In the “Mad Men” season 6 finale, “In Care Of,” a reckoning has come for Don Draper. After a bar brawl with an evangelist minister lands him in jail, Don realizes that his drinking – and his life – is out of control. He vows to quit boozing and tells Megan he wants to move to Los Angeles, but changes his plans after Ted Chaough vows to take his place. By that time, Megan had already made arrangements to be written out of “To Have and to Hold,” and now it looks like she might want to be written out of her marriage.
“The only unpardonable sin is believing God cannot forgive you,” a minister says to a young Dick Whitman in a flashback scene. But does Don really want to come clean, or is he just finding new ways to sin?
Don's apparent about-face was the biggest news of “In Care Of,” but it was accompanied by surprising twists and turns of varying impact. Pete Campbell's mother is “presumed overboard” after apparently marrying Manolo (probably not “at gunpoint” as Pete hilariously suggested) on a ship, and then disappearing. Pete's reaction to this news is odd – treating it as he might a workplace betrayal. “I will never, ever let this go,” he tells Bob Benson, who he believes is somehow involved in the apparent murder, but goes right ahead with his plan to go to Detroit, where he promptly crashes and burns, backing into a giant showroom centerpiece with a stick-shift floor model he doesn't know how to drive.
Peggy Olson, bless her heart, is getting more and more desperate every episode. I can't tell for sure if her feelings for Ted are truly genuine, or if she just wants to win. After Ted – who has been dodging her since Don scolded him for letting his crush on Peggy cloud his judgment – brings his wife and children into the office, Peggy retaliates by flaunting her cleavage and her Chanel N° 5 on her way to a date with a Wall Street guy. If only Joan had been there to stop her ... but however comically awful her outfit and strategy were, it got Ted's attention. He shows up at her door later that night insisting that he doesn't want anyone else to have her, and that he's going to leave his wife. But before Peggy can get used to the idea, he changes his mind, and tells Don he needs to put 3,000 miles between him and Peggy in order to avoid ruining his life. Don initially rejects his plea, but later changes his mind – without, of course, consulting Megan first.
I love how Don Draper says things like, “I didn't make this decision lightly,” as he did when Ted Chaough asked him if he could take his place in Los Angeles. A decision made quickly isn't necessarily by definition a frivolous one, but more often than not, Don's decisions are truly impulsive – something he doesn't seem to know about himself. Proposing to Megan, merging SCDP with CGC, firing Herb from Jaguar, having an affair, having that third (and fourth, and fifth) drink, deciding to quit drinking, deciding to not quit drinking, and making a plan to move to Los Angeles – most all of Don's life decisions, big and small, are made without much contemplation, and, obviously, even less consideration for the the other people who the decision will impact.
Don's immaculate, controlled physical presence belies the fact that, above all, he's a man of appetites and impulses; and his ego is so overblown that he's able to convince himself that his choices, however short-sighted and self-involved, somehow serve a greater good. Don seems to believe he was making a great sacrifice by letting Ted go to Los Angeles in his place; but what he really sacrificed is Megan's career, and less significantly, Peggy's chance at happiness with Ted.
This “Mad Men” season finale was concerned with Don's casualties pushing back: His dramatic, off-the-rails hijacking of the Hershey's pitch was the last straw for Sterling, Cooper, & Partners, who staged a kind of intervention to force Don to take a temporary leave. Understandably, Megan also left after Don told her they weren't going to Los Angeles anymore – but we don't know if her leave is permanent. In the final scene, on Thanksgiving, Don and his children are in Pennsylvania, standing in front of the whorehouse that incubated Don's pathologies and his affection for Hershey's chocolate– some of which he may have passed on to Sally. Megan was nowhere to be seen; will we see her again?
Don and Betty have certainly grown closer this season, beyond the campground tryst. When Betty calls Don to tell him that Sally has been suspended for buying booze and getting drunk, he's genuinely sympathetic and supportive – and Megan takes notice. One of the many mysteries surrounding Megan is whether or not she's aware that Don's wandering eye didn't stop wandering after he got her in his sights. Though Don will frequently go MIA, often for an entire night, Megan never accuses him of infidelity. Does she even suspect it? Or does she accept his proclivities as part of a package deal? Whatever the case, that deal has long begun to sour. It's impossible to predict whether or not Don will appease Megan with some valiant consolation for upending her career – a career he has never supported – or if Megan will finally cut her losses. Don and Megan have had some pretty intense conflicts in the past that have blown over with little or no explanation: As I've mentioned before, so much of whatever makes their dysfunctional dynamic somehow work seems to be going on behind the scenes. Since I'm surprised Megan has lasted even this long, I have no idea what to expect when “Mad Men” returns for its final season in 2014.
Ellen Killoran is the Media & Culture Editor at IBTimes. She previously contributed to The L Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, and The Daily, and co-produced the HBO...