It’s not easy being Don Draper. Megan is seemingly about to leave him. He’s as distant from his kids as ever, to put it lightly. And the agency that tabbed him as creative director is turning its collective back to him. Let us not forget though, Don brought this upon himself, committing personal and professional suicide throughout this booze haze season. His unrelenting efforts to control women and men around him have severely backfired and we’re only left to wonder for at least a year if he can recover.
Many critics pointed to Don’s Royal Hawaiian campaign as a foreshadowing of Don’s self-inflicted demise. He’s still breathing, but the Don we’ve come to know and hate-to-love has, at least for the moment, ceased to exist. Don couldn’t ascertain what the shortcomings of his dreamt up Royal Hawaiian ad were. “Always make the client feel good,” they say, and Don failed, er, royally at that by using such morbid death imagery that proved to be prophetic. It was the beginning of the end. Don couldn’t see what was coming: a de-tenuring of his continuous, masterful grip on those around him and the makings of a real-life personal hell for the man.
The symbolism of Don’s reading of “The Inferno” has come full circle upon the season’s closing episode, exhibited most conspicuously when he’s asked if he is “Going down?” by fill-ins Duck and Lou Avery. Don’s been doing just that over the course of 1968 (along with the rest of the country). His levels of descension have been marked by the loss of control he has had over others. First it was Sylvia, just as he thought he had optimum jurisdiction over her body. He gave in to Betty’s yearning for attention by sleeping with her. Then Sally saw the kind of man he really is and she wrestled free, at least as much as a burgeoning teen girl could. At work, Don fought an underhanded war with Ted, one in which Don was clearly the villain. Don surrendered there, but that was only a preview of the blows that were about to reign on him from the other partners in retaliation for his perceived disinterest and more recent implosion witnessed by potential top-notch clientele. And after flip-flopping on California and thus Megan’s immediate career path, an act that established new heights of selfishness, Don hit rock bottom when Megan couldn’t stand his gall any longer and walked out of their condo. The Betty Case aside, which was already a broken relationship, all of these instances feature Don ceaselessly taking advantage of the blind trust people had for him. They’ve all broken Don’s sleeper hold now.
The very last scene when Don takes his three young ones to the site where he grew up is a symbol of hope though. He’s been at rock bottom before, and on more than one occasion. The barely-standing childhood abode before them on a sunny day is proof of that. The look on Sally’s face when Don tells her what they’re standing in front of reads of a reluctant admiration for her father’s resiliency. It’s going to be hard for her to complain about much from here on out, so that was an easy first victory for Don on his road back to being in the driver’s seat. He’s looking to sober up and everyone at the firm respects Don’s talents far too greatly for them to completely give up on him yet. Don may have lost Megan, but he once lost Betty too. The question is not whether Don will find another woman or not, it’s if he can be with one for the right reasons and not treat her like a child’s plaything. That would indicate he actually learned a thing or two from his season-long personal realization of Dante’s classic.