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Review: ‘Mad Men’ Series Finale, Season 7 Episode 14, ‘Person to Person’ Ends an Era with Empathy

Review: 'Mad Men' Series Finale, Season 7 Episode 14, 'Person to Person' Ends an Era with Empathy

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Mad Men’ Season 7 Episode 13 ‘The Milk and Honey Route’ Finds Joy and Sorrow

Immediate Reaction:

And the world keeps spinning. After months of debate over the finale and years of anticipation for Sunday’s conclusion, Matthew Weiner’s saga ended as it’s always existed: uniquely fitting. The “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad campaign was indeed created by McCann Erickson in real life, meaning that yes, Don Draper returned to his old life making landmark advertisements for the big boys. What’s important, though, isn’t that Don went back to work. It’s not whether he was a bigger part of his family’s life when he returned (odds are he was, given Stephanie’s sage advice). It’s that he found a way to be happy in doing so.

Don looked up from his suicidal stew for the first time when the man at the seminar said, “It’s like no one cares that I’m gone.” Given Don’s rejection from his own family — both by Sally, now wiser than her father, and via Betty’s own dying wishes — it makes sense why he’d understand how this stranger felt. “You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it; that they’re not giving it to you. Then you realize that they’re trying and you don’t even know what ‘it’ is.” Vaguer words have never been more specific to someone’s plight. After the man broke down, Don was able to not just see himself in him — he’s always been able to project his own issues onto others — but want to help his fellow man. Don felt empathy, perhaps for the first time, and after a morning of meditation — where the teacher said it was a “new day” with “new ideas” — Don tried to pass that feeling on to everyone through the only method he understands: advertising. 

Coke executives shouldn’t be the only people pleased with Matthew Weiner’s finale.

Don’s Level of Happiness: 9/10

“Person to Person” marked the second episode in a row to end with Don smiling. I’ll let the conspiracy junkies work out if that’s ever happened before (and how it makes every episode of the series connect), but I’m guessing it hasn’t (and doesn’t). More importantly, the episode ended “Mad Men” on a high note after dipping down to some serious lows in its final minutes. I’m guessing many of you thought he was going to jump off the edge of California to his doom, leaving nothing but his suit and tie behind. It certainly felt like a viable option after his despondent phone call to Peggy. Thankfully, human kindness — a purist’s takeaway of ’70s culture — was there to save our lost hero from such a fate. Don may never truly be happy, but it’s only because none of us can, at least not all the time. The refrigerator door will shut every so often. It’s working to keep it open, to be seen by the people you love, that matters. Thankfully, Matthew Weiner (who wrote and directed the finale) left us with that optimistic imagery.

Our Happiness With Don: 9/10

While I expect this finale to be as hotly debated as any other (though maybe not for as long as “The Sopranos”), “Mad Men” ended on an undeniably forgiving note. Long have viewers complained about the cold nature of these characters. Ending it on an equally dour note would have felt like too much for a series never meant to be a downer. Unlike its darker network brother “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” was never on a mission to show us the true evil within its antihero. Instead, Weiner was working with a more traditional arc: Don was lost and unlikable. Now he’s found and beloved. Peggy illustrated the latter while Don worked to earn the former himself.

Weiner rather cleverly built himself a security blanket from anyone ready to admonish his lead’s behavior. We don’t know whether or not he honored Betty’s wishes or instead chose to “betray her confidence” for the right reasons, as his daughter did. We don’t know who he married, how he acted at the office or if he stopped drinking so much. Those are choices left up to the viewer to project on their character to their own liking. So if you’re looking for your own version of Don Draper to step forward in the end, you’re in luck. If you wanted to be told who he was, you’ve been watching the wrong show all along.

My Name is Peggy Olson, and I Want To…Be With Stan?

The only part of the series finale I absolutely reject is the one I’m guessing had most people clapping and cheering. Peggy and Stan’s long-teased office romance finally came to fruition in an undeniably romantic scene that’s been set up throughout the season, if not even longer. Peggy certainly didn’t realize it until Stan said the words — her transition from “I don’t even think about you” to “I’m in love with you, too” is one for the ages — but many saw it coming after she lashed out at Stan about her maternal abilities in “Time and Life” (Episode 11).

Even so, I couldn’t shake the feeling Weiner was giving us what we wanted to see instead of what really would have happened. The whole confessional felt forced, from Stan’s admission of his feelings to Peggy’s realization of her own (though Peggy’s repeated reply of “What?” was spot on). And wasn’t it odd that she’d move directly from being worried about Don killing himself to making out with Stan in her office? Was I alone in screaming at the television, “Hey! Go get Don!”?

While I’m not denying Peggy needed to learn what Stan told her oh-so-bluntly this week — “There’s more to life than work” — I would have much preferred to see Joan’s new business name be Harris Olson than Holloway Harris. That’s a finale twist I can get on board with for our hard-working heroine, not a last-minute love connection with a guy we saw cheating on his girlfriend earlier this season. I won’t go so far as to say Peggy deserved better. She deserved happiness — more so than Don — and that’s just what she got (even if I wish she could have found it somewhere else). 

Employee of the Week: Joan

Of all the characters to be concerned about going into the final episode, Joan may have been in the No. 2 spot on my list (right behind Don, if only because he’s so damn unpredictable). After a heartbreaking dismissal from McCann, I was worried we’d seen the last of Joan, or at least the last major storyline. Instead, Matthew Weiner gave her an extra dose of empowerment with a fitting cost to go with it. Richard seemed like the perfect man, but we knew from the start he wasn’t one to go through anything difficult. He threw a fit over Joan’s kid and was always planning dinners, trips, getaways and long weekends. He wasn’t one for the long haul.

Joan found that out the hard way, but she did so in a choice that wasn’t one at all — not for Joan, at least. “I can’t just turn off that part of myself,” Joan told a man incapable of understanding her wonderfully progressive mind. In one of the many scenes to make me shed a tear (or two), Joan opened her own business in the same tiny apartment she’s sharing with her mother and “bastard” child (Roger almost won the Comedic Relief portion of this review for that joke). She may not be able to have it all, but she’s not going to let anyone stop her from doing what she wants to do. That’s real courage, right there. I should have known better than to worry. 

Comedic Relief

“I translated your speech into Pig Latin.” – Meredith
“That was a joke.” – Roger

Though there were many funny lines in an uplifting finale (overall), Meredith’s early line takes the cake. Like Roger, we too know she’ll land on her feet. If Indiewire’s TV Editor Liz Miller had her way, Meredith would be getting a spinoff all her own. She may not be that lucky, but Meredith really proved herself one to watch in the final season. She deserved her own goodbye, and she — as always — made the most of it. 

Marketing Speak

“Don. Come home.” – Peggy

In the end, “Mad Men” will always be a story about two people: Don and Peggy. Certainly I’m not alone that belief, but something has to be said about the beautiful final conversation between mentor and protege (though it’s arguable who filled which role in the end). With no one left to turn to, Don dialed up the one person he’d seen hit a bottom similar to his own. When Peggy had a child and wanted to keep working, Don was there for her. When Don had lost his children and needed to be told he could come back, Peggy was there for Don. It’s an utterly perfect bookend to a series that worked so hard to depict the difficulty and differences of both characters’ journeys. Somehow, they both were there for each other at the time of greatest need, and it’s comforting to think they lived out their days working side by side to make the world a happier, more empathetic place. Now, that’s an ending I can get behind.

Grade: A-

Morning After Thoughts:
– With seminars titled “Anxiety and Tension Control” and “Divorce: A Creative Experience,” I’m betting a conspiracy theory has already risen that the whole “retreat” was another one of Don’s fever dreams — Coke ad and all. I mean, those titles are a little dead on for Don. 

– Don’s walking workshop partner shoving him likely represented the collective wishes of the audience watching at home, at least since Season 6. 

– Realizing the actor who played Daniel — the naked man who had to be a lifer at that place — has a show on adult swim about torturing his celebrity friends at a dinner party makes me wonder how I didn’t know he’d be in the “Mad Men” finale. 

– “And this…is a cactus.” One more classic Pete zinger for the road.

– The note I have written after Joan offered Peggy a partnership that’s “just for you” is, “[Expletive] I’m crying everywhere.”

– And in all the commotion, let’s not forget that Joan did cocaine last night!

– Roger didn’t have another heart attack. Pete wasn’t eaten by a bear. Don didn’t die. What an excellent ending.

– The last time we saw Harry Crane, Peggy was standing him up for lunch, and that’s exactly what he deserved for a goodbye. Good riddance, Harry. (Though we still love you, Rich Sommer.)

READ MORE: The 70 Most Memorable Characters of ‘Mad Men,’ Ranked

Below are the final shots of each character. Of note? They’re all smiling. (Well, we’ll just have to pretend Betty’s pride in her daughter counts as a smile.)

READ MORE: ‘Mad Men’ Interview Roundup: Jon Hamm, January Jones and More on the End of an Era

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Comments

Jayne

Did anyone else pick up on the fan? In the episode before the last one, the thief/kid that Don gives a ride to (and then his caddy) gets in the car to leave town….carrying a fan. Like the fan on the widow sill in the opening credits. Passing the torch. I mean, your leaving town never to return and you take of all things…a fan. I thought it clever and wonder if anyone else made the connection? I too wanted to Peggy to "get the guy" AND be a partner with Joan…I wanted her to have it all.

John Draper

Don finally with a smile on his face. No fancy car, no fancy suit or socks or shoes, no fancy home. He ended up Happy when he had no materialistic belongings. His happiness finally came from within not from others. Don never went back to work in advertising.

Camilla

I loved the finale. Yes, the writers were building up the scene between Peggy and Stan, but still I felt like it was the ending of a romantic comedy, idk.
In my opinion Don returned to work. He and Peggy come up with the Coke campaign. Don is finally at peace with himself, doesn’t drink like a fish anymore and he decides to dedicate more time to his children. Peggy realizes her dream: "creating something with lasting value." (S07E10 "The Forecast")

Kathy Evans

That Don ended up at Esalen and was flexible in his Yoga position! Wrong turn for Peggy. She should have married the priest of those earlier years, another storyline! Another sequel. Way to go, Joan, for standing in for all the women who were underpaid secretaries and receptionists and single moms and sex kittens more savvy than they ever got and still get credit for. Pete deserved worse than a Lear Jet. And Betty, she went to the grave for all the smokers. The cigarette was a major character. That Roger stayed in character and always had the best lines. High praise for the the amazing set designs, the beauty of those time capsules, exept for Esalen, which is the same now as it was then in the Seventies. No Watergate? Thank you. Matthew Weiner, very fun and serious. Sort of like the modern take on the Greek Myths.Don Draper as Zeus and the Greek Hero with hubris and tragic flaws. Only he gets redemption and the coke ad. Maybe Joan produced it!

Viperbob

Thanks, Ben. Very well written.

j

Oh pullease. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. At least in terms of Don, on all counts. This is nothing more than a typical Hollywood happily-ever-after ending.

Of course Don forsakes human interaction and love for fellow man by selling out to a Coke ad. That is completely in his character and certainly to be expected. But you along with most everyone was holding out for hope that Don comes to an epiphany, even to the point of suicide, because killing off the proverbial ad man, in his own realization that what he does has no substance except to subvert human growth into tooth decay and obesity (Coke by products) would be the most humane thing we could do for society. And I liked Don. But he was never better than after the dumped his ad man life. Going back to it is a fate worse than death. Of course he ultimately fittingly dies of cancer, as is his suffering for his wife at the hands of ads men like himself. No ad men. No smoking. No cancer.

And that’s what Hollywood is all about. It makes the execs happy. But ironically it exposes the reality of 70’s hype that killed what the sixties stood for. And that is why it’s a great ending. It is truth. It is exactly what happens and what did happen.
And you call that upbeat? Get cancer and see how upbeat it is.

Mikel

I am purely a child of the 60’s. I never really got into Mad Men, but I watched the final bunches of episodes on AMC’s marathon, right up to the finale. Of course, Don created the coke commercial. Peggy jumping from ‘I/we have to save Don’ to ‘Don who’ was a little unbelievable. The commune was the perfect parody of how we of the 60’s thought communes really were. And I liked how it all ended.

Joan

This is such a great review- a real rose among thorns, having read several others. Thank you

Chris

My take away was that Don wrote the Coke commercial. And I felt so disappointed that he returned to the advertising world. I really was hoping that he would find a new place in life. If he felt "That’s all there is?" then why did he return to it after finding himself?

banshee

Um.Meditation bell.Don smiles his first happy smile of the episode. Immediate cut to Coke advertisement. Don wrote the spot.
Also, just before speaking with Stan, Peggy had just had the relief of knowing Don was alive and that he would be in touch with her later. No, NOT about dictating the Coke ad, about coming home.

Cheryl

I agree with Sam.I didn’t think Don went back to advertising either. I didn’t know who did the coke commercial. I didn’t like the ending at all. Maybe because my expectations were too high.

Andrew

I wasn’t as enthusiastic. I think that if I’d just binge watched the damn thing it would’ve been so much more enjoyable. But, I respect Weiner and his vision and I think it truly is an end of era in the sense that these slow burn shows are a dying breed.

lucy

I think Don created the ad because of those red ribbons in the girl’s braids (which were exactly like the girls at the desk in Big Sur)

Chuck G

Obviously people are dumb. Don created that ad thinking Peggy did.
(comedic relief for me: " are you on something?"

Eliyahu

I loved it although I usually hate "happy" ends. If anybody wants to check out "Mad Men Don last scenes Finale" on youtube

Andrada

Also, how about that moment when Pete gave Peggy a cactus, saying he has a five-year old kid? Oh, the irony…

CFL

another thought is "Don Draper" died and explanation the suit and tie commuting suicide in the opening credits, and Dick Whitman is back.

Stephanie

Sorry I wrote this on another program and pasted it in, all the paragraphing has disappeared.

h laurie y

Superb ending! Trajectories set for each of the major characters in ways that are psychologically and sociologically credible. Don’s brainstorm is absolutely brilliant – the show is ultimately about reality and illusion, and how they are both distinct and blurred. We cannot escape the way we are hard-wired or our early childhood influences – but we can try and perhaps make some degree of headway. Don understands what sells because his life journey is intense given extreme characteristics and circumstances – the cause of one’s mother’s death; being raised in a brothel; having extraordinary good looks and exceptional talent. Don intimately understands basic human desires and needs; he is equipped to survive through manipulation and identity theft borne of desperation. He is ultimately a sympathetic hero because his plight is the consequence of events for which he is not culpable. He did not choose to be conceived nor did he intentionally kill his CO. He makes hard, pragmatic choices that others, lacking his gifts, cannot handle (his brother, Lane). He is deeply sensitive to the suffering of others, and has found a profession that both appeases and exploits the human condition that captures with magnificent irony his existential, illusionless personal philosophy. His empathies are as genuine as his internal torments; his smile, not a sign of contentment, but of knowingness, creative satisfaction, and a way to persevere that works for him – a brilliant idea that spins attunement to social constructs of the times into highly profitable, tell’em what they want to hear tag lines that are pure artifice. For Don Draper, neither God nor Coke is the real thing – but might as well make the best of it.

Stephanie

Don is Dead, and he is finally at peace. The last image of him meditating is him finally at rest, and fittingly in California. I really doubt Wiener would rap the show up so obviously. He wants you to think. The coke ad at the end was more ironic, perhaps a reference to an empty world or one with a lack of meaning. The whole world sings together but it’s not real, and for what? A Coke? A lie we are constantly sold, and with no deeper meaning. Don has being searching the whole time for meaning to his life.

Here’s my take, Don reached the highest he can get in his career, he’s now working for coke and he feels completely empty, he looks at the guying giving the spiel who is talking just like Don, and realises he is not special and his identity in the ‘bigger world’ (Mccann) is not that unique. So when he walks out of that room he goes to commit suicide. Then his ‘road trip’ is him in limbo or in a coma (this who trip reminded me a lot of Tony Sopranos coma in the last season).

I think a lot of the references and events that then happen are his subconscious putting events together much like a dream. I’m not one of those people who has kept up to date with all the events that are to happen for the year of 1970, so I’m hoping others can also recognise some, but I did notice the mentions and references to Manson ( with the hitch hiking quote, ‘cult like community’ also did anyone else think the retreat leader looked like him? I feel like Don’s subconscious would turn a hippy leader into Manson). Perhaps also the war men were a reference to Vietnam taking place. I think everyone he meets on the road trip are people that are also dead.

Before Don can pass into the afterlife he has to find himself and learn to love himself. He begins by trying to find Diana, only it turns out that this ‘destructive women’ was actually himself, yet he doesn’t accept it, so he keeps on driving. He is constantly being contradicted of his own beliefs of himself. He wants to be a family man, and is constantly faced with reminders from his subconscious that he isn’t through the various references to abandonment. He tries to find himself as a war veteran and join the group, but they turn on him and don’t except him. Also did the party/event fundraiser scene remind anyone else of the party scene Jack Nicholson walks into in the Shinning? Only instead Don doesn’t belong there.

He sees a resemblance in the young kid who tries to con him, but still this isn’t his identity, however he farewells ‘Don Drapper’ and gives the identity of ‘don draper’ to the kid. After the kid drives off I don’t believe Don’s name is ever mentioned again, Stephanie refers to him as dick.

All the people he meets are in someway him, but they are also not the truth. Finally he finds himself in Leonard at the retreat. He is just the everyman, with no grand desires, no good looks, there is nothing special and unique about him. And he finally accepts this as himself, and when he hugs Leonard I see this as a symbol that he finally loves himself. His identity is complete in a way, perhaps he finally has meaning. And so he is finally at peace, hence the omming and meditation. It’s also Halloween or all Souls day, where the dead return home for one day.

I think that everyone at the Retreat is also in suicide Limbo, and I think that Stephanie is there because she has attempted to kill herself and feels guilty for leaving her son behind without a mother. I think that she either decided to live and that is why she disappears, or perhaps she passes on to the afterlife and is also at peace.

Diana’s family are also dead and in limbo. I think possibly Diana killed them. She did keep mentioning she was a bad person.

I believe all the war men are also dead, either from dying in the war or they killed themselves later on.

I haven’t worked out what it is with everyone trying to take money off Don, but maybe that this is his way of loving because he hasn’t learnt to love properly. He thinks giving things equals love. Also he seems to just be used a lot.

Also why is it that he can still call Sally, Peggy, Betty? I believe that maybe they are visiting him in hospital and communicating to him. Would be fitting of how they all say goodbye in a way. Or perhaps this is just Don’s subconscious also talking.

Betty getting lung caner i’m not sure about, other then maybe this is Don’s subconscious feeling that he has inflicted a lot of emotion and psychological trauma on her that will permanently affect her, would also fit with her studying psychology. Or perhaps that he just still loves her, and needs to feel he is loosing her to realise it.

I also think that all the ‘happy endings’ are Don’s imagination. I mean they do all end quite nicely don’t they? I think it’s what Don hopes would happen to them because he loves them and wants them to be happy, Even Betty and Sally seem to be getting along.

I think also actually Don attempted to kill himself at the end of episode 7 of the season but failed. And when he sees Bert they are actually meeting, only Bert is happy and has no doubts about himself. Episode 8 is him also in a limbo, only he doesn’t succeed in killing himself this time. That is why he is able to talk to Rachael, whom he meets while she is dying and crossing over. Also the women spilling wine on the carpet is to remind him what happened. Though perhaps this happened at a different stage as the stain is in his apartment when Megan and the real estate agent come over. I think Diana is a women he had seen in a dinner at some stage, and goes back to find her when he wakes up. There is also a throw back to him selling coats. After meeting Rachel Pete tells him to get back to work, where Don wakes up. I think he failed to overdose here.I know there is another women in the bed, but I think he attempted to do it with her there, and seeing her in limbo was his subconscious recalling what had happened earlier in the night. Either Don wakes up here or he is in limbo for the whole half on the last season. I haven’t worked out dates here if they work out or not, I know this theory is a little sketchy.

There is a lot I still have to think through, perhaps others have had similar theories?
I know there are many more references I have skipped, I think there are a lot more from season one, and him going back to the country, and I also found the women at the retreat pushing him very eerie. Perhaps a further reference to him jumping, as if it’s his subconscious reminding him of what he did.

thorgood

BTW I agree with NOTHING in your review.

thorgood

That ending was beyond maudlin..the EST/TM/zenny camp when the guy that Don cloyingly hugs ( I was laughing at this point) says he was something in the fridge, I was half expecting to see Weiner turn him into that bottle of Heinz. Don is left in that passive aggresive hell hole filled with west coast losers that "ran out of road". So cliche. Bah!

Margaret

The whole episode was like a "where are they now" trope at the end of a movie. Like they were rushing to tie up loose ends quickly before the end. Too pat.

thorgood

horrible kiss off ending..wink wink Draper learns nothing from the pain..back at square one doing shit for Coke. At least whore yourself for something bigger like the 1984 commercial for apple.totally disappointing. Weiner phone this one in..

Sam

Am I the only one who didn’t think it was implied that Don created the coke as. Wasn’t it just a ironic cherry on top from wiener? I don’t think Don has any plans of going back to advertising.

Jason

Obviously Don created that ad. People thinking Peggy did are dumb.

Ian Martin

Don returning unseen and creating the Coke advert is one interpretation; another is that Peggy created it (implied by her final shot, at the typewriter). It’s open to interpretation, the viewer chooses their ending. I always hated the Sopranos final moments as much as Weiner loved it. Personally I want my finales in black and white and large font; at least Dexter, Breaking Bad and BSG managed that.

Michael Denvir

I read the ending as more ironic than a "happy ending." All of Don’s great existential crises come to him chants om in the 70s, then he goes on to make the world’s most famous vapid commercial, "Coke, it’s the real thing." Also, Peggy’s last minute romance seems like parody, treacly sweet advertising stuff. All of it empty, but true to the show’s themes.

Really???

Love this finale and also, your review was spot on!!! I agree with absolutely every single thing you said, particularly about Don, Joan and Peggy and Stan. For me, seeason 7 was a bit uneven but this finale was priceless! To me, Don is indeed back in NY, not necessarily remarried because I do feel that something shifted for him in LA, he can no longer be his exact former self, that’s why his kids probaly live with him now.

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