So Pete’s mom died. She’ll never be able to take it back, what she said about him being “unlovable.” Which, you know, to hear from your own mom.
And that was dramatic. The whole episode had some drama.
But the finale pulled into focus the whole season’s (the whole show’s) love of its own meta-narrative: A show about advertising, when advertising is pretty much the whole point of TV. the indistinguishably layered reams of stories about stories about stories.
Stories about Pete’s mom–stories which will never find referent in “truth” because it’s too pricey. Stories about Manolo and Bob.
Stories about love. How could Ted’s “deep” love for Peggy be more than his own fantasy?
Stories about childhood. Don’s. Because MM is about Don, no matter how much more interesting everyone else (coughwomencoughcough) are.
Stories about Hershey’s, purveyor of love in chocolate form (plus a little bit of cockroach parts, is what I heard once.)
Stories about women in the workplace. Peggy wore PANTS!
And stories about advertising itself. Advertising and media. Advertising and life. Advertising and feelings. Advertising and intimacy. Advertising and who we are at our most private moments. Advertising during AMC’s broadcast–outside the narrative frame, but never really outside because we see ads for Jaguar, or ads starring Christina Hendricks and Jon Hamm.
So why are so many critics talking about Don’s return to his authentic Dick Whitman self? As if that isn’t just another story he’s been telling himself privately for decades? Feeding himself with story like he fed himself Hershey bars won by colluding with prostitute mother figures?
In fact, that’s my prediction for Season 7. For the future of Don’s character. He’ll leave advertising and start selling himself as a self-help guru. Defanging his horrorshow past by turning it into just another story that will make him some money and help him score.
“Feelings” will soon be trendy. Alan Alda et al. A fresher masculinity. Soon enough men will be naked, beating drums in the forest to recover from the psychic trauma of women getting paying jobs outside the home.
Who better than Don to get them there?
“It will shock you how much this never happened,” as he told Peggy after she gave birth to and gave away a baby without even looking at it.
So why would Don change? Why wouldn’t any incident, even the Hershey’s confession, the firing, the second divorce, have never happened, simply by the power of his will and a well-cut suit?
The two-bit psych-lite of Mad Men has always disappointed me. But Weiner seems as stuck on it as most of the people who get to write in big pubs with their own criticism of the show.
I simply refuse to believe that Don showing his kids the bordello, or Don telling the Hershey guys about his actually lived childhood, will lead to some magical transformation back into Dick Whitman.
Dick Whitman no longer exists. He’s another character Don made up. Dick Whitman is about as authentic as Don Draper, which is to say: not at all. Which is to say: how authentic are any of us? How much of our lives comes from stories we tell and hear about ourselves? How much comes from some magical something that was there before the stories?
What was there, in us, before the stories about us?
Maybe it’s the academic in me saying this. Too much Judith Butler (as if there ever could be too much Judith Butler).
But the psych-lite model of authentic selfhood—in which Don is honest to himself about who is and suddenly he will be able to rebuild his life—holds about as much water, for me, as a rusty colander in the sink of a Pennsylvania brothel.
To put it another way: After all we’ve seen from Don Draper over the seasons, do we really think that him taking his kids to the “bad neighborhood” where he grew up will do a jot of good for him? After his wife leaves him and his partners kick him out and he confesses to some executives that he grew up without love or money?
And would we like him if it did? If Don were “self-actualized”? Or Peggy, or Pete?
Instead, I expect that Dick Whitman will turn into another story Don can tell to get stuff.
It’s hard not to think about the finale in terms of predictions for the final season:
Peggy will be become one of those horrifying women execs who treat women worse than she was treated because that’s all she knows. But she may also hang on to her apartment building, become a real estate mogul, and develop a Winfrey/Stewartesque multi-industry business all by her very own self. Women in power: it’s complicated, y’all.
Pete will move to LA and then go in-house at Northup Grumman or some such. Aerospace. And weaponry.
Megan will move west and spend her leisure Hollywood party time kvetching that NY is so much more REAL than LA.
Don will singlehandedly invent the self-realization industry, with several convincing rock-bottom stories to choose from. Or maybe he and Betty will get back together and retrench into their old terrible ways.
Or maybe he’ll just become “authentic” and true to himself and build a thriving pimp business.
Or all of the above.
This season stretched—like medieval thumb stretcher thingies—viewer’s credibility. And patience. And interest in Don’s story. Just how far down will that falling man fall? I guess I’m still interested, but more than ever I wish that the show would let the marginal characters out of the margins.
Then again, we’re still waiting for marginal characters to take center stage.
With Don and his ilk telling us which stories matter, which stories are true, and which stories are for our own good.
That Don as master narrator, as patriarch of stories, is shown as so unremittingly incapable and incompetent, as so very bad, does not imply that he’ll actually lose any of his power. He won’t.
He still controls the story. He will next season, no matter how many of us wish that he (and Weiner) would hand it over to Peggy, or Betty, or flippin Sally. “Why don’t you tell them what I saw?” Or Bob?
It really should be Sally.
But it won’t be. That’s my real prediction for Season 7. It’ll still be all about Don.
Because it still is.