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"Mad Men's" Genius Fifth Season

The finale couldn't top Fat Betty, a shocking death or "Zou Bisou." But after a riveting run, bring on year six.

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Just a few weeks ago, when Megan quit the agency to be an actress, Peggy announced her faith that Megan was one of those people who could just “do everything.” At the time, it felt like Peggy was right. Don’s young, brave, ambitious wife was the kind of person to whom things came effortlessly, and if she wanted to be an actress, she would be an actress. Every since she “Zou Bisou”-ed at the beginning of this season, I’ve hoped the long arc of her and Don’s relationship would be that Draper was finally going to get out-Drapered. At some point, Megan would cheat on him or leave him, the way he has cheated on and left everyone else. The player would get played.

But in the finale, Megan’s future does not seem so undeniable. Peggy might be wrong. Megan continues to have a hard time finding work. Her friend tells her about a commercial one of Don’s clients is shooting, and Megan betrays that friend to ask Don to get her an audition instead. He’s reluctant and dickish about it, put off by her auditioning in front of people he knows, if also, in his way correct: She should want to make it as herself, not as his wife. Megan goes to the bathroom and cries, and then pouts and gets very drunk. (I wish Megan’s behavior seemed more intrinsic to her character. The woman who hate-ate all that sherbet wouldn’t behave like this kind of a sad sack. But Megan is still a foil for Don and not quite a person.)

Marie Calvet, Megan’s mother and Roger Sterling’s hookup, suddenly seems to be seeing her daughter far more clearly than Peggy. Marie is enormously skeptical about Megan’s future as an actress. After calling her daughter an ungrateful little bitch, she tells Don that Megan’s tantrum is what happens when one has “an artistic temperament but is not an artist.” (Between this week and Betty Draper’s performance last week, it’s been a good run for bad mothers.)

Marie’s incisive quipping doesn’t end there. She goes to Roger Sterling’s hotel for a quickie and Roger emotionally asks her if she’ll please do LSD with him because he doesn’t want to do it alone: “Please don’t ask me to take care of you,” she says, in what basically amounts to some version of both Don and Pete’s fantasy, a relationship in which they provide all the money, and their wife provides all the emotional support. (Pete and Trudy’s relationship fell apart when she was distracted by their child; Trudy probably staved off divorce when she embraced a banged-up Pete and comforted him by assuring him he did, in fact, need his own apartment in New York.)

When Marie gets back to Don and Megan’s apartment, Don yells at her for letting Megan get so drunk. “She’s your responsibility now,” Marie replies, and the cheating’s in the bedsheets. Don ends up helping Megan get the commercial. He watches her screen test in a smoky room, and smiles, but there’s something nostalgic about it, just as there was when he pitched the Carousel in a similarly lit room back in Season 1 — like he’s remembering when he saw Megan for the first time, when she was the young woman who was going to help him, to love him, to teach him about Beatles records, and make him the envy of every party, and not someone who needed his help too. And so, yes, Don Draper’s alone. Again. What a jerk, but what a season.

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

 
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