The finale of the season was all about man being an island. Don Draper, the personification of duality, stands alone in the end, like the rest of the characters.
Raking up the highest rating of all seasons, the finale of season 5 of Mad Men was a piece of artistic subtlety. The highest compliment it got was from a review that called the season finale feel like the finale of the series.
The theme of the finale appeared to rest in the propositioning question by the women near the end of the episode in which she asks him, “Are you alone?” Just as no protagonist can honestly answer the question in a negative, the characters of the season stood alone, still being mirrored in each other’s lives.
The end was more about the subtle message that had a huge impact on the viewers, even as the high rating of the episode shows. There were no climaxes to lead to season 6, letting anticipators make even more wild guesses in the dark after the brilliant closure of this season.
Unlike previous seasons, this season placed episodes in more thrilling order with every episode opening to unravel a new climactic chain. The end was just the opposite, no climax, but a fine sense of closure that left the audience satisfied, and with a sense of sadness and catharsis at the messages hidden in the subtle play.
In the end we find Don ready to leave his young wife Megan before she would leave him. Joan divorces her husband and refuses his help. We find Lane committing suicide and Don and Joan sharing some beautiful and chaste moments in which Don calms Joan’s ache over Lane’s death. Lane had propositioned Joan, but she had refused and was feeling guilty after his death.
We also find Roger Sterling standing alone in the end, trying to recapture the flame of his life after divorcing his new wife Jane. Pete Campbell is in a similar condition, drifting in sadness, unable to share it with anyone but Beth, but that he won’t do.
So it is all back to bearing it all alone. Very symbolically, Don nurses a toothache, and a guilty conscience. He feels responsible for the suicides of his brother many seasons ago and for the suicide of Lane. He champions solitary suffering in this season.
Then there is the fresh air, the sunshine of the series, Peggy Olsen. We find Don and Peggy bumping into each other during movies. She has moved on in her career having left her old team. Don feels proud of his prodigy and professional soul mate, her success and wishes her well. Both move on, but with lots of lessons learnt and having gained lots of wisdom and memories together.
Don realises that his loneliness, be it professional of emotional, is his own fault. He was powerful and cruel. He feels the effect of his actions and reigns as the hero of duality again.
The end credits rolled to Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice”. This along with the title, “Phantom” just highlighted what the finale was all about.