Don Draper is a man riddled with duality and the ad man’s two sides drove the season-five finale of “Mad Men.”
The end result was an anticlimactic but meaty closer Sunday night filled with answers and even more questions that angered some fans and critics who ranted on Twitter and bashed the whole season.
Contrary to popular belief, the fifth season was not the weakest and Megan (Jessica Pare) did not kill the show. She was a necessary mirror, there to reflect if Don (star Jon Hamm) could and would evolve. Besides, Don is obviously going to leave Megan before she can leave him, or that’s what the ending implied. So those who hate Megan won’t be seeing much more of her anyway.
If anything, the frustration with Megan, this year’s methodical pacing and the matter-of-fact finale, had more to do with fans’ poor recall (“Mad Men” has always been a slow burn with anticlimactic finales) than a decrease in quality. The fifth-season closer was a treat for those of us who are content with subtle cliffhangers and a disappointment for those looking for a splashy farewell. I expected the subtlety and enjoyed it.
But back to Don.
Just as he always does, Don attempted to put up a brave front all while suffering inside. He nursed a toothache and waited to the last possible moment to go and see a dentist. Google “toothache” and “symbolism” and you’ll see that the affliction is synonymous with suffering and lo and behold, Don is suffering from guilt.
He blames himself for not only Lane’s (Jared Harris) suicide but his half brother Adam’s (Jay Paulson) tragic hanging seasons ago. It’s not a coincidence that these two weak men died the same way and Don knows all too well that if he’d only said the right thing or been a little bit more compassionate, he could’ve prevented both deaths. At the same time, he’s angry with them for not being as strong as he is.
Meanwhile, Joan (Christina Hendricks) blames herself and thinks if she would’ve just slept with Lane, he’d still be alive.
Poor Joan. Her sexuality might’ve won the firm the Jaguar account but it hasn’t made Roger (John Slattery) settle down with her after all these years and it didn’t save her marriage so why on Earth does she think it would’ve saved Lane’s pathetic life?
Don is less delusional. He knows why Lane really killed himself and he knows the extent of his power. Unlike Joan, Don is more powerful but he has misused it. There are the two suicides, of course, but thanks to his cruelty he also lost his prodigy and closest professional soul mate – Peggy (Elisabeth Moss). She of course moved onto bigger and better things and is now working for a competitor.
While recovering from his yanked tooth, Don runs into Peggy at the movies and reveals his fear of desertion by saying that when you help people, they might leave you. Later, Don agrees to help Megan land a role in a client’s ad but is shown walking away from her as if he’s leaving her for good.
There’s a reason Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” played as the show came to an end and that the title of the finale was “The Phantom.” After all, Don is just that to the women in his life and when the going gets tough, Don disappears and becomes someone else.
Roger on the other hand is free to be funny and wild just as he always is, as proven by the cameo made by his bare buttocks, and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) is as slimy, adulterous and conniving as ever.
Sadly, what is less clear is whether or not Moss’ Peggy is gone for good or if creator Matthew Weiner plans to trot her out now and again. But it sure felt like the end and the possibility of a “Mad Men” without Peggy was the finale’s most tragic revelation.