DAMN, that was good.

Tonight’s season finale of “Mad Men” was one of those blessing / curse episodes: it took threads from throughout the season, tied them together into a happy ending of cheer-worthy proportions, but just as you start to think, “Oh, man, I can’t wait to see what happens next,” you remember that you’re watching the season finale and that your wait is going to last for the better part of a year.

When we first see Don, he’s a goddamned mess. He looks like crap, he’s been kicked out of his own bed, and even worse, his alarm didn’t go off, leading him to show up late for a meeting with Conrad Hilton. Not exactly the best start to a day, and it only gets worse: Connie drops the bombshell that McCann-Erickson is buying Putnam, Powell & Lowe, and since PPL owns Sterling-Cooper…well, so much for the Draper / Hilton partnership. Given his already rough morning, it’s no surprise that Don quickly descends into mouthing off to Connie about his treatment, leading Hilton to snap back with the suggestion that Don’s being a bit of a whiner. In the end, the two shake hands and depart as…not exactly friends, but still on some semblance of friendliness, at least from a business standpoint.

It’s after this encounter, though, that the ball really starts rolling, and, man, there are some points where you feel like the ball in question is the boulder that chased Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Seriously, this was about as fast-moving an episode of “Mad Men” as I can ever remember. After we have a quick flashback to Don’s childhood, wherein we see that he has some personal experience to abrupt business transitions, Mr. Draper blows into Mr. Cooper’s office and drops on him the bombshell that he’s learned from Hilton. The result, surprisingly enough, is little more than a shrug. (“It makes sense,” says Bert. “All that short-term thinking.”) When Cooper falls back on his “we’ve got a contract” mentality, Don lashes back and suggests that they try and buy Sterling-Cooper back from the Brits, making for an absolutely fantastic back-and-forth between the two of them, delivered with impeccable timing by Jon Hamm and Robert Morse. The buyback isn’t such a bad idea, but, of course, it involves Don and Roger Sterling having to start speaking again, which would seem to lower the odds considerably…and, yet, it doesn’t. Instead, it leads to a reconciliation between the two of them, though not before Morse and John Slattery get their chance to do some verbal sparring, with Cooper offering his “Join or Die” speech and Sterling openly mocking his tactics. Even after returning to speaking terms with Roger, however, Don still can’t catch a break, returning home only to get the word from Betty that she’s moving forward with her plans to divorce him.

The Trio of Power – that’s what I’ve decided to start calling Don, Roger, and Bert – soon reconvene and invite Lane Pryce in for a cup of tea, springing it on him that they know all about the situation with PPL and Sterling-Cooper. He tells them they’re slightly misinformed. Turns out that he’s slightly misinformed, once again getting the shaft from the company to which we’ve consistently seen him giving his all. This time they’ve gone too far, however, and he’s not afraid to let them know it. I gotta tell ya, I almost cheered when Lane began working out specifics with the Trio of Power about a possible partnership. This scene was even more enthralling than the ones which had preceded it, with the Trio more than willing to acknowledge Lane’s worth to them. And as soon as the quartet decided on their new plan of attack – to let Lane fire them and immediately begin working a back-door plan to start their own brand new agency – the tone of the episode officially turned into something not terribly far removed from “Ocean’s 11,” with a “we’re getting the band back together” vibe.

But what do you do when not everybody in the band wants to get back together?

It was only inevitable that we’d get a showdown between Don and Peggy when he invited her to join up with his new endeavor, especially since he couldn’t even be bothered to ask her properly, and given her increased confidence after her time spent with Duck Phillips, I knew she’d view this as the perfect time to cut and run. What I didn’t expect, however, was the heartfelt scene when Don visited her apartment, apologized for spending all of this time believing that she was an extension of himself, and basically saying that either she needs to come along and join the gang or he’s going to annoy her into submission by spending the rest of his life trying to convince her to join him. How you do turn down an offer like that? Answer: you don’t.

At first, it looks like the visit to Pete’s place is going to end as awkwardly as Don’s first meeting with Peggy, given how completely pissed off he is about the way he’s been treated by the firm during his battle with Ken. Like Peggy, he’s riding high on the knowledge that there are others out there who are interested in his talents, but he’s completely shut down by Don’s forthright conversation. Pete wouldn’t be Pete if he didn’t try to play the big shot, but this scene felt arguably as realistic as anything this season, the way he was flitting back and forth between wanting to be the tough guy and wanted a shot to play with the guys whose feet he’s been worshiping at for these past three seasons. (I laughed out loud when the eavesdropping Trudy all but shrieked from the other room in an attempt to get Pete’s attention.) When I saw Roger smirk at the incredible ballsiness of Pete’s actions, though, I knew he’d sealed the deal for himself.

But let’s bounce back to Betty for a moment, who goes through with her threat to visit a divorce attorney…and one recommended by Henry, no less. (I loved the lawyer’s harrumphing about the inappropriateness of the situation, or at least how he perceived it.) So, now, the impression I got from that conversation was that Betty was going to take his advice and go live in Reno for six months, but what’s up with Henry suggesting that she not bother with alimony? Surely she’s earned the right to take some of Don’s money after all she’s had to deal with over the years. Once Roger spilled the beans on the Betty / Henry relationship, however, I wondered for a split second if she was going to survive to see any alimony, anyway. Man, he was pissed…not that he had even the slightest leg to stand on, given the countless times he’s cheated on her over the years. Soon, we have to endure the moment that every parent dreads and every child from a broken home relives for the rest of their lives: the “Daddy’s not going to be living with us anymore” speech. It had to be done, of course, but when you’ve seen one of these speeches, you’ve seen them all.

Back to Sterling-Cooper. From here, it was non-stop excitement until the final credits rolled. Harry is brought into the new fold, with his skepticism over the situation resulting in one of the funniest exchanges of the night.

Harry: Are you kidding me?
Roger: Yes. Yes, we are. Happy birthday.

Watching the gang get all their ducks in a row for their departure was fun. Though nothing was more wonderful than the sight of Joan walking back through the door and into our lives once more, Roger’s request for Peggy to get him coffee came pretty close, and the aftereffects within the office were even better.

If Ken’s annoyance over Pete’s attempts to swipe away clients brought a smile to your face, then Paul Kinsey’s horrified expression at the realization that he’d been left behind was worth a full-fledged laugh. That’s what the pompous blowhard gets!

Alison Brie is so cute, and her delivery was absolutely perfect when she came into the new, presumably-temporary offices of The Ad Men Formerly Known As Sterling-Cooper and said, “Isn’t this exciting?” It is exciting: it offers up a whole new world for “Mad Men” whenever Matthew Weiner deigns to provide us with the show’s 4th season. And with Don saying to Betty, “I’m not going to fight you, I hope you get what you always wanted,” it’s fair to say that, even though his marriage may be over, he’s found some semblance of bliss. Indeed, Season 3 of “Mad Men” ends with, as my wife described it, Don Draper looking as happy as she’s ever seen him, surveying the terrain of his new kingdom. I say he’s imagining what the future will hold for him…which, not coincidentally, is exactly what most of us are doing.

It may be a long damned wait until Season 4 gets here, but, damn, you can’t say that Mr. Weiner didn’t give us one hell of a wrap-up to Season 3.

There would seem to be no more appropriate way to end the final blog of the season than with the same song that played over the closing credits: “Shahdaroba,” by Roy Orbison. I’ve got to admit: I’d never heard this song before tonight. But with that said, count on it blowing up on the iTunes charts tonight. (Hell, *I* just downloaded it…)

In the words of Layne Pryce, “Happy Christmas!” See you next year!