The center cannot hold. Things fall apart. And yet ...
Is it possible, indeed likely, to view the season finale of "Mad Men" as a happy ending? As sad as it is that Don and Betty's marriage has crumbled, there was a hint of spring to the episode overall -- of new beginnings, reawakenings, revived hopes. This is where we have been headed, and set up for, while some impatient viewers claimed nothing was happening.
And, of course, we've got the band back together.
When the guys could not figure out where all the files were, I thought -- hoped -- that it meant they would get Joan, and when Roger said he would make a call, hope led to certainty. There has been a lot of spinning out of orbits this season -- Joan leaving her job, Peggy off canoodling with Duck, Pete shoved to one side, Roger focused on his marriage -- and now everyone worth caring about at Sterling Cooper has been gathered again.
Not only that, they have been gathered with a sense of purpose and adventure which they all have been missing, as the episode made clear. Don's courtship of Connie Hilton was a way of relieving the boredom and bean-counting at the office. Cooper no longer ran things, couldn't be the guru, and was reduced to naps. Roger knew that as long as he had Lucky Strike, he could draw a check. Pete had been passed over, and Peggy had discovered what she was worth and that it wasn't what she was paid. Even the bureaucratic Lane had grown weary of counting the beans and keeping the secrets.
Now they all have a good reason to go to work. To varying degrees, they own the store, new and modest a store though it may be. And with that on the line, it's probably the best time for Don's marriage to end, since now he will have to spend more time at the office -- and I mean, REALLY spend more time at the office.
As for the Don-Betty marriage, even though I expected it to go along "for the sake of the children," I am relieved that Betty determined to cut it off. As painful as it is in the short term, it is a better thing for her and Don, a chance for each to start from a new, honest place. That doesn't mean I expect Betty to stay with her new beau. Any man who woos her now is going to have to meet a much higher and less superficial standard than Don did, and I don't know if this guy can. But at least Betty has a clearer idea of what she wants, and less mercy if she does not get it.
So let us look at some of the great moments:
-- Don and Peggy's first conversation, in his office. It was a perfect parallel to the Don-Betty marital collapse, only this time a woman was telling Don up front what he had done wrong, before it was too late to fix it. Elisabeth Moss superbly conveyed Peggy's rage and confidence, and exhilaration -- not so much as if she had been waiting to deliver that speech as that it all came together for her when Don spoke. She's done being taken for granted; I think Duck's unplugging the TV was the last straw for that.
-- Lane seizing the opportunity that the rebellion provided, and knowing how to work the time zones to their advantage.
-- Betty on the phone when Don said he wouldn't fight her.
-- Trudy calling from the other room as Pete ponders the offer to join the rebellion.
-- The return of Joan.
-- The flashbacks to Don/Dick's childhood, making clear once again the agony that he carries inside about failure and a husband/father's role.
-- Don's rage bursting forth when Connie gives him the news.
-- The reactions from people left behind at Sterling Cooper. (I especially loved Lane leaving his assistant without explanation.)
-- The little dialogue between Roger and Don as they look at the office the last time. In a way, it said that Roger is really taking the bigger gamble, because he is giving up the trappings that he so liked, while Don never cared for the trappings because they included so much baggage. (I keep thinking back to Don ranting about budget-pinching by the Brits.)
Then there are the questions for next season. Will the new agency be a success or a struggle? Will the band stay together? Will Betty be remarried? What sort of a bachelor will the single Don be? Where is Peggy headed (although I think she's done with Duck)? Will Pete come into his own? How soon before Sal becomes their art director?
Summer '10 cannot come soon enough.