Mad Men Finale Recap: Shock and Awww

The following recap contains spoilers. If you haven’t watched the Mad Men season finale, go do so, them rejoin us. Everyone else, read on!

Much like horse racing’s I’ll Have Another, the Mad Men finale was a letdown in what could’ve been its third and crowning victory of the season. (And there, the horse talk end, folks. I was more of a My Little Pony than National Velvet girl.)

After the final-act surprises in the past two episodes — Peggy quits! Lane dies! — I wanted something amazing to send us into the next season. Instead, we got character development and introspection wrapped up in a not-bad hour that felt like it belonged in the middle of this year’s run. Anyway, let’s take a look at how the fifth season came to a close in “The Phantom.”

Lane’s legacy | Though he did not show up as a ghost — as some speculated — Lane’s suicide in the previous week’s episode was felt throughout the finale. At the partner’s meeting, where a seat was conspicuously empty, Joan announced that the firm was flush with cash and could easily afford some more space on an adjacent floor. In a subsequent conversation with Don, we learned that the newest Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce partner thought Lane’s death was her fault because she hadn’t returned his affection. (Loved Don’s subtle eye roll at this.) Also of note: The firm received $175,000 in death benefits from the incident, and the reasons behind — and details of — the unfortunate incident are not public knowledge. Without consulting anyone but Joan, he brought Lane’s widow, Rebecca, a $50,000 repayment of Lane’s collateral and his condolences; she accepted the first and rejected the latter — “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition,” she snapped — before whipping out the photo of the woman Lane found in a wallet in the season premiere and demanding to know who it was. When Don couldn’t answer, she told him, “Don’t leave here thinking you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself” and shut the door in his face. Embeth Davidtz was icily good in that scene; too bad we probably won’t see her much anymore. As it turned out, Lane’s actions were wreaking havoc with Don’s psyche, as well. But more on that later.

Pete’s pain | After running into Beth and Howard on the train one morning, Pete got the call he’d fantasized about: His housewife hookup was in New York, and she wanted him to meet her at a hotel. Act as petulant as you want, Pete, but we all saw your fur-and-pearls fantasy; it’s a surprise you waited until after the partners’ meeting to leave SCDP for the rendezvous. Before they hit the sheets, Beth revealed that she was in the city for some electroshock treatment for being “very blue.” Pete naturally assumed that some time in the sack with him would lift her spirits; after the act, as she got dressed (and we saw a side view of the most talked-about boobs in primetime this week), Alexis Bledel gave a heartbreakingly simple explanation of how insidious depression is, and how the harsh therapy helped… a little, then dismissed his claims of love: “I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. We just happen to have the same problem.” Of course, Pete doesn’t listen to anyone ever, so he visited Beth in the hospital after her treatment — and was crestfallen to realize the shock had wiped him from her memory. As a sunny and totally oblivious Beth listened, Pete spoke about himself in the third person, calling his life with his family “some temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” Oof. On the train back to Cos Cob, Howard’s suggestion that he and Pete carouse in the city disgusted Campbell, who made it clear that he knew where Beth was. “It’s you?” Howard replied, realization dawning. “She always spreads her legs for the first chump she can find.” And just like that, Pete was involved in his second fist fight of the season; much like the first one, he got his whiny butt handed to him. The conductor broke the men apart and ended up slugging Campbell himself (ha!) before tossing him off the train in Harrison. Trudy, who bought her hubby’s story that his injuries occurred when he’d fallen asleep behind the wheel, assured him they’d find him an apartment in New York the next day. There you go, Campbell; exactly what you wanted. Enjoy.

Don at the dentist | Tooth pain plagued Don for most of the episode, as did visions of his dead brother, Adam, another person who hung himself after an intense emotional exchange with the ad man formerly known as Dick Whitman. When he finally strapped on the anesthesia mask and had the tooth extracted, he imagined Adam — sporting some harsh purple ligature marks around his neck — making some bad puns and telling him “it’s not your tooth that’s rotten.” At least he ran into Peggy (who was decidedly not at the bottom of a elevator shaft, people) during a mid-day movie showing, and they had a very sweet encounter where they hugged and he said the things he couldn’t say when she announced she was leaving SCDP. “I’m proud of you,” he told her. “I just didn’t think it would be without me.” Also cute: Her thrill at the thought of riding an airplane on an upcoming business trip. (And after what happened the last time we saw Peggy in a movie theater, I was very glad when this nice scene ended in a family-friendly way.)

Megan’s mad | With her acting career going nowhere and her less-than-supportive mother, Marie, visiting, Megan got even more bummed when a screen test didn’t land her any auditions. After acting pal Emily asked for some help getting an audition for SCDP’s Butler shoes commercial, the sneaky Mrs. Draper indeed asked her husband… on her own behalf. He said no, but changed his mind after watching her reel on a projector at work. (Side note: Good GOD, how is Jessica Paré even more ridiculously gorgeous in black and white? I don’t care if you hate Megan; the chick is luminescent.) Marie, fresh off a tryst with Roger, made it clear that she didn’t think her daughter had any talent. But Mrs. Draper ended up landing the Butler gig, which made her very happy. Don made his way to a bar, where two young ladies asked him if he was alone. Hmm… how’re you going to answer that one, Draper? In the last moments of Season 5, we saw Peggy delighting in her first business trip, Pete somberly listening to his stereo, and Roger (probably on LSD and definitely naked) regally flashing New York City. That’s all, folks!

What was your take on the season finale? What do you hope to see happen next season? Sound off in the comments!

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