Mad Men: The Real Thing
It’s time for shout-outs and goodbyes. A time for nostalgia and moving forward.
Back in the 1960s and 70s, there were several television series premised around a lone man on the run from something or someone. He’d travel from town to town—usually in the heartland—and wind up in all sorts of different situations. The Fugitive was the prototype, but it was followed by Run for Your Life, Then Came Bronson, Kung Fu, The Immortal… Has this become Don’s fate? To wander the earth like Cain, getting involved in other people’s business? Don is still on the road, now driving a fast car—but it’s only a test drive for some young ones who have designed the car. What will happen next? Is this the finale or the spin-off pilot?
Back at McCann-Erickson, Roger—whose new job is telling people when it’s time to go—has to tell Meredith he can’t keep her on as his second secretary and foster-office daughter. There’s no sign of Don, so she’s fired. She hopes Don’s in a better place. Roger says, “He’s not dead.” Meredith reminds him there are better places than “here.”
Peggy and Stan are at a work meeting. Wasn’t her walking through the halls of her new work-home looking like the coolest kid in the room enough of a character sendoff? The meeting’s being led by Lorraine, who not only has lady parts but also an authentic New York accent, so she’s someone who like Peggy probably worked her way up. (And why doesn’t Peggy-from-Brooklyn have a New York accent? Did we miss the part where she went to elocution school?) After the meeting, Peggy confronts Lorraine about losing one of her accounts. Lorraine gets tough, but Peggy gets tougher, calling her bluff AND taking a play from Joan’s book by using sarcasm. It works. New Peggy is awesome. But can she have it all? (We’ll soon find out.)
Joan and Richard are in Florida. She thinks of it as vacation. He thinks of it as the rest of their lives. They do some cocaine which a client gave him. Sure, people did coke in the 1970s, but it seems a bit forced (unless you’ve been paying attention). This is the first mention of coke in the episode. It won’t be the last.
You thought we were done with Pete Campbell, didn’t you? Not quite. He and Peggy are supposed to go out to a goodbye lunch, but she’s too swamped with work. He gives her a cactus plant that someone gave him. There’s something about this exchange of a living thing that reminds us they made a living thing together once a long time ago—but they’ll never speak of it again.
Don calls Sally to tell her about his further adventures because that’s how narcissist parents roll. She tells him about Betty, and Betty’s plan for the boys. Betty wants them to live with her brother and his wife, but Sally thinks they need to stay with Henry—the same room, the same school. Don is still in shock, but tells her he’s coming home and he wants his boys. He tells Sally she doesn’t get to make “grown up” decisions (even though she’s had to her entire life because her parents are both children). Then Don calls Betty, who reminds him he hasn’t actually seen his sons in forever. They need to be raised by a woman, and he needs to let her make the decisions. She wants things to be “normal,” and normal means he’s not a part of it. No one needs him. He starts crying. Then he gets drunk, proving Betty right.
Joan meets Ken for lunch. He brings up that Rolodex she escaped with the previous week. He wants her help finding a producer to put together an industrial film for Dow. She calls Peggy about writing the script for twelve HUNDRED dollars. This out of a budget per Ken of 50k. To Peggy it’s still a lot of money because she’s only a writer.
A still drunk Don gets a ride with the young ones to LA. Is he going there to get a plane home despite what Betty told him? Nope. He’s still drifting. He drops in on Stephanie, Anna’s niece, last seen pregnant and looking for a handout. He wants to give her the ring back, seeing as how Anna wanted her to have it and he bought it back from Megan for a million dollars. Her kid is now being raised by her boyfriend’s family. But she’s still in better shape than Don, who’s desperately in need of some liquor having survived on beer for the last few hours. Soft touch that she is, she tells him to have a lie down on her couch while she heats up a can of stew, and he can crash there as she’s going to a retreat. In the morning, he’s still asleep. She wakes him and tells him he’s going with her.
Roger and Marie are in bed, smoking French cigarettes, which he says, “taste like le shit.” Marie is divorcing Emile, but may or may not have slept with him when she was back in Canada. She won’t say just to drive Roger crazy. Then she tells him to sleep on the sofa because that’s where the television is, and “television is your friend.” Thanks for the shout-out, Matt!
Sally, who is not going to Madrid, comes home. She tells Bobby she missed him, but he knows what’s up. He was trying to make dinner because Betty can’t even do that anymore. Sally helps him. What is their father doing? He’s arrived at Esalen, which is obviously Esalen even if they don’t call it that. Betty was right. Don is useless.
Roger is visiting Li’l Roger and Joan—a thing he does on occasion. He tells her he’s going to leave a chunk of money to Li’l Roger, known to the world as Kevin son of Greg the Rapist, and he doesn’t want it to be awkward for Joan if he croaks. Not to worry, her new beau is a “man of the world” and Dr. Rapist won’t care.
“Does he know?” Roger asks.
“No,” Joan tells him. “He’s just a terrible human being.” Yes, he is. Also, Roger is getting married. Joan seems more shocked by the idea of his marrying someone age appropriate than by it being Megan’s mother.
Meantime, over at Esalen, Don, the man with no authentic self, is getting in touch with his inner core of emptiness. In his first session, he and a partner are supposed to express what they feel toward each other non-verbally. Before Don can come up with anything, his partner shoves him. Maybe she just meant to awaken him spiritually.
In a shout-out to fans who’ve been clamoring for Peggy and Joan to open their own agency, Joan tells Peggy she wants to start her own production company and Peggy can be her partner because you need two names to make it official. Peggy is going to need to think about it because she doesn’t hate the bastards at McCann as much as Joan does.
Over at Esalen, there’s some group therapy thing, and Stephanie is in the hot seat. She says she feels “judged,” and she’s right because a second later some lady totally judges her for not wanting to get her kid back, going as far as “sharing” (which was what they used to call being totally passive-aggressive) her own experience of growing up without a mother. Stephanie leaves the room as any sane person would. Don runs after her. He gives her almost word for word the same advice he gave Peggy years ago after she had a baby and gave it up for adoption: “You can put this behind you. It will get easier as you move forward.”
Only Stephanie isn’t Peggy. She doesn’t see Don as a mentor, but as some middle-aged drunk who’s not even a real relative. And it’s not as like he’s been that great at the “moving forward” thing himself. “Oh, Dick,” she says because that’s his name, “I don’t think you’re right about that.”
Another late night in the office for Stan and Peggy. Peggy starts to tell him about Joan’s offer. He doesn’t think she should leave. She winds up telling him he’s a failure with no ambition. He tells her he hopes she’s drunk because she’s going to need an excuse, and then he leaves. How much more time is there? Will they or won’t they?
Joan is not always the most forthright of people. She hasn’t told Richard she’s starting a business, only that she has “a couple of projects.” He doesn’t want a girlfriend tied down to a job. The phone is ringing, and she knows it’s her client. Suddenly things go from maybe we should get married to maybe we’re breaking up. It’s clear if she answers the phone, they are over. She tells him, “I would never make you choose,” by which she means, “Why are you making me choose?” She answers the phone. He walks away. Goodbye, Richard. Joan does not get to have it all. Then again, she still gets a lot.
Don is stuck in purgatory Esalan. Stephanie left before he woke up, and he doesn’t have a car. A staff person tells him it’ll take at least two days to get him a car, or if he waits until the end of the week, someone will give him a ride. He could try to hitchhike, but because of the Manson family (shout-out to a plot twist that didn’t happen), no one will pick him up.
Don calls Peggy. (So we don’t get to see them again in the same room, but at least we get something.) He starts to cry. She tells him to come “home.” He’s done this before, and they won’t fire him. “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” she pleads. He tells her that he’s not “the man you think I am.” Which is strange, because of all people, Peggy—who bailed him out of jail once, has seen him drunk many times, has left him and come back—probably knows exactly the kind of man he is. Don is crying about what a mess he’s made of his life, and when she asks him what he ever did that was so terrible, he has a pretty impressive list. He tells her, “I only called because I realized I never said goodbye to you.” To those viewers who are still thinking Don might yet take a dive over a Big Sur cliff, the phone call sounds like confirmation.
After he hangs up, Peggy is disturbed enough to call Stan for advice and also to apologize for the “shitty things” she said to him. She tells him she’s going to stay. And then because we only have a few minutes left, Matt Wiener gives the fans what they want—Stan declares his love for her, and she declares her love for him, and then he’s not on the phone anymore because we know he’s going to come into the office and just kiss de girl.
Looks like Peggy is going to be the one to have it all. Caught up in the lurve, they both forget about Don’s possible imminent demise.
Don is still sitting where he collapsed by the pay phone. Some nice, thin, yet maternal-looking lady checks on Don and pushes him to come to her seminar.
“I can’t move.”
“Sure you can,” she tells him.
While most people are dressed like upscale hippies, one man is wearing what looks like a red prison jumpsuit for no particular reason. Some shlub named Leonard is in the hot seat. He says, “It’s like no one cares I’m gone.” Then he talks about a dream that sounds almost exactly like a television commercial, but it’s not clear for what product. Leonard imagines he’s been put in a refrigerator and sometimes the door is closed and it all goes black (like the end of The Sopranos), but sometimes the door opens and there are all these smiling faces (like the end of Lost), but then no one chooses him and the door closes again. Leonard starts to cry, and there’s dramatic music and Don comes out of his stupor and hugs him and they’re both crying.
Then we take a break from Don in order to tie up the rest of the storylines:
Pete and Trudy—who looks very fetching in a That Girl ensemble—get out of a car and onto a Learjet.
Joan names her new business “Holloway Harris” so it has two names. Like Sue Sylvester, she’s just married herself.
Marie and Roger are in a restaurant. He orders in French. They are so going to grow old together unless his ticker explodes in the next four minutes.
Betty is not dead yet. Sally is helping her in the kitchen.
Stan and Peggy are still in love—with each other.
Don—who hasn’t left Esalen because, despite that little montage, not more than a day has passed—looks out over a cliff. But he no longer looks like he’s going to jump. He joins a group for morning meditation, and strangely sits in a full lotus position—which seems highly unlikely for the character, but maybe he’s just naturally flexible. He is surrounded by love, California sunshine, and people who look like they were extras in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Eyes closed, Don breathes in and smiles as though suddenly he had a flash of brilliance—and then we get that it was not all a crazy dream, but an elaborate joke as we fade out with one of the most iconic television commercials ever—the “hilltop” Coca-Cola spot featuring people younger and prettier than those around him, but dressed in similar groovy threads, singing the mother-of-all-jingles.
It’s clear we are meant to believe that the man who “invented” the Kodak carousel in the 1960s would, in 1970, want to buy the world a Coke. Don has his ticket back to McCann. All he has to do now is click his heels three times, and it looks like he’ll be going home. But will he ever be a real boy, or man?
And Sal Romano, like the Russian in Pine Barrens, was never seen again.