'Mad Men' Recap: The Frontier

In the season 6 finale, Don Draper decides to shed his skin.

Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery) are seen in the Season 6 finale of "Mad Men."
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Over the course of the "Mad Men" season 6 finale, Don decides he wants to chart a new frontier. At first, he thinks that frontier is California – an idea he steals from Stan – to set up a satellite Sterling Cooper & Partners agency in Los Angeles. However Don's new frontier turns out to be his old identity, Dick Whitman, the details of which he reveals to both his coworkers and children for the very first time.

"In Care Of," as the episode is called, takes place in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, meaning season 6, starting on New Year's Eve 1967, spanned about 11 months. There are plenty of parallels between the season 6's premiere and its finale. Don's brash behavior in a pitch meeting – first for Sheraton, now for Hershey's – leaves his partners befuddled (they finally do something about it, this time around).

In the premiere, Don fashions a Sheraton ad suggesting a man is drifting off to sea, suicidal undertones included. It foreshadows the death of Peter's mother in the finale, who falls off a cruise ship, presumably by the hands of Manolo, her suspicious nurse. And as Don's Sheraton ad promises, a death by water could bring catharsis. "You're free of everything," Trudy tells Pete in the wake of the passing of his oppressive mother.

[READ: 'Mad Men' Recap: Season 6, Episode 12]

Mrs. Campbell's death also echoes the death of Roger's mother, which kicked off season 6. Roger's daughter Margaret is as a bratty as she was 13 episodes ago, still begging her father to fund her husband's business. But, fortunately, Joan finally allows Roger to build a relationship with their son Kevin. Roger will have to play nice with Bob Benson. Roger's confrontation of Bob for his relationship with Joan does not deter Bob from joining her for Thanksgiving – even if the maybe-gay Bob insists he and Joan are "just buddies."

This episode rendered a turning point for both Ted and Don in their relationships with their respective children as well. Ted promises Peggy he will leave his wife for her after the two consummate their long-standing feelings for each other (the revealing dress Peggy trots around the office in certainly helps the lovemaking process along). However, Ted then decides he can't abandon his family – "I have to hold on to them or I'll get lost in the chaos," he later tells Peggy. Ted begs Don to let him be the one to open the L.A. office, so he can get away from the temptation of Peggy, and have a fresh start with his wife and children.

Don lost the family he had with Betty seasons ago, and over the course of season 6, was quickly squandering The Drapers 2.0 with the disintegration of his marriage to Megan. By the finale, Don has hit rock bottom, as all the heavy drinking and philandering takes its toll. He ends up in jail for drunkenly punching a minister who pesters him at the bar. At first Don thinks the answer is to leave for California, and he convinces Megan to quit her New York acting gig to look for opportunities in Hollywood.

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But meeting the minister recalls a flashback to Don's past that holds the key to his possible redemption. Don remembers a bible thumper who came to the whorehouse where Don – then Dick – grew up, preaching the Good News to its inhabitants. "The only unpardonable sin is to believe God cannot forgive you," the evangelizer tells young Dick as he is kicked out of the house.

Does Don believe he can gain peace by coming clean to those closest to him about his disgraced past? Bidding for the business of Hershey's chocolate, Don hurls a peachy story about his (nonexistent) father giving him the candy bar as "the currency of affection." Seconds later he changes his story, copping to growing up an orphan in a brothel, where a prostitute would give him a Hershey's bar for helping her steal money from her clients. It's a move that brings down the ax of his partners, but not before Don tells Ted he can go to California in his place. Perhaps Don realized that if Ted continued his affair with Peggy, Ted in a sense would be making orphans of his children as well.