Mad Men’s unpardonable sin

Josh Larsen

We weren’t planning on covering Mad Men’s season finale, but with all the Jesus talk going on in the show last night – and our ongoing interest in the program – I felt a quick nod was deserved.

Even for Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the miserably dissolute 1960s advertising executive at the show’s center, this season finale represented a low point (spoilers ahead). After being told off by his teen daughter (Kiernan Shipka) - who is understandably still upset about walking in on him when he was on top of a female neighbor - Don goes on yet another bender. While drinking alone, he’s approached at a bar by an evangelizing pastor and they end up arguing over whether or not Jesus has had “a bad year” (the year in question is 1968). This leads to a flashback to another encounter with an evangelist, one who gets kicked out after trying to preach the Gospel in the brothel where Don grew up. As the door closes on him, the pastor yells, “The only unpardonable sin is to believe God cannot forgive you!”

Debates about the theological concept of unforgivable sin aside, this is a telling line in the sand for Mad Men to draw. Is it not the booze, the women or the lying, but rather this false belief that has kept Don from even trying to live a life for anyone but himself? Will the simple message that anyone – yes, even Don Draper - can be forgiven be enough to turn things around?

I highly doubt Jesus will factor into the Mad Men narrative this heavily again, but we certainly seem headed toward a (supposedly final) season of redemption. More importantly, the season finale suggests that the series will handle such a journey with wisdom and nuance. Already, the storyline recognizes that coming clean, especially for someone like Don, will be complicated. Last night's episode acknowledged that loss will be inevitable, perhaps even the loss of Don's second wife (Jessica Pare), who walks out on him. The episode's final scene considers the notion of shame, both misplaced and deserved, as Don shows his kids the dilapidated remains of that brothel where he was raised. If redemption comes on Mad Men, it’s not going to be an easy fix. Never is.

Topics: TV, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure