IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Big changes at home, work in ‘Mad Men’ finale

The impending sale of Sterling Cooper forces Don and his compatriots to take action, and Betty makes her move to leave him.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

The episode opened with a shot of Don — pale, sweaty, hacking like a nag — in a dead man's bed. His alarm didn't go off. (So much of Don's horrible trouble this season could be so summed up. Red flags waved everywhere, and he just barreled right towards them.) Don might have risen from Gene's cot but it was Connie's curt dismissal that woke him out of his season-long stupor. The Brits were selling out, and were going to dropkick Sterling Cooper into a behemoth ad agency. The old man, another would-be father figure who crumpled him up like a sheet of paper, had no further use for him. Don prostituted himself for this man and Connie used him for kicks. ''That's why you called me son,'' Don hissed through his teeth, fighting to keep a tight smile on his face. Connie, that toxic old coot, delivered a smug speech about self-reliance. Don took a last look around the Waldorf suite before trudging back to his place of indentured servitude.

It was time to wake Mr. Cooper from his fat, lazy lion nap. It was time to act. They needed to save themselves from ending up as disposable cogs at some huge corporate machine. ''Young men love risks because they can't imagine consequences,'' purred Mr. Cooper. ''And you old men love building golden tombs and sealing the rest of us in with you,'' Don shot back. Well, that got Bert's attention! Don reminded the old man that he built this company from the ground up 40 years ago and he could do it again. Ah, said Mr. C., then they needed Roger and his Lucky Strike account. (Damn you, Lee Garner Jr.!) Mr. Cooper hooked the silver fox by warning him that an early retirement would send a man like Roger to an early grave. ''Join or die?'' smirked Roger. One of the many tragedies this season has been the lost rapport between Roger and Don. Finally these two proud men were playing again for the same team. The mere sight of them bellied back up to that dark bar from seasons past put me in a drinking mood. Buzzkill! To his sincere chagrin Roger blurted out the news that Betty had hitched her wagon to Henry Francis.

I'll get to the tragedy of that broken contract in a bit. If I had to endure the Drapers' final unraveling, at least it was offset by the heart-pumping fun of watching Don, Coop, and Roger wrest back their names before they were sold out from under them. Some viewers have complained that what this season spent too much time at home and neglected the work. They got a season's worth tonight! The whole story line proceeded with such zip and adrenaline, full of what felt like both brilliant surprises and a wonderful sense of inevitability as each piece of the puzzle fell into place. First the men had to get my prince Lane to join the side of right. The good man hesitated for a bit — what with his career of taking velvet glove blows to the chin from the powers that be. Don realized that Lane had the authority to fire them all, thereby releasing them from their contracts. He reminded Lane that he was dead weight to the company but could have his name on the door at their new agency. What a treat to see Lane decide once and for all that he was done being a stooge. The four men assumed their positions in a quadrant of power. They gnashed into their plans with boyish grins on their faces. They had the weekend to mount their insurgency. Game on.

Don and Roger went to enlist Pete, who looked every bit of 11 years old wearing his funny bangs and plaid bathrobe while playing sick in front of the Christmas tree. Pete was still fussy from the earlier slight of Ken's promotion and he needed to stamp his foot a little. (I loved Trudy in the bedroom, sending out a trilling reminder to her husband to keep his temper in check.) Don and Roger assumed Pete had started shoring up his accounts and they wanted him on their team. But first the boy wanted a love letter from Don. ''It's not hard for me to say Pete,'' Don told him in a magnanimous voice. ''You saw this coming, we didn't. In fact you've been ahead on a lot of things — aeronautics, teenagers, the negro market. We need you to keep us looking forward.'' It's stunning that the man who once tried to ruin Don by dredging up his secret past is now considered the voice of the future.) Pete wanted to be a partner. Pete wanted his name as part of the company title. Pete wanted a lobby. One out of three ain't bad. Once the deal was done and the deadline given, a stunned Pete was left home alone with Trudy. My vote for the most romantic moment of the whole season goes to these two, as they spun around their apartment. Pete bear-hugged his wife, giving her a nice, big wet one, before calling her to action. These two, against all odds, have somehow emerged as a wonderful team.

If they win for romance, I'm going to say that Don and Peggy shared one of the most loving moments. I was so worried there for a bit when Don messed up. He told her to join him rather than asked her. He assumed she'd feel lucky. ''I don't want to make a career out of being there so you can kick me when you fail,'' she told him sadly. My word, do these two depend on each other as mirrors? (Was anyone else worried for just a second that she would spill their plans to Duck?) But later Don went to her apartment and spoke to her as an equal. Incidentally, it was a conversation that might have once saved his marriage. ''I've taken you for granted and I've been hard on you but only because I think I see you as an extension of myself,'' he said, chastened and subdued. ''And you're not.'' Peggy beautifully teared up when she wondered if Don would cut her forever out of his life if she turned down his offer. ''No,'' he said, his voice so full of respect and affection. ''I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.'' I could die.

We all knew it was coming but that didn't diminish the power of Joan's entrance. The problem with the assembled crew of power players was that nobody knew where the dice or the scorecards or the gameboard was kept. They needed a skirt, the skirt. So how brilliant when, at Roger's summoning, Joan showed up wearing the pants. She was back, she had a list, she had everything under control. My heart did a little flippety-flop when she and Roger acted like an old married couple around the kitchen table. ''Dear, I can't read your writing,'' said Roger, squinting through a pair of Grandpa bifocals. ''It's perfectly clear,'' she barked good-naturedly. ''Correspondence!'' Rounding out the scene was Peggy who with her little flip of hair looked every bit their daughter in this domestic scene. Except for the fact that she's forever done playing the ''nervous poodle'' of a girl. ''Peggy, can you get me some coffee?'' Roger asked without looking up. ''No,'' she snapped. Delightful.

Save for a few moving clutches to her quivering brow, it was hard to feel much allegiance to Betty this episode. She had a lawyer. Well, good for you for taking Henry's hand and letting him lead you into his office. Henry wanted a quick divorce in Reno and he didn't want his dollface worrying over alimony. There was a telling moment after Don — who came scarily close to proving he was very much his father's son — grabbed a fistful of Betty's nightgown after learning of her relationship with Henry. ''Now I'm not good enough for some spoiled Main Line brat!'' he spat in her face. ''You're right!'' she yelled back. This divorce is, at least in part, because of the revelations of his past. Don, as drunk and ugly as we've ever seen Archie, sneered to his wife that she was a slut. For a second I thought he was going to rape her but then the baby cried in the background. The baby's sobs snapped Don out of his rage. So much of this season has been about Don's origins story. Well here we were, back on that fateful night — the mean drunk, the whore, and their innocent baby. Except Don does not have to end up like his father.

The parents were civil, if on wildly different pages, as they summoned to children to the sofa. ''What did we do?'' Bobby worried. Nothing, he was assured. ''Then why are we in the living room?'' Don told his children he was moving out but that it would only be temporary, like last time. Betty begged to differ. ''I'm not going, I'll just be living elsewhere,'' Don promised his kids. ''That's going,'' said Sally, her lisp in full and heartbreaking effect. ''You say things and you don't mean them and you can't just do that ... You said you would always come home.'' Sally stormed off. Betty said to just let her go. Bobby wondered if the divorce was on account of the cuff links he lost and broke into tears. Bobby is around the same age Dick was the night he took a slug of moonshine and then watched his father take a death blow to the head. ''It ain't going to rain,'' Archie growled at his son before thunder spooked his horse. (''There will be fat years and there will be lean years, but it is going to rain ...'') Bobby may be losing his innocence but at least he can do so with his arms and legs wrapped tight around his Daddy.

Work once more is Don's salvation in his darkest hour. The gang purged their offices and accounts and set up shop in a suite at the Pierre. Joan was at the helm giving clear-headed instructions. When everyone broke for lunch around lovely Trudy in her silly turnip hat Don snuck into the bedroom to call his wife at home. ''Draper residence,'' she said. ''It's me,'' he told her. Oh, damn, this smarts. I rooted for you two. Don assured Betty that he wouldn't fight her on the divorce and she looked like she might cry again. I dare say, however much she had already started planning the new living room at the Francis residence, it broke what little was left of her heart to hear Don throw in the towel. ''You will always be their father,'' she promised.

Don hung up the phone and walked back out onto such a scene of merriment and good humor that my heart swelled. Don is not alone. He has a roomful of good people to make him laugh and to make him better. Betty is not alone. We left her on a plane bound for a quickie divorce in Reno. She held tight to Baby Gene, her favorite child, as Henry sat officiously alongside her. A perfect little family of three. Even Sally and Bobby are not alone, as Carla smushed in between them on the sofa. At this point that woman is Sally's only hope. I almost feel worse for poor Paul Kinsey, who looked so stunned by the mass abandonment. Everybody left in the dark at Sterling Cooper hadn't made the cut for the dream team and were being left to fend for themselves. That's got to sting.

''I want to work,'' Don had told Mr. Cooper earlier in the episode. ''I want to build something on my own.'' Now he has his chance. So does his family of colleagues. Archie and Connie believe that it's every man for himself out there in this cruel world. One died broke, the other will die unloved by anyone not on his payroll. Neither of them could ever imagine the joy the folks of Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce are going to experience as the elevator climbs to their new crowded office on the fourth floor. So when we said goodbye to Don for the season, we did not leave him at the door of death (or some dotty teacher, thank God). We got a shot of his back, fedora firmly planted on his noggin, clutching his suitcase out front of some Christmas-light festooned brownstones. He looked like an innocent young man fresh to the city, full of the hope and energy that any new beginning demands. Go get 'em Don.

The best line of the evening? Every damn thing that came out of Roger's mouth.

And I woke the dog up with laughter when Mr. Cooper pleasantly warned Harry that he either join their team or spend the rest of the weekend locked in the storeroom closet.

And then, of course, Lane's magnificent kiss-off to St. John: ''Very good. Happy Christmas!''

Oh, and one more. ''Good Morning! Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. How may I help you? [pause] Yes Harry, it's Room 435.''

Oh, friends. Did you just love it? Are you unused to watching the credits roll with such a glowing sense of uplift? Were there any other integral members of the Sterling Cooper crew you would have liked to see brought aboard? Whatever will we do as we wait for season 4?