Spoiler Alert! Do not read if you haven’t watched the series finale!
Mad Men created and written by Matthew Weiner, ended last night. I watched, in disbelief that this was the last episode and watching how Weiner chose to end this show with his characters.
In a recent interview Weiner indicated that some fans might not like the ending. And boy, did he have an ending. But before I get to that, let’s recap the main characters.
Joan: Joan was arresting. Her beauty captivated and got her far In the 1950s & 1960s world but Joan was no fool. She capitalized on her feminine assets and played by the old school boy rules. In the final episodes, capping with the finale, Joan is finally her own woman. She’s financially independent, working for herself and finally free of a man to help cushion her fall.
The best part about how Weiner leaves Joan is she reached out to Peggy to go into business partnership when an earlier Joan was only out for herself. Yay for fully formed character and resolution!
Betty: So controlled and rigid, she takes her incurable lung cancer diagnosis and continues life as usual. No tears, no hand wringing. Betty organizes placement of her children for after her death and in a touching telephone conversation with Don explains why it’s best for the kids and that she’s not trying to be cruel to him, but make it easiest for the kids. The finale last scene shows her as we’ve seen her in so many shots before, sitting at the kitchen table slowly puffing a cigarette with Sally in the background. Weiner knows Betty wouldn’t want us viewers to see her death scene and so that’s where he leaves Betty, as we remember her.
Peggy: We worry so about Peggy navigating through a man’s work world and the series follows her from pool secretary to ad accounts junior executive. But we worry. Peggy is in a different generation than Joan. Although appreciative of Joan’s partner offer, Peggy stays with the ad agency, determined to succeed all the way to head of creative blazing a trail that will help other women along the way. Don’s and Peggy’s relationship is somewhat resolved. Don calls Peggy from California and she acts as Don’s priest for his confessions. Peggy isn’t disillusioned by his confessions but instead continues to encourage him and begs him to come back home. And, in the final scene we see her happy with Stan, after a confession of love to Stan. Peggy’s and Stan’s work relationship was akin to a Spencer Tracey/Katherine Hepburn screwball comedy. Yay Peggy for finding a solid guy at work!
Don: When calling Sally from Utah, he learns of Betty’s fatal cancer diagnosis. His call to Sally was excruciating. Don then calls Betty, more pain and heartache for Don. How much more can he take? Don’s endless horizons end in California at a commune with group encounter therapy, yoga and self actualization. Don’s at the end of his rope and viewers are wondering, Is he gonna just jump off that cliff into the Pacific? Don’s desperation leads him to call Peggy. He confesses everything to Peggy, his priest, and Peggy continues to believe in Don and implores him to come home. We next see Don in an encounter group, tearfully hugging a bland office executive who’s feeling overlooked by his family and coworkers. Finally a breakthrough for Don? The last scene of Don is sitting cross legged at sunrise chanting “om” and then an ever so faint smile…has Don achieved a state of nothingness, releasing all identity and zenned out?
Roger: We see that Roger has finally found the ultimate stern mommy figure in Megan’s mom, Marie and he really enjoys a Canadian French woman bossing him around for the rest of his life! Vive la differance, Roger!
And finally, The Ending. Mad Men is known for playing an evocative song at the end of each episode as the credits role, a nod to the episode and what’s to come in the next episode. Tonight, Weiner pulled a doozy with his final musical selection. It was the famous Coke ad song “I Like to Teach the World to Sing” with the ad playing.
I immediately started smiling and laughing..those smiling hippy faces and Don’s stint at the commune…he had the Coca Cola account after all! No need to worry about Don! He took all the California self actualization, headed back to New York and turned it towards the consumer that Coke was the answer to inner peace. And I simultaneously thought to myself, did Weiner pull a Salman Rushdie (Rushdie is known for writing books with plots to connect to an elaborate pun chapters later) and wrote Mad Men specifically with this Coke commercial in mind?!
And the question still remains…did Weiner write Mad Men to explore how advertising has shaped our American experience to a point that a Coke commercial could proclaim inner peace and self actualization and how that trajectory happened through the characters of Don, Peggy, Joan, Betty, Pete and Roger? And I answer Yes! And I love Weiner for it…for taking apart a Coke song and answering the question How did advertising arrive at this to sell soda? Do ad execs know how we humans tick better than we know ourselves?!
It’s been a fun ride for all who have watched the 7 seasons of Mad Men. What were your favorite scenes? What do you wish had been resolved? Are you happy with how the series ended? What are your thoughts about it all? Share in the comments!