Spoilers ahead. Don't read until you've seen the action-packed season 6 finale of “Mad Men.'
From fetal position in the penultimate episode last week to exiting hat in hand this week, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) arrived at the end of this season's downward spiral fresh out of lies. The wholly fabricated man is out of options. The alienation of his protege Peggy wasn't enough. The loss of friends and family wasn't enough. A night in the drunk tank wasn't enough. The idea of being caught by daughter Sally not just coveting but having relations with his neighbor's wife, that wasn't enough. Ironically, when the only thing left for him was to tell the truth, he did—and his life imploded.
Now he's out of excuses, out of advertising, out of the closet in terms of his lurid past. In a beautiful play on the Kodak Carousel pitch he delivered in season 1, he delivered a poetic ode to Hershey's, in which his loving father tousled his hair as a youth and expressed his love through a chocolate bar. But his shaking hand reminded him he was lost. When he divulged his history in a meeting with the Hershey's execs, telling them he was in fact an orphan raised in a whorehouse, and later drove his three over-indulged kids to witness the “bad neighborhood' and ramshackle home where he grew up, he took a surprising step toward integrating his fractured identity. Credible drama? Perhaps not. But it was a powerful Dickensian turn. Don Draper revealed as Dick Whitman.
At the end of a season of drugs and ever more alcohol, the secrets and betrayals mounted all around the guy who was accustomed to being the cleverest, not to mention handsomest in the room. He wasn't alone in presenting the world a false identity. “Your fraud is irrefutable,' the pathetic Pete Campbell told smiling Bob Benson in the penultimate episode. But the ever attentive Benson, the junior Don, continues his upward trajectory. Ted emerges the weasel, in Peggy's view. Stan, the goofball who opened the hour declaring he wanted to be the one sent to L.A. for Sunkist and ultimately to set up his own shop, comes out looking like the bigger man. Peggy ends the season in Don's chair (her career has always been more promising than her love life), the abused and defeated Megan at long last reaches her breaking point with Don, just as he professes his love for her, and Roger continues to envy Bob's relationship with Joan (even as he spoonfeeds dinner to HIS CHILD).
Next season, which will be the series' last, presumably will split its attention between the Coasts. Imagine, L.A. in the wake of “the summer of love.' Can a broken Don put himself back together? Does the lying, corrupt and amoral man deserve redemption? Does he believe the preacher —from his youthful flashback — about the power of forgiveness? It's a stretch, but the beauty of the season 6 finale is that it provided closure and opened a new set of possibilities just when the audience was feeling burned out on Don's tediously bad behavior.