What a long strange trip it's been for Don Draper and crew this season. First things first: if Jon Hamm doesn't win an Emmy for this past season then there is seriously no justice in the world, or at least Hollywood. Second: no, I do not think that Sunday night's finale was a dream sequence like some angry fans have suggested and maybe even hoped. That would be lame and not anything like what I would expect from Matthew Weiner, given the pure brilliance that he and the show's writers have shown throughout this entire season. As for the question, "Who is Don Draper?", the question we've been asking ourselves since the beginning of this show, as it turns out, he's more than we ever thought he could be.
Because I started this blog this season show has a lot of insight to offer the PR industry, that's where I'll start before I delve into the really good stuff. A lot of this episode's work themes are things that many of us can relate to, even though it takes place more than 40 years ago. Who among us has not gone through exactly what Joan faced in this episode? Not the pregnancy by her married ex-lover, of course- although I will say I told you so on that one. I mean, the old: “Here's a new title and more responsibilities, but no increase in salary right now” line that I can only imagine many heard last year. I loved Joan's retort: ”Well, it's almost an honor.” She's come a long way from the first season, where she did little more than act as a mother hen to the secretarial pool. But please raise your hand if you think there is any chance of Private Harris coming home from Vietnam unscathed, mentally or physically. Yep, I didn't think so.
And though it's 1965 for our friends at Sterling Cooper (did he really quit?!) Draper Pryce, it may as well be 2009. Because the fledgling agency is facing the same troubles as even the most established did in 2009: layoffs, a spread-too-thin staff, and dwindling employee morale. And that brings us to my absolute favorite part of this episode: Peggy Olsen bringing in some new business, and the first account since the firm lost Lucky Strike! The contrast of her business acumen to Harry's total obliviousness was simply amazing. I think many of us wondered if Harry might be gay earlier in the season, given that he was enamored with Joey's good looks. But now we know that he's just obsessed with the TV/Hollywood culture of good looking people, as his interest in the new Topaz account went out the window once he found out that the beautiful model wasn't going to be there.
Peggy and Ken's interaction with the Topaz client was also indicative of the lack of respect that people in the business world sometimes have for those who are creative. And it's a theme that has played out throughout the season—perfectly summed up in Don's declaration last episode of “We're going to be sit down and keep typing while the walls come down around us because creative: the most important, least important thing we do.” From experience, I can say that sometimes people expect the creativity to just flow out of us easily, not having respect for the process (shout out to PRWeek's fabulous art director Chris Silva!). And certainly in our fast-paced, 24/7 world of working, things need to be fast and furious. But watching Art Garden from Topaz sit there and almost demand four taglines from Peggy on the spot just reinforced it.
Now, onto the rest of episode: I know that there are some who were so disappointed with the finale and thought that Don's behavior was completely out of character. And to those people I would have to ask if they've been watching the same show I have all season. Don's evolution this season, and since the beginning of the series, has been truly amazing. I don't know why I'm surprised. After all, Matthew Weiner is the genius that helped make mob boss Tony Soprano a sympathetic character. Let's just hope that Don doesn't end up getting whacked in a coffee shop at some point(Now that's a finale to be pissed about).
I had an all-out IM argument with one of my good friends yesterday about how ridiculous she thought it was to have Don fall in love with Megan so soon and leave Dr. Faye Miller in the dust. She also had commented that Don always has affairs with brunettes (Midge, Rachel, Bobbie, Suzanne) but gets serious with blondes (Betty and Faye). And actually I think that's the point. Don's love for Megan has not come out of nowhere, as some might suggest. If you look back to the first episode that the character was introduced, you can see that Don is enamored with her. It's not until we hear that she is more than a secretary, a woman who actually has an interest in having a career in advertising, that Don is unable to resist her. When he tells Peggy after announcing his enagement that Megan reminds him of her, it all made sense to me. Some have wondered throughtout this season if Don and Peggy were going to have a relationship and my answer was always that even lothario Don Draper wouldn't cross that line. But through Megan, he is able to be with that part of Peggy that he loves and admires: her “spunk”, creativity, and most of all, someone who truly knows the real him.
More important though, in Megan Don finds something that he's always been looking for: that elusive Madonna/whore in one woman. She's smart, challenges him, and he's wildly attracted to her. And most of all, with her for the first time since he's assumed the persona of Don Draper, Dick Whitman is vulnerable. He's not in control—not at his agency, not with his love life, and at first glance, not with his children. It's the women in his life who are taking control—from Peggy, to even Sally, and finally to Megan, as he's the one who asks, “Where is this relationship going?” So his proposal to Megan was not a surprise to me, and just illustrates the enormous character development that Don has undergone over the past four seasons. And Megan, Don, Sally, Bobby, and Gene look more like a family on the trip to California than Betty and Don ever did.
As I wrote last week, I could probably write a novel on this episode, but alas my day job awaits. I'm planning furiously to get our November issue out the door—again it's going to be awesome—and putting the final touches on the NEXT Conference (Jenny Dervin from Jet Blue is the latest speaker we've added to the agenda).
As usual, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Did your heart melt a little bit when Don did that cannonball into the pool? Am I just a musical theatre nerd, or is Megan indeed the Maria to Don's Captain Von Trapp, right down to the harsh exterior that covers a world of hurt? And most of all, what on earth is going to happen to Betty? I couldn't help but think of Billy Joel's video for “We Didn't Start the Fire” video as I watched her lay down on Sally's bed with an almost childlike innocence. Will we see her develop an addiction to sedatives next season? I think it's quite possible. Most important, has Don Draper really changed, or has he just managed to let Dick Whitman back into his life after trying to suppress him for so long? Discuss.