Mad Men Finale – Gone but Never to be Forgotten

Kudos to Mad Men‘s Master of the House, Matthew Weiner, for his superb series closing episode which aired on AMC last night. Mad Men, which has run for 7 seasons over 8 years, will now recede back into a secured niche as one of TV’s Best Shows, as well as our own personal entertainment history. Notice I said recede rather than disappear.

I think there has been and will continue to be discussion about how the series ended. People will debate for years about whether or not the fictional Don Draper is the person who created the famous Coke Commercial with a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural collection of people who gathered on a hillside to sing a song about Coca- Cola – I’d Like to Teach the World To Sing.

Some will say that it was Don, and that he got the idea while he was with a group of people who sat on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Don had ended up at a retreat/self-help/commune on the California coast by way of the Bonneville Salt Flats.

And in the midst of the group chanting Om, a blissful smile crosses Don’s face. We aren’t told why this man is smiling…


…but what we see next is the Coke Commercial. Now that actual Coke Commercial, which was entitled Hilltop, was made by McCann Erickson. Don is sitting on a hilltop. Connecting the dots – the conclusion follows easily. However, there’s no way to confirm that Don left California forever and came back to New York. It is up to the viewer to make the interpretation. But it would be foolish to dismiss this out of hand.

But this too was foreshadowed, if only briefly, when another shattered man, an office guy, much like Don in age, told his tale; a tale of shattered dreams, broken hopes, and most of all – a story of a man who felt that he had not mattered at all. Apparently this is what cut Don down to his core – when he saw it in another man, Don crumbled within, but not so much that he didn’t rise out of his chair, and give than fellow an embrace.

An epiphany for Don? A lifting of the deadly weight he carried within himself for all those years?

Could Don emerge, after offering all that he had to give at the very moment, as a repaired human?  We are never told that this was the moment that got Don up and out of his self-inflicted stupor of regret.  You have to make the assumption yourself.

Others will argue that it was Peggy. Now there is no proof of that either. We only know, sorry, make that assume, that Peggy stayed in the ad game.

It is not much of a blind leap of faith to think that Peggy’s ad game capabilities were now enhanced because the empty place in her heart was now filled by her guy Stan.

Now that the series has ended, we can put to rest, once and forever that, Don leaped out of an office window, or climbed to the roof of the office tower and jumped off. First of all we didn’t see it happen. We had been led to believe that the entire series was pointing in the direction, as Don’s life was a series of spirals. It seemed that Don would uptick, then downtick, over and over. He’d rise and then fall. Those inner demons of his that could generate the brilliance of his advertising triumphs were also the forces behind his never-ending ability to blow up his own happiness.

The animated opening credits sequence showed the man falling, falling and still falling into the abyss of oblivion. They also showed this figure colliding with a woman’s foot. One could be convinced that this meant that Don’s weakness was actually that he couldn’t help himself with regard to women. He was continually drawn to the new and the different which ended his relationship with Betty, as well as the second wife Megan.

Many of us bought into the Death by Jumping Off A Building theory. I know I did.

Yet, to do so was to overlook the final image of that sequence – an image of a successful man sitting in a chair. Weiner had given us this key image all along, as an answer to an unspoken question, and yet, some of us overlooked it. Or ignored it. It was there, right from the beginning.

Why do you think it went that way. Don, of course is a classic anti-hero, and as complex of a character that we’ve seen anywhere. So it was easy to shoehorn him into a fatal ending. Easier to absorb, easier to contemplate. As a theoretical ending , it was at the very least, less painful than the actual ending we got for another character.

From another perspective – I know I didn’t foresee all those happy outcomes. Weiner surely tied up the stories of Peggy, Roger, and Pete so sweetly – dressed them up in romantic ribbons and flowers,

as well as Learjets,

champagne, and I love you’s. He pointed each of them towards happy futures.

Joan earned a semi-sweet victory. By starting her own production company, via a friendship with Ken, that I had no idea existed, she was able to achieve a success that had always been just out of her reach. She also was able to make an emphatic statement about getting out from under the myriad of male thumbs that had bedeviled her for eons.

However not without a cost. She lost Richard, the golden California guy, a millionaire with unlimited resources.

There was Betty, who was dealt the cruelest of cards. While this was an unexpected turn of events – it fit in nicely that while this was a show about families – it was not a show that was majorly about family life. It was always, front and center, about professional lives. Our main stage was always the office.

At Sterling Cooper people smoked as much as they wanted, or drank as much as they wanted. Peggy and Pete made a baby while on the couch in her office. Maybe Roger and Joan did too.

So while Betty was married to Don and was a major player early on – she wasn’t a core character. The ripple effect of her news did have a major impact. By denying Don the opportunity to ‘come home’ to be there for the end – she basically cut Don off from his own children.

He said that she couldn’t make that decision by herself. She said that she wanted things to remain as normal as possible – and normal included Don not being there.

Of course, their eldest child, Sally, came to the fore by returning home to help with and care for her siblings. This was the end of an era – Sally’s childhood and teen years. Regardless of her age, Sally just vaulted herself into adulthood.

And yes, the last episode was billed as The End of an Era. Maybe that was true on a societal level, but on a personal and individual level I’m guessing it was different for all of us. I personally was a late comer to Mad Men.

When it first came on the air, I didn’t have the patience for it. It was too much like real life. I remembered my own entrance into corporate America – specifically Wall Street. As the new guy, I knew none of these people, and had no idea what they were like – what their passions were, or how I would fit in with them. Mad Men represented the same kind of universe. An office is a closed community in a sense. Newcomers enter, and others leave, a cycle repeated over and over. I felt apart from this group of ad people, or Mad Men. So I jettisoned the show. I did not watch any of it until Season 7A had aired.

Maybe it was the thought that Mad Men could be a topic that folks would want to read about, and maybe, what I had heard from others – this is the best dramatic show ever, or what I had heard from my brother –

Jon Hamm as Don Draper. He's not the angry young man in From the Terrace - that was Paul Newman. He's not The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit - that was Gregory Peck. And he's not the guy from Rally Atround the F;ag Boys - that too was Pauk Newman.  Hamm's Draper in none f them and all of them In gact he is all of us - only a bit more amoral than most of us.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper. He’s not the angry young man in From the Terrace – that was Paul Newman. He’s not The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit – that was Gregory Peck. And he’s not the guy from Rally Around the Flag Boys – that too was Paul Newman.
Hamm’s Draper in none of them and all of them In fact, even taking into consideration that he is likely a lot more amoral than most of us – he is all of us.

Don Draper is one the most fascinating and complex fictional characters ever created – were all true.

So after 7A had concluded – I took advantage of my Amazon Prime account and watched all of the first six seasons. I think it took me about six weeks. All of those episodes were viewed at no additional cost to me. I then watched the 7 eps of Season 7A, and for those, I had to pay Amazon a rental fee for each.

So what was for many of you, an ongoing experience, spread out over a 7 year period, for me it was compressed into a few months. At that point I joined the millions who were avid and eager for the last Season. I too had a high amount of anticipation.

But for me, these last episodes were a let down. In real life we never know what will happen, We can’t even be sure we will safely cross a street, or our flight will arrive safely. But when you know, with a certainty that Mad Men has only 7 remaining episodes, or 5 or 3, or even just one – it is as if we are on a down slope, or that we will end up as Don’s animated figure.

What will replace Mad Men, and who shall we invest our emotions in? These are questions with out answers at this time. Sort of like for each of us – our stories have unknown endings or outcomes. Yes, the term End of Era fits, and I think Matthews Weiner has given us an outcome which is both rewarding as well as a bit uncertain.

And for me , that was an ideal end.

One thought on “Mad Men Finale – Gone but Never to be Forgotten

  1. A great post, Mike. I was one of those you mention who were “present at the creation.” For me the show was always about Peggy and Don. The other characters — both major and minor– were mere satellites around those two. I’ll miss the show; it’s one of my all-time favorite now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s