The debates about Mad Men have been everywhere and fascinating: Will Don Draper, master of manipulation and disguise, and others he has interacted with in varying degrees of trust and intimacy, crash and burn? Or will there be a more hopeful resolve? I have seen and written about hopeful signs, but others vehemently disagree, especially after the hostile, manipulative takeover of Sterling Cooper, that many see as evidence of Don's continuous free fall which begins each segment.
There are other issues being debated, all related: Are we determined to repeat our parents' patterns in life? Is a second chance ever possible? Do we either "make or break" our own lives? Is it possible to live in denial about who we really are and find fulfillment? Is societal awareness a possibility, or is the public too duped and disinterested to see truths?
This next to last episode addresses the above with true Mother's Day promise. It seemed to cry out, "Yes, Don Draper had been in free fall, but he is finally setting himself free and will land squarely on his feet!" To Buddy Holly's "Every Day," we hear resounding lyrics that tell us, "Love like yours will surely come my way." This was foreshadowed in last week's episode when Joan, as strong as she was beautiful, achieved a "good enough" deal; avoided prolonged litigation, costly in every way; and left a group of imperious monsters to walk toward a life of self-respect. With similar confidence, we saw Peggy prepare to hold her own: She will glide among the monsters and when necessary use the blades of her skates with surgical precision. It was Roger, despite his own limitations, who propelled both Peggy and Joan, whose child he fathered, to find their strengths and define their destinations.
With one more segment before the ending, there was pervasive promise for the characters we have gotten so involved with, despite a shocking new development. We saw imperfect people (like each of us) doing their best, moving toward the message concluding last year's episodes that the best things in life -- love, respect, generosity, loyalty, awareness of others -- are free. In addition, we witnessed a continuation of societal awareness about other essential issues.
As I address some of the positive themes, I will do my best not to give away plot. However, some details will be shared:
1. A Dramatic Change in Women's Options Continues To Be Addressed: We have seen the importance of choice demonstrated in the lives of Joan and Peggy. Watch and give a shout-out to Betty's determination to be true to herself, to use what she learned from her relationship with her own mother, to face facts clearly, and to strive to continue to learn, despite all. Yes, Betty still cares about being beautiful and fashionable; after all, she was a model when Don met her. However, she is no longer insecure and selfish. Betty now loves maturely, in her own way, and is determined to have control over her life.
2. Children Do Not Need Perfect Parents To Mature: What they need is availability, authenticity, and "good enough" parenting. Sally turned a corner when her father told her more about who he really was. Watch the love and bravery inside of her soar in this episode.
3. The Beginning of Awareness Above Cigarettes As Killers is Shown: Henry Frances' reactions in his car with Betty say so much about what cigarettes have done to the public and continue to do to those addicted, in this country and around the world.
4. Well-Intended Communication Lapses Can Help A Family: Such lapses are commonly a "cry for help." There is a touching scene between Henry and Sally, where she shows her step father compassion. There is the common sense and kindness she shows her younger brothers. There is the respect she shows her mother and the inner discipline she reveals.
5. The Curse of Denial: Don watches soldiers drown the horrors of their actions and what they have witnessed in alcohol and finally, joining the drunken stupor, tells those he felt he could trust about his war actions. His guilt is relieved; he is assured that this act enabled him to come home. The consequences of this sharing are startling, but upon reflection, predictable. In the aftermath, facing more and more who he really is, Don gives a troubled kid something no one ever gave him. He protects him and gives him a chance.
6. Second Chances Are Possible: Life teaches us, if we are wise enough to allow ourselves to be taught, to learn from our own mistakes and the mistakes of those around us. Pete sees how he and his brother have echoed their father's meaningless, destructive infidelities. Through unexpected intervention he finally understands the obvious -- the future of a superficial, selfish life. This is a long way from the guy who took Peggy's virginity, impregnated her, and rarely said a kind word to her. Trudy has grown from a spoiled, indulged child to a mature woman and mother, who puts the well being of her daughter above her own pride, and, in an elegant way, tells a friend to put her comments where the sun does not shine.
7. We Do Make Or Break Our Own Lives: This is shown by all of the characters in this episode. The success of our lives is up to each of us. This episode is all about love. In retrospect the entire series has been about how we destroy the opportunities for love and mature connection that are right in front of us. Our years with Mad Men (and Women) have shown us consistently that before we can love another, we must fix what is broken within and love ourselves. You can label me a cockeyed optimist, but I see every indication that Don will return to his real life and responsibilities ready to be an adult and a true parent.
8. Endings hurt: Even though without endings, there can be no new beginnings, endings usually bring varying degrees of pain. We will see this next week, as the characters in differing ways must say goodbye to each other; and we, after seven seasons together which began on July 19, 2007, must say goodbye to each of them.