06/12/2012 09:26 am ET Updated Aug 12, 2012

Mad Men Finale Recap: "You Only Live Twice"

"You only live twice or so it seems, one for yourself and one for your dreams."

This James Bond theme song closes the season, bringing back Don Draper's double life in a satisfying, if not exciting, finale. Nothing crazy happened, but in the last two weeks Peggy quit, Joan prostituted herself and Lane committed suicide so it was nice to slow down to catch up. "The Phantom" takes on personal ghosts to conclude a season filled with altered realities, dream murders and acid trips. Last week there was death and this week it's Easter and it's time for resurrection. Marie Calvet tells Megan, "You're chasing a phantom," and this episode is haunted by phantoms of both the characters and the series, exposing the existence of everyone's double life: one for yourself and one for your dreams. They're all chasing a phantom of sorts: Megan is chasing her acting career, Don is trying to get rid of his guilt and pain, Roger is chasing his LSD enlightenment and Pete and Beth are both looking for their projected fantasy of one another. It's affairs and hallucinations and hotel rooms and movies in the middle of the day -- all things that exist outside of real life.

My problem with the end of this season is that Lane's suicide as the main event is so anticlimactic. We've been bombarded with symbols and images of death, dream-murders, sniper shootings, car crashes and empty elevator shafts and Lane's hanging himself just didn't feel significant enough to be the big payoff. Since the silly lost wallet in the season premiere, Lane's storylines have been tangential and out of sync with the rest of the characters. He became expendable. If they wanted his death to be a big deal, they could've at least given him an interesting arc to make it feel like a more significant loss. And while I'm at it, the season's other failure was boring Fat Betty. We just didn't care.

But all that said, I still thought it was a great season. Maybe not its best, but still great, with moments of brilliance. The acid episode, Peggy quitting, Don and Joan's bar scene, Don and Peggy's movie scene -- these all go into the Mad Men hall of fame. Sally has been a particular delight and Megan has been fun to watch, as a new kind of modern woman to tip over the Peggy-Joan female axis and swiftly knock out all Mad Men norms, while somehow remaining likeable.

Back to the episode. Lane's death now haunts the office, so much so that they need to take another floor (finally getting the phantom floor from last season). It's technically SCDP's best quarter ever and they've made it upstairs, but at what cost? Joan's donned her glasses and taken over Lane's bespectacled scrutiny of the company's finances. Don knows what happened and is harboring his own guilt, too obviously symbolized by his tooth ache and his dead brother's ghost, while Joan wonders what if she returned his kiss that day. (It's a great little moment when Don asks what he wanted and, just with their eyes, Joan's like 'you know he wanted this' and Don's like 'oh god, not again.') Lane's suicide reminded us of Adam Whitman, who Don dismissed and drove to suicide back in Season 1, and now Don can't get him out of his head. This season has been notably heavy-handed with themes and symbols -- Death! Depression! Every man for himself! -- but Adam Whitman's ghost telling Don "it's not your tooth that's rotten" takes it over the top. Thanks Adam, we got it.

Creative is struggling without Peggy. Topaz is looking for a woman's point of view, and they thought that was a given. Don yells at Ginzo and Stan is bored with this dynamic. They all miss her. It's thrilling to see Peggy in her new office and elevated position, bossing around three men (not that she didn't boss around the men at SCDP). And now she's back on those women's cigarettes that Don was after before he publicly quit cigarettes (another phantom). They will of course turn into Virginia Slims. Will Peggy come up with "We've Come A Long Way, Baby"?

The movie scene with Don and Peggy is adorable, as always they light up the screen together. They both go to the movies to clear their heads and they're genuinely happy to see each other. He asks about work, she tells him everything is good and cutely asks if that's okay. Don responds, "That's what happens when you help someone, they succeed and move on." "Don't you want them to?" she asks. He says, "I'm proud of you, I just didn't know it would be without me." She proudly tells him she's going on a business trip to Virginia to the cigarette factory. She's finally going on a plane. She's excited. They're meeting here as friends and somewhat closer to equals and Peggy says, "We should all get together." I'm not sure what will happen with this. I'm not really okay with her working somewhere else. So how about she comes up with the Virginia Slims line, gets some major street cred and he hires her back in a bigger role? Work for you? Works for me.

Helping people and them succeeding and moving on without you is what Don's realizing about Megan as he talks to Peggy. Megan's friend asked for help getting cast in Don's commercial for Butler shoes, so obviously Megan goes after the part herself. (To be fair, during the Cinderella pitch it sounded like they were describing Megan.) Don says no, defensive, "I thought you hated advertising," and tells her, "You want to be someone's discovery, not someone's wife," but he rediscovers her when he watches her audition reel. She thinks he doesn't believe in her, but you can see how mesmerized he is by her on screen. This scene mimicked the Season 1 finale with Don"s Kodak pitch (another phantom) as he projected pictures of himself and Betty, so young and happy. There's a sadness to both viewings. In Season 1, you felt the disconnect between that happy hot-dog sharing couple and what they had become and it's kind of similar as he watches his new wife on film; he sees actress Megan Calvet apart from their life and realizes this is something she needs and he has to let her go. He gives in and gives her the part because of course she should have it -- she really does look the part of a European Belle. (But did anyone notice she was dressed more like Snow White than Belle? Belle wears a yellow gown. Snow White wears red, blue and yellow. Come on, MW, everybody knows that.)

They call her Megan Calvet on set and she kisses him on the check and whispers, "You know I love you" as though she might, in some way, be saying goodbye.

As Don walks off the set, it's like he's walking out of the sunny-California-born fairytale that started in last season's finale, completing this chapter and going back to the old Don Draper we know. "You Only Live Twice" plays in the background, and the Bond theme reminds us who he really is: the dashing secret agent. It's a Beauty and the Beast-like transformation. Megan loved him for who he really was and turned him into a prince this season but as he walks back in the shadows and she's left behind, lit up in color, it's like he's transforming back into the beast. It's as though this whole relationship and season could have all been a dream. Don, dark bar, lit cigarette, old-fashioned. "Are you alone?" a girl asks. When he looks up we see a familiar smile and the flash of the old Don we haven't seen in a while. We're all alone. That's the theme. I don't think he says yes just yet, but that guy's still in there.

While this marriage feels like it might be slipping away, the rest of the episode is about affairs with the fantasy-like, hotel-room anonymity that is an escape from reality.

First we have Roger and Marie Calvet. I love Marie. Julia Ormond really looks like she could be Megan's mother and Marie Calvet is awesomely mean and funny, making her a great on-screen match for Roger. Roger's quipping, Marie's snapping. "My husband is an atheist." "You ungrateful little bitch." Hahaha. Oh, Marie. She gets to the hotel room and Roger immediately proposes they take LSD. He's still chasing that clarity he experienced with Jane. One of his partners died and he tells her he really needs to do it to "appreciate here" and he doesn't want to do it alone. Marie's not interested in taking care of him, so he settles for sex. Later Roger does it alone and stands naked staring out at the city. Drugs are an accessible escape from reality, but like with everything else we see, you just end up chasing a phantom of that last high.

And then we have Pete and Beth, which is the weakest part of this episode, and it's annoying they spent so much time on it. Pete's been depressed all season. Beth is depressed and getting shock therapy to escape the pain of reality -- a literal version of what everyone else is trying to do. Before she goes under, Beth calls Pete for one last tryst, just as he once fantasized she would do. She asks him to meet her at the hotel room she stood him up in and as he says, because he's pathetic, he shows up. Some light pillow talk, she tells him she's getting the therapy because without it, "I just get to this place and I suddenly feel this door open and I want to talk through it." Pete responds, "That's for weak people." There was all this talk of Pete committing suicide this season and here it's directly addressed. Maybe the thought has crossed his mind: he knows depression but he's too strong. Lane was the weaker one who would succumb. Pete's a fighter -- even though he keeps getting punched in the face. We're now up to three and counting.

Pete goes to visit her at the hospital and she doesn't know who he is. Rory Gilmore is such a bad actress that you couldn't even tell she didn't remember Pete until you saw Vincent Kartheiser's reaction. (Claire Danes will show us how post-EST is done when Homeland returns.) And again heavy-handed, Pete spells out his whole inner struggle of the season. He tells her of his "friend" who had an affair that made him realize "everything he already had was not right either, and that was why it had happened at all, and that his life with his family was some temporary bandage on a permanent wound." He's saying he has a deep darkness inside of him that a family can't cure. Does he actually? We hadn't seen this in Pete until this season. To me that sounded a little like Don and the way he tried to fill the void with the perfect cookie-cutter family and now with Megan, which may or may not be over. In reality, we're all alone.

Standing in the new office space, Pete tells Don, "I'm going to have the same view as you, Don." All season Pete's life has mirrored Don's old one -- from the first episode where we see him caught in the suburb nightmare Don escaped. He's finally getting the big office he wanted in the first place (and he's still not happy). "Congratulations," Don replies sarcastically. And in that fantastic shot, the five remaining partners line up in the window panes of the new office, assembled as superheroes in what MW called an "Avengers-type pose" staring out into the city. We don't' know what will become of them. This second floor is a kind of a fantasy of what's next and a blank slate for next season.

This season has been all about the view. We've watched people staring significantly out of windows. Pete stared out his window when he first moved into his office, Lane did the same before committing suicide. Megan stared unhappily off the balcony in the premiere and Don stared out of the glass conference room when he needed to re-enter the office dynamic. The window is what separates you from the world, and the view determines how you see it. They're all staring out into the abyss looking for an escape. Joan tells Don she knows a dentist in the steeple of the Chrysler building; if he doesn't help at least you get to see the view. In the final montage, Roger shakes his LSD-happy naked body out the window into the city. In Virginia, Peggy sees two dogs humping outside her hotel window, but she's happy anyway. She's doesn't quite have the view but she's made it on a business trip and flown on a plane. She's on her way. She's the only one who doesn't need the view because she's happy where she is.

Okay, well that's all for this season! Thanks for reading my view. See you next year!

What else? Thoughts?