After two back-to-back episodes delivered shocking, scandalous, and significant plot turns that had increased the momentum of Mad Men's typically passive storytelling, last night's season finale seemed kind of slow. Perhaps the change of pace was intentional to mark the show's return to form—in more ways than one.
Most of the loose ends for the season were tied up last week, courtesy of Lane's noose. So last night's episode wasn't a typical finale but more of a lingering presence, which was fitting as it was titled "The Phantom." Naturally, after someone kills himself, you'd think that he would be the phantom — but while Lane was still very much on the SCDP staff's minds, everyone was haunted by something different.
First up is Pete, who finally got to live out that Pennsylvania Hotel rendezvous with Howard's wife Beth, but it wasn't the clandestine love affair he'd built it up to be in his head. Instead, he learned that Beth is in the city to stay at a hospital to receive electroshock therapy because she's "been very blue." And it's not her first time. She wanted to meet up with Pete once more because the treatments, while helpful for her depression, tend to erase portions of her memory and she'd have no recollection of even knowing him. This subplot (which I actually found more improbable than Joan whoring herself for a partnership) seemed to serve two purposes. The first: We get to see someone in the MM universe acknowledging depression as an illness that can be treated. The second: It was a good way to explore Pete's own depression without allowing him to break character. Beth had actually chosen Pete for this final tryst because, as she told him, "We just happen to have the same problem." Pete was either unwilling or unable to see that just yet, insisting that they were just "sad" because they were apart. The affair also enabled him to share his thoughts on Lane's suicide without having to voice them to his partners. ("That's for weak people. People who can't solve a problem.")
After the tryst and Beth's subsequent treatment, Pete visited Beth in the hospital: indeed, she did not remember who he was. It gave him a unique opportunity to be intimate with someone he knew, without the risk of that kind of vulnerability threatening his day-to-day. It was therapeutic for him, as he talked out his problem in the third person, coming to the conclusion that, "He realized everything he had was not right either…And that his life with his family was a temporary bandage on a permanent wound."
It's hard to tell where Pete's life will go from here. If he's following the Draper Method of Unhappiness and Disillusionment, he'll end up wallowing for a few more years in misery out of a sense of duty as he and Trudy have a few more kids, until one day, they're both so sick of each other that they end their facade of a marriage. But Trudy is a lot pluckier, more confident, and determined than Betty, so their fate could be very different. Either way, for now, Pete is haunted by the great job, supportive wife, beautiful daughter, and gorgeous home that he neither wants nor needs.
Meanwhile, Joan is haunted by the memory of Lane. She's taken over his task of managing the company's finances, and it often makes her think of him. She feels a sense of guilt over his death and confesses to Don that if she'd only given him "what he wanted" than maybe he wouldn't have killed himself. (Apparently, after winning the Jaguar account for the company, Joan thinks that her vagina is the answer to everything and can always be used to save the day.) But with Lane's suicide came a financial windfall: The company had taken out a life insurance policy on him, and they were sent $175,000. This, coupled with the fact that SCDP just experienced its best fiscal quarter ever, made Lane's money problems seem all the more fleeting — and all the more tragic.
His widow Rebecca is haunted by the photograph of a girl in Lane's wallet, a girl he never even met. As if his suicide weren't enough, the photo sullied her memory of her husband, as she became convinced that he wasn't the man she thought she knew. To be fair, Lane did have an affair with his "chocolate Bunny" from the Playboy Club, and he did hit on Joan in his last desperate months, and he did embezzle money—yeah, it actually all sounds pretty bad. But he was just a guy who allowed his desperation and pride ruin not only his life, but his legacy as pretty decent guy.
Megan's brief bout with the blues was similar to Pete's. She has a great life, a kick-ass apartment, a hot husband, and the freedom to pursue her pipe dream, or as her mother Marie referred to it: "Chasing a phantom." But her abundance of time and money isn't making her a better actress, but rather, a target for a bunch of scams to sell more classes. After a friend asks her to put in a good word with Don for an upcoming commercial audition for Butler Shoes, Megan decides to instead take the opportunity for herself. After all, Don had no problem with allowing nepotism to bump her up from secretary to copywriter. Why wouldn't he pull some strings for again?
Not so fast. When Don refused, he told her, "you want to be somebody's discovery, not somebody's wife." It was actually really good, sound advice. If only Don had really meant it. We learned his true intentions for turning Megan down after he ran into Peggy at the movies. They were so happy to see each other, but he couldn't help but let her know how bittersweet her success was for him. "That's what happens when you help someone. They succeed and move on." Don knew if he helped Megan, where ever her success took her (previews in Boston, a role in Hollywood, a gig in a touring company) it would take her away from him. So he was left to make a decision: Her happiness or his own.
While all of this was going on, Don was dealing with an abscess that had gotten so out of control that he was hallucinating, seeing the ghost of his dead half-brother Adam—the other person in Don's life who hanged himself. Earlier in the season, Don had an illness that caused him to be visited by his demons, which he choked to death. It was a cathartic experience. This time around, he begged his demon not to leave him alone. Because with Megan gone, at least he could take comfort in the familiar, no matter how disturbing it might be.
Watching her reel, he decided that Megan was too lovely to be kept all to himself. And so he chivalrously rescued her from that impeccably-decorated Park Avenue castle and got her cast in the commercial, as she had wished. Later, as she was in her fair maiden costume on set made to look like a castle, Megan was so grateful to Don for loving her enough to encourage her. I had hoped that this was just indicative of Don learning from the mistakes of his first marriage, and trying to go out of his way to avoid the bitterness and anger that had destroyed that union. But all signs indicate that this isn't the fairytale ending Megan thinks it is.
As Don walked away from the set, physically, he was walking away from his wife mentally, as the lush opening of Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice" kicked in. The lyrics: "This dream is for you, so pay the price / Make one dream come true, you only live twice." Ever the Gemini, Don's duality was at play again. He was doing Megan a kindness by helping her succeed, but it comes at a price, and it will probably cost the their marriage.
As last night's episode closed, it seemed that everyone was looking out the window, toward their respective futures. The partners of SCDP stood in front of the vast windows of their new office space, imagining the possibilities of their expansion. Peggy looked out the window of her motel room to see two stray dogs humping in an alley. It was hilarious, and while she seemed a little disturbed, she brushed it off her shoulders and enjoyed her glass of wine on her business trip. Peggy is going to be OK and she knows it. Nothing was better than when Roger looked out the window, tripping balls. He decided that he didn't need a babysitter to take some LSD after all, and as ridiculous as it sounds, this trip was probably the grown-man/trust-fund-baby's maiden voyage into the scary waters of independence. He was at peace with himself, presenting his dick to all of midtown. He's going to be OK, too.
Season four ended with a restless Don looking anxiously out his window—as his new fiancee Megan happily slept on his chest—wondering what the future held. Season five was his answer. He didn't look out the window on last night's episode, though. Instead, he sat down at a bar and ordered an Old Fashioned—a bittersweet drink to match his emotions. He lit a girl's cigarette and when she asked if he was alone, he didn't need to answer for the audience to know that the old fashioned Don Draper is back.