On "Mad Men's" Season Six Finale, The Road to Atonement Begins at Home
Decision time was finally upon “Mad Men’s” characters in its excellent Season Six finale, “In Care Of.” With most of the season focusing on issues of control — what it looks like when one has it, and what it looks like when one doesn’t, both in relation to others and in general — the day of reckoning finally came, at Thanksgiving no less. The primary concern on everyone’s mind, no matter their situation, was family. A letter addressed to Sally arrives at the Draper apartment, with her name listed as “In C/O” Donald F. Draper. But Sally isn’t really in his care, not after everything she has been through. That name on the letter may be her father’s saving grace, however. If Don Draper no longer has control over his life, perhaps it is time for Dick Whitman to give it a try. “Mad Men” has only grown stronger with time, and this season may prove to be one of its best.
Everyone is looking for a change as 1968 begins to wind down, but there’s a difference between finding a fresh start and running away from one’s problems under the pretense of a fresh start. Ted wants to follow his heart by beginning a new life with Peggy, but after giving in to his feelings for her, he returns home and realizes he can’t leave Nan and his boys. Ted’s determination — that the only way to solve his problem is to remove himself, physically, from the problem — moves Don enough to switch places with his counterpart. Don was ready to head to Los Angeles with Megan to head the Sunkist account (an idea he quickly stole from Stan) and “build one desk into an agency,” but really he was looking for an escape. Don still wants that Royal Hawaiian ad to come to life, with his own footprints in the sand leading to the ocean and a life (or death) filled with peace. Ted’s decision to head west is a confrontation of his problems and a willingness to hold onto his family, which he feels is the right thing to do. Don can’t say his intentions are as noble, and he finally admits it to himself. No, Don has to face the web of lies he has spun in New York and the hurt he has inflicted on his loved ones, especially Megan and Sally. He needs to admit his sins before he can hope to be absolved from them.
After he breaks the news to Megan that he can’t move to L.A. and appears to suggest she go without him and they’ll remain “bicoastal,” she cuts to the quick of their relationship: they don’t have children as a couple, so what are they staying together for? “I don’t even know why we’re fighting for this anymore,” she tells him, and she has a point. Without children as a reason to plug along and hope things better, what are they doing trying to save a marriage doomed from its beginning? Expanding a family changes the equation — more lives are involved and can be hurt. Look at the balancing act Joan is having to play, letting Roger into Kevin’s life because she knows how important it is for each to have the other. Look at how Roger’s daughter, Margaret, views him — if for most of her life, all he was was the man who showed up to pay the bill, why should he expect much different from her now? And just look at how Sally is faring not only after her parents’ divorce and respective new marriages but upon catching Don having sex with Sylvia. She is reeling from the shock and acting out enough to be suspended from boarding school for buying beer with a fake ID. “The good is not beating the bad,” Betty tells Don when she relays the news and surmises the problem lies with the fact Sally comes from a broken home. Sally needs stability and honesty. So do Ted’s kids (and Nan for that matter). No one said it would be easy, and in truth, watching Ted and Peggy is heartbreaking because they love each other — this isn’t an affair spurred on by boredom or basic lust. But that’s the theme of the season: you can’t always choose your circumstances, but you can usually choose how you’ll react to them.
Peggy didn’t choose her feelings, and she was doing her best to stay away from Ted on his wishes that nothing would happen between them. Her sexing up her look and showing off her cleavage and fishnet-covered legs to Ted was immature, sure, but completely understandable. She’s lonely, and she’s upset that Ted let Don “terrify” him into ignoring her. Peggy’s response to Ted’s declaration that he is going to leave his wife is “Don’t say that — I’m not that girl.” She tried to do the right thing, and after they slept together and Ted again said he was going to leave Nan, Peggy told him she was fine with waiting. She didn’t ask him to leave his family, and she certainly doesn’t want a scandal. But Ted ultimately makes the decision for her by telling her later he’s leaving her by taking his family for L.A. “I have to hold onto them, or I’ll get lost in the chaos,” he tells her. “I love you that deeply. I can’t be around you. And I can’t ruin all those lives. … Someday you’ll be glad I made this decision.” “Well aren’t you lucky, to have decisions,” Peggy replies. She took charge of her life last season by leaving SCDP for CGC, but the agencies’ merger was beyond her control. Now Ted is leaving. She doesn’t get to have a say.
Ted and Peggy will still have to work together, though, as Don was made aware when the rest of the partners brought down the hammer at a Thanksgiving morning meeting. “This isn’t a trial; the verdict has been reached,” Cooper tells him. A mandatory break from the agency with no set return date is Don’s only option thanks to his erratic behavior of late, culminating in an inappropriate confession during a meeting with Hershey’s executives. Ted will oversee Peggy from California, Don is told, and if she isn’t completely replacing him, she at least is stepping into his shoes — and office — for the time being. That move is gratifying for Peggy fans (and
Thanks for sticking with me this season. See you in 1969 … or later.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.