END OF AN ERA
Mad Men’s Sex-Crazed Return: Don Draper Continues His Downward Spiral
The highly anticipated final episodes of Mad Men debuted Sunday night, and saw everyone’s favorite suave ad man bed a bevy of beauties. [Warning: Spoilers]
The final episodes of Mad Men open with eyes—bright blue eyes dancing with menace. These peepers are but an enticing appetizer to the main course: a Bar Refaeli look-alike, oozing sex in a fur coat. The camera cuts to Don Draper, his smoldering glare obscured by cigarette smoke.
“I’ve never worn mink before,” she purrs.“It’s chinchilla,” he replies. “And it costs $15,000. How does that make you feel?”“Nervous,” she says.“You’re not supposed to talk,” demands Don. “Now show me how you feel.”
When we last left Don Draper, the debonair ad exec brought to tortured life by Jon Hamm, he’d endured the downfall of his marriage to Megan, as well as a series of indignities courtesy of the Machiavellian Jim Cutler, who wanted his head. But—at least professionally—he seemed to have come out on top thanks to a last-minute save by Roger, who slyly green-lit a merger with McCann Erickson, saving his delicious hide. And then Bert Cooper, the looming Oz of Sterling Cooper & Partners, suddenly passed away.
“He’s had his wings clipped in every way, shape, or form, and one of his big professional touchstones dies, and that signifies not only a shift in the power dynamic, but also a shift in Don’s life,” Hamm told me. “This person, this titan whose name is on the building, is gone forever. It hits Don particularly hard, and Bert’s swan song is very emotional for Don.”What it’s triggered, it seems, is a regression—symbolized by the fur coat, the very item Don was hawking at Heller’s when he first came upon Roger Sterling nearly a decade ago. Peggy Lee’s 1969 ballad “Is That All There Is?” kicks in, as the door opens to a line of beauties auditioning for the randy visionary. This Don is back to square one; a power-drunk man-child divorced from reality (family, responsibility) with the world on a string. His every peccadillo inches him closer to chaos and instead of working out his complicated feelings, he’s hellbent on “showing” them.
In the very next scene, Don and Roger—sporting a glorious mustache and sideburns—are at a diner with a gaggle of groupies when he happens upon a crestfallen waitress named Diana who reminds Don of someone, perhaps a lost love. (Whether she’s real or a hallucination is up to the audience, though I’m leaning toward the latter.) A quick cut and we’re back at Don’s apartment just in time to see him roll around on the floor with a tipsy blonde. That’s three women he's ogled in under five minutes, for those not keeping track.
Back at the office of Sterling Cooper & Partners, Joan, Peggy, and Harry are tussling with Topaz stockings, which are being out-priced and out-packaged by Hanes. Don suggests that Topaz rebrand and start selling at Macy’s, while Joan makes an allusion to department stores being blown up by radicals—indicating that the year is 1970, when Alexander’s department store was firebombed and a group calling itself Revolutionary Force 9 was busy terrorizing the city with bomb threats.
The mention of “department store” triggers another vision from Don—that of Rachel Katz, the head of the Jewish-catering Menken’s department store who, after a torrid-but-brief affair, spurns Don in favor of Tilden Katz (and, presumably, staying with the tribe). In a scene that perfectly mirrors the opening sequence, she enters in a fur coat, says, “I’m supposed to tell you that you missed your flight,” and then exits. Don wakes up snuggling another woman—this one a brunette—and later learns that it was all a dream, and that Rachel is dead.
Elsewhere, Joan and Peggy are forced to plead with a handful of gross, yucking-it-up McCann Erickson execs to help liaise them with the department stores on behalf of Topaz, but the chauvinistic idiots are more interested in hurling one sexist remark after another at poor Joan: “Would you be able to tell him what’s so special about your panties?” “So you can pull them down over and over?” “Why aren’t you in the brassiere business?”
What follows is an elevator scene between Peggy and Joan that perfectly captures their contrasting paths through the glass ceiling.“Joan, you’ve never experienced that before?” says Peggy. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t dress the way that you do and expect…”
“…How do I dress?” an aggravated Joan replies. “So what you’re saying is: I don’t dress the way that you do because I don’t look like you. And that’s very, very true.”
Joan and Peggy have served as fascinating foils throughout Mad Men’s run, offering two different case studies of “making it” in these iniquitous times. Joan’s been forced to capitalize on her looks in order to get to partner, from bedding a sleazy Jaguar exec to sweet-talking clients, while Peggy’s been blessed with a fertile creative mind, time and again burning the midnight oil at the office—and putting up with plenty of Don’s bullshit—to rise up the ladder. They’ve also, it seems, reverted to series-premiere form, with Joan schooling Peggy in the ways of men, and Peggy once more giving in to the charms of a slick lothario.
Don, meanwhile, feels compelled to return to that dingy diner to meet with the waitress (or specter). He delivers his usual suave shtick, but she sees right through it. “You don’t need a line. I know why you’re here, and it’s not for a cup of coffee.”
They have sex in the back alley, and he goes on his merry way.
The midseason premiere of the seventh and final season of Matthew Weiner’s exquisite series, titled “Severance,” also boasts a snooze-worthy subplot concerning pirate Ken Cosgrove (and Alex Mack!) being fired by Roger and McCann, only to accept a position as an ad exec for his father-in-law's company, Dow—a future SC&P client—thus threatening to make Roger and Co.’s lives a living hell. Turns out this pirate-scribe is more Blackbeard than Jack Sparrow.
But this episode is mainly about Don’s visions, which have come back in full force. It ends with him reappearing at that same diner to rendezvous with his conquest, only to be brutally rebuffed. “I had a dream about this woman I once knew, and I found out the next day that she had died,” Don says, baring his soul to this stranger. “When people die, things get mixed up. Maybe you dreamt about it all the time,” she replies. “When someone dies you just want to make sense out of it. But you can’t.”
The loss the waitress is alluding to is that of Bert, whose death has caused this series of haunting visions plaguing Don. As the camera pulls away, we’re left with Don sitting alone at the diner counter, eerily resembling one of the subjects of Edward Hopper’s portrait of Greenwich Village loneliness and alienation, “Nighthawks.”
Like the show’s opening credits, Don is spiraling downward. Whether or not he’ll be able to pick himself back up—or succumb to that grisly animated fate—is anyone’s guess.