In the finale of a brisk, brilliant season, Don makes a decision that no one at the office sees coming

Mad Men 413
Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC
S4 E13

“Who’s Dick?” asked Sally, looking at the painted inscription on Anna’s living room wall. It’s been the question of the entire series, and one that bubbled up to the surface over and over again throughout this very brisk, very brilliant fourth season. And to have it asked by his flushed daughter, played by a young actress who has stolen every scene she’s been in all year, was just right. This was Don’s time to merge selves, to join his present to his past for the sake of an honest future. Would he, could he go there? He balked.

The episode opened with Don alone in bed, looking unwell. Poor Doctor Faye appeared, needing to bolt to catch an early flight. She laid out his plan of attack for the coming week: Escape to Disneyland, enjoy the kids, come home, and come clean. “Maybe that sick feeling would go away if you took your head out of the sand,” she pushed gently. You could see him pickling before her probing eyes. “And then what happens?” he said, needing remedial step-by-step instructions to straight living. “And then you’re stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us,” she said. When he kissed her goodbye, and said “I’m gonna miss you, you know,” she’d already lost him.

The company was creaking beneath the man’s feet. He was without an anchor. Dammit, he does want to go home some day and see a steak on the table. (And remember, as Faye had already furiously announced, she doesn’t cook.) He wants what Ken has, sitting there so comfortably, clearly declaring that he wouldn’t let the demands of work trespass on the home life he’s making with his fiance. “Cynthia’s my life, my actual life,” said Ken, as Don looked at him with such genuine confusion and envy.

What kind of life has he had all season? Living in that dank apartment, tucking Sally and Bobby under hard sheets in the guest room every other weekend, coming unraveled by the prospect of spending time alone with his children when it’s easier being at a meeting or on a date. The season opened with three holidays, three days of the year when family is expected to gather and rally. Men like Don stay unmarried for only so long. It’s hard to be alone, let alone when you hate yourself. (God, compare the Don asking a hooker to slap him on Thanksgiving to the man whose face swelled with boyish delight when Megan assured him that she trusted his good heart.) Faye had him pegged from the get go—he’d marry within the year.

So here was Don, suddenly stripped of childcare and unsure of how he’d survive the loss of Carla on a promised trip to California. (Oh Betty, you are a sorry woman who can make it all too easy easy to cheer your isolation and ruin.) He has meetings! There are diapers! What’s a man to do?! Inevitably, too inevitably perhaps, he asked Megan if she’d come with his family to California for double her weekly salary. Well now we knew we were in for it. And then when Stephanie went and gave him the engagement ring the real Don gifted Anna with all those years ago, it was clear which way the wind was blowing.

NEXT: Anyone else think you were watching a dream sequence?

I have to admit, halfway through the episode I was having a very loud conversation with my little television set. Everything had so quickly, so clearly been set up, and yet I still couldn’t quite catch my breath. Because Don just compared Megan to Maria Von Trapp, and who can blame him when she’s wearing a white version of Julie Andrews’ party dress and now she’s singing to the kids in French and now the two of them are kissing on the balcony in the night air and he’s getting that goofy look in his face and talking in that high voice he got in Season 2 during flashbacks of telling Anna about Betty. The man loves her teeth. (So take that, nasty commenters.)

As far as I could tell all it took was a couple close-ups of Don staring into space on the hotel bed and then the happier vision of her sitting with the kids in a circular banquette. Suddenly he’d been thinking about her all the time and he needed to know this wasn’t just a one-night stand. I was so struck dumb by that rapid unfolding of events that for a minute I kept wondering aloud to my husband if we were watching a dream sequence when Don and Megan woke up in his New York apartment. Nope! I think Don fell in his version of love when she assured him that she had all the necessary information on the man before her. “I know who you are now.” Music to Don Draper’s masked soul! None of this pushing to confront his demons. “I feel like myself with I’m with you,” he gushed, “but the way I always wanted to feel.” (Oh for the love of…) I think he decided to propose when he saw that she didn’t hiss at the kids for spilling shake on her dress. He still gets to be Don Draper, Sally loves her, Bobby likes a pretty face, Gene squirms and pukes now and then but he’s cute and fun. Everybody wins! Let’s go house hunting in Chappaqua and barbecue some t-bone.

Seriously, did that all happen? “I think in my heart it was an impulse,” Don told the deep pockets at the American Cancer Society, “because I knew what I needed to do to move forward.” He does not yet have it in him to accept the past. Megan is the easiest, youngest, simplest, prettiest, safest bet. And she is not stupid, this one. There are, in fact, real reasons to feel reassured that Megan is not Betty Junior or the second coming of Jane. (It’s for these very reasons, by the way, that I want to tell her to run in the other direction from the altar.) Remember, she helped Sally when the girl took that spill in the office hallway. She had fun playing in the pool and letting the kids jump on the bed. Sally approved of her so much that she was flattened by the idea of Megan having to watch baby Gene and miss out on a ride with the rest of the family. Megan didn’t give a fig about a little strawberry shake. She likes her nieces and nephews. She’s nice to her Mom. In other words, she seems kind of okay, which is something, if not nearly enough. And Don, you with your boundaries and rules of conduct, suddenly being straddled by your secretary/fiance at work. Roger must be loving this.

NEXT: Peggy and Joan — Dynamic Duo!

Poor Peggy though. She busted her ass and broke Sterling Cooper’s lousy streak of no business with her nose for blood in the water and then that pitch to Topaz panty hose. (Oh Joyce, yes we know you already ate. We get it. Just let Harry go on thinking he has a shot.) Peggy earned that account despite the fact that those two nylon gents weren’t that interested in her when she walked into their office and couldn’t get her name right. And good on Ken for not taking any of her rightful credit. Peggy was so excited to share news of her triumph with Don— her mentor, her friend. And then Pete announced the news and she caught the first glimpse of the happy couple. Just when you think you know someone…

“It’s been going on a while,” Don said after they closed the door. It hasn’t actually, but okay. Peggy was sweet, of course, despite her furrowed brow. Don, who meant so well, said the worst possible thing: “You know she reminds me of you. She’s got the same spark. I know she admires you just as much as I do.” Oof.

I think my favorite scene of the night came next, as Peggy sought solace behind Joan’s closed door. How I miss working in an office, confiding in a colleague when the shit goes down. I love these two together. “Whatever could be on your mind?” Joan said, her voice all honey sneer. “You know, I just saved this company,” puffed Peggy. “I signed the first new business since Lucky Strike left. But it’s not as important as getting married. Again.” And what a thrill when Joan didn’t slap her down, sending her out the door with some moody quip, but shared her own grievance instead. “Well I was just made Director of Agency Operation. A title, no money of course.” Peggy didn’t whine or stomp her foot or look to Joan for the answers. She declared bullshit. Joan giggled through a plume of smoke. I’d trust the two of them together to run the world.

Joanie. Joan pushed a mail cart down the hall as another partner fell in love with his young secretary. “That’s the way it works for some,” she told Peggy. Just not her. Joan is pregnant. Of course she is. Greg doesn’t have a clue. Of course he doesn’t. And the way that conversation with her husband ended made my stomach clench. “Listen, I gotta go,” he said. “Not yet,” said Joan. “I’ll call you Thursday night, your time.” I’m glad Joan will get to be a Mama. I just hate that it looks like she’s going to have to go it alone.

And speaking of alone, that was a terribly pathetic sight of Betty curling up to sleep on her daughter’s stripped bed and then of her powdering her nose for her ex-husband in a bare kitchen. She was waiting for Don, waiting to snap at him and then allow herself to be seduced. She looked so eager there in the kitchen where she used to always await his unpredictable return. Henry has realized she’s a fool, and a cruel one at that. She wanted to go back in time.

NEXT: Best lines from the season finale.

So when Don arrived and pulled out a bottle of booze from the back of a forgotten shelf, Betty curled her toes. “I don’t know Don,” she started, “things aren’t perfect.” After the evening of surprises, I wasn’t sure I could handle another. She’d wanted a fresh start with Henry, but it hadn’t quite worked out the way she’d dreamed. And then Don told her that he was engaged and her face fell and even as I was still so angry about her ridiculous wretchedness towards Carla, I felt sad and embarrassed for her as well. They went their separate ways, a bottle the only thing left standing in what had once been their family home.

So the episode ended as it began—Don lying down, still unsure of his place in the world. Megan slept peacefully on his chest, visions of Prince Charming dancing in her head. Don looked for something, some answer, some clue, outside of his window, rather than within. Sonny and Cher’s anthem to partnership played in the background, and Megan was holding on tight to her man. But I swear he looked as alone as ever.

Some killer lines of the night:

Roger: So did you get cancer?!

Bobby: Okay, Thally.

Roger: Let’s have a toast. Megan, can you get us some ice? I’m teasing!

Joan: If they poured champagne, it must have been while I was pushing the mail cart.

Faye: And I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.

And my beloved Joan again: Yes honey, they’re bigger.

Well this is depressing. I’m just not ready to say goodbye yet is all. I want to stay with Joan’s belly. And be there for her when she gets news of Greg’s death. I want to go on Peggy’s next date with Abe! I want to see the house in Rye and make sure Sally likes her new room okay. I want to see Faye explode when she finds out Don fell in love with his secretary. I want to know what Sally brought back as a souvenir for Glen. I want to meet Tammy, dammit! It’s just not right how this season sped by. I’ll miss you guys. What will we do now on Sunday nights and Monday mornings? Who will we worry about? Was there a bigger boob all season than Harry?

THINK OF YOUR TELEVISION AS A VITAL MEMBER OF THE FAMILY? Then don’t miss this week’s TV Insiders podcast! Michael Ausiello, Michael Slezak, Annie Barrett, Dalton Ross, and Jeff Jensen weigh in on the returning series that are hitting creative peaks this season, and dish the latest happenings on Mad Men, Survivor, and Dancing With the Stars. Click here to download the podcast to your MP3 player, or listen to a YouTube embed below!

Episode Recaps

Thanks to costume designer Janie Bryant , Hamm's '60s ad man single-handedly revived an interest in the classic two-button suit.
Mad Men

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

  • TV Show
  • 7
  • AMC
stream service