Correction Appended: The headline of this story original claimed this to be the fifth season finale of “Mad Men.” It is the fourth season finale.
We really should have seen it coming. Don’s (Jon Hamm) decision to propose to his secretary seems like an unnecessary twist, a desperate move written by desperate writers. But as we’ve been repeatedly reminded this season, “Mad Men” isn’t simply a corporate drama — it’s a character study of a troubled man who’s looking for happiness and a life beyond the office. Don’s choice isn’t between an independent professional and a gold-digging floozy. It’s a choice between two versions of himself, the high-powered corporate side of his persona and the loving, accommodating parent he never had, yet tries to be.
While Don’s busy making his fateful choice and shocking millions of viewers, Joan (Christina Hendricks), the firm’s long-suffering office manager, is promoted to Head of Agency Operations. The agency signs a new client thanks to copywriter Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), yet both accomplishments are overshadowed by Don’s announcement. Both women bemoan their lack of recognition in a beautifully acted scene that embodies the sexism of the ’60s. Peggy’s success in particular changes the mood of the series from morbid to uneasy, as the agency skates forward on thin ice. Season five can’t start soon enough.