The second half of the final season AMC’s “Mad Men” is titled “The End of an Era,” signaling that nothing can stay as it is. The ‘60s are on the way out, ushering in life-changing shifts for Don and his family and co-workers.
A sense of impending, inescapable inevitability has coursed through Season 7 so far. We see a glimpse of Betty’s unfortunate end in the form of a terminal cancer diagnosis, we witness SCDP dismantled and gutted, and Don’s ill-fated road trip hints at where the road may end for him.
And it’s his guilty conscience that may seal his fate. In the last episode, “The Milk and Honey Route,” his imagined run-in with the state troopers bears a telling bit of dialogue: “You knew it’d catch up with you eventually,” the cop tells Don. He can’t keep running forever, and to appease the foreboding sense of dread he’s come to live with, Don will ultimately turn himself in to the authorities and confess to his stolen identity.
His guilt bubbles up as he drunkenly shares his story with a group of army vets, and his disapproval of living a life of crime is clear when he sets a young con man on a straighter path at the end of the episode. The sudden appearance of a conscience and moments of coming clean will eventually put Don behind bars.
(Meanwhile, Peggy will open her own agency, and Joan will have her sexist bosses who cheated her out of half a million dollars offed by her new, potentially mob-connected boyfriend.)
Don has found no meaning in the consumer-driven world he helped create, and knows a shot at genuine, non-materialistic happiness can arrive only when he sheds the artificial veneer, owns up to his past, and starts over with a clean slate. After serving time for desertion and identity theft, of course.