warrior). For this one I think Sally might have the edge, mostly because of who her parents are, but it would be a close fight that’s for sure.
We’ve seen this pattern with Ted this season where he’ll kiss Peggy/tell her he loves her/sleeps with her and then the next day he pretends like it hasn’t happened. In the moment he’s super into the idea of being with Peggy, but in the cold light of day he remembers that he has a wife and kids. With Peggy it would be a HUGE scandal and while men like Don and Roger have ended up marrying their secretaries there’s never been anyone in the position that Peggy is and it would hurt them both professionally (this is why I think Peggy tells Ted to slow down).
So Ted panics and joins the “I want to run away to California” club because this is the only way he can see a way out, even if it’s the coward’s way out. Peggy is so right to yell at him and it really cuts through everything when she says “Aren’t you lucky to have decisions?!” Because everything that has happened with Peggy with Ted has been on his end and so has her return to the SCDP offices. Getting away from Don was such a defining moment for Peggy last year and the fact that she had to return is frustrating for her. At least she has her friendship with Stan and I’m glad that these two are still firm friends – while I’d be happy to see something more between them, their friendship is pretty great.
There were two big outfits for Peggy – the one that had everyone practically drooling and we’ve never seen Peggy rocking that much leg or cleavage. It’s not how we’re used to seeing Peggy in the office but it did what she wanted it to and she snagged Ted (for one night only). This was in response to the look Ted’s wife Nan gave Peggy; Nan’s got to know right? And she definitely smelt the Chanel No.5 on Ted when he got in.
The other amazing costume was the Pantsuit of Power (thanks Tom and Lorenzo for that name!) and Peggy in Don’s office at the end. Now this is a sight that was striking and welcome and I hope next season sees Peggy continuing to break that ceiling. This feels like the first time she’s worn pants in the office and she just seems so in control. I love it!
What did you think of Peggy and Ted in the finale?
I sense a Bob Benson discussion soon, because I think he could be the season 6 secret weapon.
Kerensa: Fuck Ted.
I mean I knew he’d never leave Nan–like you said all season he’s done the dangling one thing or another in front of Peggy and then takes it back again. He’s just SUCH a coward. He’s defined everything between them so that “Aren’t you lucky to have decisions?” line was cutting but so perfect.
And of course they both played their games with one another–when Ted brings his family in–and Peggy in that AMAZING dress and her Chanel No. 5 line. But all season there’s been talk about how Ted is the anti-Don (which you’ve talked about right?) and I actually think that maybe Ted is worse. I think that much of Don’s self-loathing and alcohol problems come from knowing he’s not a good person. And he’ll be out rightly terrible to people in ways that I don’t think Ted would be. I’m not sure on this but has Don ever told any of his affairs that he’d leave his wife for them? Not that I can remember.
Ted is the guy whose cowardly, bullshit behavior is coated in a mock turtlenecked, nice guy veneer. He’ll tell Peggy he loves her, but then tell her he’s leaving her (even though he loves her) because it’s better for her this way. Which is true, but ultimately the person it’s better for is Ted. He can go back to his life after his tryst with Peggy, runaway to California with his family and never think about it again if he doesn’t want to.
While I know our girl Peggy is super resilient–I know I’d be hurt. And like you said, she’s stuck again with Don because of Ted. She gets to go to the agency where she worked with Ted at every day. He gets a clean slate and she gets the reminders.
God I sound bitter, don’t I.
But I do hope that next season Peggy is just crushing it and she can rub it in Ted’s face while wearing some incredible pantsuit.
So, what are your Bob Benson thoughts?
Emma: I like that you are straight to the point with your Ted assessment because he’s done enough flip flopping this season to deserve this. As you said Don knows that he’s awful with women but Ted genuinely believes that he’s done the right thing.
I do think that next year we’ll see Peggy rise above it and even though her gender will make it hard for her I think she’ll be on top in the end.
Ah Bob Benson, where to start?! When Bob first appeared I was happy to see James Wolk after his string of cancelled shows but who knew he would become one of the most talked about aspects of this season?! And that he’d be the downfall of Pete? While we still know a little more about him and that he’s effectively Don Draper 2.0 he’s still a mysterious figure and his motives aren’t all that clear – does he just want a good and prosperous life or is there something more insidious at play?
I think the answer to this question is whether he knew what Manolo was up to (and whether Manolo did kill Pete’s mother – I’m leaning towards yes, so this season did have a murder after all) and from his reaction I don’t think he did. We’ve seen that Bob is good at lying but he’s also let that good old Bob Benson smile drop a few times with Pete and this didn’t feel like a moment of deception. What Bob did though was ensure that he was the most valuable account man for Chevy and he did that by exploiting his knowledge of Pete’s lack of driving skills. As I’ve said before I like Pete so I was sad to see him humiliated this way, but it proves that you don’t fuck with Bob Benson.
One issue I did have with this story is how quickly Pete backs down and ends up reluctantly on the California trip. Considering Ken got shot in the face, Pete got off really easy. His discussion with Trudy where she told him he was free was heartbreaking, Pete’s been forever trying to find the thing that satisfies him and it’s never been his family. This could be a defining moment for him or he’ll end up miserable with a tan in LA. Can any of them find happiness? Also Vincent Kartheiser wins the award for best line reading with his “Not Great, Bob!” I’m going to miss Pete and Bob sparring with each other.
There’s someone else who’s wary of Bob and what his intentions are and that’s Roger. It’s hilarious that Roger can’t even fathom the idea that Bob and Joan can be buddies so all of his warnings to Bob read as completely ridiculous. Their unconventional Thanksgiving dinner was made all the more wonderful with Bob’s mini apron.
Roger’s another tragic figure of his own making but his moment with Kevin is adorable. And also if my daughter turned out like Margaret then I’d be a little sad too, she’s really awful.
Are you happy with where Bob ended the season? Is he a good guy?
Kerensa: Oh Bob! I love James Wolk–he’s on my ideal men list, so if he’s reading this, he should give me a call.
I don’t think we still know that much about Bob at all. And I don’t know if I’d say he’s Pete’s downfall–although he certainly helped. Much of what brought Pete down this season was an accumulation of seasons of what he’s done to himself.
Yeah, I still don’t really know what to make of the whole Manolo plot. It just feel so weird and soap opera-y? And will we ever get any conclusion with it? Also is it horrible that I don’t think I really care either way?
That Pete and Trudy scene was so so heartbreaking. It’s kinda like everyone on this show though, they always want what they can’t have and when they get it, realize it was never what they wanted in the first place.
Vincent Kartheiser should win something just for “Not Great, Bob!” Which a friend of mine told me is how he’s going to answer anyone when they ask him how he’s doing now.
I feel bad for Roger and then I don’t. His threatening Bob was laughable. And I don’t think Joan has any pretenses at all about anything happening between her and Bob. And Margaret is pretty awful.
Overall, I don’t know what to think about Bob still. But I do know that if we get James Wolk in short shorts again next season I’ll be so happy.
Anything else for you about this last episode? Predictions for the next season?
Emma: As far as predictions go to be honest I have no idea and it’s this uncertainty that makes Mad Men such a fun show to watch/discuss, in terms of things I want it’s Peggy and Joan ruling things at SC&P and Megan happy in Hollywood. Oh and I want more Betty, which is something I never thought I would say but she’s been so fantastic this season.
Have you got any predictions/hopes for next year?
Kerensa: Agreed. I have no idea what’s going to happen either. I hope Sally doesn’t go down a self loathing spiral. Totally want Peggy and Joan running everything. And I want Megan to get super famous and like be sleeping with Warren Beatty or someone equally sexy and famous.
I hope Nan leaves Ted.
I also hope that even though Trudy and Pete aren’t together anymore that we still get to see her. I think that’s all I’ve got for hopes basically.
I agree with wanting more Betty. I want to see her being the HBIC of all these political wives.
Emma: Thanks for joining me Kerensa and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these post-Mad Men chats. It’s a change of pace but join Kerensa and me for a look at Lisa Kudrow’s The Comeback as part of our summer rewind project.
Kerensa Cadenas is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is a staff writer for Women and Hollywood. She also writes for This Was Television, Forever Young Adult, and Bitch magazine. She was the Research Editor for Tomorrow magazine. You can follow her on Twitter and read her ridiculous thoughts about teen television at her website.