After an ominous and occasionally shocking fifth season, the Mad Men finale aired Sunday night. (Warning: Spoilers lie ahead.) Season five featured a sultry cabaret performance, a polarizing fat suit, the death of a major character, and fan favorite Peggy Olsen's exit from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. On Sunday night's finale, Pete's affair comes to a poignant end, Don helps Megan land an acting job, and Peggy quickly grows disillusioned with her new job. As the episode concludes, a beautiful blonde approaches Don at a bar and asks him, "Are you alone?" — cueing a quick cut to black. Was it a satisfying ending to the season?
It was a fitting conclusion: This was a disorientingly low-key finale, says Morgan Glennon at Buddy TV. But that's Mad Men for you: "The show always zigs just when you think it'll zag." Season five was "at turns shocking, traumatic and sometimes even maddening." Such a quiet finish was, in its own way, surprising, and featured several lovely small moments: Peggy and Don at the movies, for example, or Pete's speech to Beth at the hospital. By cutting away before Don answered the question "Are you alone," the writers achieved as much of a cliffhanger as they ever have.
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But not the season's strongest episode: Mad Men is at its best "when it's a series about mystique," says Todd VanDerWerff at The A.V. Club. But this season "went out of its way to make nearly all of its themes explicit, then underlined them five or six additional times." Exhibit A: In the finale, both Pete and Megan's mother deliver speeches about the hopelessness of dreams and the fruitless search for happiness. The episode produced at least one iconic sequence: Don walking away from Megan's commercial set and heading to the bar to the strains of "You Only Live Twice." But in an "A" season, this overly explicit finale was only a "B+."
Actually, the whole season was disappointing: After launching with a sultry bang, with Megan's "Zou Bisou Bisou" performance, season five "didn't live up to its enormous potential," says Maureen Ryan at The Huffington Post. From the characters' rampant selfishness to the grimness that permeated almost every episode, it was a "uniquely dour season." A handful of great moments stand out: Joan telling off her husband, Don kissing Peggy's hand, Roger's LSD trip. But overall, there "wasn't much tension or forward momentum to help drive the season forward." Unlike the riveting fourth season, I expect season five to "fade quickly in my memory."
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