Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jameis Winston and the Impossible Resolution

Human beings are different. They - we - are different in so many ways, amidst our similarities.

Different in terms of ideology.

Different in terms of regional heritage, national identity, and cultural comfort zones.

Different in gender. Different in terms of sexual experience. Different in terms of educational background, role models, parental figures, siblings, and socioeconomic status.

The phrase is worn enough to make the significance fade from sight, but verily, every life is a story. Similar forces visit many lives, but the precise order and combination of forces is unique to every person. These combinations of forces and events - and our responses to them - make us who we are. Each successive parade of events and responses continues to reshape the person we become.

It is therefore no surprise at all, and may I hastily add, no defect or flaw, that the Jameis Winston story has created, is creating, and will continue to create sharply divided and highly emotional reactions from many people. I experienced this a week and a half ago, two days before the ACC Championship Game between Florida State and Duke. Upon voicing the opinion that, on balance, it would be a good idea for FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher to not play Winston against Duke, I ran into quite a bit of resistance from Florida State fans on Twitter, aka, "FSU Twitter." Such a clash was, realistically, unavoidable. Now, a few days removed from Winston's much-deserved Heisman Trophy victory, it is both safe and appropriate to visit this issue in greater detail. It's also appropriate to continue to examine the Winston story removed from College Football News pages, in a personal space where pageviews and web traffic aren't the sought goals or motivations (and FSU readers can see as much).

Not a dollar is being made or sought in this post. It's an attempt to continue a necessary conversation, the kind of conversation we different human beings ought to have every now and then in our brief lives. If we can't discuss the weighty stuff, what's the point of discussing whether a catch really is a catch, or whether a timeout was used wisely in the final two minutes of regulation? At CFN, I've talked about the need for players' on-field accomplishments to be given the respect they deserve. Here, I'll talk about the need for off-field considerations to receive the primacy they deserve.


The first thing I need to say is that as a participant in a Twitter conversation, tweets rapidly exchanged in response to polarizing or highly debatable statements often come across as being presentations of facts, when in reality, they are exchanges of opinions. Most pieces of authoritative speech carry the feel of a fact, when they're merely forceful attempts to advance a line of thought, one person's sense of a deeper and more unknowable or inexact truth. I realize that in my initial tweets from Dec. 5, I gave the impression at times that Jameis Winston had in fact engaged in imprudent behavior. I had meant to stress that I believed it was likely that Winston engaged in imprudent behavior, but I can see how that line got crossed. Since I was the sender of communication and am therefore responsible for conveying specific meanings, I must step back from that errant and excessive point of emphasis, FSU Twitter, and acknowledge that I pushed a point too hard, to the extent that a line was blurred. I apologize for crossing that line.

As for the other important distinctions I sought to make, I can say with clarity and confidence that I didn't overstep any important boundaries. I never said or even hinted that I felt Winston was guilty of a crime, or that he deserved to be seen/treated/handled as a criminal. I made an unambiguous distinction between criminal behavior and imprudent behavior, stressing the point that legal behavior is not equivalent to the complete absence of any wrongdoing.

This is where my discussion with you, FSU Twitter, left off, so this is where it should continue.


As said at the beginning of this essay, people are different. This is a necessary and not unpleasant part of life. Differences give color to life, imbuing our existence with a necessary measure of balance and proportion. The best governing philosophies incorporate elements of multiple approaches, not just one. The best leaders appeal to people from all walks of life, not just one segment of the population. The best preachers are able to reach congregants or seekers from various backgrounds, not just one. Any intimate relationship is an attempt on the part of two people from two different starting points to come together and share their lives with each other. This stuff is difficult, but it all flows from an acknowledgment that differences are not (inherently) bad things. They make resolution and reconciliation the beautiful things that they are.

Yet, differences - on a topic as explosive as alleged sexual assault or rape - are hard to bring together, and that's the obvious yet difficult truth of this case.

Many (though not all) Florida State fans will obviously see this story in one way. SEC fans and other people outside the FSU community will view (and have viewed) this story in a different way. It's no surprise that tweets critical of Winston or supportive of the accuser's attorney get retweeted by SEC or non-ACC fan bases, while tweets supportive of Winston get retweeted and shared by Florida State fans.

It's also no surprise that many men will see this story one way, and women another, although that division demands further segmentation. Many men convinced of Winston's guilt will react just as sharply to this as the men who think Winston was wronged and falsely accused in this situation. On an even more granular level, men who were collegiate athletes are likely to be particularly sympathetic to Winston. Athletes who were in fact wrongly accused of sexual misconduct of some sort (or to some degree) will be even more inclined to see this issue through Winston's eyes, and not the eyes of the accuser. These are all magnifications of the role our own life experiences play in shaping our views - on larger issues and on the stories that thrust said issues into the public spotlight.

Whether you're a member of FSU Twitter who thinks Winston did nothing wrong (which is possible) or a woman who thinks that there are still questions about this process that the accuser deserves to have answered (also a valid position), let's establish one thing right now: It is not wrong, in the sense of being a failure of morality/ethics/the exercise of one's conscience, to have a given viewpoint. 

Florida State fans who forcefully disagreed with me on Dec. 5 were not and are not wrong to have argued their case as they did... not when they're mindful of the fact that a former FSU player, lineman Travis Johnson (as reported in a story by Dan Wetzel and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports on Nov. 21), was charged with sexual battery by Willie Meggs (yes, the same man who decided not to charge Winston a few weeks ago), only for the case against him to be nonexistent.

If Johnson and other athletes (think of the Duke lacrosse players) were wronged, it is perfectly natural for FSU fans to come to Winston's defense, just as it is natural for women and advocates of sexual assault/rape victims to promote the need for the accuser's voice to be heard.

The persistent and inconvenient question at the heart of this discussion - the one I attempted to develop on Dec. 5 - is this: What do you do when a high-profile athlete is cleared of legal wrongdoing, professes to have done nothing wrong, but nevertheless resides in a situation in which full and perfect knowledge of the events of a given night (or time period) does not exist?

Can that player's word to his coaches and administrators -- "I did nothing wrong" -- be taken as gospel truth? Accordingly, should the accuser's version of events be dismissed or diminished to the point that it should not be seen as sufficiently credible to warrant further exploration?

These are tough questions. Moreover, I certainly realize that FSU administrators and coach Fisher - if fully convinced that Winston really did nothing wrong - would regard his exoneration in the legal realm as proof that he was and is fully free and clear, thereby meaning that suspension against Duke wasn't ultimately necessary. It is a legitimate, reasonable, valid view for an FSU fan or anyone sympathetic to Winston's situation (former athletes, especially those cleared of sexual battery/assault charges that were wrongly brought against them) to say that he shouldn't have been suspended for the Duke game, even after being cleared of criminal charges on Dec. 5.

Yet, providing leadership and - moreover - a full resolution to a contentious situation is found not just in satisfying one constituency or one set of concerns on one side of a larger landscape. What about the message sent to society by an (ostensibly) educational institution when Nationally Known Football Star escapes any sort of genuine sanction over here, and Anonymous Female Accuser watches that situation in the shadows over there?

Let's take Florida State (and the BCS championship chase, and the Heisman Trophy) out of the equation for a moment. If specific names were removed/redacted from this scenario, and we were left with a generic scenario ("What if Star QB on No. 1 Team X became immersed in Controversy Y surrounding allegations of rape, just before the final game of the regular season, which had BCS title implications?"), what would a larger community of reasonable human beings think about the way in which the situation should be handled?

Yes, the timing surrounding the emergence of the case was and is suspicious in ways that did not help Florida State at all. Yes, there were all sorts of questions about the way the Tallahassee Police Department processed this case. Yes, there have been problems with the way in which the press has reported on this case. Yet, those particulars are part of a larger and recognizable situation:

He said/she said. Details were murky and confused. The accuser had some alcohol in her system, but not enough to be legally drunk. How many times does this kind of situation play out in a dark corner of a bar, a room, a street, in America?

Of course the various constituencies in a case such as this would rush to defend and argue their particular point of view and the interests attached to them. That's not in dispute, and that's also not being criticized here.

What's difficult in a human life surrounded by differences is that the adult decisions have to consider all viewpoints, not just one.

Is Jameis Winston innocent not just in a legal sense (criminal behavior), but in a full moral sense (imprudent, advantage-seeking behavior)? Possibly so. Could it be that Winston was falsely accused? Possibly so.

Is his accuser not wrong, but telling the truth instead? Possibly so.

Most (though probably not all) people who have taken the time to comment on this larger series of events would conclude that, "We don't currently know everything that happened; we might not ever know the full story; legally, though, Winston has not been charged and should not be viewed as a criminal or somehow predatory figure, especially not as some 'big, black guy' with all the racial undertones such a label has carried and can still carry to the ears of a neutral observer." Such an interpretation of events is reasonable (not indisputably correct/true/accurate, but reasonable).

What's just as reasonable? This view: "Knowing that we don't know - in other words, knowing that the full version of events is still somewhat elusive - should the legal realm and its decision on this case confer the benefit of the doubt on Jameis Winston on a more personal and internal moral level? Does the winning of a legal victory mean that, in actual fact, Winston did nothing wrong?"

Yes, FSU Twitter, it really could be that Winston did in fact do nothing wrong.

Yet... there is a chance that he did something wrong.

What tells us this? A woman and her family have sought to continue to press their case in public, appealing to various authority figures in a larger politico-legal framework.

Yes, the mere act of appealing to authority figures does not automatically mean that the content or quality of a given claim/protest/media push is somehow legitimate or proveable. Yet, there is an obvious emotional consideration to be contemplated here: Just exactly why would a person and her family do what the accuser and her family are in fact doing?

This isn't what one would call a "normal" course of action. There is not evidence of calm acceptance of the way in which this case has been handled. There is not evidence that the accuser's family has escaped some sense of trauma, some degree of pain, in this case. "Injury" is not just a physical thing. It is and can be an intangible, psychological, deeply penetrating organism. Why is the accuser acting like an injured person, a wounded soul?

Is it mental illness?

Is it jealousy or vindictiveness or some such combination thereof?

Or is it a cry of pain after an experience that genuinely and legitimately wounded a young woman?

In a situation governed by a lot of "It's possible" answers and very few "We know  this with 100 percent certainty" kinds of answers, what would a reasonable person be left to conclude? What would a sexual ethicist say? What would a moral theologian offer? Should there be a default assumption or inclination to believe one person entirely, to the exclusion of any and all blame or sanction against the other?

FSU Twitter, you  are quite free (and, I hasten to add, reasonable) to think that Jameis Winston should be regarded as 100 percent right, especially when one realizes the extent to which Travis Johnson was wronged a decade ago during his playing days as a Seminole.


Yet, FSU Twitter, it is just as reasonable - in the absence of complete evidence - to assess at least some degree of responsibility and/or blame to Winston for what happened, and to therefore have him miss one football game as a result.

This is a view with which Seminole fans might (legitimately) disagree, but if one football game (against Duke) was to be the price paid by Winston for a perhaps-fractional or moderate display of imprudent behavior, so that other women could feel confident in the future that their voices will be heard by a football program on the other side of a deep and wide situational chasm, that seems like a small price. This all gets back to the original tweet that started it all, from @BPredict.

Indeed -- wouldn't it still have been quite a noble, positive, socially and communally enriching thing for Florida State to have sat down Winston for one game -- not even as punishment, but as a powerfully affirming message to vulnerable women across the country?

Yes, FSU Twitter -- and male athletes wrongly and/or falsely accused by women -- such an act risks taking something away from Winston that never should have been taken away in the first place. This is true. I do not dispute or seek to ignore this.

Yet, what are we talking about here? One. Football. Game.

If it was known to an absolute certainty that Winston was 100 percent innocent of any kind of imprudent behavior (not just criminal behavior), yeah, not a single bit of sanction or public politics would be necessary here. Yet, we don't have that 100-percent level of certainty. Ergo, making a public statement on behalf of vulnerable women seemed - and still seems - like the kind of thing an educational institution (as opposed to a football factory) should not only undertake, but be proud to undertake.

It's a question of values and points of emphasis. It's not objectively superior or more correct than other conclusions. It is debatable. It is not a statement of fact, but merely one opinion among many. Point conceded.

Yet, it's certainly a reasonable claim, one to be discussed and given as much weight and consideration as other options.

That's what Florida State was left with on the afternoon of Dec. 5. In the absence of even more facts and hard evidence, the Jameis Winston situation was - and is - a situation that defies easy resolution to the satisfaction of all parties in a world governed by human beings and their manifold differences.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Advanced Box Score: Air Force 79, Army 68

Conventional basketball box scores give you a lot of familiar stats. Here's an attempt to go deeper and tell the fuller story of a basketball game. Look at the advanced numbers from Army's season-opening loss to Air Force.



Adjusted free throw shooting incorporates one-and-one free throws into overall team percentages.

EXAMPLE: Team A makes 14 of 18 free throws (77 percent shooting), but it misses two front ends of one-and-ones. Because a missed front end results in the denial of a second foul shot, Team A essentially made 14 of 20 free throws (70 percent). Team A took 18 shots, but it lost the right to take two more shots due to front-end misses. This is adjusted free throw shooting. Naturally, this is something that applies to scholastic basketball, not professional basketball.

Free throws made/attempted for AFA

Front ends of one-and-ones: 2 of 4

Overall makes and attempts: 17 of 26, 65 percent

Adjusted FT shooting totals: 17 of 28, 61 percent

Free throws made/attempted for ARMY

Front ends of one-and-ones: none attempted

Overall makes and attempts: 10 of 13, 77 percent – no adjusted total



12-0 from 10:53 to 8:46 of the second half

Score change: 49-44 Army to 56-44 Air Force

8-0 from 6:33 to 3:32 of the second half

Score change: 60-55 Air Force to 68-55 Air Force


7-0 from 16:46 to 15:03 of the first half

Score change: 6-2 Air Force to 9-6 Army


3:03, from 18:06 to 15:03 of the first half.

Score change: 6-2 Air Force at the start of the drought, tied 9-9 when the drought ended.

3:46, from 12:12 to 8:26 of the first half.

Score change: 15-11 Army at the start of the drought, 18-14 Army when the drought ended.

7:18, from 6:05 of the first half to 18:47 of the second half

Score change: 24-21 Air Force at the start of the drought, 33-30 Army when the drought ended. Air Force did make four free throws during this field goal drought.


3:04, from 19:50 to 16:46 of the first half

Score change during the drought: 2-0 Army at the start of the drought, 6-4 Air Force when the drought ended.

3:34, from 12:47 to 9:13 of the first half

Score change: 15-9 Army at the start of the drought, 18-11 Army when the drought ended.

3:04, from 4:53 to 1:49 of the first half

Score change: Tied 26-26 at the start of the drought, tied 28-28 when the drought ended.

3:30, from 11:11 to 7:41 of the second half

Score change: 49-44 Army at the start of the drought, 58-53 when the drought ended. Army made one free throw during this field goal drought.

4:46, from 7:41 to 2:55 of the second half

Score change: 58-53 Air Force at the start of the drought, 68-58 Air Force when the drought ended. Army made three free throws during this field goal drought.


AFA second-chance points: 6 points

ARMY second-chance points: 7 points


--Player-control fouls: 2 by AFA, 1 by ARMY

-- Air Force twice made three-point shots while getting fouled. The Falcons missed the ensuing foul shot after the first three-point basket, but they completed the four-point play the second time.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 Review: Wants And Needs

Last year, I reviewed the Season 5 finale of Mad Men.

I'm not a TV critic by trade, and I wouldn't want the job of having to identify every nuance of a show within a context of taking copious notes. I like to watch shows for the meanings they can evoke, for the lessons they can offer, for the ways in which they tap into the fullness of the human experience. TV critics certainly watch shows for meaning, but they must pay attention to the technical aspects of a series - of the craft of television storytelling - with equal vigilance. They must absorb the content of a series and exhibit full command of the subject matter within the workings of the television industry when conversing with readers. That's a very difficult thing to do for a living; what you're about to read is definitely not intended to be a critic's professional review of Mad Men Season 6.

This is -- like last year's effort -- an attempt to make sense of a season as this treasured part of my cultural life approaches its endpoint in 2014. This review of another Mad Men season is an attempt to come to terms with the messages conveyed by this uniquely powerful show, one that has captured a piece of my heart and soul like none other.

What to make of Season 6? Through the first 10 installments of this 13-episode season, I was -- frankly -- underwhelmed. Yes, Don Draper had problems with women, drink, his marriage, his sense of self, and all the other usual demons. Tell us something we, the loyal viewers of the show, didn't already know.

Immediately, one must confront a nuance that lies at the heart of not just Season 6, but Mad Men itself: It's easy to think that the repetitive (and not disguised) dynamics at work in the first 10 episodes of Season 6 constituted creator Matthew Weiner's way of giving viewers what he felt they needed, not what they wanted. There's a difference between satisfying plot developments and necessary plot developments. A show needs to be authentic to its characters and, more specifically, convey moments and twists that register as emotionally and situationally honest. Being honest with viewers matters more than giving them a feel-good moment which somehow feels cheap, hollow, or hastily designed. Yes, the first 10 episodes of Season 6 gave viewers something other than what they wanted, but the way in which Weiner executed each episode seemed to be unnecessary.

The injection of a vitamin-based energy stimulant into the members of Sterling Cooper's workforce - the basis for a trippy, mindbending episode in which characters arrived at unexpected places under the influence of chemicals - created an engineered plot and the overpowering awareness of the presence of metaphor. Mad Men ceased to be subtle, searing and superb in such a moment. Chemical alterations of mind was a device that had been used in prior seasons (Roger Sterling's LSD trip in Season 5 felt much more organic and, instructively, honest), so the act of "dusting off" this device smacked of gimmickry. It felt - no, not necessarily lazy; it felt forced.

Similarly, Don's period of drift in his relationship with Megan - something which carried weight and poignancy in Season 5, punctuated by Don's "Carousel-"style look of Megan's film slides late in the season finale - lost its juice as a storytelling vehicle in Season 6. Critiques by Mad Men viewers that Megan's character was empty in Season 5 didn't seem to hold merit at the time. Don existed in newfound territory in Season 5, and for that reason, his new marriage held out the promise of new directions in his life... and his character. It's in Season 6 that Megan became what the critics said she was in Season 5: little more than a mirror for Don, a reflection of problems and patterns that were noticeable from a great distance but not a robust character in her own right.

Yes, the repetitive nature of Season 6 - especially as it applied to Don and Pete - naturally had a point behind it. Don and Pete, the characters who have most centrally grappled with their own self-loathing on the show, were unable to dig out of long-established tendencies. This is the stuff of life in its most urgent dimensions: We are given problems and challenges that are unique to our selves, to our deepest identities. It often takes many years of repetitions, many years in which we reunite with the same issues (perhaps clothed in slightly different situations), to finally solve them. This is one of the great dramas of Mad Men and - to expand the conversation - any show that establishes a deserved track record of creating unflinchingly honest moments for viewers, moments that announce something to the effect of, "We're not merely aiming for entertainment in the telling of this story. We're trying to reach into the deepest part of what it means to be fully human, in all its flaws and glories."

It's not satisfying to see characters continuously fail to solve their most urgent problems, many years after first being introduced to an audience. Yet, it's necessary to show as much when that's the most honest way to pry open those characters. Mad Men has excelled in that very art, but for most of Season 6 - despite the brilliance of "The Flood" and "For Immediate Release" (its two best midseason episodes) - the willingness to show characters continuing to fail (one of Mad Men's greatest virtues as a piece of storytelling and exposition) was overwhelmed by the inability to give viewers bracingly honest situations. I can't speak for every Mad Men fan, but I personally felt that the injected stimulant and Don's smoking of hashish robbed the show of its layered honesty and authenticity. Devices work when used selectively and sparingly. The use of mind-altering substances - while perhaps fitting into the late 1960s (we get that, Matt Weiner...) - was still just a bit too obvious, a bit too transparent... and a bit too frequent in the first three-fourths of Season 6.

Then, however, just when some momentum was leaking out of this remarkable show - creating that awful feeling in which a storied television run loses the ability to carry an audience to the finish line with a maximum of impact - Weiner and Co. found their fastball again in episodes 11, 12 and 13.

The final three episodes of this season - especially Sunday night's finale - showcased Mad Men at its best. The show's highest level of art from prior seasons wasn't surpassed in these episodes, but it was certainly matched.

Chemical alterations were not part of the formula in this trilogy of marvelous episodes. The marrow of Ted Chaough's life - and how it related to the people around him (his wife, Nan, and co-workers Don and Peggy) - served as a central foundation for organic yet complicated sequences of dialogue and action that took something very familiar - Don's penchant for being a nasty person - and used it to create fresh waves of consequence and drama. Real life and its unpredictable convergences of intention, spontaneity, desire, and uncertainty led Don, Ted and Pete to various breaking points. They led Joan to an important lesson (and situational rescue) delivered by Peggy. They led Peggy to yet another crushing realization about the primacy and power of the decisions of the men in her life.

No gimmicks entered the picture, and so, amidst the tumult of 1968, the turmoil of the times was sufficient to convey to viewers the inner turbulence of flesh-and-blood people trying to make sense of not only the bewildering world beyond, but the even more confusing reality within one's own heart and household. Various characters encountered either transformations or new challenges that promised substantial fork-in-the-road moments in Season 7 next year. What had been the muddle of chemically-altered or imagined drift for much of Season 6 became a different sort of jumble after the final three episodes of Season 6: Everything - every possible life trajectory, every set of choices and movements, for better or worse or anything in between - is now on the table for Season 7... and NOT at the expense of the show's honesty in its relationship with viewers.

Naturally, the way in which the final three episodes of Season 6 set the table for Season 7 is most fully reflected in the central iconic character of Mad Men, Don Draper.

Don's awareness of how much Ted needed to go to California (episode 13), coupled with his humiliation not at the hands of an adult, but his own daughter (episodes 12 and 13), brought him to a place where he could no longer keep Dick Whitman hidden before his co-workers and even his clients. A seminal life event - a two-faced character deciding to step out of a double life and fully come to grips with his true self and the shadow side which accompanies it - occurred in a way that felt very natural.

The gradual telling of the story of Young Dick Whitman - in expositional flashback scenes over multiple seasons - has been, at heart, a way of showing the viewer the pain Dick absorbed as a boy. This pain is the basis for giving the viewer an understanding of how Don Draper was a mask for - not a true escape from or solution to - an overpowering sense of inadequacy and self-loathing. What often emerges from these feelings when they surface in an individual is exactly what Mad Men has been showing for six full seasons now: Don's  reflexive pursuit of material and carnal conquest to blot out his pain, his easy inclination to enjoy the beginnings of things but then run away whenever any situation becomes fraught with difficulty. The constancy with which Don fails to break this cycle of painful realizations followed by self-destructive actions is precisely why many TV critics think - especially in the wake of the Season 6 finale - that Don Draper is an irredeemable character. However, the reality of Don's latest and deepest humiliation occurring in relationship to Sally - not Megan or Betty or a work colleague - is the very thing which makes the idea of a Draper transformation emotionally honest, and that's the genius of the final three episodes of Season 6, especially the finale.

The recollections of a shattered boyhood do not, by any means, assure the viewer that Don will figure it all out and achieve an easy redemption in Season 7 as this show rides into the sunset of the 1960s. However, those recollections do make the contents of Season 6 - chiefly, Don's dreary and doomed affair with Sylvia, not to mention his deeper connection with his old wife (Betty) compared to his current one (Megan) - feel relevant to the development of Don's character at a deep level. The floating, miserable drift of Season 6 - always possessing a genuine and evident purpose but not always being conveyed with the nuance befitting Mad Men - was finally turned into not just an epiphany, but a truly different state of mind for Don Draper.

A life history that has been teasingly shown to viewers in small doses over six seasons finally met a moment which led Don Draper to genuinely embrace Dick Whitman. This haunting past - the one Don Draper has been trying to escape since the first time we got to know him six years ago - always needed to be confronted, because the inability to accept that past is what has always prevented Don from being happy with Dick Whitman, his truest innermost self. Dick, the child who never recovered or healed from what he saw and suffered, has needed Don to look at him lovingly and express that love in public, so that Don's double life can become integrated and his masks can fall away.

It was a boy, a child, who carried all this pain  for so many years, and so it took another child's deep and confused pain - marked by a complete lack of understanding toward her father - to call Don Draper to this place of clarity. It took Sally Draper to bring Dick Whitman out of the shadows and into full view. To me, that makes complete sense. It resonates with truth and authenticity.

It also represents a brilliant counterpoint to the final line of Season 5, when a mysterious and alluring woman (one fit for a night of empty and meaningless sex, a reality that has pervaded Don's life...) asks Don, "Are you alone?"

Don, you see, has been alone throughout Mad Men's six seasons. He has needed Dick all this time. More specifically, he has needed Dick to accompany him so that he would no longer walk alone, unloved by his own deepest self at the truest possible level. Don has needed to take to heart the words of the patron saint of Mad Men, Anna Draper, who uttered the central line of the show's entire history in episode three of Season 4, when she says to Don/Dick: "I know everything about you, and I still love you." There is no greater expression of unconditional love than that. There is no greater height of spiritual wisdom, no fuller reach of forgiveness, no purer articulation of the need to accept everyone - including your own self - exactly as you are. Don, in worlds dominated by either power (SC&P) or sex (his household or any location of one of his affairs), has not been able to find a reason powerful enough to get him to embrace Dick Whitman. It took Sally - the reflection of a confused and desperately wounded child - to get Don to look into that mirror and behold Dick, also a bewildered and lost child of wayward and dysfunctional parents. Upon looking into that mirror, Don was finally able to view Dick with affection and a lack of shame.

Don's meeting of Sally's eyes in the final scene of Season 6 was and is a moment that will live on in television history -- not because it was poignant, not because there was something unmistakably hopeful about it, but because the moment was created in a complex, layered, and supremely honest way, with natural connections forging a link between a haunting past and a redemptive present, between the old chains of persistent long-term behaviors and the recognition of the possibility that those chains can yet be broken.

Season 7 might not give Mad Men viewers the happy ending that would be so satisfying to contemplate, but if it does, the foundation has now been laid, enabling viewers to say the following: "If we get said happy ending, it will feel emotionally honest." This brings up an important point about Mad Men that's worth revisiting as this reflection concludes.

One of the show's many hallmarks is that it doesn't deal in (obvious) linear progressions. Characters are not completely virtuous or completely evil. Just when a character seems to be headed over the edge, s/he is brought back from the brink or encounters a situation which brings out his/her best qualities, ones that had been hidden and perhaps didn't have a chance to shine in other circumstances. Just when characters can seemingly do no wrong or dent their reputations, their insecurities emerge - think of the way Joan reacted to Don telling off Herb Rennet earlier in Season 6. (Viewers didn't see that one coming - not most of them, at any rate.) The reality of complex, multidimensional characters is not merely intended to perpetuate intrigue or suspense in Hollywood; it's part of real life, too.

How delicious it is to contemplate, then, that Mad Men - a fundamentally dark show for its six seasons of existence - could give way to a seventh and concluding season in which the characters - especially Don - arrive at a whole and nourishing sense of self. Yes, every character will have to walk over the hot coals of self-doubt and untamed appetite to achieve that happiness, if it does emerge for them, but the grand achievement of Season 6 is that the possibility of happiness seems realistic. If Matt Weiner does bend the arc of Season 7 to the happy side, it would be one final and lasting testament to this show's ability to avoid the predictable path or the easy, preconceived expectation of what is going to (or supposed to) happen.

And if Mad Men retains its dark edge in Season 7? Well, that would certainly be emotionally honest, too...

... as long as there are no unnecessary and clouding gimmicks, of course.