Letting Don Draper go is hard to do and the last ever episode of Mad Men shows that even when Don is thousands of miles away and suffering a crisis the pull of those he cares about is still strong. Don has a pattern of fleeing, forever looking over his shoulder after all the mistakes he has made and yet he can never quite make a clean break as there is always something that brings him back. While we don’t see Don’s big New York return the transition from Don’s smile while meditating to the concept behind that Coke ad is enough to suggest Don does indeed make it back to his former life; the cycle forever goes on and on. Don might never quite be at peace with himself but he is edging closer to having a concept of home.
The phone plays a huge part in keeping Don tethered to who he was and still is; the last time I talked about how the telephone is deployed in an episode I focused on how this device helps with the concealment of feelings. In “Person to Person” it does the opposite and it allows confessions aplenty from matters of the heart to those deep dark secrets these characters don’t want anyone to know. It also has the power to aid a breakup.
Don’s relationship with Sally has recently been mostly phone based; this makes sense because she’s at boarding school and he’s moving from state to state with no actual plan. Even without seeing her face, Don can sense that something is up with his daughter as she has no interest in his Utah adventures (although really this reaction is pretty accurate even without a personal trauma) and at first he asks if it is to do with a boy. Sally could have easily hung up without spilling her mother’s secret but deep down she knows her father should be told about Betty’s condition. Last week’s entire episode had me yelling at the screen for Sally to ring Don and tell him so he could come swooping home, but that was never going to happen. This isn’t how their story ends.
At first Don thinks her mother is just being a hypochondriac, then he hears the full severity of the diagnosis and it hits him hard. Sally’s voice cracks when she initially tells him and then she moves into the protective big sister role (that we see again later when she returns home and Bobby Draper’s attempts at looking after his heartbreaking) getting her father to take what she is saying about the future of her brothers seriously. This is where Sally cuts off emotionally and it doesn’t help that there’s another girl skulking about waiting to use the phone. Nothing is private when you have a communal situation like this. She drops the bombshell and ends the conversation with “I can’t talk right now” which is a pretty devastating last scene between these two characters. Costume observation – Sally has worn the necklace her father got her in every scene since that Valentine’s episode showing their bond despite his persistent absence.
On a couple of occasions in this finale we have back to back scenes involving calls that directly result from the previous one; Don immediately rings Betty after Sally has all but hung up on him. Don offers to come home and Betty is of course mad that no one can keep her secret. If only she knew that Bobby knows exactly what is going on thanks to the not so quiet discussions she had with Henry when they were fighting about treatment. This is another case of revealing everything and experiencing this incredible connection thanks to wires and this plastic device. Of course Betty rejects Don’s suggestions of coming home (this isn’t his home) and having the boys live with him because she wants to keep things “as normal as possible and you not being here is part of that.” We can see how ill Betty looks and part of this is down to her attire and lack of makeup, plus her hair doesn’t have the same hairspray helmet rigidity as usual. Her nails are still perfect though. And here comes the kicker of an exchange.
Don calls her Birdie and this sets off all the tears for Don, Betty and I. So much has happened between this pair with so many bitter words, but they still have this immense ability to slay me with this very personal and intimate nickname.
Instead of returning to his current home, Don instead moves further west and to the state he flees to in moments like this. When he mentions LA I figured we might see Megan, instead he goes to see Stephanie as a reminder of his Dick Whitman past (and funnily enough the last time I discussed the use of telephones was the last time we saw Stephanie as she painted a picture to Don that didn’t match her real circumstance). Through Stephanie, Don ends up at a hippy retreat in various seminars he clearly has nothing but disdain for. When he can’t escape (because Stephanie fled taking the car with her) he turns to an old friend making another important call home.
Before Don can even say hello Peggy stands up to deliver her “Where the hell are you?” annoyance, he can’t see her stand but visually for us this shows us just how mad she is and then she softens sitting back down as she reassures him that he can come back. The mention of Coke is important for later and once again this account is dangled in front of him like an advertising pot of gold. Declarations such as Don’s “I can’t get out of here” isn’t just referring to his physical inability to leave as he is far too stuck in his head and the mistakes he has made, which he lists off to Peggy in a sad recap of misdemeanors from scandalizing his child to the really big secret of taking another man’s name.
Don and Peggy is the relationship at the heart of Mad Men and this conversation is so important because of the level of trust and understanding between the pair. Peggy has real concern for Don and Elisabeth Moss does this little inhale followed by a difficulty to say anything that is just so devastating good. This is their last dance together and while it is far from a physical interaction like the Sinatra aided moment it still packs a huge emotional punch seeing Don allowing himself to be this vulnerable. In the same way Sally cut Don off, he does the same to Peggy before he doubles over shaking looking like he is having a panic attack.
And now for the super swoony heart swells to a thousand times its normal size sequence.
As soon as Peggy gets off the phone to Don the first person she calls is Stan and what starts as a conversation about Don turns into an apology swiftly moving into a declaration of love. In person these two always end up bickering with Peggy taking whatever positives Stan says twisting it into a criticism. On the phone they are perfect and Stan brings this up segueing into a confession and one I have long been waiting to hear. Peggy is all a fluster as she unpacks everything that has just been said while seemingly only just getting this is how she feels too.
What this delivers is a showcase of every amazing Elisabeth Moss facial expression, a hit parade if you will from a whole heap of confusion to the best smile I have ever seen. The hand on her heart gesture is something Stan can’t see and it comes with an abstract “and you’re here” but it is pretty much one of the greatest things this show has done. We don’t know exactly what point Stan leaves Peggy talking – I suspect it is before he hears her say “I think I’m in love you too” – and come sprinting to her office, but we hear him coming and it is magical. It has been a long time coming and yet it is also a huge surprise that they went there. Just look at that smile (and yet another amazing Peggy dress).
One other pairing almost became a thing as Joan asked Peggy to go into business with her, first setting up a lunch while adjusting the TV for Kevin while he watches Sesame Street. Ultimately Peggy decided to stay doing what she is doing because this is what she loves doing, but we did get one final fabulous and slightly contentious Peggy/Joan scene.
Going back a step and Joan’s relationship with Richard was all sunshine and let’s try everything until she realized that she isn’t ready to be on vacation forever. There is still work to be done with Ken reaching out to her for her expertise and while McCann could never appreciate her skills there are plenty who know what Joan is capable of, including herself. By answering the phone while she was having a discussion with Richard about their relationship it became abundantly clear they want very different things in life.
As Joan clutched the phone to her chest (while wearing the most fabulous leopard print robe) I definitely uttered “what an asshole” out loud.
But ending Joan’s story with Holloway Harris (got to have two names) made me so ridiculously happy.
Cue all Broad City Yas Kween gifs please.
Stepping away from connections and revealing truths on the phone to highlight some other moments that made this a truly satisfying way to end Mad Men. First up Pete, Peggy and the cactus.
Peggy pushes buttons and it isn’t a coincidence that pretty much all of her significant relationships have been just as heavy on admiration and antagonism. The first moment in the episode to get those misty eyes going came as Pete and Peggy said goodbye; in the same way Birdie has so much history between Don and Betty, “a thing like that” is so connected with Pete and so Peggy saying it back to him is loaded with so much meaning. For all that has gone on between them, there is ultimately warmth and respect. We’ve come a long way.
In this shot Peggy is looking at Harry Crane how we all look at Harry Crane while wearing an incredible green and orange outfit that I need in my life.
This ensemble is a harder one to pull off and yet I am still all in. Peggy’s costuming and style this season really reflects how far she has come.
The highlight being her McCann entrance outfit, which is hanging on the back of her door. Nice Halloween decoration on her Roger Sterling (via Bert Cooper) gifted art.
Don staring out to the ocean he once waded out into and the cut from him meditating to the 1971 Coke commercial made me go from huh this Don ending is kind of unsatisfactory to HOLY SHIT THIS IS EXCELLENT. Don is going home after all. The cycle will probably continue, but at least he now has some semblance of self.
Mad Men, I’m going to miss you.