Mad Men's Season 5 Finale: Avenue of Broken Dreams

Mad Men S05E13: “The Phantom”

In Mad Men's Season 5 finale, "The Phantom," Don Draper’s persistent toothache became the physical manifestation of the season's underlying pain over lost dreams and the question of identity. Pete Campbell summed it up as a “bandage on an open wound,” the problem of happiness. By the end of the episode not a single character was truly happy—except, perhaps, Peggy, who cut ties with her old employer a few episodes back.

Don and Megan’s marriage survived through the entire season, shockingly, though I’m not holding out much hope when we get to Season 6 if last night's hints at Don’s return to meat market are anything to go by. Megan used her maiden name, Calvet, in her audition reel, which I’m almost certain counts as foreshadowing. Even if she only meant it as a means of separating her professional life from her private one, the fact that she even wants a life outside of the one she has with Don certainly drove a wedge further between the two of them. Don gave lip service to her acting aspirations all season long, but up until recently, those aspirations didn’t interfere with her role as Mrs. Don Draper. It was confirmation of what we all saw coming when as soon as Megan got her big break, Don retreated to the bar and starting considering a hot blonde. Megan the Actress was acceptable as an idea. It wasn’t acceptable in practice.

Don and Megan both had a rough episode. Megan’s mother, Marie came to visit, which meant Megan would spend half of the episode in tears. Marie really delivered in all of her catty glory, telling Megan to stop chasing “the phantom” when Don initially refused to pass her screen test along to the Butler Shoe people. Marie certainly didn't mince words: "Not every little girl gets to do what they want; the world can't support that many ballerinas." Yikes... Marie isn’t really the touchy-feely supportive mother type, is she? Granted, a lot of what she said made sense in a brutally honest sort of way—the world simply can’t support everyone’s dreams and Megan is pretty lucky. It was nice to finally see someone call Megan out on her season-long hypocrisy. She very quickly became the Mad Men equivalent of a hipster: spending Don’s money on the latest trendy artsy thing was just fine, but Don was still an evil, awful person for selling out and making his money in advertising.

In the end, Megan herself sold out. Sick of fielding rejection letters, she asked Don to consider her for the role of Beauty in a Beauty-and-the-Beast-inspired commercial. Initially, he shot the plan down, arguing that Megan wanted “to be somebody’s discovery, not somebody’s wife,” which is true, but I think that their mutual definition of “discovery” was a little off. Megan saw the commercial as a catapult to bigger roles. As part of a national campaign for Butler Shoes, she would be exposed to casting directors all across the country, and THEN she would be discovered.

In the aftermath of Lane Pryce’s suicide, Don struggled to maintain something resembling a moral compass at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Plagued by his toothache, Don also hallucinated his brother Adam, another unfortunate casualty of a Don Draper pep-talk. In dreams, teeth often represent control. The loss of them equates a perceived loss of power, much like Don has lost a great deal of control in his own life, from the Joan issue to Lane’s suicide to Megan’s insistence on a career that he doesn’t care for. Having your teeth pulled can also represent anxiety over being forced to do something that you don’t want to do. We saw this illustrated for Don in the other partners voting to sell Joan out despite his protests, his obligation to fire Lane, even though he personally considered the man a friend, and Megan’s pressure to pull some strings and get her cast in the shoe commercial. The fact that the tooth that was pulled was a rotten one betrayed Don’s underlying thoughts concerning the actions that landed him in a bar, flirting with an attractive woman while the theme song from a James Bond movie played in the background.

Still, despite the moral decay seeping into everything Don touched, when it was discovered that Lane Pryce’s life insurance was paid to the company that ultimately killed him, Don tried to do the right thing. He insisted that a check be cut to Lane’s family for the $50,000 dollars that Lane paid to help keep SDCP afloat through the Lucky Strike pullout. He delivered the check personally and endured the wrath of the Widow Pryce, who confronted Don about the dark truth behind her deceased husband’s job.

“You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition,” she said, a callback to Marie’s words to Megan. The scene posed a new question to us as viewers. It’s easy to look at Marie and judge her to be a terrible parent (and I am by no means saying that she’s a good one) but perhaps in her own way, she thought her brutal honesty would save her daughter future heartache. So which is more cruel? To shoot down those phantoms before they do real damage? Or to string someone along, someone who desperately wants their wildest dreams to come true, someone who has bought so heavily into their success that he simply can’t handle the idea of them not coming to fruition?

This leads us to the case of Pete Campbell, who remarked as SCDP moved into more spacious facilities that he would have the same view as Don in his new office. Pete has been a practitioner of Draperism since the first season and it’s finally starting to pay off for him. Unfortunately, that isn’t as awesome as he thought that it would be. Pete ran into Beth and her husband on the train. Later, Beth called him at the office and insisted that he visit her at the Hotel Pennsylvania, which he totally did because as Pete himself said, he’s “pathetic.”

Beth revealed that she was a patient in a mental hospital (called it) undergoing shock therapy and since she often forgot things in the recent past after a therapy session, she wanted to remember her time with Pete. Pete launched into a rant about how she shouldn’t let her husband control her, which was hilarious coming from Pete. He offered to run away to LA with her because California is full of sunshine. He also got a few more digs in at poor dead Lane, stating that suicide is for “weak” people, people who “can’t solve problems.”

Beth was adamant that she would continue with her treatment as planned, that is WAS solving her problems. Realistically, in the grand scheme of awful things that were considered mental health “treatment” in the twentieth century, electroshock was one of few that actually worked in many cases and it's still used to treat depression today, though typically only in extreme cases.

Pete later lied to the hospital staff about being Beth’s brother to slip in for a visit, but sure enough, Beth didn’t remember him. Pete was heartbroken. I tried to feel for him, but mostly I was just relieved and hoping that it meant he would leave poor Beth alone. He launched into a soliloquy that could have come from Don himself about the fickle nature of happiness, that his life with Trudy, his philandering with Beth, his insatiable ambition, was all just a temporary bandage waiting to fall off, or be torn off, exposing his unhappiness all over again. He admitted that he didn’t know what would truly make him happy and later, picked a fight with Howard Dawes on the train back to Connecticut after Howard expressed happiness over Beth’s hospitalization. Pete sure got punched in the face a lot this season, didn't he? Though I feel that it somewhat diminished Lane’s victory over SCDP’s “grimy little pimp” after we realized that EVERYONE was capable of punching Pete.

Kicked off the train, Pete got home late, bloodied, and spouting off some B.S. about putting the car in a ditch (again). Trudy conceded to Pete’s desire for an apartment in the city, citing her concern for his safety. So Pete finally won that battle, but at this point, it’s a reluctant victory. I really hate that out of all of the men on this show, Pete has the sweetest wife. Life really isn’t fair in the Mad Men universe.

So, Don ends this season as happy as he ever is in full blown Don Draper mode and Pete is decidedly unhappy despite getting almost everything he wanted all season long: a new office, a new apartment, a new hook-up with Beth. Roger, definitely losing his high after a few months' worth of unhappy experiences, called up Megan’s mom (doing a rather convincing Creepy Glen impersonation on the phone—I had my money on Glen as the persistent caller all episode long) for a hook-up and a trip. Marie opted out of the free drugs but offered a little free love before heading home to drink Don’s liquor. Roger dropped acid by himself, and judging from the joyful eyeful he gave Manhattan when we last saw him, I’m thinking it was a good trip. But certainly, this high will eventually wear off, too. LSD has become Roger’s new band-aid.

Ultimately, Peggy, for as little as we’ve seen of her in the past few episodes, was the only character who seemed to be honestly happy with her life as season 5 drew to a close. Her new office at Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough looked to be a real improvement over the cramped quarters at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and she was in full boss mode when we first saw her in action at her new firm. Later, when she ran into Don at a movie theater following his tooth extraction, she expressed satisfaction with her work. Don (FINALLY) said that he was proud of her, which probably only improved her cheery outlook. They watched the movie as two equals, taking a break from their respective busy days.

Professionally, Peggy scored a victory when she was handed and account that I’m assuming will be revealed as Virginia Slims—a cigarette marketed to women. She revealed to Don that her new firm was even sending her on a factory tour in Virginia and her excitement at finally boarding an airplane and jet-setting somewhere for work, even somewhere as generally unglamorous as Virginia, was barely contained. I like happy Peggy, and it was a much-needed bright spot to this sometimes maudlin episode to see her retain her enthusiasm and joy even when she looked out the window of her rather modest hotel room at an unremarkable view of a parking lot with two dogs going at it in plain sight. You know that would have had Pete Campbell throwing a fit, but Peggy took it in stride. It wasn’t Paris, sure, but her employers trusted her to take a business trip all by herself like a professional woman, something she almost certainly wouldn’t have gotten to do at SCDP.

As much as viewers have mourned Peggy’s exit from SCDP, I think we can all agree that it was a good move for her, both professionally and personally. She looked happier in her final scene than we’ve seen her all season long and I think it speaks to her generally grounded outlook on life that she's been able to find happiness in what, to her former SCDP coworkers, would have been a modest, even negligible victory. Here’s hoping she retains that sunny outlook in Season 6 because God knows that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce—and everyone caught up in that messy laboratory—has quickly turned into the monster that ate Madison Avenue.

Questions:

1. Do you think the Drapers will stay married in Season 6?

2. Will Megan’s acting career take off?

3. Do you think Pete will take Trudy up on getting an apartment in the city? If so, will it be the den of sin he envisioned for half of this season, or a sad, lonely fortress of solitude?

4. Will Roger ever have a bad acid trip?

5. Peggy seems to enjoy her new firm. Do you think the feeling will last after the honeymoon period?

6. What do you hope to see in Season 6?

Comments (32)
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Something nobody mentioned was this little bit of foreshadowing:



In the theater, Don says to Peggy, (paraphrasing) "Every time you help someone, they leave you."

THE VERY NEXT SCENE is Megan in her Beauty getup for the shoe commercial, a role that Don helped her get.
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What a depressing Finale. Everything, just seemed so bleak. Anyhow,



1. The Drapers will probably stay married through season six. That does not mean that they will be happy.



2. I think so. I have a feeling that she will be out doing her own thing and have an actual separate life from Don.



3. Pete will probably get his apartment. the thing about Pete is he takes and he takes and he takes. All in a attempt to be happy, but in the end his little den of sin as you put it will be a reminder of no matter how much he gets, it will never be enough.



4. Roger is feeling a little worthless right now. When he drops acid, he has all these amazing experiences, that make him feel productive. Eventually the novelty will wear off, and the partners will probably take notice.



5. Peggy is ambitious. She is one of the first woman to go down the road she is traveling. She will not be happy simply standing still. She is like Pete in that way. The only difference is that Peggy has something to prove wear as Pete is just passing the time.



6. The Ladies. I enjoyed all of the story lines from the woman this year and would like to see more.



3.
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I really hope I'm wrong, but I am worried that we have now witnessed the start of Roger's terrible drug addiction as he keeps chasing a high.



For some reason (despite the ending) I don't think Don will actually cheat on Megan. Did you people not see the way he looked at her, whilst he was looking at her screen test? The guy is seriously in love! Plus which he has grown a bit since his first marriage. he tried life as a bachelor and he definitely didn't like it. if their marriage does breakdown completely, which I hope it won't it will be HER leaving HIM. I might be wrong, I just have a feeling.



I love what the writers and Vincent Karthesir (sorry I can't spell the surname) have done with Pete. They have actually made me feel for the guy - something which I never thought was possible. he's still a miserable, slimy sleazebag, but he is so desperately unhappy, even though he has no reason to be miserable I still kinda feel for him. Even whist I am cursing him for the way he treats the wonderful Trudy. I don't think he is doing it on purpose or that he wants to be miserable. he just is. I think it might be a spiritual malaise. Maybe McKinsey should recruit him to the Buddists? :-D If Pete keeps up like this he may end up getting some shock treatment himself next season. It's almost as if he has postnatal depression. I think the thing that attracts him to Beth is her unhappiness and vulnerability. His character now is somewhat similar to Don's in the first season.
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Did anyone notice that the blonde who approached Don at the bar at the end of the show was Megan's friend who told her about the shoe commercial? Or am I imagining that?



So bummed the season is over. Why can't we have 20+ episodes per season like other shows?
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I'd rather have 13 episodes of Mad Mens quality than the 20+ of most network dramas that drag plots out for far too long. Besides 12-13 episodes is fairly standard for the majority of the best dramas nowadays. Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Shield, Game of Thrones all have 13 epiosdes or less per season.
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No, it wasn't her in the bar, Megan's friend was played by Emily Foxler, the blonde was played by Madeleine Hamer.
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I thought it was her at first, too. Very similar.
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The ideal season 6:

- Megan and Don will stay married but they will drift apart. Don will go back to his bad habits (there you go, ladies!) and Megan will ignore it because of her thriving ambition.

- Megan's career will take off but it won't last too long. Just long enough to ruin her marriage and in the end, she will realize she lost everything over her superstar fantasy.

- Pete will get the apartment but eventually realize it does not make him happier. Won't he just kill himself?!

- Roger will have a bad experience with LSD. His junkie mood cannot last forever.

- Peggy will become more and more successful, but she will also realize success comes at a price. She will probably encounter many issues in her personal life.
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"You Only Live Twice" as the closer was EPIC.
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I personally hope Don and Megan's marriage implodes! I do think that Megan will be moderately successful and that it will go to her head which will lead to the end of the marriage. I think Pete will probably get that apartment and will divorce Trudy. Roger will probably have a bad trip and kill himself or will be seriously hurt. And I hope that somehow Peggy will make her way back to SCDP... I miss her! And i definately want to see more of Sally in season 6. That little girl can act!
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Megan's character was pretty good for the first half of the season, a nice balancing force to Don, but after she quit the work at SCDP for acting, she became more and more a spoiled brat.
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I've read many reviews and it has kinda convinced me that Betty is actually boring character if she is in the center of episode. And now it seems to me that less Betty is good for show. She's never changin' cold princess. So limited in her expressions. I un-liked her. So I wasn't sad that she didn't appear in finale. I need more hot interesting women characters so let Don be a skirt chaser again. I'm tired of Megan character. She' limited also. She's behavin' herself like a spoiled little girl all season. So annoyed sometimes. Glad her mother put her in place. SHe's awful person. I disliked how she promised her friend to ask Don about commercial and then asked for herself. Disgusting. Don should dump her ass. Don needs to be alone. He will never be healed. He s gonna jump from one wife to another and be grim and alone and cheatin' till the end of his life or gonna shoot himself in the end. Two options for him. This man has no point of return.

That was dark exciting sad bumpy road) Can't wait for 6 season.
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I don;t know. bearing in mind how Don ditched Ginsberg's snowball presentation in the back of a cab, maybe he and Megan are suited to each other? :-)
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wasn't she filming Xmen First Class during the previous season?
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judging by her performance in that movie surely she can't of spent more than a couple of days practising her lines and shooting them.

She's good at being the woman-child brat that is Betty but wow was she awful in x-men.



(tv.com thinks I've made up a word with 'movie' haha)
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As long as season 6 doesnt take as long as season 5 did to get to us, ill be happy
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It is and only 2 more seasons for sure from what I read a while back.
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At the end, Peggy was in a hotel room with a big smile on her face.

Do you think she "did" Don after the movie?
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No I think she was just happy to travel for work to Virginia. Is Peggy going to be the one to create the name Virginia Slims?

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Did anyone else notice how many scene transitions started with the opening/closing of doors? I'm not quite sure what it means (if anything at all) but it really stood out to me as I was watching the episode.



My interpretation was that the doors represent how each character is opening (or has opened) new avenues in his/her life throughout the season:

- Pete, in his constant striving to be what we knew Don Draper used to be, is slowly realizing that that kind of lifestyle may not be all that he thought it to be. He is getting in touch with who he is and how he is feeling and because of that, his whole world and his world views are changing.

- For Peggy, I think it's pretty clear that moving to the new company has enabled her to move through doors that were previously locked to her. She is allowed to head her own team and direct them as the Don figure of that company. She also states she is able to ride on a place, something she has never done before (I believe she explicitly mentioned this in a previous episode/season).

- Joan's door lies in the fact that she is a newly divorced, single mother (something that was probably still slightly taboo in that time period). She is also the only woman partner at SCDP and although her share is small, it's a significant step up for her.

- SCDP itself is moving into new territory. Profits are booming and with the security from Lane's suicide, prospects are up. In perhaps my favorite shot this season, we see the partners (with Joan in the middle) standing in front of a wide expanse looking outward at the possibilities.

- Don's situation is perhaps the most perplexing. We have seen him mentally deteriorating a bit throughout the season (from his fever-induced vision of murder, to the apparition of Adam that haunts him after Lane's death). That final shot of Don was very ominous looking and it poses the question of what door will Don walk through. Will he step into the door that leads him BACK to where he's been (i.e. a man who cheats on his wife) or will he walk through a door that leads him to yet another manifestation of Don Draper?



I apologize for all the talk about doors haha But I think it's significant and definitely a metaphor for where the characters have settled by the end of the season.
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I really liked this episode, it said so many things about so many different characters, all of which were very satisfying based on their Season 5 antics.

Don's return to the Don Draper of old was a great way to end his season, as we saw Megan go from his idealistic dream girl to a sell-out actress by using Don's influence to get herself a job. In this way, Megan dropped in Don's eyes and led to his bar meeting with the floozies being (probably) more than just a passing moment. I also think his meeting with Mrs Pryce was significant, in that for the last couple of seasons, Don has left behind the cut-throat style with which he originally went about his work, and tried to be a better man, but his meeting with Mrs Pryce has almost certainly left him with a desperate feeling that it might not be worth it, if nobody sees what you're trying to do is good. I think that next season we'll see Don return to classic Don Draper, and the SCDP expansion will only serve to show Don's return to professional ambition.

I was most happy with Pete in this episode, as his story came to show what a fragile and damaged figure he really is. He's always shown a desire to be the next Don Draper, and everything that came with that was how he led his life. But so far this season, he has been slowly realising that the things he's doing are not making him happy at all, that they're just covering up his sadness. I hated Pete when the show started, and I only started to like him after his pleading with Trudy to not leave him alone anymore in season 3, because it seemed like he was finally understanding himself. Then he went back to being the old Pete with that trip to the brothel and the affair with Beth, and I was not happy at all (he had Alison Brie at home for god's sake!). But his speech to Beth whilst at the hospital really swayed me, it was brilliantly reflective and heartbreaking. I loved the parallel between the two of them, and the crushing of Pete's soul as he realised that they were the same type of person that may never be happy, but that she got to be better and he had to just go on living. I really felt for Pete at that time, despite all of his bad behaviour.

I also liked Peggy's new found happiness, and I hope that this continues in the future, because of all the characters she's the one that's consistently showed her love for her work and her pride in it. She's the one that gets most offended when the client doesn't like her awesome ideas, and she's the one who is pushing against the tide being an up-and-coming female in an incredibly male profession (I liked the angle in her current job and the SCDP problem with Topax, showing the necessity of female opinion). I was glad to see her happy, and it was a stark contrast to Pete in that Peggy was happy just being allowed on a business trip despite where it was (and the view!), whereas Pete has so much at his fingertips and still can't find happiness.

Not much to say about Roger at this point, other than point out his awesomeness. I love his current care free attitude, and his acceptance of the way that things are has been one of the best parts of this season. He often brings a laugh from me, and I hope for that to continue next season.

Another thing I loved about this episode, none of that wench Betty! She's been awful this season, and my hate for her continues to grow. Unfortunately for me, Sally is a great character and this means there will probably be some Betty in Season 6. (BOO!)

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable season of television, though I was definitely more impressed with the back end of the season than anything else.
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Good review.

You analysis of Pete in particular is spot on. His character is complex and requires analysis, not the standard "oh he does bad things therefore I don't like him" view that seems to have been taken towards him in pretty much every review I've read on here. One of my favourite characters and not based on likeability at all.



Roger as well I agree with, much like Harry I find myself chuckling away at quite a few of his scenes. His segment of the finishing montage just being him tripping out naked whilst standing on a chair was great.
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Your review hit the spot. I agree with every word.
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Absolutely adore MAD MEN, and Don Draper, OMG he is so handsome!!!
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What an ending to a very good season. 2-3 excellent episodes. The season's soundtrack was superb. SCCD!
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I'm also hoping for less of Ginsberg. Maybe Peggy can hire him away. Annoying.
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Aw, Ginsberg has his moments! They're just very few and very far between...and often of a very short duration.



Ok, you might have a point.



I agree about the music though, it was phenomenal this season!
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The Don and Peggy scene was surprisingly satisfying. I'd absolutely watch a show where they review movies together.
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it didn't have the intensity of a season finale, but I just thought hey this is mad men it doesn't need to, to get messages across. It's been sort of bizarre, alienating and creepy season and I think Don's feelings of irrelevance all season long was brought to a head ending with Adam's hallucinatory reappearance and walking into the darkness from the set. It was understated yet powerful just like we've come to expect and love about the show. Plus seeing Peggy holding her own and finding happiness was awesome. Pete and Megan though are such parallels when it comes to success thinking it will make life better and all the other crap worth it just to find is that really what will make me happy? What is happiness could be the name of this season. And Lane's wife talking about Lane's struggles and ambition, it's heartbreaking but yet again so true. But besides that the imagery was breathtaking. The new office space and the frame of the 4 men flanking Joan, I'm still trying to grapple with it. Matt Weiner, the whole cast, you all never cease to amaze me.
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wasn't it Lanes widdow that said to Don that he had no right to fill a man like that with ambition?or did I get that wrong?

I dont think Drapers will stay married another season,it's been rocky for a while now...

I hope it will for her sake,she needs to get a carriere.

Never liked Pete so I hope he gets the apartment,but stays just as misserable then.

Acid trips seems to go well with Roger and that's good-him I like.

Peggy did the right thing by leaving and I do hope it goes well,but the risk is pretty big that she looses interest and wants back to SCDP soon.

I wanna see Joan really make it to the big leagues-she's great and has taken one too many for the team!She deserves to sit at that table and keep the boys club on a straight path.
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Yes, the Drapers will stay married in Season 6. No, Megan's acting career will not take off. She'll probably get more work, but she's not going to be a star. I also think Megan acts professionally under the name "Calvet" because it makes for a better stage name than "Draper". Pete will take Trudy up on the apartment, but it will be closer to a fortress of solitude. Roger will never have a bad acid trip. Peggy will thrive at her new firm, and I expect her to stay there at least through Season 6, or else some of the wind is taken out of her departure from SCDP (not that I even expect her to ever return to SCDP). In Season 6, I hope to see way more Bert Cooper (not really). Or, maybe a flash-forward to 1972. Season 6, opening subtitle after the Season 5 recap, "Five years later." Also, the movie Don and Peggy were watching in the theater in the Season 5 finale was "Casino Royale" (based on the Burt Bacharach composed opening theme music). "Casino Royale" was the unofficial (or fake) Bond movie of 1967, while "You Only Live Twice" was the official Bond movie of 1967. It was the "You Only Live Twice" theme song (sung by Nancy Sinatra) which played during the last scene and end credits of the episode.
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I really hope they never make it to 1972 on Mad Men. Too much happens of interest in 1968 to skip right past it. For example, shouldn't we get to see Don's reaction to a Nixon presidency after the firm supported him in the show's first season?
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