Last night's Mad Men could have easily been a series finale. The show set the stage for new beginnings with Don—outing his past and ousted from Sterling Cooper & Partners—showing his children the whorehouse where he grew up, as Judy Collins' rendition of "Both Sides Now" plays. But it's all set-up for Matthew Weiner's final season of his masterpiece. What will that season look like?
It's unclear even to Weiner. He told Dan Snierson of Entertainment Weekly: "I’m not lying when I tell you all I have is an image for the very end of the show, and I really use everything that myself and the writers can think of for this season. We painted ourselves into a corner but I always want the season finale to feel like the end of the show." So while Weiner may not know how to get to that endpoint, here are some things we hope we see.
Peggy Olson, for us at least, has long been the heart of the show, a character we could unabashedly support. This last episode was rough for her, and Weiner has said that her season was about not having choices. After sleeping with Ted, who says he is going to leave his wife, Peggy is then blindsided when Ted tells her he intends to go to California to salvage his family. "Well aren't you lucky, to have decisions," she lobs at Ted. But by the end of the episode, Peggy is in Don's chair, wearing a pantsuit, in charge, while Don's been sent on a leave of absence. She's shot in silhouette from behind, a recreation of the iconic Draper shot. That's not necessarily a happy ending though, Weiner told Snierson. "It’s not like there is no joy at all, but her work has become everything," he said.
From season one Peggy has always been Don's foil, someone who he has wanted to succeed, but also someone who is a representation of how the world changes around him. But Weiner has been known to not let Peggy get what she wants. Here's hoping that in the final season of the show Peggy will finally get her due.
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The Agency Without Don
Related to a desire to see Peggy's success, we would also like to see the agency at work without Don. It would be just too easy to find Don back in the office when the series re-ups. Without his undermining, but also without his pitches, which Weiner admits to Entertainment Weekly are still "amazing," does SC&P thrive?
More Bob Benson
Ah, Bob Benson: the man who launched a thousand theories. Benson was the season's big mystery, and while his secret was revealed in the penultimate episode, he didn't get any less entertaining. He sabotaged Pete at Chevy, and ignored Roger's warnings, carving a turkey and smiling at Joan's Thanksgiving. And there are still some unknowns about Bob that we hope get answered. Weiner said in exit interviews that he isn't even positive Bob is gay. "We really wanted Pete to have an underling, that there was someone nipping at his heels, but was really, really good with people," Weiner told the Times' Dave Itzkoff. "Someone who, even without any substance, had a blind affection for Pete, almost an obsession with him. I don’t even think it’s gay. I think he honestly just loves what Pete represents, because Pete has everything that he wants." With Pete apparently going to California and Bob handling Chevy in Detroit that dynamic may not be in play anymore, but we still want to see how Bob fares. Though James Wolk is on The Crazy Ones (the new CBS show with Robin Williams) the show would do well to have him back. Weiner seems coyly positive, telling Alan Sepinwall: "We loved having him on the show. I would say that the little thought I've given it, I don't think his story is over."
California has for Mad Men been a place of dreams. Sometimes those dreams are nightmarish, like during Don's most recent visit wherein he smoked hash and hallucinated. Other times they are hopeful. California brought Don and Megan together; California was the land of Anna Draper. The call of California drew a number of people in the season finale. Ted and Pete are definitely going. Megan may be going. In an interview with Lace Jacob of The Daily Beast, Weiner implied that everyone might be back. "I think that you will have to take my word for it, judging from the mystery of Don and Betty’s divorce [back in Season 3]," he said. "I have not cut anybody loose, I really haven’t. I am interested in this world and I think that it’s a really, really fertile ground with great actors and great opportunities for the writers and directors, so we’re going to keep things where they are." We hope that means that we'll get to see SC&P's Los Angeles satellite grow, rather than a structure which brings everyone back to New York.
This season came to a close as 1968 came to a close. There's a good chance Weiner could simply close the series out with the decade, starting up next year in 1969. But that's not a given. And while Vulture's Denise Martin pointed out that a number of major events happen that year Weiner told her "I don’t know if we're going to come back [in 1969]." While we would love to see Sally Draper go to Woodstock, a part of us wants to see the mad men at the start of a new era.