In a low-key finale, Don ponders helping Megan's career, Pete resolves his impossible crush, and Joan moves the firm to new heights

By Adam B. Vary
Updated June 11, 2012 at 12:47 PM EDT
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Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC
S5 E12

After two episodes packed full with events that fundamentally changed Mad Men as we know it, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised that last night’s season finale was so comparatively low key. There were still some big moments — for one thing, the firm is finally getting its phantom second floor! But for long stretches, the final episode of the fifth season felt instead like it fell somewhere toward the middle, content to finish out this most momentous year without the sense of culminating momentum that has charged most every other Mad Men season finale. It marked a welcome return to the show’s languid subtlety, a palate cleanser after all those pungent plot twists. Yet there’s a part of me that can’t help feel a little bit let down. With all the stuff that’s happened over this season, I wanted to feel like we landed somewhere new. Instead, the show dangled the possibility that Don Draper had returned to the same point in his life that he was at by the end of season 3. That may be realistic; it may even be daring. But in the context of this season, it was not exactly satisfying.

There was at least one season-long storyline, however, that drew to a true climax last night, and did so in spectacular fashion. In the season’s first episode, which spanned the weekend of Memorial Day, 1966, we met Pete Campbell’s loutish commuter buddy Howard, whose unhappy wife, Beth (Alexis Bledel), subsequently beguiled Pete and startled fans of Gilmore Girls. Ten months later, over the week leading up to Easter, 1967, Beth joined Howard for the first time on the train to Manhattan. She pretended not to know Pete as Howard gave the clearly made-up excuse that Beth was en route to spend a few nights with her sister. A question from Pete about where she was headed was all Beth needed to make a quick exit for the smoking car. “Don’t take it personally; she’s in a mood,” said Howard as he huffed away with their luggage, but not before Pete indulged in an icky stroke of Beth’s dangling silk scarf, touching a fantasy he believed he could never have again.

But later that day, Beth called Pete’s office. The last time we saw Beth intrude into Pete’s job, it was as Pete’s wet daydream. But when she called for real — “I have to see you,” she cooed, using the words Pete had so longed to hear — Pete was anything but pleased. “Jesus, I’m at work!” he groused, sending his secretary away to get a pack of Life Savers so she wouldn’t listen in. (“I want them fresh!”: My favorite Pete-ism of the season.) Yet again, Pete could not be the master of his own fate — he was returning to the Hotel Pennsylvania on Beth’s terms, not his own. Pete was so agitated, he could barely be bothered to participate in the partners’ meeting about their fabulous first quarter and the possibility of renting more office space on the second floor.

When he arrived at Beth’s hotel room, Pete was still wary, and Beth’s explanation for why she was really in the city only made Pete more uneasy. She’d been checked into a hospital by Howard, and had stepped out on the pretense that she was attending a niece’s birthday party. “I’ve been very blue,” Beth said. “And the doctors seem to think the only thing to do is electro-shock.” What’s more, this wasn’t the first time Beth had had her brain zapped with electricity to reset her clinical depression. She explained that it left her in a “gray cloud” that could burn away whole months of memory. She wanted to have one last night with Pete before she forgot him entirely.

NEXT PAGE: “I just get to this place, and I suddenly feel this door open. And I want to walk through it.”

It didn’t take much more convincing for Pete to collapse back into a fantasy he’d spent months trying to forget. When they were through, he was so besotted, he wouldn’t let her leave the bed, for fear of spoiling the spell. “Don’t tell me you’re not happy right now,” said Pete, managing to presume one roll in the hay with him was enough to cure all Beth’s ills, and at the same time command her not to ruin the moment with the reality of those ills: “Don’t tell me you don’t feel better.” When Beth still got up to leave, Pete got more desperate. “He wants to control you,” he said of Howard, and himself. “He’s a monster.”

With pillow talk like that, I realized I still didn’t buy the idea that Beth would so suddenly welcome Pete back into her arms after all that time. But then Beth began explaining just how deep her depression sank. “It’s so dark, Peter,” she said. “I just get to this place, and I suddenly feel this door open. And I want to walk through it.” Pete knew this darkness. He had just watched it consume Lane Pryce; more to the point, if he was being honest, he had brushed up against it himself more than once over the past year. Beth sensed that too. “Oh, Peter, I don’t know you, and you don’t know me,” she said. “We just happen to have the same problem.” That’s why Beth chose Pete; he was a kindred spirit in crushing melancholia. But Pete has never been well acquainted with honesty, about himself or anyone else, and he chose to believe that Beth meant their “problem” was that they were married to other people. “We’re only sad because we’re apart,” he said. “Oh,” said Beth. “Then I was wrong. I really should go.”

“Why?” asked Pete, more resigned now than upset. “Because it works,” said Beth.

But before we saw the results of Beth’s procedure, we got a brief sketch of Pete’s disconnected home life: coming home to Trudy feeding their daughter in the kitchen, a mock-up of their backyard pool sitting on the table. “That’s you,” said Trudy, pointing to an illustrated man in stylish repose who looked nothing like the uptight Pete. “I don’t know, Trudy, it’s awfully permanent,” said Pete, glumly. “Tammy could drown.” As if she could understand her father, Tammy immediately began crying, as Trudy scowled at her husband. “What is wrong with you?! This doom and gloom — I’m tired of it!” Trudy pulled their mewling daughter away into the other room, and Pete slunk down into his chair, dimly beginning to grasp that perhaps he had more in common with Beth than just an unhappy marriage.

The next day, Pete visited Beth at the hospital, under the pretense that he was her brother. At first, Beth played along, but soon enough, it dawned on Pete that the electro-shock had worked. Bright, smiling, and swathed in an ethereal cloud of pink lace, Beth’s midnight blue had lifted — and with it, all memory of Pete.

NEXT PAGE: “His life with his family was a temporary bandage on a permanent wound.”

I’m fairly certain the Vegas odds were on Pete taking advantage of Beth’s condition. “I’m sorry,” Pete muttered instead. “I’m in the wrong room.”

“But you can still visit,” said Beth, brightly. “Please. Keep me company.” Pete sat, reluctant and wary. “What’s wrong with your friend?” she asked him. “Well, he got involved with another man’s wife,” Pete confessed. “Why did he do it?” asked Beth. “Well, all the regular reasons, I guess: He needed to let off some steam; he needed adventure; he needed to feel handsome again,” said Pete, who began to zero in more tightly on the real reasons for his obsession with Beth. “He needed to feel that he knew something, that all this aging was worth something because he knew things young people didn’t know yet.” He’d thought the affair would be as carefree as “having a few tall drinks,” only to find himself “heartbroken” when it went away. “He realized everything he had was not right either,” he said. “And that’s why it had happened at all. And that his life with his family was a temporary bandage on a permanent wound.”

Some of you may find this turn of events to be a too-convenient way of finishing off this storyline. Some of you may suspect that Beth actually did remember Pete, and this was her way of letting him down easy. Me, I was too struck with the simple, sad honesty of the scene, and too impressed with Vincent Kartheiser’s ability to make Pete a sympathetic figure, to look askance at it.

Besides, the real climax followed that night on the train. Howard woke up Pete on the late-night train home, smacking his chops at his freedom to run wild on the town. Pete was aghast, and dropped all pretense. “How could you do that to that woman?” he asked. “You just couldn’t wait to get her in the hospital and erase her brain.” Howard’s eyes narrowed, and his happy-go-lucky nature vanished. “It’s you? She always spreads her legs for the first chump she can find.”

Pete was on Howard in a flash, and just as quickly, Howard drove Pete to the ground, getting a good punch in before the conductors broke them up. The lead conductor sent Howard to the bar car, and then told Pete that, after he’d cooled off, he was going to apologize — they all have to see each other on this train day in and day out, and the last thing the conductor needed was a simmering feud. Pete was furious, refused, and got belligerent. “I’m about to throw you off,” threatened the conductor. “Go ahead, you fat piece of crap,” hissed Pete. “I am an officer of the New Haven line!” said the conductor. “Well, I’m president of the Howdy Doody Circus Army!” proclaimed Pete.

The conductor had had enough. He grabbed Pete’s arm, Pete pushed him away, and the conductor nailed him square between the eyes. “You can’t do that!” said Pete, wild with incredulity that this mere train conductor failed to recognize the authority of the Howdy Doody Circus Army.

By the time Pete finally got home, his face was a wreck. He lied to Trudy, saying he’d run off the road in such a way as to ruin his face but not leave a scratch on the car. And Trudy, as she had so often, trusted Pete, and was so worried for his safety that she finally relented: He could get his apartment in the city. After all that, Pete got what he’d wanted — just when he began to understand it wasn’t what he’d need.

NEXT PAGE: “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think I’d be right for it. But I really am.”

While Pete scrapped his way into getting what he thought he wanted, Megan faced the real possibility that for the first time in her life, she wouldn’t. She’d paid a company to make a test reel for her that she thought would then be passed around to agencies. Instead, it was sent back to her with a suspect letter stating that the reel got no response, and encouraging her to take further film-acting classes with the company. In other words, it was a scam. “It’s a great sin to take advantage of hopeless people,” said Megan’s visiting mother, Marie. “Hopeless?!” asked Megan. “Take advantage of people’s hopes,” replied Marie in rushed French.

Later, while going over the casting notices, Megan’s European actress friend Emily made a request of Megan: Put in a good word with Don so she could land an audition for Butler shoes, for a “European type” to play the female lead in a Beauty and the Beast-inspired ad. Megan was reluctant; it’s really the client who makes the final call, and Don just “doesn’t do that.” But she reluctantly agreed to ask anyway.

Only, she didn’t ask for Emily. “I was thinking, well, I’d be mad if I didn’t ask,” Megan told Don after he’d come home from work. “And, well, I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think I’d be right for it. But I really am.” I admired Matthew Weiner’s decision to shoot these lines with Megan out of focus and far in the background, underplaying Megan’s betrayal of Emily and underscoring how far away Megan’s concerns were for Don.

When Don finally did start paying attention, he still didn’t understand. “You want to be in a commercial?” he asked Megan. “I thought you hated advertising.” Megan was taken off guard. This again? “I never said that!” she protested. “Well, you certainly don’t think it’s art, and you’re an artist, aren’t you?” On paper, the words were supportive, taking Megan’s acting at face value. But from Don’s lips, they sounded like an affront. Megan was even more confused. “Are you mad at me?”

“I’m just surprised,” said Don. “It’s not theater, it’s not Broadway, it’s not film.” In Megan’s world, a national commercial was a killer gig, but to Don, it was just a paycheck. “You don’t need that,” he said dismissively. Besides, how on earth was Don going to ask the head of Butler shoes to hire his wife for their commercial? Even if she submitted as Megan Calvet, Ken, Ginsberg, and Stan would be at the audition. But all Megan could hear was that Don wasn’t interested in going out on a limb for her. “Listen, forget I brought any of this up,” she said with a sigh. “It’s just been so hard…you know…”

NEXT PAGE: “You want to be somebody’s discovery. Not somebody’s wife.”

The look on Don’s face made clear that he, in fact, had no idea what she meant at all. Just then, the phone rang, and it snapped Don out of his surliness. He began to see just how troubled his wife’s struggling career was making her, and offered some genuine sympathy. “You don’t want it this way,” he said. “You want to be somebody’s discovery. Not somebody’s wife…. You know I would if I could.” The look on Megan’s face made clear that while she knew in her head that Don was right, in her heart, he was just another person who didn’t believe in her talent. That night, Megan escaped into the bathroom to take a bath; as she looked into the mirror, her face crumpled into despair.

Meanwhile, the phantom caller who’d been harassing Megan all day finally revealed himself. I admit I thought the caller was Glen, who had transferred his obsession with Draper girls to Megan. Instead, it was Roger, pretending to be Megan’s father, Emile, with a terrible French accent, all in an attempt to reach Marie. Don’s preoccupation with his spat with Megan and his aching tooth (more on that later) are the only reasons I can believe Roger’s subterfuge worked on Don. But once Roger got on the phone with Marie, his old charm was in tip-top shape.

“I enjoy your company,” he said to Marie. “And I thought if you were willing to broach impropriety ever so slightly, I could have dinner brought to my apartment. The kid from room service could chaperone.” Marie proved equal to the task of handling Roger’s slick suavity. “They just send the girls right up?” she asked upon realizing Roger was staying at a hotel. “I’m not asking for anything more than a little conversation, I swear,” Roger countered, and, having already availed herself of Roger’s member, Marie relented. So long as he lowered his expectations, she’d find some excuse to meet him alone.

As it happened, she didn’t have to try too hard. The next day, Marie entered Megan’s bedroom at noon to find her daughter still hugging her bed, crushed by her own melancholia. “What do I do?” Megan asked her mother pleadingly. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” said Marie, in French (hence the italics). “You have a beautiful home, and a handsome husband who provides you with everything even though you won’t give him a family.” It was fascinating advice. The first half of it was exactly the kind of practical, level-headed view of happiness that Megan herself has been directing at Don all season, trying to get him to appreciate what he has right in front of him. The second half, however, was the generation gap incarnate, an old-fashioned view of what it means to be a wife that Megan had no interest in or time for.

“Why are you always so nice to strangers?” said Megan. “You don’t ever care what I wanna do.”

Because you are chasing a phantom,” said Marie, spelling out the episode’s theme — and title — in subtitles at the bottom of the screen. (It’s here that I’ll split the hair of the second-most common complaint about this season, next to the very existence of Megan: While I have no problem with each episode’s attempt to tie all the stories together into one central theme, I do mind how often the writers have felt it necessary to double-underline those themes with thick Sharpie markers.) “You’re supposed to be encouraging,” said Megan, exasperated. But Marie just smiled at her daughter’s youthful belief that should she wish for a dream hard enough, it would come true. “Not every little girl gets to do what they want,” she said, in English. “The world could not support that many ballerinas.”

NEXT PAGE: “I don’t want to do it alone. And I think if you were there, it’d be okay.”

Whereas Megan’s atheistic father had pushed her to chase her ambitions, her believing mother was telling her to set them aside and be content in her bourgeois life. It was not what Megan wanted to hear. “Is that what you tell yourself?” she spat, and Marie’s warm gaze turned cold. “You are an ungrateful little bitch,” Marie said (though in French, it kinda sounded like she was calling her daughter a kumquat). “Thank God my children aren’t my whole life.” Betty, you’ve got some competition for Mother of the Year!

With her daughter trapped at home in a pit of self-pity, Marie was free to spend her day getting horizontal with Roger. They burst into the bedroom in a blur of passion, and when they finally came up for air, Marie gave Roger a playfully disapproving look: “Not one thing you said was true: no dinner, no chaperone, no conversation.” Roger smiled. “Stop being demure,” he said, “you’re already on the bed.”

But Roger did have something in mind for Marie that didn’t involve hanky panky. “You know, one of my partners, he ended it all,” said Roger a bit breathlessly. “You’d have to be so sure you were going to some place better, wouldn’t you?” Marie wasn’t one of Roger’s coat check girls; she knew he was leading to something.

She was, however, not expecting Roger to ask her this: “Would you take L.S.D. with me?” Marie couldn’t help but laugh. Roger understood that Marie was far more his equal than most every other woman he’d met, and yet also likely to take the plunge into the psychedelic. “Honestly, I need to take it again, to really appreciate here,” Roger said, haltingly, the most vulnerable he’s been since he’d been with Joan. “I don’t want to do it alone. And I think if you were there, it’d be okay.”

The last thing Marie wanted, though, was something meaningful. She had long since abandoned any hope of grander human connection. There were no more phantoms in her life to chase. “Roger, please don’t ask me for anything,” she said. “Please don’t ask me to take care of you.” Instead, she guided Roger’s hand to her bosom, and the two indulged in their immediate carnal pleasures. (Sidebar: Good grief, Julia Ormond is gorgeous. Discuss.)

Even with that gentle rejection, Roger still craved the euphoria of his faded enlightenment. In the final montage that closed the show, we saw him staring out of his hotel window, his face plastered with a placid grin, his body bare-assed nekkid. It was the best big laugh of the night, but more than that, it suggested some fascinating new avenues of self-experimentation and self-reliance for Roger to explore next season. Of all the arcs this season, his has been arguably the most surprising, and the most gratifying. If John Slattery doesn’t win an Emmy for his work this season, then he likely never will.

NEXT: “I’ve been trying so hard to be so responsible and so careful, and I don’t even know why.”

If Megan and Roger were chasing away a figurative festering sadness, Don was dealing with some painful, literal decay, in the form of a nasty cavity in one of his molars. It was so sensitive, he couldn’t eat breakfast, but Don waved off Megan’s concern with the classic words of a man gripped with denial: “It’ll go away. It always does.”

The last time Don’s body betrayed him, one of his demons came alive, followed him home, and refused to leave until Don choked the life out of it. With the specter of Lane’s suicide still looming over the firm, Don’s rotting tooth conjured the last man to kill himself on Don’s conscience: His half-brother Adam. I’ve got to give credit to the writers for never spelling out who this man was — the episodes dealing with Adam aired five years ago, way back in season 1. (For those who are craving more context, however: As a boy, Adam had seen Don on the train that had delivered the body they thought was Dick Whitman’s — but was actually the real Don Draper — back to the Whitman family, and had always believed his half-brother was still alive. Years later, Adam tracked Don down after seeing him in Advertising Age, but Don bribed him with $5,000 in cash to never see him again. Destroyed that his only living family would reject him, Adam sent Don mementos of their lives together, and then hanged himself with Don’s pile of cash at his feet.)

The day after his spat with Megan, Don saw Adam again, parked in Peggy’s old office amid the bustle of freelancers busily working on all of SCDP’s new business. Don’s tooth was even worse, but he yet again shrugged it off, and focused instead on his spontaneous meeting with Joan, who wanted to continue the conversation they’d tabled at the partners’ meeting about getting new offices. “I’ve been trying so hard to be so responsible and so careful, and I don’t even know why,” she said. “Because every day I open the mail, and there’s more money.” Beyond the new profits rolling in, though, there was the free-floating guilt over Lane’s death, compounded by the $175,000 death benefit from the company’s insurance policy. (Hey, Matthew Weiner, you know that shoe you dropped back in “Lady Lazarus” — I found the other shoe over here!)

“Why would he do that?” asked Joan plaintively. “You’ll never get an answer,” said Don, who knew the answer all too well. “You can’t think about that,” he added, speaking from direct personal experience. “But I do,” said Joan. “What could I have done?” Don at least had the right answer for that question: “Nothing.”

But Joan hadn’t finished exorcising her guilt. “It’s not true,” she said. “Why didn’t I give him what he wanted?” Had Don been in command of all his faculties, he would’ve likely intuited Joan’s meaning. Instead, Don had to ask: “What did he want?” A pointed look from Joan, and Don finally got it. Joan was more willing to admit she’d compromise herself if it meant saving Lane’s life than Don was even willing to admit that his aching tooth needed professional attention.

NEXT PAGE: “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition.”

At least Don could soothe his aching guilt by using the company’s unexpected windfall to pay back the $50,000 Lane had lent the company, money that had been the source of Lane’s financial woe and had ultimately resulted in his body dangling from his office door. He had Joan cut a check without even consulting the other partners.

When Don dropped by Rebecca Pryce’s apartment to drop off the check, his reception was chilly at best. She’d gotten rid of all the liquor — the jet fuel for Lane’s downward spiral — and she was in no mood for Don’s condolences. “It may be the difference in our cultures, be we’re not ones to wallow,” she said. So Don got right to the point, explaining that the partners had to put up $50,000 in collateral for the company, and he was there to return it.

Rebecca’s icy stare betrayed only the barest of hints that this was the first she was hearing about this money. She took Don’s envelope, and then stood, without a word. She would have likely left it at that had Don not tried again to offer his sympathies. “Yes, I hope you feel better,” she said, dripping with contempt. “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition,” she added, leaving Don speechless. She turned to Lane’s wallet, which still had the photo of the buxom coquette he’d discovered in a stranger’s wallet from the beginning of the season — the personification of Lane’s phantom hopes for a more fabulous life than he could achieve. Don, of course, had no idea who the woman in the photo was. “Don’t just consider the office,” said Rebecca, her rage at full bore, as she recalled the time SCDP brought her friend’s husband from Jaguar to a New York bordello. “Think of all the brothels you frequent.”

Don finally took the hint, and made for the door, but he still could not help himself. “I’m truly sorry for your loss,” he said for the third time, as he stepped into the hallway. “It’s probably difficult for you to believe,” said Rebecca, “but it was even more than $50,000 that already belonged to him. So don’t leave here thinking you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself.” Well, that sure didn’t work.

When Don returned home, he was greeted by an unfamiliar sight: Megan, falling-down drunk and keen on wallowing. I gotta say, I feel like an idiot for not seeing this coming. I got so used to Megan always being so emotionally self-aware and healthy that it never occurred to me that her attempt to become an actress would not pan out. But it appears her purpose this season has been to explicate the tricky circumstance of being successful at a thing you’ve no passion for, and a failure at the thing you most desperately want in the world.

“I need you right now,” she told Don after she collapsed back in bed. “Please. It’s the only thing I’m good for.” Don shared my surprise at the sudden psychological collapse of this woman who’d seemed so sturdy. “This is what you want, isn’t it?” she taunted him. “For me to be waiting for you. It’s why you won’t give me a chance.”

“That’s not true,” Don protested. “I know, I know,” Megan whimpered. “Because it’s either that, or I’m terrible. But how the hell would you know?!” (Oh, the things the Megan haters must have screamed at their TVs at that moment.)

NEXT PAGE: “This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but you are not an artist.”

Don left her to sleep it off, and confronted her mother, just home from her escapade with Roger. “How could you leave her like that, drunk out of her mind?” said Don. Marie just clucked. “She’s married to you, that’s your job,” she said. “I know it’s hard to watch, but this is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but you are not an artist. Take my advice: Nurse her through this defeat, and you shall have the life you desire.”

Last season, Don’s season-capping choice was bigger, more stark: Faye Miller and the maturity of facing up to his sins, or Megan Calvet and the promise of yet another fresh start. This choice was smaller, subtler: his wife’s happiness, or his own.

Before Don would make that choice, however, he finally had to come to grips with the fact that his rotted tooth was not getting better. “You’re lucky you didn’t lose your jaw,” admonished the dentist, before he strapped on the gas nozzle to put Don to sleep. Cue the third and final Adam hallucination, replete with a dark purple line crossing his neck.

“You’re in bad shape, Dick,” said Adam. “I’m going to do you a favor, and take it out. But it’s not your tooth that’s rotten.” Adam turned to leave, but Don grabbed him. “Don’t go,” Don said. “Don’t leave me.” This was a demon Don didn’t want to disappear, a final vestige of his true past self, the one he can never get back again.

“Don’t worry,” said Adam. “I’ll hang around. Get it?” Those spectral manifestations of bottomless guilt sure love their puns. Wocka wocka!

Don awoke, his lips lined with blood, and instructions from the dentist to take it easy for the rest of the day. He stared at his removed tooth, the cavity a big black stain perched on its crown. Only one thing to do in circumstances like these: Go to the movies.

As Don sauntered into the theater, the clouds parted, and there sat Peggy Olson. We’d already been treated to one scene with Peggy at her new job at this point, first chewing out lowly copy boys for not using “Ajax” enough, and then fielding an assignment from Ted “Turtleneck” Chaough to find a name and develop a campaign for Phillip Morris’ new “top-secret ladies cigarette.” (I loved the new balance Peggy was discovering with Ted vs. Don. While her old boss would have never blithely ordered her to start smoking, Don had trained Peggy to fish for what he and the client wanted to hear. “You’re a woman and you smoke,” said Ted. “What do you want?”) But seeing Don and Peggy back together like this, so warm and relaxed and yet pointed and poignant, was the highlight of the episode for me. Other than their halting pitch for Cool Whip and their wrenching farewell at SDCP, Don and Peggy had barely shared any time together this season. They were long overdue.

“You’re kind of new at that job to be avoiding the office,” Don said. “Just knocking out the cobwebs. Someone told me this works.” Don smiled. “So it’s going well?” he asked. “Yeah, is that okay?” she said. “That’s what happens when you help someone,” he said. “They succeed and move on.”

Peggy’s brow furrowed. “Don’t you want them to?”

“I’m proud of you. I just didn’t know it would be without me.”

“Will you give my love to Megan?” said Peggy, as the cheesy theme music for the James Bond spoof Casino Royale began to play. (The film came out in late April of 1967, so this must have been the film’s trailer.) “We should all get together.” Don just nodded. That night, he spooled up Megan’s reel. As the black-and-white image of his wife flickered soundlessly on the screen, Don discovered she did hold something special — the camera simply loved that face.

NEXT PAGE: “Are you alone?”

So Don cast Megan in the Butler shoe ad. Clad in a bright yellow-and-red dress, her hair crowned with autumnal-colored flowers, she looked radiant. She didn’t care that she got the part because she was the wife and not the discovery. “I can’t believe this is happening,” she said to Don, quivering. “You know, I love you,” she added, giving him a chaste peck on the cheek since she was known on set as “Miss Calvet.”

Don smiled, watching Megan glow under the klieg lights. Then he turned, and while she shone bright, he walked away in silhouette, Megan getting smaller and smaller behind him, as Nancy Sinatra’s cinematic theme song to the true James Bond film You Only Live Twice began to gush in the background. “That’s what happens when you help someone,” Don had told Peggy. “They succeed and move on.” Had Don taken Marie’s advice too much to heart, thinking that by providing Megan her happiness, he would have to give up his own?

Don retired to a bar, ordering an old fashioned, puffing on a cigarette, sitting by himself. “Excuse me, do you have a light,” said a young blonde. He did, and gave it to her, wordlessly. “I’m sorry, but my friend down there,” she continued, gesturing to the brunette at the other end of the bar, looking like a glamorous, younger version of Megan. “She was wondering, are you alone?”

Don paused, and then turned his head, shooting her a rakish smile we haven’t seen on Don’s face in years. He may not have said anything before we cut to the final credits, but I don’t think he needed to. That look, to me, was an unqualified “yes.”

The moment was a dashing one, but I much preferred the image of a naked Roger, standing arms wide against the dark void; or Peggy, smiling as she curled up in her less-than-glamorous hotel room in Richmond, Va. (the humping dogs: brilliant); or Joan, guiding her fellow partners up to the wide expanse of their new floor, the possibilities stretching out before them. Like I said before, if Don is back to his old ways, it’s an audacious choice, suggesting that everything he went through this season just brought him right back to where he’d already been. I only hope there’s still plenty of untrod space in Don’s old stomping grounds.

It has been my great pleasure to explore this season with you; even when it’s not at its best, Mad Men still captivates and beguiles me, lingering in my thoughts for days. While I will certainly appreciate getting my Sunday nights back, I somehow already can’t wait to see where Don, Peggy, Joan, Roger, Pete, Betty, Sally, Bert, Ken, Stan, Michael, Harry, Dawn, and Megan are headed next.

Your turn! How do you feel about the season finale? How does the season now rank against the others? What do you most hope to see in season 6? And do you think Don’s final look meant “yes,” “no,” or “call me maybe”?

Episode Recaps

Mad Men

Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama

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