With four episodes left, the end point for Mad Men is coming into sharp focus. As far as theories go, the one we explored with the 7b premiere — the search for love — and the one we discussed last season (the death of Don Draper and the rebirth of Dick Whitman) seem to be taking shape. Before Dick Whitman can be reborn, however, Matthew Weiner needs to tear down Don Draper yet again, and that’s where — in the last three episodes — he seems to be belaboring the point.
Diana the waitress — real or otherwise — was all about helping Don transition through his divorce with Megan. She represented his mother, and his past, and the yearning Don Draper has to be accepted as himself. That last shot in last week’s episode of Don sitting in his empty apartment really hammered home the state of Don: He has everything, but he also has nothing. He has all the material wants, and all the success in his career he has ever desired, and yet where it counts — “the best things in life are free” — he has nothing.
This week, Weiner pushed that thematic through line to the breaking point as he prepares to make the character turn. In his career, as Don began to look ahead through the “Gettysburg Address” that Roger had him write, he realized once again: “Is that all there is?” He wasn’t trying to “sh*t” on Peggy’s hopes and dreams; he just realized there was no place left for him to go. Her dreams seemed empty to him. He’s found the ultimate success; the struggle is gone; all that’s left for Don now is going through the motions: Land more clients. Make more money. Rinse. Repeat. Die.
There has to be more, right?
Meanwhile, those around him continue to remind Don of how empty his life is. Melanie, the realtor, noted that his apartment “reek[ed] of failure! It is an $85,000 fixer-upper,” and she may as well have been talking about Don. Meanwhile, Mathis — after he was fired — emphasized the point, “You’re just handsome; stop kidding yourself.” In the end, Sally belabored the point, calling her father (and Betty) out for being little more than empty vessels that “ooze” charm and good looks. “You’re a very beautiful girl,” Don said. “It’s up to you to be more than that.” Is Don saying that he has achieved “more” than beauty, or is he suggesting that he still has more to prove?
The transformation is coming, and Weiner could not have been more on the nose with it. Melanie, in selling Don’s apartment, said to him, “Now we have to find a place for you,” and that’s exactly what the final four episodes of Mad Men will be about… finding Don’s new place in the world. What that almost certainly means at this point is Don finding love, finding a way to be appreciated for more than his good looks, and finding more meaning in his life than simple material success.
Where will that take him? Who knows? But I have a hunch it brings him back to Peggy and Pete and Sally and a future where he gives up his selfish, egotistical needs and finds happiness in the success — emotional and professional — of others. He’s achieved all his professional aspirations. Now he needs a family, in whatever shape that may take. Don’t put it past Don (or Weiner) to go out and start all over at the bottom again, with yet another new firm: Whitman, Olson and Campbell.
— I’m glad we got to see Glen Bishop, and good God, he’s just as creepy as always.
— With Joan, we’re seeing Weiner hit it a little too hard on the nose again: Joan wants to find love. She seems to have found that in Richard (Bruce Greenwood), although I’d have preferred if Weiner didn’t bring in another new character to hammer that point home, especially when there’s so many existing characters with so much history that Weiner could pull from. I’m still not sure that Bob Benson is not what Joan needs: There’s love there, even if it’s not romantic love. Bob gives her the support and the respect she wants, and the father that her son needs.
— I was kind of hoping for more from Sally this late in the series’ run than using her to reflect back on Don and Betty. I’m more interested in seeing how Don and Betty reflect back on her. I hope Sally gets her own storyline before the series ends.