Early this season on AMC’s smash hit Mad Men, Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss), who pulls no punches, told Don (above) “we’re all here because of you.” Peggy, eager to please her mentor, but also put off by his excessive drinking and snappy temper, was quite emphatic. The new agency, SCDP, was populated by people for the most part hand picked by Don. After Don gave a poorly received interview to a trade publication, the new venture, along with people’s confidence in the magical Don Draper was imperiled. Don would right his gaffe by giving a lights out interview to the Wall Street Journal. Later in the season, he’d win a prestigious award in his field–a monument to the new agency. Don even began exercising restraint with the bottle. It was a good sign for DD fans who saw his life careening out of control. It took a drunken tussle with Duck Phillips of all people for him to recognize the need for a more sober Don. How embarrassing it was when a much younger Don said “uncle” with Duck on top of him. But Don had fought to protect Peggy’s honor, and their relationship, which fractured some time after Don had come to visit Peggy in the hospital after she gave birth to Campbell’s love child, mostly because Don had been extra hard on Peggy and because Peggy perceived that Don would always get the credit for her work, was back on track. Unfortunately for Don it took a death to someone important to him–the real Ms. Draper–for Peggy to see Don in a different light. The rift between creative’s 2 most creative, especially after Don had brought Peggy back to the agency from oblivion, and after Peggy had bailed Don out of a Long Island jail on a DUI rap, had us very disturbed. We were happy to see things set right, and learning that Cooper (Robert Morse) had lost his testicles in the Great War and that Sterling (John Slattery) had been sexually ravaged by that cougar Ms. Blankenship was the cherry on top.
In many regards, it’s been a watershed year for Don. Don started swimming, pardon the earlier pun, and we noticed that the dullness that had set in after his divorce was departing. Perhaps it wasn’t quite the year we were expecting from him though. I for one, assumed that Don, newly single and unleashed upon the city, would display that “legendary prowess” with the ladies, to steal a phrase from Nazi party, um, I mean Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino. But Don has been leading a mostly quiet existence. For Don. He’s still in the same little apartment on Waverly which is well below his means. He consented to a few dates with Bethany (Anna Camp) at the urging of Roger and Jane (Peyton List), had sex with his secretary Allison (Alexa Alemanni), which led to her throwing a paper weight at him and leaving in tears–a drunken tryst which gave Don more reason to cut back on the booze–and to scale back the office romances. Slightly. Don would still hook up with Dr. Miller (Cara Buono), banged a prostitute on the regular who he liked to beat him about the face during sex, quite the commentary on Don’s self esteem, but the dapper Draper seemed downright uncomfortable at the Kit Kat Club with Lane (Jared Harris), whose dalliance with a hooker on his impromptu New Year’s Eve with Don seemed to create a monster.
Don has also resolved some familial issues this season. Despite Betty’s new husband Henry’s (Christopher Francis) obvious disdain for him, Don presented himself at his son Gene’s birthday party, intent on not becoming the forgotten man in Gene’s life. Don’s new life may not be ideal, but he has progressed as a man, shown feelings, and learned from mistakes. None of that helped him any when Lee Garner Jr. (Darren Pettie) gave Roger the jarring news that Lucky Strike, the account that “kept the lights on”, had moved on. If that wasn’t bad enough, the aeronautics company that Campbell landed when Don left Pete stranded poolside in Hollywood to go off with a young hottie, was conducting background checks which left Don’s background exposed. Don ordered Pete, who knows Don’s secret, to drop the account. The firm went from profitable to the Titanic in one day, and Campbell, with a baby on the way, was furious at Don. With nobody in the business willing to give SCDP the time of the day due to the prevailing notion in the industry that they’d be out of business in 6 months, Lane arranged for a credit extension to keep the firm afloat. But the extension required an outlay of $100,000 from the senior partners and $50,000 each from Lane and Pete. With the company just about flatlining, Don did something. He wrote a letter to the New York Times criticizing the tobacco industry and the ad companies that stumped for it. The letter was met with outrage by the partners, especially from Bert Cooper, who made a most valid point: by not signing all their names to it, the letter submarined and undermined the other partners. Cooper was so incensed that he took his shoes and quit on the spot. Only Peggy saw the letter for what it was: a publicity stunt meant to gain SCDP much needed attention.
Where the episode left off on Sunday night, the letter had yet to produce tangible effects economically. But anti-tobacco organizations are dialing them up, and as Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) pointed out, those organizations have infuential members who sit on the boards of major companies. Don is enthused that they will have an opportunity to work, and that their work will surely lead to more work. With regard to Campbell, Don did the right thing by putting up Campbell’s $50,000–a source of strife between Campbell and pregnant wife Trudy (Alison Brie).
The fact remains going into Sunday’s finale that the firm is in dire need of new accounts. Layoffs have begun, the industry buzz is that they are dead men walking, and they need more than a letter to The Times to turn the tide. Don must make it rain. After all, he is the brightest star in Mad Men’s midst, and what Peggy said about them all being there because of him can be applied to us, the audience, as well. If Don didn’t feel that burden, he’d never have felt obligated to pay Pete’s share, or to assure Peggy her job. Are we really going to have to sit through an anti-climactic finale in which the agency goes down in flames?
We think not. Season 3’s ending was one of the great season finale’s we’ve ever seen, and one of the strongest Mad Men episodes ever. Last year, Don, with his family life crumbling, rose above his personal circumstance, found a way to circumvent his contract, and formed the new agency in dramatic fashion. We look for something similarly spectacular from Don this week, and we trust that ace show creator, writer, and executive producer Mathew Weiner will give to us.
We would speculate, gun to our head, that Chelcie Ross will reprise his role as Conrad Hilton–a man who “comes and goes” as he pleases, someone Don has a history with, and who has the clout and financial might to take the agency off life support.
As for last week, Weiner is to be credited for having his son reprise the role of Glen, and for having United States of Tara star Rosemarie Dewitt reprise the role of Don’s former lover Midge.