Don Draper is one of the biggest mysteries, as well as one of the most anti-heroic anti-heroes, on TV.
Through six and a half seasons of “Mad Men” on AMC, we’ve rooted for Don (as payed by Jon Hamm) even though we probably wouldn’t want to work with him and we certainly wouldn’t want to be married to him.
The temperamental artist, serial philanderer and distant father has been undergoing a transformation in the seventh season, however. After hitting rock bottom – rejected by his latest lover, despised or pitied by coworkers, left behind by his latest wife, who’s off in California to pursue her dreams – Don seems to be trying to remake himself.
He offers to do the right thing by Megan. He hands off a successful pitch to Peggy, who had, probably rightfully so, grown tired of the behavior of her mentor. He turns down offers from women who fling themselves at him (well, mostly; does the threesome that included Megan count?). He even inspires loyalty from Roger Sterling, who – in this week’s final episode of the year, before the final seven episodes of the series play out next year – rallies after a season of restlessness and experimentation to save not only Don but the partners in the agency.
It’s difficult to tell where “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner is going with the series, but then it always is. While we might have had a sense of forbidding about Lane Pryce a couple of seasons ago, this past season or two Weiner has been stringing us along with foreboding balconies and Sharon Tate hints. Who would have thought we would reach the final episode before the last seven episodes only to find that Don has mostly righted himself?
“Waterloo” was satisfying in the way that good “Mad Men” episodes are. Almost every character gets his or her moment, from Pete’s goofy comparison of Don to a thoroughbred to Peggy’s version of Don’s classic pitches to clients to Roger’s newfound steel – and his punchlines – to young Sally’s continuing voyage through teenagerhood.
I still don’t think the series knows what to do anymore with Don’s estranged wife, Betty. And old Bert Cooper was never more alive, ironically, than at the end of “Waterloo,” a moment that let vintage song-and-dance man Barry Morse shine.
What do we want to see in the final seven episodes, coming in 2015?
A clear path for Sally. Will she rebel or follow her mother into conservative stuffiness?
A bright future for Peggy as the queen of Madison Avenue.
Roles that feel comfortable for Roger and Joan. Maybe even together.
Maybe a successful comic strip for Lou Avery. Anything to get him out of the ad business.
Enough success to choke schemers and graspers – even enjoyable ones – like Pete and Harry.
And maybe redemption for Don following a lifetime of deception and deceit and self-loathing.
Tune in next year.