In 3 Scenes | Mad Men's "In Care Of"

Roger slips into a little nihilism during a therapy session in the sixth season's premiere episode.
With finale in hand, are the times finally a-changin' for Don and SC&P?

The following contains spoilers if you have not yet seen the season six finale, "In Care Of." 

At the close of its sixth and penultimate season that spanned perhaps the darkest and most turbulent year in recent American history, Mad Men did the unexpected.

It left us feeling a little hopeful.

As Judy Collins played us out, we were left to wonder just how Don's "both sides, now" will reconcile. Self-destruction aside, how does one come back from the heartrending chaos of 1968? A watershed year in American history, it was a time of vivid colors, startling sounds, and searing images that forever changed a nation. As a relentless cascade of events pummeled the world around them, people were left to find their own sense of solace (or distraction, at best). And when the haze cleared, many came out knowing that things would never be quite the same.

For all that it rendered, "In Care Of" could have been a series finale. The departures from New York and gravity of Don's exit from the agency, along with numerous callbacks to the first season (and even the pilot), all carried a strong sense of finality for many story arcs, as a number of characters charted out into the great unknown.  Not to even mention, the figurative death of the show's protagonist, as Don sacrificed himself in the most inappropriate of places.

Of course, we can't trust any of it.  Not yet, at least.  The landscape has been rocked by great change in the past, only to have its impact neatly reversed in the end.  And yet, this time feels different.  As bound in their ways as many of its characters appear, the series has always been about looking forward.  How the world carries on, while its players remain the same.  If its final season rounds out the Sixties, Mad Men will have captured a decade of incredible upheaval and transformation for a nation and its people.  A decade that saw its youth grab hold with both hands and venture out into a bold frontier that would never be quite like what came before it.  To have a future in this brave new world, one has little choice but to evolve  or resume the downward spiral into obscurity (at best).

It could really be different this time.  We may yet see a different Don, a different Roger, a different Peggy, or a different Pete (if it matters).  For many, there's no turning back.  Though directed at Pete, it's clear there are much further-reaching implications for Trudy's assertion that her estranged husband is finally "free" from all of the burden and responsibility he once had in his life. Even more clear, however, is how dissatisfied he is in this realization.  

After all, isn't freedom just another word for nothing left to lose?  

As a courtesy, this is not my full review of the finale.  Instead, here's a closer look into three scenes* which, at the expense of all others, would have been enough.

Don Comes Undone

Cool story, bro. 

It had to be Hershey's. His never-realized golden ticket out of the worst little whorehouse in Pennsylvania, the dream of Hershey's was Don's one "sweet thing" in a life devoid of true affection. A refuge for the undesired with an almost religious sense of salvation (befitting the institution), the Hersheys' school carried with it the promise of feeling wanted, accepted – to be seen for exactly what he was and be told, "It's okay." You are okay.

The pitch was set like any other, as Don began crafting his masterful web of nostalgia and childhood ideals.  "The wrapper looked like what was inside," he recalled of the brand's iconic chocolate bar – of course, knowing that the same could never be accurately described of himself, having spent so much of his life concocting the sweetly deceptive wrapper of Donald Draper.  Finally, the facade falls, as he recounts his true history of enjoying his implicated confection “alone in my room with great ceremony, feeling like a normal kid,” underlining everything we had seen of his character until this point – that he can only be himself when alone, freed from not just social expectations and judgments but from the earnest perceptions of those who love him.

Also, I'm not sure he could have picked a more outwardly wholesome (and proportionately inappropriate) brand to associate with his ceremonious confession.  Walt Disney, perhaps?

True to form, the history of the episode was accurate  the Hershey Company did not advertise until 1969, in part, due to its founder's and the prevailing production era opinion that "a good product would sell itself."  (Their approach has since broadened.)

It should be mentioned that Milton Hershey was not a perfect human being, by any stretch, and the enactment of his and his wife's philanthropy was not without its flaws.  That said, the Hershey Industrial School (later, the Milton Hershey School) has graduated thousands of high school students, warmly dressed and in good health, who leave with far more than they had going in. 

Acting Creative Director, Peggy Olson

First order of business: restock the bar cart
Of the many things decided for Peggy this season, the role of top-ranking Manhattan Creative was not a terrible place to land in the end.  Whatever title is deemed appropriate, Peggy "Glass Ceilings Can't Stop This Train" Olson is sitting in the corner office of the man she used to bring aspirin to as his secretary (though is still unceremoniously left to clean up his mess).  A bittersweet victory, as the women's in this series so often are, but a liberating triumph nonetheless.

Also, the reference and composition of this shot are flawless.  Get it, Pegs. 

Fortunately, Peggy's professional successes came later than at least one of her real world predecessors. Advertising icon Mary Wells Lawrence broke ground as copy chief of McCann Erickson in 1953, at the remarkable age of twenty-five, before moving to Doyle Dane Bernbach, where she became copy chief and vice president in 1963.  By 1969, she was reportedly the highest-paid executive in advertising and one of the highest-salaried women in the world.  Wells was also the first female chief executive of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange and the first woman to own and run a major national ad agency.  (Olson & Rizzo, anyone?)

You Can't Go Home Again

When hope takes the form of a whorehouse

As the last in a series of scenes reuniting estranged parents with their respective children, Don finally arrived at the meeting his earlier catharsis was meant for. 

With the world around them in disarray, everyone returned to a sphere they can control and faced what is good in their lives  Don, Roger, Pete, and even Peggy to some degree, as she sits down to clean up Don's mess. Returning to their roles at a time when they (and the nation) most needed to preserve the lie parents try to sell their children for as long as possible: that "everything is going to be okay." Even in earlier seasons, Don rarely seemed to tow that line  primarily out of his absence, but perhaps also because the ritual was never passed on to him.  

If you can't go home again (or never had one to begin with), what do you use to find your bearings?  

There was a concerted effort to highlight the distance between Don and his children, this season, and the dangers this gap may present to their futures (or already has, in the cases of the home invasion and his daughter's suspension). After everything, Sally still doesn't know anything true about him and he realizes: "It's time for me to be who I am, as much as I can." As the final scene of a season overwrought with personal decay, we see Don reach out on a very human level, stop running, and finally gain the ability to look her in the eyes without turning away.  

The honesty of that moment was unprecedented.  

Creator Matthew Weiner has commented on this scene as being one that "many of us have never had with our parents," presumably in its sense of humanism and sincere vulnerability.  It was the moment that he and the cast had been building toward all season.  (Worth it.)

And since it may have been Megan's last precedent, a bonus:

Image source (all): AMC's Mad Men

*Editorial note: three scenes that I cared about.  Sorry, Bob.   

No comments:

Post a Comment