Series finales are hard to pull off, especially when it comes to extremely popular shows. Millions of people watching it and a million different people with different sensibilities and desires breaking it down. Imagine sitting in a writer’s room downing endless cups of coffee and trying to please every fan. After all, they are the ones who helped keep your show afloat and allowed you to stick around for so long. Every big series finale will be measured against or next to the final moment of The Sopranos. The fade to black stoner with a side of Journey tossed in for a special kick. While I didn’t mind that finale, I can advise other routes to go when signing off. Breaking Bad went out perfectly, tying up loose ends, never touching sentimentality and giving Walter White a solid goodbye that didn’t feel anticlimatic. The Wire on HBO crammed a ton of goodness into its final hour, and ended with a classy journalism do the right thing note. I can only imagine the stakes when Walking Dead or Greys Anatomy goes off because their fanbases are large and passionate.
Sunday night, Mad Men presented its final pitch to audiences and took the unfamiliar route to end it all. They decided to sprinkle happiness on their inhabitants, allowing characters put through the trenches to come out with a sunny side up future. Let’s review a few things as that meditating Don and Coke ad ending sink in.
Don Draper stayed at the Hippie retreat camp. He bonded with a fellow cursed storyteller and found himself in a happy spot, as we can see from that sly little grin before the fade away. Draper did a lot of nasty things in his life and hates himself for it so he was never going to ride into town saving the day and running off with the girl. He did that several times over the past seven seasons and it all failed. Go back to who Draper was before. A cursed soldier stealing dog tags and running away. He drank himself into a stupor and nearly lost his job several times. So when McCann presented him with a golden ticket, of course he had to run away.
That’s not Don. If he is going to be happy, it won’t be in an office taking naps, sipping scotch and banging out a last minute day saving pitch for a shaving cream or soda advertisement. He hit the road in the show’s final weeks and hit all the places needed. He got roughed up by war vets, tracked down old acquaintances and found himself in the least likely Draper location. A peaceful tranquility meditation hub with a bunch of inner demon burning folks. I liked where Don got left because it was very Mad Men seasoned. It was when Draper needed to be. He hasn’t tried this kind of peace before and hasn’t slept right in a while. Many TV critics suggested Draper cooked up that Coke commercial during that meditation period, right where the “ooommhhhh” turns into a wicked little smile and the screen switches to the real life Coke commercial. Maybe that’s how it turned out. Maybe not. Sure, he may eventually come back home and be with his kids and return to advertising, but I’d like to think Draper is still out there searching for his soul or trying to be make use of what’s left of it. People forget this world won’t end. Next year, somewhere in Weiner’s head, these characters will be still running around. For now, Draper needed this. While I love wizard salesman Don a lot, soul searching Don was getting tiring so I’ll settle for content Don.
Jon Hamm deserves an Emmy for his work. The only reason he doesn’t own six of them is due to the understated style of his performance. He doesn’t cry a lot and doesn’t overwork scenes. He rolls with the punches of the script and always seems spin the right note on a make or break episode. Instead of overacting, he underplays it. It’s subtle instead of monstrous. This isn’t Deadwood and he isn’t Al Swearengen. Whenever Draper got really mad, it was starling and that’s due to the laid back yet powerful approach Draper took all these years. He was great and should settle into a fine post Mad men acting career.
Betty did get fatal cancer but is going out on her own terms. She kept Don at bay and didn’t want a pity party. She is last seen smoking a cigarette with her daughter doing dishes. While she was once the most hated character on television, January Jones played a healthy hand in resurrecting this character from the dead of bitter women. She got remarried, lost weight, went to school, lived her life and stared down a disease in the face and said bring it on. Good for her.
Roger Sterling ran off with Megan’s crazy mother. The wild old lion needed this kind of woman in his life, someone who wasn’t just going to sit at home and wait for her man to come home. Julia Ormond’s wild woman will match Roger beat for beat. He went out happy, even though deep down he still wanted to raise that kid with Joan.
Ms. Harris is rich yet staying in the ad market. She hooked up with Cosgrove and is pulling Peggy into the mix as well. For two women who live on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to personality and their way of doing things, it was comfortably numb to see Joan, Peggy, and Ken on the same team. Remember the end of Season 3, when the group first went off and started their own thing. In a way that didn’t die. While Joan may have grown a little less likable(I’m not in love with her love interest, even though Bruce Greenwood is great) but that’s life over seven seasons and a decade. It changes you for better or worse.
Peggy and Stan. Yes! Good for them. That was the best part. Seeing two characters constantly shuffled around in the background for the past two seasons get a great sendoff. 10, 20, 30 years from they will be happy. And it didn’t feel forced or fake.
Pete actually got that Learjet and didn’t die on a fateful crash(as some around the net predicted). Duck was right on and the other most hated Mad Men character did something right and moved his family to the peaceful Wichita, which is kind of maybe close to Don. Hmmmm…
Creator Matthew Weiner didn’t cop out or cave in here. He went out his way. He was a poker player at a casino settled up before he left the building. He could have killed off Don or had Pete’s happiness broken by Duck’s lie. Instead, he let everybody achieve a certain happiness that eluded them for so long. Remember Peggy on the floor of her apartment crying? Remember Don, drunken and reliving the horrors of his past..okay that was last week but still, the man has earned a perfect getaway with a bunch of Woodstock refugees. The moral of Mad Men has been people hiding from their true identities and trying to be something they painfully are not. Weiner allowed them all to come home a bit in the final hour. He did that without getting overly sentimental or phoning it in. He had this ending set up for a long time. Like David Chase’s Sopranos finale, people will hate this finale because it wasn’t enough closure or not what they wanted. Sometimes, excellent TV shows have to go out on their own terms. I applaud Matthew Weiner for doing it his way. His plan. All the way. To the end. No stops.
We can’t have everything we want. In a perfect world, I’d like a Roger-Don spinoff where they just drink in a bar and riff on current events. Every episode can jump 3-5 years ahead or to the next major event. I’d love that and it’d be easy to write and Hamm and John Slattery would kill it every week. We won’t get that though.
Mad Men is over. You may not watch it, but you at least know about it. First, there were seven episodes. Then, there were four. Suddenly, there are none. I got to this series a season late but it hooked me in quick. I saw a St. Louis native on the cover of a magazine and had to give this advertising rock stars hiding inner demons of sadness saga a look. Hamm became a household name reading the words of Matthew Weiner, a man who helped carve a legend out of James Gandolfini’s gangster from New Jersey. Don Draper became a part of us and 10-20 years after the show ended Sunday night, he will remain a part of us.
Great cinematic/TV characters connect with us emotionally without being real. That’s the magic of Weiner and other creators. They are played by real people and set in a realistic world with familiar things. We buy in, get invested, plant our feet and can’t take our eyes away. That’s why no matter what happened to Draper, Roger, Joan, Peggy, Pete, or Betty, we will be hurting this morning. A certainty will be gone.
As Don Draper said to executives two years ago about happiness, “What do you want after happiness? More happiness.” You want more good things. It can’t stop. Mad Men did and while it didn’t go out with a bang, the final notes were far from a whimper. That makes me sad, mad and angry, while being pleasantly removed.
Like its leading man, the ending was subtle, cool and unexpected. I can dig it. What did you think?