I originally posted this on Ravelry, but I'm reposting here for anyone interested.
Ok, so I've had an entire night to think about the finale and here are my thoughts:
Don's career: I do not think that Duck or Don will become the President of the firm or that Don will leave. The firm has been purchased by PPL and even though part of the conditions were for Duck to become President, you cannot have an advertising agency without Creative. Unfortunately for Duck, Don is one of the most famous and successful in the business. The fact that he doesn't have a contract means the SC can't afford to lose him and I don't see Don packing up ship, especially not now that he has the upper-hand on everyone. So, what do I see? I see PPL sending someone over from London to run the place and everyone stays in their current positions.
Duck's career: Duck's scenes could be subtitled "The Dangers of Overplaying your hand." As they say in politics "You dance with the one who brung ya." Don now has Duck in a very bad place because Don brought him in to bring in more business, Duck underperformed and just when Duck moves to redeem himself he finds that Don still has the upperhand. In one scene, Duck tried to pay Don back for all the humiliation over the past two years. He reveals the extent of his loathing and irritation at Don and attempts to chart a new course for SC. Sadly, although Duck is largely right on the plan, by insulting Don in front of everyone he weakens his own position in front of his bosses and subordinates. Worse, Duck underestimates Don, assuming that since Don is a Creative guy he doesn't understand Accounts, but Don (not Duck) is the person reminding Pete and Kinsey that aerospace and congressmen are the objective in California. The one person Duck should have groomed to have complete loyalty to him, Pete, is really loyal to Don (or as loyal as Pete can be). However, having now shown all his cards, Duck's power comes from knowing his London bosses better than anyone else. Don's the MAN in New York but that doesn't mean anything in London. PPL knows and understands Duck and his limitations but are they willing to put up with a boozed Duck as a puppet overlord?
Don's three-week jaunt to California: I think that time in California did Don more good than anything else in this world. During that trip he finally fused the two parts of his soul together and became a man again, instead of the empty shell we saw for 1.5 seasons. He has finally accepted that he is both Dick Whitman and Don Draper and that there is no impediment to his living his life as both men. After all, he is both men and the only person in the world who knows about his double life is OK with it and she loves him for the person he is, regardless of identity. Furthermore, he reached clarity on what he really wants in life: a happy family, which he never had as a child.
Betty: As I watched Betty during this episode, the thing I kept thinking about was, "Paging Dr. Freud!" Illicit sex in a seedy bar with a man who looked devastatingly similar to her husband (right down to the wedding ring)? Was Betty trying to release her frustrations by becoming the woman (she imagined) Don was attracted to? Women who, regardless of their social position, money, or any other list of attributes, simply slept with a man because they desired him? After all, that's what Mary Beth did, right? Furthermore, it was almost as if Don had given her permission by finally admitting that he had not shown her "respect" and that she wasn't crazy. She was faithful to her husband for as long as it took Don to finally admit he was a liar and an adulterer. The moment that cat was out the bag she was free to acknowledge all her appetites.
However, I liked how the scene finally played out. She can no more cast Don out of her life than she can rid her womb of that new child. No, it isn't convenient, it's happening at a bad time in her relationship, and it isn't really wanted. But just as the child was (symbolically speaking) between her and her tryst, that baby also symbolizes a new start, something fresh with no mistakes. Her marriage is broken but it can be recast into something new and stronger. The way Don looked at her, trying to gauge his reaction from hers, also symbolized (to me) the fact that he isn't going to take Betty for granted from now on. He now realizes that he has the life he was scratching at and, more importantly, that Betty is the one who controls his access to it.
Peggy and Pete: This is the part that took me the longest to write because there was so much going on there. It is amazing to me that in a moment in time when you assume that the world is about to end you realize, with great clarity, that there are only a few things that must be said and done. Trudy ran to her parents, her shelter in the storm, instead of banding together with her husband. She still refuses to accept the fact that she is married and her place is by his side. That left Pete to finally realize that he didn't love this woman, that Peggy really was the one for him, and he wanted to be with her if the world was going to end. I think that Pete really does see Peggy for who she is and doesn't put her on a pedestal, unlike Trudy. He just doesn't know what to do with this newly-independent woman. His cry of "Why are you telling me this?" as Peggy made her confession underscored this. If he and Peggy had been together and they had had a baby he would probably have been OK with the baby. A baby with Trudy is not a pleasant thought.
The problem is that Peggy, having had a taste for success and enjoying it, realized that she's moved beyond Pete. Her "crisis" happened on the delivery table and in choosing to do whatever she needed to get out the hospital she recast herself as a new and independent Peggy. However, I don't think all is lost for Peggy and Pete. Her choice of words during her confession was very careful and deliberate,a true ad-woman; "I could have shamed you into being with me."; "I had your baby and I gave it away." "I wanted other things." If read on the surface the words seem to say that Peggy wants nothing to do with Pete; I don't read any of them that way. I read "I could have shamed you into being with me" as Peggy telling him that she wants him as an equal, not with her in a subordinate position, having trapped him into marriage and him being there out of guilt. That isn't healthy or right and she thinks more of herself than that. That's also how I read "I wanted other things." She wants her career, she wants to be successful, she doesn't want to have to stop working once she gets married. She's enjoying this newfound sense of power and she isn't going to give it up for a ring.
Now for the controversial bit, "I had your baby and I gave it away". Anybody else notice that she did not once say adoption? Gave it away to who? Did she give it away for adoption or did the State of New York take it? I assumed that if she were to put the baby up for adoption it would be with a Catholic Adoption Agency (someone please let me know if I am wrong). That sentence was the most mysterious and interesting of the whole speech for me. I'm not saying that Anita has the baby (I think the baby we've been wondering about all season is Anita's) but this is interesting...
Whew...that's my 2 cents.