A moody 'Mad Men' finale with Don Draper unhappy
NEW YORK • The fifth season of "Mad Men" ended majestically Sunday night with Don Draper, planted at an elegant bar, approached by a beautiful woman who inquired, "Are you alone?"
On the soundtrack, Nancy Sinatra trilled the theme from the 1967 James Bond film, "You Only Live Twice." And Draper, more handsome in that moment than any James Bond could be, struck a heroic pose before the show cut to black until next season.
Of course, he's alone!
Then, within moments, the song (with its yearning, sexy lyrics, "You only live twice ... one life for yourself and one for your dreams") was trending on Twitter.
Note: Further spoilers from the finale await.
Season Five of the AMC drama had begun on Memorial Day 1966, roughly seven months after last season's conclusion.
The season's breakout character was Megan, the ooh-lah-lah secretary Don married somewhere in between. She channeled the glamour of Jackie Kennedy by way of the emerging '60s style of a Jean Shrimpton. On top of that, she proved smart, quickly showing her stuff as a creative force at Don's ad agency before resigning to become a full-time struggling actress.
Even while displaying commitment to Don and their marriage, she displayed an independent streak that threatened and puzzled him all season.
Puzzled her, too. In a drunken funk in the finale, she told Don his refusal to support her career was either because he wants her waiting for him at home each night, or he believes that, as an actress, "I'm terrible. But how the hell would you know?"
By the end of the episode, Don (series star Jon Hamm) had come through for her. He recommended her for a commercial. But he did it with a mixture of pride and foreboding.
The Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce agency was prospering as the season concluded but not in ways that gratified Don.
"You really have no idea when things are good, do you?" Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) asked him a couple of weeks ago when he seemed to be left cold by the agency's winning Jaguar as a much-sought account.
No, is the answer. All season, even with things good, he seemed more tightly wound and detached than ever, with the action mostly swirling around him.
Since "Mad Men" began, the advertising industry has continued to change beneath his feet, and the culture, too. Don struggles to adapt.
Megan is hip to the Beatles, but earlier this season when she urged him to listen to the just-released "Revolver," he tried to make sense of its psychedelic song, "Tomorrow Never Knows." But he just didn't get it. Having turned 40, increasingly Don seemed on the wrong side of the Generation Gap. (In the bar scene, he ordered an old fashioned.)
Meanwhile, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) had a new home in the suburbs and a baby with his wife, Trudy, while emerging as a key player at the agency. But, as usual, he was unsatisfied. In the finale, Trudy voiced plans for a backyard swimming pool. But Pete was busy cheating on her (and not for the first time).
Why? "He needed to let off some steam," Pete said about himself in a monologue of harsh awareness. "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."
Worse, "he realized that his life with his family was some temporary bandage on a permanent wound."
Joan (Christina Hendricks) was now a single mother but leveraged her colleagues' pimping her out to a prospective client into a partnership position in the agency.
Roger (John Slattery), the sardonic, gin-soaked partner, was feeling marginalized at the office. But an LSD trip (in one of the season's standout episodes) seemed to lift him into some semblance of acceptance of his life.
In short, most of the characters ended the season only further entrenched in their identities and roles in the show's unfolding narrative.
But there were exceptions.
Stiff-upper-lip British partner Lane (Jared Harris) was caught in a financial scam by Don on last week's episode, and, after getting canned from the agency, he hanged himself in his office a suicide that weighs painfully on Don, while echoing the hanging suicide of his half brother in season one, for which he likewise feels responsible.
And the indomitable Peggy, tired of doing great work and getting too little credit, shocked Don two weeks ago by resigning to spread her wings at another shop, where, in the finale, she was poised to create the branding for Virginia Slims cigarettes.
Late in the episode, Don ran into her at a matinee for another James Bond movie, the 1967 spy spoof, "Casino Royale."
He asked how she was doing at her new job. She said fine.
"That's what happens when you help someone," said Don, who since the series began had been Peggy's gruff but devoted mentor. "They succeed and move on."
It sounded like a man who's unhappy and alone.