Arts & Culture · Film & Television

‘Mad Men’ Finale: I’d Like to Buy Matt Weiner a Coke

1431960293_don-draper-ohm-lgDon Draper: On the road to enlightenment, or back to McCann? (Photo Courtesy of AMC)

On Sunday night it felt like Christmas, a milestone birthday, and Mardi Gras, wrapped up together with an enormous bow. Such bounty, and so many happy endings; ideal closing scenes and an mind-opening at last. Now we know that Matt Weiner reads his fan mail—or, at least, has an uncanny instinct for giving his audience what they want. The finale of AMC’s Mad Men was superbly written, sublimely acted, and deeply satisfying even as it kept us on the edge of our seats until the very end.

It’s official: The 60s are over. Again. Or, as AMC has promoted all season, it’s “The end of an era.”

The question on all our minds, of course, was, “What happens to Don?” I’ll save my observations about the enigmatic Mr. Draper for later. Let’s talk about the women in his life first.

When this year’s season started, just a couple of months ago, I expressed a wish that I believed to be a long shot. In my story for Women’s Voices for Change, I wrote:

My only hope (unlikely as it may be) is that Peggy and Joan somehow bury the hatchet and start their own agency. Now that would be a just and righteous way to say good-bye to this boys’ club forever.

In the final episode, my dream (surely shared by countless other feminist viewers) very nearly came true. Joan, having stormed out of McCann (taking only half her marbles), is offered a chance, by one-eyed Ken Cosgrove, to produce videos. She hires Peggy as her moonlighting writer, and suggests that they start a production company: Harris Olson. “You need two names to make it sound real.” When Peggy eventually declines the partnership, Joan launches Holloway Harris, combining her maiden and married names. The firm begins out of her apartment with an assistant, a whiteboard, and her mother discreetly removing the little boy whenever a client calls. Joan, having started the series as a voluptuous bombshell, has come a long way, baby. Whether her new boyfriend can handle it or not (the answer, not too surprisingly, is not), there is no doubt that Joan will succeed.

At first, Peggy is intrigued by Joan’s offer, but she’s soon brought back to reality by Stan. Writing and producing videos isn’t what she wants to do, no matter how tempting having her name on the door might sound. She and Stan end up in a fight, and when she calls the next day to express her worries about Don, she awkwardly apologizes. Stan confesses that he loves her. “I don’t even think about you,” she replies in her typical flat manner. (Ouch!) Then she talks herself through how she feels and realizes aloud that she does love him, much to her surprise (and our delight). By the time she finishes, Stan has hung up. But wait! He’s at the door and they finally (finally!) kiss. As deftly written as the rest of the show, it was nevertheless one of Mad Men’s all-time corniest moments. But we’ll forgive Weiner this time, and gladly. Haven’t we been rooting for Peggy and Stan all along?

Sally, never exactly a model of obedience, spills the beans about her mother’s cancer when her father calls from Utah. At first, Don thinks she’s simply being dramatic, but then he announces that he’s coming home and Sally and her brothers will live with him. Sally makes a compelling case for her younger brothers’ staying with their stepfather. When Don calls Betty, she refuses his help too. “I want to keep things as normal as possible,” she tells him. “And you not being here is part of that.” No matter how much that must sting, Don knows she’s right, and in what we can assume is their last conversation, he calls her “Birdie” again, while she lowers her defenses enough to call him “Honey.”

I found it interesting that Don’s final scenes with the three most important women in his life all take place over the phone.

The women of Mad Men aren’t the only ones afforded happy endings. In a sentimental scene with ex-paramour Joan, Roger reveals that he and Marie (Megan Draper’s mother) are on their way to the altar. And we’re given a taste of just how fiery their life together will be. After some hot sex (and an even hotter argument), they toast each other with lobster and champagne in a cafe.

Meanwhile, Pete Campbell (in my mind, always the most reptilian of the agency’s men) leaves for his new life in Wichita. Reunited with Trudy and Tammy, he and his family board a private jet like corporate royalty. Is he truly as repentant as he seems? Will he stay faithful? In real life, I think it would be doubtful. But, in this giant gift of a final episode, we’re left with a very comfortable sense of hope. After 92 fairly gritty hours, happy endings—no matter how unlikely—are welcome.

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  • Leslie in Oregon May 19, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    I’d like to think that with his mind opened more than ever, Don finds his way to becoming an on-site father to his children, all three of whom will need him more than ever (no matter what Betty and Sally think). If Mr. Wiener had more energy for these characters, it might be even more fascinating to watch them in the 1970’s than it was to see their struggles during the 1960’s.

    I agree with you about the finale…it was superb! (And don’t you think a little corn was exactly what Peggy and Stan needed?!

  • Joan Price May 19, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Great recap! I agree with you — the ending was startling and satisfying. One thing that made me cringe, though — when Don learns that Betty is dying of lung cancer, he lights a cigarette. It would have made me stand up and applaud if he had crumpled the pack and thrown it across the room.

    Yes, Jon Hamm had better win his Emmy.

  • Michelle Vedder May 19, 2015 at 10:13 am

    I totally agree. The past episode has received some bad press, but I was very pleased with it – mostly for the reasons you described. I also hope John Hamm finally receives a well-deserved Emmy this year. Thanks for a great article.