And so we reach the end of another season ...
I think in many ways, this was a perfect ending for this season. But before I get into why, I have to talk about the wicked little song cue at the end. "I Got You Babe" could be considered as a great, ironic comment on what the sleepless Don has done. But for a lot of movie fans, it is also the song played over and over in "Groundhog Day," as Bill Murray relives the same day, trying to get it right. Are we therefore supposed to take the song as a suggestion that everything we have seen from the marriage proposal onward (or maybe even from the Disneyland trip on) is in fact Don's sleepless fantasy? Certainly there are moments, including the proposal, where we see such an emotionally open Don (congratulating Peggy and Cosgrove!) that it looks like some kind of dream. But at the same time, why would Don's fantasy include the panty-hose account, Joan and Peggy dishing, and Joan on the phone to her husband? So, while I get many things wrong, I am taking this as at worst a tease -- that Don has, in fact, taken a huge personal leap.
I further believe it because that is what, in many ways, this season was about -- and is what so much of the rest of the "Mad Men" finale has alluded to. The end of last season saw Don and his buddies take a professional leap even as Don's personal life crumbled with the split from Betty. And that fit in with much of what has gone before, since Don had up to that point been a personal failure -- a womanizing liar -- whose redemption, such as it was, lay in his being very good at his job. This season said again and again that the job was not enough, that Don without a family life, even if it was a sham of a family life, was rudderless, prone to self-destructive levels of drink and ever more dangerous liaisons with women. In addition, the job itself proved unsatisfying: the bold adventure, so promising-looking at the beginning of the season, descended into begging for clients, financial cutbacks and, finally, having to accept a very small account as a very big victory.
Of course, as all this played out, we also saw how other characters could not be happy, either: Roger Sterling, who has failed both at home (having cheated with Joan) and at work (losing his only chip, Lucky Strike); Joan, likewise (iffy marriage, cheating with Roger, a job that in the last episode is significant in name only); Betty, who remains deeply unhappy as a homemaker (but shows no signs of being any happier if she had a job); Peggy, who is still the proto-Don, better at work than a personal life, and we're seeing with Don where that can lead; Pryce, presiding over a shaky company and forced into bringing a family he does not want back into the fold. Pete, it seems, may be the most successful character in the lot, with a stable marriage, a new child, and success on the job -- but even he was, for all his energy, in the end dependent on Don's good will.
Of course, that act with Pete was a strong hint that Don was headed toward the point where the season finale left him. Yes, you could look at it as basically selfish -- if the company loses Pete, there is no saving it -- but in the light of the finale it feels more like Don trying to be the good guy in a personal way that he has so rarely been in the past. He opened not only his wallet but his heart; and in the finale, with Anna's death weighing on him still, he opened his heart wide: hinting about his past to the children, letting himself feel something for Megan.
But did he? We come back to two moments: Faye's warning that Don only likes the beginning of things, and his lying sleepless, having what is likely a what-have-I-done? moment. Is he in that moment really any different from Betty, making drastic choices which don't change what's inside? Or has he actually changed? How long will he be faithful to Megan -- and how long will she be at peace with a man whom she knows found her by cheating? Is this just another step for Don down the road to being Roger, which seemed very possible at points this season? (Remember Roger as his mentor, and Roger's own marriage.)
In any case, it was quite a place to end the season, and a marvelous season it was.