1. Oh, Don and his sort of important beach reading from the opener in Hawai'i:
Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
This is still Dante. The season opened with a revival of a dead man, and ended with Don, surrounded by his children, looking at ye olde beloved family manor/whorehouse. So much happened this season that it's hard to forget where this was all going: with Don, and Don headed down to Hell somewhere in the middle of his life's course. Weiner ran the slow play on the descent, but there it was at last, with Duck Phillips and [SOME AD AGENCY ASSHOLE] pressing the button for Draper at the end. Weiner and company love, love, love to use elevators as devices, so it's nice to see them going full Maltese Falcon with the imagery.
2. Go to 3:20 for the original elevator ruin metaphor of all elevator ruin metaphors.
Also remember that Don nearly stepped into the gaping maw of an empty elevator shaft, so this could have gone a lot worse, particularly with how drunk Don's been lately.
3. There's a lot of Don to talk about--actual Don Draper character development, and things sort of changing in a way that hasn't happened all season--but that's not particularly fun. Fun is Pete Campbell's long turn as the flustered, balding Daffy Duck of the office. Pete has fallen down stairs, had hilariously awkward whorehouse encounters, been trapped with his dotty, manservant-fondling mother in his dismal Manhattan fuck-pad, backed into an all-too symbolic GM totem pole in a stick-shift car, been played by Bob Benson in four hundred different directions, thrown particularly good Campbell-snits throughout the season, attempted to use MLK's assassination for his own emotional and sexual gain, and finally said "fuck it" before retiring to the office lounge to get high and look at passing skirts. Oh, and his mother was possibly murdered, and he and his brother decided they were mad, yes, but too cheap to really do anything about it. Don's not the only one enduring the long trajectory toward Satan's garage this season.
4. Notice how Bob Benson finished the season smiling with a knife in his hand, albeit in kind of a weird drag moment while wearing an apron? We know Weiner's going somewhere else with him, but the shades of Zig Ziglar molding a young, gay Ted Bundy are enough for us at the moment. Read the Weiner interview with Sepinwall, and the line about "Who would admire Pete Campbell?" The answer is "Bob Benson," and that is so very, very funny in the darkest possible way. (So, in the "Pete Campbell humor" way.)
5. The discussion in the elevator between Bob and Pete is one of the best things Mad Men will ever do, mostly because we can hear Bob singing this the whole time. NOT GREAT, BOB. NOT GREAT, BOB. NOT GREAT, BOB.
6. And for all the kvetching about how characters couldn't hack it in the disintegrating environment of 1968, no one's singled out the one man who saw the shark-infested cesspool, grew a protective flak jacket of a beard, and dove in face-first with a joint in his mouth: Stan freakin' Rizzo. Fringe jackets, working high without apology, having filthy hippie sex while starting at a giant portrait of Moshe Dayan over his bed, having sex in the office while Cutler watches, having lots of beardy, unrepentant sex, all while snapping at Don, making easily forgiven passes at Peggy, and flipping the bird to people's faces? When the going gets weird, the going requires Stan Rizzo. The seventies are going to be terrible for him, because Stan will get into yoga, and make a horrendous Betamax workout tape in a revealing leotard. He'll rebound with a solid LL Bean eighties, and then probably die of a heart attack while mountain biking in a Flomax commercial sometime around 2006.
7. Never forget that Stan took an X-Acto knife in the arm in the name of entertainment this season, and also had sex with a teenager mere hours after her father's funeral. STAN IS ALIVE WHEN SO MUCH IS DEAD. He is this show's most vibrant thing, and no more so than when he's jacked up on bootleg amphetamines and leading sprints around the office. (P.S. We basically are Stan Rizzo in all professional situations. P.P.S. Stan's probably gonna get fired, and it will be sad and spectacular. Trust us on this.)
8. Bert Cooper may be Tiresias: neuter, both male and female, ageless, and capable of exiling Don because he's seen way worse, and dispatched better men over the walls of the city. Catch the nice three ages of man wardrobe shot in the meeting scene? Cutler in the turtleneck, Sterling in the prep school tie, and Bert with the ancient bowtie? That's a multigenerational slam for Don, a rejection by three eras of manhood.
9. We don't know what Roger Sterling has to teach his son. But it'll look a lot like the "Me and Julio" montage in Royal Tenenbaums, and end in tears, and a child abandoned at the track, and Bob Benson applying bactine to the boy's wounds while wearing an outfit that screams "GAY DAD" while Joan smokes and plots murder at the window. We're saying that Joan will murder Roger Sterling, and it will be the happiest moment in Roger Sterling's life.
10. Megan's gone, and that's good because Megan sucks, and no one cares about her save for a brief stint as a red herring for Sharon Tatedom. This is all that ever needs to be written about her except for her fantastic inability to properly interpret lesbian compliments, and wearing outfits that every woman watching the show would dub as "fabulous!" while wishing they were hung on a more substantial, interesting character. We'll miss her drunken typhoon of a mother, though, and so will Roger Sterling.
11. Duck's back! [raises "office pooping alert flags" at every parapet] It's good to have a character with an even greater propensity for self-destruction than Don around, particularly one who's probably still carrying around a necklace of rotting human ears from WW2 in that valise of his.
12. Okay, the Don thing. One critique of the season is that it's repetitive, and features the same thing happening over and over again, particularly with regard to Don, and Don just slipping into the same drunken spirals followed by a frantic run for the ol' hobo exit routes. That's fair: Don spent a lot of the season struggling while being surpassed by his pupils, wallowing in ideas no one liked, and stabbing Ted in the back in between long naps on his couch. That's also what would happen, and is mirroring season one in a ton of ways. (See: the coffee cup reach by Don, his hands shaking with DTs.)
13. Yet Don does end up somewhere else at the end of this season: bereft of job, wife, and friends, he takes his kids to see the whorehouse where he grew up, and became whatever he is now. Specifically, he takes Sally, whose psyche he cracked in half this season, and who is already drinking just like her Daddy: for emotional reasons, and to further her survival in her new environment. (See Don going back to the well in an attempt to kill Ted with liquor earlier this season, and then failing miserably and paying for it on the flight up to Buffalo in Ted's airplane.)
14. There's some spectacularly bad effects in that shot, by the way: a project, and another battered house, and some powerlines in the back, and a Blockbuster video, and a giant zombie MLK, and the ghost of Bill Henrickson floating over the street on loan from Big Love. And some projects, and a poor black kid with a popsicle. Which, still: he has a popsicle, so it's not all rain and living with whore-ghosts, kid. Gotta accentuate the positive sometimes, even if Matt Weiner's putting, like, Soviet-sized apartment blocks full of poor people in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
15. Back to Don. He crumbles at that meeting not by design, but because he's trying to grab something real, something resembling an "I" to organize himself around. We keep coming back to that scene in Hawai'i where Don acts as a stand-in for a father who isn't there, and then fast-forwarding to the end, where after a season of fumbling responsibility, using a summer camp visit as an excuse to sex up his ex-wife in a cabin, and driving drunk to pick up the kids during national emergencies, Don has the first sincere interaction with his children he's had since taking the kids to California. For Sally in particular, that last look--pulled off by both actors with agonizing skill--is the first time she's ever seen her dad, and the first time he's ever treated her like an adult. This is your mom explaining the long string of family suicides, and your dad explaining why he disappeared for a month or two when you were in elementary school. Sally's been toying around with grown-up stuff, but only the fun kind. This is the evil stuff, the heart-rending stuff, and it's now part of the exchange.
16. That's delayed, and took a whole season to get to, but it was well worth the payoff. Nothing ever really gets better on Mad Men. It does change, however, and Don's getting somewhere close to reconciliation, to acceptance, and to something different, something resembling a warning. Remember Don sitting on the edge of his bed earlier this season, mewling on about his children, and how miraculous they became to you one day? That felt forced at the time, particularly because it's the sort of outright emotion Mad Men doesn't do very well, and also because Don was probably trying to force some kind of engagement between "The world" and "whatever DonDickDraperWhitman" was.
17. Now, showing your daughter, already threatening to come off the rails out of a broken home and careening into adulthood, the nightmare that forged you in all its decrepit glory? That's more in Mad Men's wheelhouse: dark, weird, and ultimately more difficult than anything any other show on television would even dare attempt. We're fine with this season--and even liked it, if you can like something that strange--because we do think people make the same mistakes over and over again, and crash in the same cars, and rarely do anything to snap out of those habits. We're also fine with it because it's the only show that makes us reach for Dante and Serge Gainsbourg and "Did Hershey, Pennsylvania have projects" all at once, and because it still has those moments that make you drop your scotch glass for no apparent reason.
18. Like this:
19. P.S. Don beat up someone proselytizing in a bar. Don't say he didn't do anything right this season.
20. P.P.S. Ken Cosgrove with a really bad glass eye. Let's make this happen.