In perhaps the understatement of the television year, the on-screen cable guide for last night's season finale of Mad Men simply said "Don has a problem." You don't say. For the better part of 1968, whatever humanity Don had has been kicked away, his darkest secret revealed to his daughter, Peggy's affection for Ted aroused Don's masochistic streak as he bullied and humiliated his new business partner, he became obsessed with death, utterly removed from his wife and, as always, was tortured by the memories of his impossibly cruel and unloving childhood.
That Don would hit rock bottom was a given, but now, not only has his humanity been stripped away, but all of the elements of the life he manufactured by being "Don Draper" have too - his partners send him on an indefinite leave of absence, his wife leaves him and his former protégé now inhabits his office. As with many people who attempt to turn their lives around on their own, Don simply could not do so before others decided to intervene. Landing in the drunk tank may have finally convinced Don he needed to get his drinking under control, but ritually pouring all the alcohol in your house down the drain is no more a long-term solution than tossing out the pack of cigarettes you now swear you won't smoke.
Moving to California to be a "homesteader" for SC&P was something out of Draper 101 - beat a tactical retreat and start anew, wash away the failure of whatever it is you are running from and pretend like it never happened - but Don's plan to walk away from the chaos he created in New York is complicated by Ted, an otherwise good and decent man who recognizes he is in over his head with Peggy, and does not have the wherewithal to stay where he is and blow up his own life in the midst of everything that is going on around him. While Don's immediate reaction is to reject Ted's request that they switch spots on Sunkist, ultimately, Don capitulates, perhaps because he no longer felt the need to assert his dominance over Ted, or maybe because Don knew his life would not actually change, but Ted's could. Maybe he just felt a spark of decency toward his fellow man.
But in agreeing to stay in New York, Don finally lights the spark that sends Megan out the door. Having already put in notice at her job and with a list of interviews in Hollywood beckoning, she leaves to pursue her own dreams. And who can blame her? Her once loving husband fell down a bottomless well of whisky, rarely talked to her and seemed completely unconnected to the world around him. Of course, Don's fly by the seat of his pants decision making (or, as Pete referred to it, being Tarzan, swinging from vine to vine ) is largely to blame. Having tried to solve one problem (needing to leave NYC) he created another (Megan quitting her job) that creates another problem (Megan leaving him when he decides not to move) when he goes back on the original plan.
Don's erratic behavior also finally caught up to him at work. Unaccustomed to getting work over the transom from the likes of Hershey's, Don has not adjusted to being a partner at one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. He will still disappear with no notice to drink himself silly, but the trump card of his own brilliance in pitch meetings can no longer justify his otherwise selfish behavior. There are simply too many people relying on his work, too much money at stake and too much prestige to lose.
This is spelled out in perhaps the finest of the mirroring effects utilized this season. Don's pitch to Hershey's harkened back to his iconic presentation to Kodak at the end of season 1.  There, Don manufactured a narrative of his life with Betty and their children as being as American as apple pie, a life filled with opened Christmas presents, kisses at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve and snowball fights. The conceit, of course, was that we knew this sepia-toned framing was a figment of Don's imagination, but hey, whatever it takes to sell some slide carousels. A similarly touching story unfolded for the Hershey's executives, one where young Don, fresh from mowing the family lawn, would go to the corner drugstore with his proud papa, hair tousled and stomach growling. There, Don got to pick any treat in the store and of course, picked a Hershey's bar. That connection, between pure childhood memories and their association with the eponymous candy bar, is what Don wants to sell. In other words, nostalgia in a foil candy wrapper.
A pregnant pause and Don's now shaky hand later, we do not get what we might otherwise expect - dazzled executives happily agreeing to the well constructed pitch. No, instead we get a confessional, a raw, emotions-bleeding-out-on-the-floor monologue every bit as powerful as Don's Kodak presentation, but this time, the story is real, not fake. You see, young Don did have a connection to Hershey's, but it came from being rewarded by a prostitute who would get him the treat if he successfully pilfered money from the pockets of the men she serviced while they were otherwise indisposed. Don's connection to Mr. Hershey stemmed not simply from love of chocolate, but discovering there was a place where orphans like Don were raised in a good and decent environment, loved and cherished, instead of being looked upon as mistakes that could not be eradicated.
It was a breathtaking moment, mesmerizing in its delivery and devastating in its impact. Laid bare was the ugly truth of Don's creation and rearing, a confessional that lifted a weight off of Don's shoulders even as it nuked the agency's chances of landing the iconic chocolate maker as a client. It also became the final straw for Don's partners, who call him in for an emergency meeting on Thanksgiving to tell him that he's out, at least for now, from the agency. His solo act, which worked to great effect when the firm was a small fish in a big pond, will no longer do. With Megan out of the picture, Don takes his first, hesitant step to whatever the future holds by driving his children to the whorehouse he grew up in. The structure is still standing, though it is now rundown, garbage strewn around it and a forlorn little boy sitting on the front porch. Don shares a a glance with his daughter Sally that can't wash away all the hurt he has caused her, but at least begins to open the door so she can understand who her father is.
It appears Don's replacement at the agency will be Peggy. Don's body isn't even cold before she has started using his office to review client matters. This may be small consolation for her, but the hard lesson she learns is that the work is the thing - the men in her life are unreliable and withholding. The transference of father figure from Don to Ted may be overly simplistic, but their inaccessibility was the same. Don was no sooner going to give her the credit she so desperately craved than Ted was going to leave his wife and kids to be a "scandal" with his copy chief. For now, the corner office will have to be her consolation prize.
The other threads of the finale also suggested second chances. Joining Ted in California will be Pete Campbell, who, it turns out, really cannot tangle with Bob Benson's "kind." The scam Bob and Manolo started because they thought Pete's mom was wealthy comes to a predictable end - a rush wedding between Manolo and the dementia-addled Mrs. Campbell followed quickly by a mysterious (and hard to investigate) death at sea. The manservant disappears soon thereafter (perhaps when he discovers Mrs. Campbell has no money), but Pete's desire to take his revenge on Bob blows up in his face. In Detroit, Bob sets a trap for Pete, suggesting Pete take a spin in a Camaro. Pete, a poor driver, accidentally drops the car into reverse instead of first gear, and like that, Bob is now the senior account man on Chevrolet and Pete is packing his bags for the left coast. Bob has gone from the farm team to the big leagues and is spending Thanksgiving with Joan and little Kevin. Meanwhile, Roger, snubbed by his actual family and looked upon solely as a breadwinner, is left to try and bond with a little boy who does not even know who "Uncle" Roger is, another penny to put in his pocket on the way to you know where. 
Ultimately, I am leery of Don's conversion. A flashback to a minister preaching forgiveness and a drunken swing at a proselytizer in a bar does not a new man make. In this way, In Care Of reflected back Don's other attempts at conversion. At the end of Season 2, he came clean to his wife about his infidelity and was allowed back into their marriage. At the end of Season 3, he came to terms with losing that marriage (and his agency), choosing to start anew. At the end of Season 4, he started a new life with a new soon-to-be wife, but for all of the time fans spend rooting for Don to get his act together, it feels as though the writers of this show spend just as much time beating us over the head reminding us that whatever we are seeing is not real, it will not last.
Don has had opportunities before to truly look into who he is and has demurred. His own worldview has been out there for all to see - "people don't change" -  and he was self-aware enough to tell Megan long ago that he would try, but likely fail, to be a good person.  In years past, Don's armor of cool distance, of being, as Lane described him, the boy everyone followed but was unaware of anyone else's presence,  made him hip, desirable and we excused his play-by-his-own-rules attitude, but now, creeping into middle age, the veneer that shielded him from the rest of the world largely stripped away, it is not envy we feel towards him, but pity.
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1. For Immediate Release, Season 6, Episode 6.
3. The Doorway Part I, Season 6, Episode 1.
4. The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12.
5. Tomorrowland, Season 4, Episode 13.
6. Commissions and Fees, Season 5, Episode 12.