Shot of salt flats.
Don is racing cars. His face is determined. And covered with lots and lots of sweat. But we'll get used to Don being coated in a sheen of sweat in this episode. Not sexy sweat. The sweat of alcohol, despair, and Utah.
Don sleeps with someone. More dirty sweat. She wants money. Don obliges.
Back to McCann. Meredith talks to Roger. She tells him she translated his speech into pig latin like he asked her to. Awesome.
"That was a joke!" Roger says as only Roger can. Oh Roger. We'll miss you and your godawful Civil War mustache. Your marriage to Marie will never last.
Meredith vocalizes the question every wants to know about Don: "Is he dead?" Writers set up the theme of the episode early and obviously.
Peggy and Stan are in a meeting at McCann. Peggy is doing well. She's kicking ass and taking names. There are Halloween decorations stuck on the conference room wall. Leaves, pumpkins, ghosts, black cats. Like at an elementary school. Why does a corporation like McCann have little Halloween decorations in their board rooms?
Florida vay-cay for Joan and her boyfriend, Richard! Joan's boyfriend has cocaine. He informs us that cocaine is "all over Malibu." In Malibu, cocaine coats windshields and gutters like sycamore pollen. Cocaine makes Joan feel like someone just gave her some very good news. Foreshadowing! I love coked up Joan.
Peggy's office. She has a light-up pumpkin decoration in her office and a skeleton on the door. What's with the juvenile decorations everywhere? Will Halloween decorations figure in Don's death?
Pete says goodbye to Peggy. He's headed for Wichita. I want more out of their goodbye but I've gotten used to that storyline ending abruptly - like a Halloween decoration scarecrow pole jammed into my heart. Pete gives Peggy a cactus. She promptly engraves the pot with "I gave up his baby and all I got was this lousy cactus."
Don calls Sally from his sweaty hotel room. Sally tells Don about Betty's illness. Don calls Betty. Don is very Don on the phone, making grand statements and promises he'll never be able to keep. But Betty is calmer and wiser. Don reacts like we'd expect: cries and drinks and flops down on a hotel bed.
Joan has lunch with Ken. She's peppy and giggly. Way too happy about a lunch with Ken Cosgrove. Cocaine suits her. Ken wants Joan to help him produce a movie for Dow Chemical. He has 50 grand for her. Good news abounds.
Race car drivers come into Don's hotel room. They want money. Don obliges. He tells them to take him to Los Angeles. They offer to pack his things. They are nice race car drivers. Sadly, all of Don's belongings are in a paper Penney's bag. It's as if these two guys are helping Don on the first day of school; getting him dressed and off to the bus stop clutching his brown lunch bag.
Joan at home. She wants Peggy to help with Dow. She wants to start a partnership with Peggy. Bert and Ernie on the TV. Even they are autumn-colored.
Don is at his first wife's house in California. Her niece, Stephanie the hippie, is there. Don can be Dick Whitman there. Stephanie offers him stew. Hippies really love stew. It's so communal. Hippies never say I'll get you "a burger" or "an enchilada" or "a cup o' noodle." They're too non-sharable.
Stephanie takes Don with her on a hippie retreat. We've come full circle. In the first episode, Don was hooking up with a bohemian artist and her friends behind Betty's back. Throughout Mad Men, Don is often drawn to the nonconformist lifestyle. He changes easily from working in Manhattan to picking up hitchhikers, taking drugs with Megan's California beatnik friends, and going to Big Sur hippie retreats.
In a very sad moment, Sally comes home from school to find Bobby trying to cook for himself and Gene. Which is kind of ridiculous. Henry and Betty Francis can afford to hire a cook. I cry foul on this scene.
Joan's at home. So.many. Halloween. decorations. Joan's boyfriend Richard can't believe she's getting back into doing business-y things. "What are you doing Joan, dammit? Work? You can't work and be a girlfriend. I need you and your Halloween cat cut-outs with me in Malibu, where cocaine coats everything like sugar on a bundt cake." Her phone keeps ringing. Probably some annoying business-y person wanting her to work instead of bake and screw. I can't take this breakup seriously with all these Halloween decorations everywhere. Good God, the phone really won't stop ringing. Oh right. No answering machines in 1970. Joan chooses her career over Richard. Goodbye, Richard, and your Mr. Furley wardrobe.
Don tolerates the retreat until Stephanie, frustrated by being judged by other hippies (which is seriously a pretty frickin' low place to be in life) takes off and strands Don there. "People just come and go and nobody says goodbye," Don complains. And he kind of falls apart. We've all seen Don fall apart, but we've never seen him do it in a flannel shirt. Beside himself, Don reaches for his touchstone: Peggy, who is staying at McCann for the time being. Don calls to "say goodbye." If Don is going to do himself in, this is the moment. But he can't do it in a flannel shirt. It's unacceptable. Don needs to get into a suit, stat! Change your damn clothes, Don! Plaid flannel will NOT be your final outfit!
Over the phone, Peggy senses Don is in a bad place. She calls Stan, panicking. But Stan is in love with her. Peggy forgets about Don. Don, Peggy. Remember Don? The suicidal phone call a couple minutes ago? Peggy loves Stan, too. Stan runs to her office. Romantic kiss. But, really, Peggy. Don. Hello? Could they trace pay phone calls back in 1970? I guess she can't really do much of anything. No way for her to tweet #teamrescuedon and organize a virtual search party. They barely had running water back then.
Retreat Worker Lady encourages Don to go to a group meeting. A man named Leonard tells his dream:
I had a dream I was on a shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door and the light goes off. And I know everybody's out there eating. And then they open the door and you see them smiling. They're happy to see you but maybe they don't look right at you and maybe they don't pick you. Then the door closes again. The light goes off.
Leonard cries. It's an unabashed, open-mouthed ugly cry. Don goes and embraces him. Leonard has struck a chord with Don. The concept of the light going out is featured in John Steinbeck's The Winter of our Discontent (1961). At one point, the main character, Ethan, states, "It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone." At the end, Ethan goes to the ocean with a razor blade and a family rock/talisman, planning to kill himself. He realizes he needs to return the talisman to his daughter, "else another light might go out." Don. By the ocean. Light going out. Is this on purpose? Does Matthew Weiner love The Winter of Our Discontent as much as I do? I'm nervous.
But, fear, not. There is Don. Still at the retreat. He's with a group of people, meditating in a white dress shirt. Om. He doesn't belong there with those people! Don Draper could save all of you! But then: THE Coke commercial from 1971. I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.
I love the ending. As I see it, inspired by his road trip detour and emotional unraveling, Don went back to Manhattan and created the Coke advertisement. Because that's what Don does. And Don will at some point suffer another break down and run away. And that experience will inspires another great ad. Because that's what Don does. The finale wasn't so much an ending as another installment in the Don Draper/Dick Whitman cycle. We don't really have to say good bye. We can just say farewell. As Ethan says in The Winter of Our Discontent: "Farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance. Good-by is short and final, a word with teeth sharp to bite through the string that ties past to the future."
Eh bien, continuons.
-Huis Clos, Sartre
Erica Ford is the author of Scotch Tape is Cheaper Than Botox available at Amazon.