“I was an orphan. I grew up in a whorehouse in Pennsylvania.”—Don Draper.

That’s right, Don, let it out. As the minister you punched out to intoned, “If something’s on your mind, you need to talk.” Is there anything else you want to say? Alcoholic? Maybe? No, you’re right, let’s just take it one step at a time.

In this speech, Don finally embraces his past and in doing so torpedoed everything. He blew up his foundation of lies—the same lies that permitted him entrance into this world—that has been wreacking havoc on his life and everyone around him. When he talks to Betty on the phone, he is told that Sally bought beer under a pseudonym with a fake ID. All the anxiety of wanting to erase her dad from her life has unwittingly put Sally on a course to be exactly like him. But like Ted, Don valued his family over all else, and as he shows his kids his childhood home at the end of “In Care Of” and he and Sally exchange a knowing look, it looks like it was worth it.

This death and rebirth paradigm has been the overarching theme of season 6 of Mad Men. Remember back to Don’s death wish in Hawaii, the place where aloha means hello and goodbye? “How do you get to heaven?” Don posed in the premiere. “Something terrible has to happen.” And so as Don makes substantive steps in his relationship with his kids and divests all of that insidious baggage of his youth, he loses Megan who had her heart set on California. He also freaks out yet another client and appears to lose his job. [1]

And the fallback doesn‘t stop there. The dominoes keep falling, some of them good, some of them bad. Let’s not forget that the idea of turning “one desk into an agency” wasn’t even Don’s to begin with. He stole it from Stan, ruining a potentially fortuitous endeavor for him.

However, by relinquishing California to Ted, he gave Ted—who evidently is so tortured by the enticing allure of Peggy Olson that he can’t inhabit the same time zone as her without jeopardizing his family[2]—the chance to “start over” that Ted spoke so plaintively of. Peggy initially views this as a slight against her, that he can’t stand to see Ted and her together, but I’m going to pin that on Don as it would be grotesquely unfair to do so. Ted takes the onus on that and Peggy is indignant that she doesn’t have any say at all.

Pete Campbell has bigger problems than Don’s perennial existential crisis. His mother was wedded to Manolo and subsequently pushed off a boat to meet her mortal doom. This occurs after Bob primes him to lose his place on the Chevy account. In a sense—like Don—in all of Pete’s losses lay a sense of unfettered freedom to move forward. ”You’re free of her, free of them. Free of everything,” suggests Trudy. We might as well throw in Trudy in there as well, inasmuch as it seems unlikely that they will ever get back together.

Betty spoke of Sally being from a “broken home” and there was a lot of that in this episode as well.  Although Roger’s first daughter will only remain emotionally available to Roger as long as the price is right, Joan let’s Roger see their kid at Thanksgiving, saying that Roger can be a part of the kid’s life but not hers. Similarly, as Pete is getting ready to embark to California on the Sunkist account, Trudy let’s Pete see his kid.

I liked season 6 of Mad Men. Was it as good as season 5 or season 4? Undoubtedly, no. But there were some strong episodes this year and there is still nary a show on television that I would rather be watching than Mad Men. I certainly don’t think there was the seismic drop in content like some people are saying.

I also like where it leaves us going into the final season. Is Don “going down” like his potential replacement suggests? Can his career recover? And how will Don behave now that he has rid himself of all of his burdensome past?

Additional Notes:

Roger Sterling one-liner of the night: “Well, you know what they say about Detroit: It’s all fun and games ‘til you they shoot you in the face.”

Don’s hand is twitching after he gives the bogus spiel about his father to Hershey. This conjures up memories of Betty’s twitching hands back in season 1 of Mad Men. Betty’s hands signified that she was unhappy in her marriage and that pretending otherwise was a severe mental strain on her. Don’s episode was very much the same.

As Don pummels the minister in the bar, “Band of Gold” is playing on the jukebox. “Band of Gold” also scores the very first scene of Mad Men, our introduction to Don Draper. What we are seeing now is the birth of yet another new Don Draper.

Roger Sterling: “You learn more from disappointment than you do from success”

“I used to feel pity for them, but now I realize we’re all in the same boat,” says Megan about Don’s kids. The inclusion of “boat” is not a coincidence. 

[1] He technically is just forced into taking a temporary leave of absence, yet they won’t given him a return date. Moreover, they are interviewing new people to fill his position.

[2] I will say that shunting Ted off to California so abruptly didn't really feel earned to me.