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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)