Yowza. The only thing missing from “Mad Men’s” season finale was the theme from “Rocky.”
We were treated to the sight of Don Draper getting off the ropes, finally, after getting a big injection of his old smooth-but-smoldering fire back as he fights back and plots the course for the rest of his life. I’m guessing this episode, “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” will be popular with the fans, but crix may carp that it was a little too “Dallas” in terms of the tidy storytelling. The seg penned by Erin Levy and Matthew Weiner and helmed by Weiner (as he did for the previous season closers) seemed to offer much more in the way of conclusions and set a deliberate course for next season than past “Mad Men” finales. But I’m in the fan camp and can’t complain. The lighter moments sprinkled throughout the episode offset some of the on-the-nose plot points – All in all, I loved this season. Sorry to see it end.
This episode was monumental for Don, natch. What the JFK assassination was to Betty, the jolt of McCann-Erickson buying Putnam, Powell and Lowe (and Sterling Cooper) was to Don. (I kept thinking about Albert Brooks in “Lost in America,” telling anyone who’ll listen that he’s a senior vice president at M-E.) All the hard knocks and hard lessons learned of the season came to a head in fueling his single-minded determination not to become a cog at what he considers “a sausage factory.” It’s also made clear by the flashbacks to his boyhood with his hot-headed father that he wants to do everything he can to avoid being beaten down by life, to literally getting killed by a kick in the head from a horse.
By the end of this episode, as Don moves into his new apartment, you realize that for the first time in years he’s really making a fundamental change in his life. He’s (mostly) let go of the ruse of Don Draper, he’s letting go of his idyllic vision of the wife and family, even at the great cost of hurting his older children, and he’s starting to actually think about how he treats other people.
From the start of this season, Don was backsliding into his old patterns of fooling around in varying degrees (the one-night stand with the stewardess, the deeper entanglement with Suzanne) and keeping everyone around him at arm’s length. I thought it was interesting that we didn’t see Don running back to Suzanne, or into another’s arms even though nothing’s really stopping him. He’s pouring everything he’s got into the new venture. As he told Bert, “I’m sick of being batted around like a ping pong ball. I want to work. I want to build something myself.”