For all the wild speculation, the bonkers theories, and the over-thinking, it’s satisfying to know that while many viewers (mostly me) lost their way this season, Matthew Weiner never wavered. Last night’s phenomenal, heartbreaking, devastating and ultimately redemptive season six finale is the exact place that Weiner meant to take the season, and just as he did with The Sopranos, Weiner brought it all back to family. He dropped Don Draper into the circles of Hell to cleanse him, and while paradise still eludes Draper, he knows who he is more than any other time in the series. It was a virtually flawless season finale, where each of the major Sterling Draper and Partners’ characters seemed to get what they were due, for better or worse, while television’s most compelling and mysterious character, Bob Benson, turned out to be more slick than we ever could’ve wished.
Let’s dig right into it.
The grand sum of the episode’s symbolism seems to be pointing toward the death of Don Draper, NOT a physical death, but the death of the Don Draper’s identity. I think by the end of the series (if not sooner), Don Draper will die, but there will be a rebirth of Dick Whitman. “I just want you to be yourself,” said the photographer. Note in the pitch for the suicide ad that Draper also says it’s about a man who “sheds his skin.” I think Draper wants to shed his fraudulent identity. He wants to start all over. In Paradise. Not as Draper, but as a reborn Dick Whitman. The man he was. That’s his death. His clean slate. His paradise.
It was there all along, foreshadowed in the season premiere, and while there was nothing as overt as Don Draper announcing himself as Dick Whitman, this is as close as you can imagine Matthew Weiner might get to a big reveal. Now we understand why Weiner took all that detours into Draper’s youth, to make the payoff so satisfying and that Hershey’s speech so satisfying.
But let’s back up, and explore the rest of Sterling Draper and Partners before we return to Don, starting with the season’s most crowd-pleasing character: Bob Benson. Turns out there is more to Bob than an ambiguously gay slickster fraud: he’s also a bad ass smooth operator, and perhaps even a murderer. The second that Pete found out that his mother had thrown overboard a cruise ship, my immediate thought was: Manolo (alias Marcus Constantine) did it! That’s what Bob Benson’s “Pete Campbell is a son of a bitch” conversation was about last week. I’m absolutely certain that Benson orchestrated the death of Pete’s mother, and when Pete called him on it, Bob quickly reminded Pete of who has the control in the situation. I’m Bob Benson, and don’t you forget about it, Pete Campbell.
“Jesus, you can’t drive a stick?” BOB IS NOT TO BE CROSSED. He is an architect of disaster. At the end of the day, Bob Benson got exactly what he wanted: The Chevy account all to himself.
Well played, Bob Benson. (via)
Meanwhile, Pete continued his season of fail: He was pushed to the outside by the merger, he lost his father-in-law’s account after getting caught in a brothel, and he lost Trudy, who called him on his philandering. He finally wormed his way back into a position of power, and Bob Benson thwarted him, just as Don Draper had thwarted him seasons ago. If only Pete had realized — like Ken Cosgrove and Ted Chaough — the importance of family. Had he kept his focus there all along, he wouldn’t be transferring to California. There was, however, a glimpse of hope at the end of the episode, where Trudy saw in Pete Campbell that perhaps he is not completely unredeemable: Maybe he can be a good father. Maybe he can find his way back. Maybe one day Pete Campbell won’t be a total sh*t.
The theme of family was no more apparent than with what finally transpired between Ted and Peggy. The tryst that they’ve been working up to all season finally came to fruition, thanks to Peggy’s revealing outfit (my notes: “HOLY JOAN HARRIS, PEGGY”) and her scheme to make Ted jealous.
It worked. Ted had finally decided that he wanted Peggy all to himself, they made love, and then Ted promised Peggy the world, though it was a promise that Ted could not ultimately follow up on. He couldn’t leave his wife. He couldn’t leave his kids. He could not become Don Draper. A lot of viewers were hard on Ted, suggesting that he’s just as slimy an adulterer as Don is, but I think that, in the end, his innate goodness won out. Loyalty and family mean more to Ted than love.
“I have to hold on to them, or I’ll get lost in the chaos. I love you that deeply. I can’t be around you, or I’ll ruin all those lives.”
“Well aren’t you lucky to have decisions.”