Tonight, Season 4 of Mad Men came to a close and instead of ending with the pain and misery that was hinted at nearly every week, we got something rather different, something kinda close to happy. What's going on?
The week began with Don waking up, with all the obvious symbolism attached to that. He's still miserable about the state of SCDP and Faye tells him what he's known all along: that it's his secret that's killing him. And while that's clearly true, he doesn't really let it bother him because he's got his mojo back. He kills at his meeting with the American Cancer Society, and even though we don't see him land the account, the old Draper cockiness is back.
Simultaneously, Lane gives Joan a "title only" promotion that seems like the kind of hollow move a failure of a company would make. This is the sort of juxtaposition that Mad Men does so well - everything seems great for a moment, but the next scene shows how many problems are working just below the surface. But this time it's a little different since the scene with Lane and Joan mostly exists to show us that Joan is still pregnant, that she didn't go through the abortion from a few weeks ago and that she's beginning to show. Matthew Weiner, co-writing and directing this week, constructs the whole scene around that one wide shot which makes clear what Joan had decided. But there isn't a hint of foreboding in the scene, instead there's something close to lightness and optimism. There's newness coming.
Don takes his children on vacation to California while Betty packs up their house in preparation for a move to Rye. California has an interesting place in the show. In Season 2, it was both the heart of Don and also his potential undoing, the difference between his time with Anna and his fling with Joy being drastic and drastically obvious. Earlier this season, it showed Don's limitations, that as much as he wanted to be family to Anna, he was really an outsider with no standing, as Anna's sister made clear. This time, California wakes Don up. He accepts that he won't be able to hide his past from his children forever, and admits that he's sometimes called "Dick," though that's as far as it goes. He also realizes that children who spilled don't have to be screamed at, that Betty's method of child rearing, which is pretty similar to his father's, isn't the only one. And, of course, he realizes that he loves Megan and asks her to marry him.
It's hard to know exactly what to make of this. On one hand, she does seem to get him and he understands that. Her reaction to their night together in his office surely made him feel that she could be trusted and that she understands life a little more than most of Don's previous flings, even the serious ones. Surely she's no child like Bethanny and she doesn't play games the way Faye does; Megan's frank seriousness about telling Faye about their engagement was so steeped in her feelings about Don's well-being that it seemed written that way to be in stark contrast to Faye's "have your girl make reservations" moment from last week when she staked not only her claim to Don but her higher stature. But on the other hand, it's hard to believe that Don could ever stay happy in a relationship and do the things that good partners need to do to keep their relationship functioning.
Meanwhile, Peggy is finally shown at the peak of her powers. Her openness to Joy lead to professional growth, in addition to the personal growth that's been shown all season. And this time, without Stan to sabotage her and lipstick-stained teeth to derail her, she nailed her pitch and won a client, the first new client since Lucky Strike's departure. The scene works on both levels for Peggy - obviously it's a triumph for her career, and Weiner makes the product pantyhose to show us just how comfortable Peggy has become with herself.
Things even seem to be ending well for Joan at this point. Greg isn't dead yet and he clearly can't count, so there isn't a conversation about the circumstances of Joan's baby. Instead, she gabs with him about office gossip, Don's engagement, as if she doesn't have another care in the world. After all the tension that was built up around Joan this season, it's really striking that Weiner leaves her in such a happy place.
The season ended with Don and Betty, alone in their dark house, similar to how Season 2 ended. But instead of an unplanned child keeping them together (for a little while longer), this time they're moving apart concretely. They'll always share the children, obviously, but the physical space of their marriage, their house, is gone. Betty, shown at her absolute coldest earlier in the episode firing Carla (and refusing to write a letter of recommendation), she warms up a little right at the end, is shown to be human in a way that Weiner has deprived her of for most of the season. She's not stuck anymore, she's moving out and moving on, wholly, from Don and realizing that things will never be perfect, not her past and not her current marriage. She seems steadied by this and so much less bothered by the idea of changing again. All season long she's been worried about how all the changes, all the chaos, would affect her children but she was really just worried about herself. At least now she's accepted that if she wants and if she has to she can move again.