In this quiet oomph of an episode — doubly moving I thought on second viewing this morning before the sun came up — everyone was feeling his or her age. Don was suddenly so very old, and Peggy so wonderfully young. Pete was finally feeling all grown up, giving his father-in-law a graceful strong arm while clutching his heart over news that Trudy was pregnant. Joan and Caroline were ''old and married,'' invisible in terms of advertising; the younger, single secretaries fresh meat. ''How the hell did this get so sad so fast?'' Freddie wondered while watching the sniffling focus group as if it were his afternoon soap. That sort of sums up my feelings watching the last four episodes of Don's great unraveling.
There is so much startling change afoot this season, not just for the characters but for the viewer at home who is no longer encouraged to gaze at Don through that low, wide lens meant for superheroes. ''He's a drunk,'' whined Allison, a whammy to Joey's pronouncement two episodes ago that he was pathetic. So much for the man who inspired a Banana Republic fashion campaign and countless Halloween costumes. He has more in common with the stooped janitor or the cardiganed man after his pears than anybody at that downtown party. It's a hard transition to watch, which is why it's such a relief to count on Mr. Cooper always lounging somewhere in the background. As Peggy's new lesbian Life magazine friend ogled the receptionist, Bert chomped on an apple in the background. Stripped of his grand lair, Bert lounged under his big abstract painting in the lobby, leafing through the paper, in his socks, willfully oblivious to a world that does not benefit his immediate interests. Don't ever change, Mr. Cooper.
The episode opened with a painful shot of Don sucking death, two cigarettes smashed together as he tried to catch a light. Roger and Don tag-teamed a nervous Lee about the new laws of advertising. No more scenes of teenagers smoking, no more athletes, no more superheroes. No problem, they assured the man. The scene afforded John Slattery, who directed the episode, some killer lines. (''Lee, Lee, the jockey smokes the cigarette!'' ''See I would never buy a sailboat, I don't want to do things myself.'') The fourth person on the line was Allison, a phone pressed to her ear, taking everything in, including another empty on Don's liquor shelf.
After Don hurried Lee off the line, Allison caught him gazing forlornly at the photo of him and Anna and tried to engage him in conversation. He shut her down, and her face folded in on itself. I was so wrong about Allison last week, labeling her as forever bound to her boss. Allison walked, after breaking down in the focus group and hurling a tchotchke at Don's head after he cruelly suggested she write up her own recommendation on his stationery. ''I don't say this easily, but you are not a good person,'' she said, before storming out of the office to go work for the likes of Helen Gurley Brown. In her place, Joan stuck Don with Ms. Blankenship, Mad Men's answer to Thelma Harper. ''Could you fetch Campbell and Price Lane, Mistuhs?!'' Bring it Blankenship.
NEXT: Peggy lets loose