Season Six of Mad Men has seen a whole lot of regression, and not just for Don Draper. Moving backwards is an interesting way to move forwards, and by the time the sixth season of Mad Men has drawn to a close, it’s become pretty apparent that that’s exactly what Weiner and Company decided they were going to do. Just about every character is faced with something new at the end of this sixth season, and just about every character had to regress in order to get there. As always, though, this is a show that looks at the world through the lens of its main character, so the most evidence for this idea is going to come straight from Don. And come from him it does. Now all that repetition and narrative wheel-spinning that opened the current run really starts to make sense. It’s felt, all throughout the season, like the members of Mad Men’s cast were all stubbornly shuffling their feet backwards while the rest of the world relentlessly moved forward without them. Peggy’s found herself back at Don’s ad agency, is once again single, and is struggling to deal with the men that mostly dominate her workplace. Peggy’s never had a problem asserting herself, and this primarily comes from the fact that she knows exactly how and when to do so with the greatest degree of success. The trouble, though, comes from the fact that her journey of self-assertion, her journey of self-realization isn’t actually panning out all that well for her. She’s got the benefit of knowing exactly who and what she is in a time when other people like her don’t, but this isn’t always enough to save her from closing doors, empty rooms, and repeated mistakes.
You might have noticed that when Peggy and Ted effectively end their relationship, she’s wearing the exact same outfit she was wearing when they began their relationship. She snipes (and accurately) at Ted and his ability to make decisions. Finally, at the end of the episode, Peggy seems to make hers. She sits in Don’s chair and looks out the window with her back to the camera, basically becoming the man who’s more or less partially responsible for making her into whatever she is now.
It makes sense, too, because this season has definitely been a depiction of the death of Don Draper. We've seen Don regress in some really surprising ways this season. We’ve seen him break down into a blubbering mess because of a girl. We’ve seen him pretty pointedly lay down in the fetal position more than just once or twice. We’ve seen a raging workplace argument about juice, for the love of Christ. It’s been suggested that this season has been a kind of Ben Button-esque backwars journey for Don, going from his “death” in the season premiere to something of a rebirth in the finale.
Makes perfect sense. In fact, it feels like a lot of the decisions that got made in the season finale (and there were plenty) were made by Dick Whitman, and not Don Draper. Would Don Draper have been so honest about his past during the Hershey’s pitch? Or was that his death rattle? Really, there was no reason for Don to have been so truthful like that during the pitch. For once, Don’s strange and erratic workplace behavior wasn’t in service of some scheme or plot. He just wanted to tell the truth. Too bad it wound up being the straw that broke the camel’s back.
A lot of Don’s anger this season seems to have stemmed from how at odds his past and present were. Now he seems to have reconciled them, at least to a degree. There’s a lot buried in his words when he says “I don’t belong here” from the inside of that drunk tank. In fact, Don seems to have been subconsciously stating his intentions during that moment, because the rest of the episode sees him shedding a whole lot of skin.
After a season of angry, sloppy, reactionary Don, the world around him is finally starting to push back.
Oh, and also...
• Obviously Bob Benson = Don Draper. I’m really interested to see where his place at the firm takes him next season.
• Manolo is my favorite name in the history of Mad Men character names.
• Roger’s visiting Joan and Bob on Thanksgiving is pretty adorable. Just like his assumption that Bob’s trying to get it on with Joan.
• Pretty significant moment, when Don finally offers to correct his narrative, solely for the sake of doing so.