So much of "Mad Men" has been about dreams: dreams of success, dreams of a perfect life, the American dream, and so on. As I have said before, including at the beginning of this season, the show has especially been about people fulfilling their dreams -- getting what they thought they wanted -- only to discover that the getting is far less satisfying than it seemed in those dreams.



As we began this year, the central characters in the ad agency were sitting on piles of money from the McCann deal, and still they weren't happy: for example, Don was going through another divorce, and Joan and Peggy were still confronted by unapologetic sexism.



Then, in Sunday's episode, the dreamscape pretty well vanished.



The agency, long independent within the McCann organization, is getting folded into the main operation. (The minute I heard that, I thought, OK, this is the move toward a definite series ending which we have been awaiting.)



Among other things, that means Roger's name will no longer be on the door, and Joan will be even more marginalized since she is the lone partner not to get an assignment at McCann -- and she knows from the earlier frat-boy behavior how the men of McCann see her. Peggy's lone good career move is to go to McCann, but what will await her there? More money, maybe. Career advancement, maybe. But those are promises that may not come to pass considering, again, she is not entering a woman-friendly environment and her lack of education could be a factor, too; she gave up her child to get where she is -- and where, now, is that? Pete, already humiliated in his dealing with Ken (who renders Pete invisible in the opening scene) and domestically powerless, may like the other men be getting a dream client at McCann -- but he won't be a name partner.



Finally, there is Don. And this episode stripped away every bit of power Don has thought he had. It even, in his hair-askew scene in the bar, made him look old and tired -- he reminded me of Errol Flynn in his later years. (Flynn was only 50 when he died and long before that showed the signs of decadence and booze. And the once-famous swashbuckler ended life in a relationship with a woman who was not yet out of her teens; think of Don's creepy flirtation with Sally's friend.)



Before that, though:



-- The absorption of the agency threatened to take away his cherished independence. The promise of his new client -- Coca-Cola -- is even ironic, considering the man who had created himself as sophisticated and worldly. Not for him is a high-brand whiskey or a sophisticated motor car. (For that matter, the car client the group is offered is Buick.) He gets the beloved but mundane, unglamorous Coca-Cola, which has to be pitched to an audience far removed from Don himself -- and in essence a reminder of the sham family and ideal life that he imagined when assembiing the photos for the carousel.



-- The "Don saves the day" moment we have so often seen does not happen, as he is cut off having barely begun his pitch for a West Coast office. As magical as his presentation might be, no one cares about the magician anymore.



-- The "Don rallies the troops" moment when the staff is told what's coming is equally futile. The staff begins to worry about their individual futures. Besides, whatever Don has to say cannot easily overcome the cliched way he starts. Don really is losing the magic.



-- That loss is made more clear when you consider how alone Don is in this episode. Earlier Don would have caught the eye of a beautiful woman in a bar, or made a call when he and Roger were done drinking, or simply gone home to his wife. None of those things happens (there is neither wife nor real home now) The emptiness underscored when you note that Roger has taken up with Megan's mother, Joan has her West Coast fella, Peggy is taking comfort (even if it's just friendship) from Stan, and Pete and Trudy have achieved some kind of rapprochment. As for Don, the one move move he makes to find a woman -- one that recalls his visit to Midge at the beginning of the series -- ends with him meeting a gay couple and getting the eye from one. Don's not even in sync with sex in his world.



So where are we going with this? Someplace bleak, right now. But there are episodes remaining, and still choices for people to make. At the same time, though, these workers in a dream factory, these folks who have repeatedly promised the public happiness through conspicuous consumption, are finding that dreams are just that: illusions cherished, but gone the moment you have to wake up.