the recap recap

The Best of the Mad Men Season Finale Recaps: ‘In Care Of’

Photo: Jaimie Trueblood/AMC

So, season six is over, and Bob Benson didn’t kill a hooker, but Don Draper finally told the truth. Critics sighed with relief as our antihero merged with Dick Whitman during a pitch meeting. They discussed the recurring motif of escapism, and mourned Peggy’s lack of agency as all the men around her attempted to flee to California. Until next spring, here’s your final recap of the recaps. And remember, it’s all fun and games until someone gets shot in the face.

“This episode is shot through with an intense sense of catharsis, particularly when it comes to its protagonists. There are moments in this episode as moving as anything we’ve ever seen from Don Draper, and they come at the end of a season that examined as completely as possible just why he was a monster. That Hershey’s pitch … is at once incredibly audacious and achingly real … But in some ways, that moment feels a little too easy as the emotional capper. I was just as moved by that shot of him walking away from Roger, having called Dawn ‘sweetheart’ and surely become aware that his days were numbered (even if only on a subconscious level). And I was even more blown away by Don and Sally sharing that little look outside the ’house’ where he grew up. That moment of intense connection has been a long time in coming between those two. The rest of the series will hinge on whether Don can keep up with this newfound ability for self-reflection, this newfound ability to change. (Interestingly, the final arc of The Sopranos also hinged on this.)” —A.V. Club

“Many viewers joked in early seasons that at some point everyone’s alcoholism would take its toll, especially as societal norms changed.  Here’s Don now, shaking at meetings, and co-workers all but saying he’s an alcoholic. Strangely though, it’s still somewhat of a surprise.  It’s almost like the sudden realization that a friend is actually in trouble, acknowledging you saw the signs, but weren’t sure when it would be to the point of intervention, if ever. With Don, the day has arrived.” —Collider

“Don delivered his own eulogy preemptively, at the Hershey’s meeting. Tired of lying — to his co-workers, to the clients, to his wife, to his daughter, to himself — he opens the blinds on Dick Whitman and tells a 100 percent true story from his sad brothel upbringing. The look of relief on his face as he finally lays aside the mask is palpable. This was a mercy killing.” —Entertainment Weekly

“The implication of that smile on Bob’s face when he happily offered Pete, a Manhattanite who doesn’t drive, the car keys to that Camaro: ‘You do not have the upper hand because I, Bob Benson, have the upper hand, and the gear shift, and the carving knife at Joan’s Thanksgiving dinner, and pretty much ALL THE PHALLIC SYMBOLS.’” —Esquire

“Just listen to the self-loathing that catches in his voice as he says the word “alone,” or the pain as he says eating the Hershey bar made him feel “like a normal kid.” Stealing from the john’s pockets to be given a candy bar is far from the worst thing Dick Whitman ever did, but it’s among the most mortifying. This is the life Dick was so desperate to run away from that he would steal a dead man’s identity, and his desire to keep these details of his life a secret has as much to do with shame as it does with any legal jeopardy the truth could put him in. Even given how intolerable Don has been all season, Hamm made me feel nothing but sympathy (and pity) in that moment. One of his single best moments in a series full of jaw-droppers.” —HitFix

“Don looked around at all those faces and realized he just couldn’t do it any more: He couldn’t pretend the fantasy was real. He couldn’t use the raw materials of his pain without acknowledging that pain’s existence. ‘The wrapper looked like what it was inside,’ he’d said of the Hershey bar. The Don Draper wrapper doesn’t look anything like what’s inside him, and hiding the gulf between them was just too hard. He gave up trying to be two people at once.” —Huffington Post

“Don longs for the future he foresaw with Megan in the bubble of Disneyland very early on in their relationship. But in relationships, like at Disneyland, eventually shit must get real. After a certain point one can take no more fun, no more enforced cheer, no more objects shaped like a Mickey Mouse head. Fireworks are most dazzling in tandem with their absence. Nonstop fireworks every single day would not only become dull, it would be exhausting. Don almost always makes the least responsible choice he can.” —Grantland

“One of the most frequent complaints leveled at this season of Mad Men is that Don’s struggles with women and drink had grown wearisome, and that the show itself was in a kind of narrative rut, mining the same thematic material with diminished results. While I agree to some extent with this criticism, it seems apparent that Matthew Weiner had this trajectory in mind all along: Drive us all to the brink of loathing Don, only to have our protagonist redeem himself in the most unexpected, heartrending way imaginable.” —Los Angeles Times

“Not according to Betty, it doesn’t. When she says, ‘the good is not beating the bad,’ I thought that was her most redeeming moment since the start of the show. Truly. With one line I felt like I saw her whole childhood — the basic tenets with which she was raised — come into sharp relief and I didn’t need to sit through a bunch of Little Whore on the Prarie flashbacks to get it. But anyway, I did love watching the flicker of escape cross Don’s mind, and then, at long last, he makes a decision. His life doesn’t simply happen to him, but he chooses to give Ted the freedom they both need. It is a far far better thing he does … ” —New York Times

“Early prediction for next season? Bob becomes the new Don at Sterling Cooper & Partners. Like the erstwhile Dick Whitman, Bob has no past, a tendency to lie about his background and an eagerness eerily reminiscent of how Don wheedled his way into a job at Sterling Cooper in the 1950s. Now that Don and Pete have vacated the SC&P offices, and Bob has Joan in his pocket (the man wore an apron to carve her Thanksgiving turkey for heaven’s sake), there’s nothing standing in his way from making a swift Draper-esque rise to the top. Perhaps that’s Matthew Weiner’s thesis statement after all: There’s always a Don Draper for every generation, and probably in every company.” —Rolling Stone

“This season of Mad Men made us anxious of some looming disaster, convincing us that something, something crazy, something epic, something terrible was coming. (A conviction shared by the millions of Americans in 1968 who voted Nixon into office on the promise that he could stave that change off: Again, Mad Men nailed the mood.) But what Mad Men keeps telling us over and over is that the really scary thing is not coming, because it is already here. Don Draper, whatever name he uses, is stuck with himself, his flaws, his sins, his past, and there is no catastrophe, no con, no price that can release him from their hold. As long as we live, we will be ourselves. For Don Draper, for the very first time, that may not be a calamity.” —Salon

“The ambiguity sometimes got a little annoying, if not downright insulting at times. Matthew Weiner says in a post-season interview conducted by Alan Sepinwall that not only did Joan land the Avon account, but that he assumes the audience understands that. This has always been the major flaw in Mad Men’s writing and the problem that arises when subtlety and ambiguity are goals for the show: the writers sometimes lose track of what’s in their heads and what’s on the page. We’re reminded of either the commentary track or the ‘Inside Mad Men’ video on ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ where Matthew Weiner goes on and on about what Betty and Don are thinking as they kiss each other at the end of Roger’s party; important, insightful bits of character information that inform the scene and put it in context — none of which appeared onscreen or would be knowable in any way by the audience. On the one hand, we appreciate a show that expects the audience to keep up and figure things out along the way without being spoonfed. On the other hand, the show’s pacing problems grew to epidemic proportions this season and it seems to us we could have been spared 30 seconds of Dick Whitman’s Whorehouse Frolics in order to get one short line informing us that the most important and dangerous thing Joan did all season actually paid off for her.” —Tom and Lorenzo

“Peggy Olson is perhaps the most successful, and certainly one of the very few, women in her field. She’s sharp, creative, and ambitious. So why did we spend so much time on her love life? This is a woman who stabbed her live-in boyfriend and almost killed him, then never speaks his name again. (In fairness, he did dump her in the ambulance.) Perhaps her inexorable rise is meant to be viewed primarily through the lens of her emotional vulnerability: the more power she attains, the less powerful she feels.” —Time

The Best of the Mad Men Season Finale Recaps