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Mad Men: The Most Shocking Twist Was Don Being Honest

Submitted by on June 24, 2013 – 1:13 pmNo Comment

Don didn’t die in that pool. Megan’s not Sharon Tate. Bob Benson isn’t a government spy, Pete didn’t kill himself, and Chevy is not necessarily an allegory for Vietnam. Season 6 of Mad Men ended with a gorgeous, complex, and shocking episode, but none of the internet’s favorite conspiracy theories came to fruition (yet, anyway). Instead, the most shocking and affecting twists of all were watching Don strip away the glossy lies of his life, and confront the plain, banal realities.

I think I share a sentiment with many when I say I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen when Don told Hershey’s the truth(?) about his childhood. First came the entirely convincing pitch about his father’s love (moving, even though I knew it was a lie; Don was selling his honest dream, if not his reality). Then Don’s shaking hand let us know something was terribly wrong. I thought he was just going to bolt from the meeting, like Harry out of the Carousel presentation in the Season 1 finale (one of the show’s best scenes ever, and an obvious influence on the Hershey’s scene, even according to showrunner Matthew Weiner). When the word “whorehouse” came out of his mouth in front of clients, I gasped. Not only did we see Don melt down and seal his fate, but we practically learned more about him in a minute than we have in six seasons. Jon Hamm‘s performance was amazingly restrained and as good as anything he’s done on the show.

Paul Ford at Slate predicted something like this last week after the revelation of Don hiding his drinking for the first time. Ford described the show as getting “smaller and smaller,” no longer representing the outlandish range of possibilities it once did (even compared to the drug trips, fantasies, and violence from previous episodes this season). Ford writes that Don doesn’t need to find himself or accept love- he simply needs to go to an AA meeting and dry out. But while Ford seemed to mean this as a criticism, I think it turned out to be the show’s greatest strength. Weiner showed that he doesn’t need big historical events, chemical influences, or crazy conspiracies to captivate audiences with normal people leading lives of quiet desperation.

OK, yes, there was the kidnapping and murder of a dementia-stricken old woman by her gay con-man manservant, with ensuing corporate sabotage by the manservant’s ally (and co-conspirator?). But I still contend that these eye-catching sensationalist scenes didn’t pack half the emotional punch of watching Pete stroke his daughter’s hair.

Don waking up in a drunk tank; telling the truth to Hershey; calling Betty Birdie; finally getting fired; finally losing Megan; showing his children an old house, and telling them the truth. These were the biggest moments of the episode, of the season even, and some were barely moments at all. Few shows could pull off that masterful balancing act.

What did you think of the Mad Men season finale?

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