Now that we know the mystery of Bob Benson, and that Megan Draper will officially not die, how is Mad Men going to finish off its penultimate season? We're not exactly barreling into next Sunday's season-six finale, so fans and conspiracy theorists alike might be in for a conclusion that's more subtle than they had hoped, leaving more questions for the show's final episodes than answers or even cliffhangers. But there is still the big problem with Don.
The big Mad Men questions this year revolved around just who new account guy Bob Benson really was, and whether Megan was doomed, or already dead. Those have now both been resolved. Megan, according to creator Matt Weiner, is safe. Bob is not a government agent or a murderer so much as—spoiler alert if you haven't seen last night's episode—a younger Draperian figure, someone who, with the help of an alliterative name, has masked his unassuming past through lies and manipulation. (And, yes, he's gay.)
Last night, by way of a mini-investigation, Pete Campbell discovers the truth of Bob's past (ex-man servant, corporate suck-up, fake resumé) through ex-colleague-turned-head-hunter Duck Phillips. Pete, having encountered something like this before when he discovered Draper's past as Dick Whitman—and was asked "Who cares?"—decides to hold the truth over Bob's head rather than use it to oust him. It's a conniving manipulation that sets up a nice, tense relationship for the two account men working on Chevy, one that likely cannot be resolved in a single hour next Sunday. And Pete's choice practically ensures Benson's stay at Sterling Cooper & Partners (don't forget the "funky" ampersand in the new name, via the inset fake press release) even though James Wolk, who plays Benson, has to go work at a modern-day ad agency in this fall's new Robin Williams/Sarah Michelle Gellar comedy on CBS. (Double duty has been done on this show before; just ask Alison Brie.)
So what will this season's final episode reveal? At the New York Times Lane Hill explained how this week's episode left everything decidedly up in the air: "I have no idea what's to come. There's not one big plot point to be resolved. Suddenly it's all diffuse." Weiner and crew have a big task: They have to set up what could be a farewell season, either with a shocking twist or subtle hints and what's to come. Weiner likes to surprise viewers, but he doesn't like those surprises to come completely out of nowhere. (The finale of the first half of the split final season of The Sopranos was co-written by Weiner, if that's any indication, and it features Tony at peace, with war averted, and a family holiday closer set to the Stones... and a bomb.)
There remain, of course, major Mad Men story lines that need resolving this year. Don held Ted Chaough's love of Peggy over his head in Sunday's episode, prompting Peggy to call him a "monster." The new, hybrid agency could fall apart. Peggy and Ted could up and leave, angry at Don's callousness. Don—disgusted with himself—could disappear. The Huffington Post's Maureen Ryan thinks something "radical" will happen in the finale. "Don's as bereft and alone as he's ever been, and perhaps that will lead him to make an enormous change in his life in the season finale next week," she speculates. "He might not be the only one contemplating a break with the past, either. I've said this before and I'll say it again: I wonder if Peggy will strike out on her own, grabbing a few key staff members (Stan, Joan, Ginsberg) along the way."
Even though we'd love to see Peggy assert herself after this week's injustices, the main character we have to deal with right now is our protagonist. Don has been inert and horrible this season. He truly has become the "monster" Peggy accused him of being, and with Sunday's closer framed by him lying in fetal positions, well, it appears that that he knows he is. Heather Havrilesky writes at Salon that "the look on Don's face at the end of this episode tells us that Don's starting to see the truth about himself, too, which feels pretty devastating." Don can also disregard his self-hatred, but we might be at a turning point. Let's think back to the season opener, which was so heavy-handed in how it dealt with Don's contemplation of death and especially suicide. As Ryan points out at HuffPo this show "likes nothing more than to cycle through certain ideas repeatedly and bring important threads full circle." That's one thread that hasn't yet been resolved in any satisfying way.
So Don might have a big revelation. But we're also preparing for something less obvious, that might ultimately be more frustrating. In which case we might make Don's crying baby face.