If living a lie is killing you, and you make your living by lying, where does that leave you?
We started the season with Don reading The Divine Comedy, and it’s felt like a slog through hell. The preacher who gets kicked out of the whorehouse had a point – maybe the worst thing is not believing that God can forgive you — that change is a possibility, redemption possible. It’s as good a definition of hell as any.
Certainly, the starting place for many in recovery is belief – if only in some kind of abstract power greater than yourself. Maybe, just maybe, Don is getting there. Maybe a god with a sense of irony set up the other preacher – the asshole in the bar who makes the remark about RFK and MLK Jr– in order to provoke Don into finally punching him. What better way to hit bottom, than to do it while finally standing for something? Remember after MLK Jr had been killed, when Megan and Sally went to a rally, while Don stayed home and then took Bobby to the movies, and both the women gave Don that “what a pathetic excuse for a human” look.
He may have been drunk and disorderly, but at least he was engaged.
So what else happened? None of the carnage we might have feared. Megan is not dead, but the marriage might be – which is not a bad thing, given that Don married her in a desperate attempt to (again) reinvent himself, and when he tried to remake her in his image and failed, he gave up and got into bed with a neighbor’s wife. Sally is not dead either, and after months of alienation, perhaps Don’s moment of honesty with his kids, might be the beginning of their reconciliation although that’s way too neat, fake, and unlikely. The thing that is likely, is that Sally is getting a hell of an education for a future as a memorist or fiction writer.
Ted does the right thing for his family, but still comes off as a douche, leaving poor Peggy to her embittered future, unless she and Stan get a clue, partner up in life and work and start a new kind of agency together.
In the season premiere, we met our first double of Year 6, the soldier about to go to Vietnam. We sense he won’t make it back, but will die as Dick/Don should have. There were tons of other doubles – Jim and Roger, Ted and Don, and of course Don and Bob. The season ends with Benson ascendant and Draper fired. We also see alcoholic Duck, who was fired by Don, walking in to the agency with Don’s replacement. But the biggest surprise surrogate of all is Mrs. Campbell. Don almost runs away to California. Mrs. Campbell takes a cruise. Don creates a campaign with the slogan, “the jumping off point, which features an empty suit left on a beach, and all the clients can see is death. Where’s the body? It’s not Don who vanishes at season’s end, it’s Mrs. Campbell Was she pushed? Did she change her name and start again? Or did she jump? Leap into the unknown?
What will the final year bring? While people may gripe that the show isn’t what it used to be and hasn’t been since maybe the pilot, one of the good things is the way in which it continues to surprise.
Despite the feel-good sentiment of Moon River, one hopes Joan holds her own and doesn’t rekindle her“romance.” with Roger. Joan is all about trying to do the right thing. She fails regularly, but Roger just brings out the worst in her – fooling around with a married man, careless sex on the street while your rapey-husband is in Vietnam, prostituting yourself to save the agency because he didn’t try to stop you. (Joan and Peggy, each with her own career path and path to or away from love, provide another mirror.
It will be a letdown if Don starts going to AA meetings and begins to recover from his alcoholism. Despite the idea woven in that we can all be forgiven, we can’t all just start over. He can’t drop the Draper persona. He deserted the army and stole another man’s identity. There are consequences. He can’t really leave advertising either. There’s nothing else he knows how to do. You need tools and support to fight addiction. He has neither. He drinks because he’s an alcoholic, but he’s an alcoholic in part because he’s self-medicating. Living a lie and lying for a living is stressful, and other than sex, tobacco, and alcohol Don’s got nothing to fall back on. Addiction is a progressive illness. While Don may now be grasping with the beginning of the skill-set for recovery, it’s a bit like a man wondering around the desert who just found enough water to maybe stave off dehydration for another hour.