A wakeup call heeded as 'Mad Men' season ends
This TV publicity image released by AMC shows Jon Hamm as Don Draper, left, and Jessica Pare as Megan Draper in a scene from "Mad Men." The season finale airs Sunday, June 23, on AMC. (AP Photo/AMC, Michael Yarish)
NEW YORK (AP) — We have now left Don Draper in a state ripe for rehab — both literally and figuratively.
Airing Sunday night, the season finale of "Mad Men" found its troubled hero reeling from one bender too many.
"I realized it's gotten out of control," he told his wife, Megan, after a night in a drunk tank after punching out a priest who ticked him off in a bar. "I've gotten out of control," he added.
In its penultimate sixth season spanning the turbulent year of 1968, this AMC drama charted Draper's downward spiral, cheating on his wife with a downstairs neighbor and wreaking havoc at the Manhattan ad agency where he used to be golden.
Until now a charismatic master of pretense, Draper by season's end acknowledged what every "Mad Men" viewer already knew: Don's fabled mojo had failed him. But he seemed prepared to take corrective action.
Did he have a lot of choice? In a startling scene, Draper (series star Jon Hamm) was summoned to a meeting for some bad news: He was being sidelined at Sterling Cooper & Partners.
That is, Draper was ordered to "take some time off and regroup," in the pointed words of fellow partner Roger Sterling (John Slattery).
This expulsion came after a powwow days earlier with the bosses of a possible new client, Hershey's Chocolate, where the silver-tongued Draper did what he does best: infusing the product with his own seductive myths.
Don had the Hershey execs spellbound with a heart-tugging recollection of his father rewarding him with a Hershey bar for mowing the lawn.
"Hershey's is the currency of affection," he rhapsodized. "It's the childhood symbol of love."
But then, as if suffering a crisis of conscience, he pulled a one-eighty. Always a master of revisionist history, Draper revised his pitch from fantasy to truth: He was actually an orphan raised in a whorehouse, he revealed, where, trying to capture the experience of a normal kid, he would eat a Hershey bar he got from one of the girls "who made me go through her john's pockets while they screwed."
Don's eyes moistened, his voice sank to a whisper in a scene that should clinch Hamm his long-withheld Emmy.
"Do you want to advertise THAT?" asked a puzzled Hershey exec.
"If I had my way, you would NEVER advertise," Draper answered. "And you shouldn't have someone like me telling that boy" — every happy, normal boy with a father who loves him — "what a Hershey bar is. He already knows."
It was a startlingly awkward moment for the agency partners, but a galvanizing moment of truth for Don.
This step toward redemption, if that's what it turns out to be, was likely triggered two episodes ago, when his teenage daughter Sally found him cheating on his wife. Sally was traumatized.
So was Draper at being discovered by her.
"It's the worst thing that ever happened to him," said "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner in a recent interview. "His pain and guilt and shame are indescribable."
It was the wakeup call Don was long overdue for.
"We discovered a lot about Don this year as he realized who he really is," Weiner said. "And we discovered that he doesn't want to be that way."
On the finale, he torpedoed the romance of longtime colleague Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) with her new love, agency partner Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm). Don facilitated Ted's wish to move to California with his family to separate himself from Peggy, breaking off their affair and thereby saving his marriage.