Mad Men's sixth season began with omens and portents of death. In Hawaii, where Don read from Dante's Inferno, only to spend the next 10 minutes mute like a corpse, and first person POV shots pointed to some frantic calamity, it seemed like we were riding (to use an image from tonight's finale) an elevator plummeting down. The show promised to take Don lower than we'd ever seen, and it did. Only, the lowest movement came last episode (see: Don curling into the fetal position). The finale, "In Care Of," written by Matthew Weiner and Carly Wray, was about hope.

 

There's the promise of something more than the exploration of Hell's many circles in the season to come with this new honesty from Don.

The episode blended great moments of humor (anything with Pete's mom, lost at sea) with scenes where the dominant emotion moved from pain to hope, then back to pain, then to hope again, creating something that felt like transcendence via attrition. Something like god, maybe?

Don having a drink in a bar near the episode's beginning, when he gets into an argument with a minister. "Jesus had a bad year," Don tells him (one of the night's best lines), citing the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King, and Vietnam. After the minister says they weren't on the side of Jesus, Don correctly decks him. He wakes later, in the drunk tank, confused. A cop reminds him what he did to get there.

Eventually he's sent home to Megan. In the episode's first bait-and-switch with the viewer's emotions, it looks like Don's going to leave Megan. (It's painful, bu with the possibility of better things for both of them.) Then, Don starts in on going to California. (At this point, your guts sink). He tells Megan that they could be happy again there, an acknowledgement that things aren't working now. Megan cries tears of joy, but the viewer knows it's all a terrible lie.

Ted Chaough intervenes. After Ted's wife and kids pay a surprise visit to the office, Peggy dons her freakum dress with the express purpose of stirring up Ted's dick. Later that night, they hook up, and Ted begins babbling about leaving his wife. Peggy's happy, but you can see that she's tough, tougher than Ted. She tells him to not stay the night, and it's her resilience that undoes any future they might have together. Ted goes home to his wife and has his epiphany. The next day, he asks Don to send him to California. Again, the viewer thinks he's plotting one thing, but it's just the opposite. Ted's not trying to start something new with Peggy; he's trying to save himself (and his family). He needs miles between his dick and Peggy's Chanel No. 5.

At first, Don won't give up his own golden ticket. Then, Hershey's stops in for their song and dance. Don gives 'em the usual nostalgia trip before getting honest. He talks about growing up in a whorehouse, how a Hershey's bar was his reward for helping one of the prostitutes rob her john.

In the first episode of this season, Don unwittingly pitched an ad for suicide. Now, he's pitching the life of Dick Whitman. Jon Hamm's face is one of television's great treasures. It's become shorthand for cold confidence, and so when it breaks down, as it does in this scene, teetering at the verge of tears, there's something frightening about the loss of control. It's also so moving that it's beautiful. 

Maybe Don Draper has died, and we're watching the emergence of a new man. There's the promise of something more than the exploration of Hell's many circles in the season to come with this new honesty from Don (even if it has cost him his job for the time being). Most telling is the look Sally gives him when he takes her, Bobby, and Gene to see the whorehouse he grew up in (which is where, exactly?). Earlier this season, she told her father that she realized she knew nothing about him. This is the first step toward changing that.

Keep reading for the best and worst aspects of Mad Men's sixth season.

Written by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)

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