'Mad Men' Season Finale: Don Draper's Nine Circles of Hell
"Mad Men" began its sixth and possibly best season with Don Draper reading "Dante's Inferno" – and ended Sunday with him trying to stop some of the sins that lead to its nine circles.
The inferno punishes according to the degree of a person's sin – and Don's sins this season would easily land him in the ninth. But in the season finale, he began to pull back from the life he's created, and to admit to the hellish one he was born into. The episode's final scene found him showing his children the dilapidated former "whore house" where he grew up as the orphaned Dick Whitman. Don looks to his daughter, Sally, who has begun to imitate his penchant for drunkenness and using a fake name.
His look doesn't ask her to forgive him for keeping his latest dirty secret – an affair with his neighbor – but it does seem to ask her to understand why he is the way he is.
Even as Don peels back the mask, he is being out out-Don Drapered by Bob Benson, the total fraud Pete Campbell describes as an "accomplice to murder" after his friend Manolo apparently married Pete's mother and pushed her from a cruise ship. We learned last episode that Benson once served as a manservant to a senior vice president who took him across the Atlantic on another pleasure cruise. We wonder: How long have they fantasized about pushing someone over the railing?
There's little question that Manolo's motive was financial: As Bob has told us repeatedly, he doesn't like women. But we know, as Manolo didn't, that Pete's mother was broke. In the finale's one unlikely scene, Pete and his brother convince themselves that Manolo will slink away once he learns no fortune awaits him – and both seem willing to let that happen.
Bob also manages to get Pete kicked off the Chevy account by revealing Pete's own dark secret: He can't drive. As Bob's machinations lead to humiliation and even a connection to a murder, we see that he is reaching levels of manipulation that even Don hasn't matched.
But Don may be winning at another game: Staying out of hell's hottest circles. Here are the levels of the inferno, and which "Mad Men" characters Dante might place within them:
First Circle (Limbo): The domain of the unbaptized and virtuous pagans. Lots of "Mad Men" characters are unbaptized, but are any really virtuous? This seems like only the domain of babies and children. Maybe Dante would place Dr. Rosen and Michael Ginsburg here just for not being Christian. But elsewhere he encounters two virtuous non-Christians in Heaven. If Ginsburg and especially Rosen don't deserve a happy afterlife, we don't know who does.
Second Circle (Lust): I'm hard-pressed to think of a "Mad Men" character who doesn't lust – again, with the exception of babies, children, Rosen, Ginsburg and Burt Peterson. Although Benson seems more driven by opportunism than lust.
Third Circle (Gluttony): Again. Since gluttony includes booze, nearly anyone on the show could end up here – except kids, Rosen, Ginsburg and Benson. Pete, Burt, Joan, Trudy and several secondary characters also seem okay on the gluttony front. (Actually, Trudy seems safe on every front. You blew it, Pete.) In the season finale, Don also seemed to be forswearing drunkenness. We'll see how that goes.
Fourth Circle (Greed): Since most "Mad Men" characters are financially secure, they seem driven more by a desire for power than for money. But that's still greed. And the power they desire is usually the power to keep others from challenging them. Don is greedy in his desire to keep Ted from taking over his control of the agency, which doesn't work out in the finale: He is asked to take an indefinite leave, just as poor pants-wetting Freddy Rumsen was asked to do in Season 2. And when last we saw Peggy, she was sitting in Don's office chair, perhaps planning a redesign.
But in Don's favor, he seems to have deliberately sabotaged himself by delivering Hershey perhaps the most awkward pitch in the history of advertising. He may also have redeemed himself a bit by unselfishly letting Ted go to California.