Striving for perfection. I think Don strives for perfection, and he did this with Megan. But once he realizes that she is willing to "settle" for a commercial - that she's not the artist she claims to be - he can let go of his own idealization of her and of their relationship. This makes cheating on her OK.
Cinematic excellence. The episode provided some great images and shots. One of the most startling ones has to be of the five partners standing in their new, empty office, looking out the huge glass-curtain windows. They're shot from behind, with the colorful Joan adding that Hopper red to the frame. The best shot, in my opinion, is of Don walking away from the film set of Megan's commercial. She's in the background, being dolled up and preparing to make a profit out of the advertising business; while he's shot from the front, moving into the darkness away from the bright lights of the set. It could have ended there, but the writers gave us an extra scene. We see him sit at the bar, order a drink in the "old fashioned" way and be hit on by a young girl who asks him if he's alone. In a brilliant closing shot, Don, seen in profile, turns his head towards the girl - not to answer, but to show his confidence and his happy welcoming of this female attention.
Is he alone? Everyone in Mad Men is alone. Everyone strives to find comfort in the affection and care of another. But "alone" is sometimes where happiness lies, even if for a brief moment. "Alone" can be where we refuel in order to then lead happy lives with others. Peggy is alone in a big hotel room, smiling as she makes herself comfortable on the bed. She's on a business trip that will hopefully bring her further success at her new job. Roger is alone, standing butt-naked in front of his swank apartment window, probably on drugs. Pete is alone listening to music, with his eyes closed, relaxing after a day of being punched in the face. We presume Joan is probably at home, with her baby and mother - but we don't see her because she'd have company.
Jon Hamm did a lot this episode, and he's been challenged throughout the season to play a conflicted, sad, and at times oddly ecstatic Don Draper. He's disappointed with the downward turns his life with his wife and at his job have taken. Yet he finds moments of inspiration. He was set on being loyal to his perfect wife, but now we see him returning to that yearning to find happiness and romantic/sexual comfort outside of the home. It's not that he's a cheating scoundrel; it's that he expects and asks for too much. He wants it all. And if he can find sexual amusement and a reassurance of his manliness outside of the job and of his home life, then he will go for it.
We didn't get much from Peggy this episode and none of her in the last. I think the writers aren't quite sure what to do with her. I'm glad they took her out of Don's office and put her in a new setting, where she can grow away from Don and hopefully have more interesting story lines. I was disappointed by her character's run this season. I didn't find any of her stories to be very strong. I thought the writers did more with Joan, which I was thankful for; but I still wanted to see Peggy have some good, powerful moments. The best was her goodbye to Don. That was one of the most touching scenes of the season. The finale gave us another scene shared by them, but this time it was lighter and more relaxed. They run into each other at the movies and have a "post-breakup" exchange of frankness, sweetness, and overall closure. "We should all get together sometime," Peggy says to Don. Things are good between them, and that's all we're supposed to know for now. I still don't see the four of them getting dinner together any time soon. It's something that "should" happen but probably won't.
Overall, Mad Men has had some great thematic sequences, with strong characters who are set in their ways yet can still surprise us from time to time. For me, much of the thrill of watching the series has gone away. Now I'm simply dedicated to its fictional world, wanting to know what happens to its habitants and how they deal with it. Watching Don is always a treat.