Thoughts on the Mad Men Finale

It’s finally over. After dragging out the last season over two “parts” Mad Men has finally drawn to a close. There is generally a ton of scrutiny placed on series finales, but recently there is has been a backlash to the backlash saying that “a great show can be ruined by a finale you didn’t like.” That is a pretty good philosophy and too much pressure is put on showrunners to go out with the most “perfect” ending possible. After having been around for the last few seasons of The Sopranos it was clear that Matthew Weiner was aware of backlash, but it didn’t seem to affect his decision. It seems like he went forth and did what he wanted to do, and go out on his terms.

Betty didn’t have much to do in the finale, except reiterate that she wanted things her way. Nothing new there. She is happy to accept her life is ending (it seems). Sally meanwhile has grown and matured beyond her years. She handles putting Don in his place pretty well, and goes home to take care of what needs to be taken care of. Some would argue that she is more of a grown-up at this point than either of her parents, and that is a good thing. Roger has made the same mistakes over and over in life. But not it seems like he is owning up to what he is, rich, but lonely. He wisely writes his will to give Ellerbe and Kevin his fortune before going off to Canada with Marie Calvet. He thinks he has found someone mature to like him for him, but who knows if that is actually how it works out. Meanwhile, the “one that got away” Joan finally finds something she is good at, enjoys and can do without reporting to some man. Her buyout from McCann will help her get started, and since she knows Kevin is taken care of she clearly doesn’t have to worry about his financial future. It always seemed like this is where Joan’s story should go. The successful career woman who is her own boss. It seemed like she realized this when she had yet another man who was trying to get her to quit working and just be taken care of. Ironically it was what she and all the girls wanted in season one.

Pete* was only seen very briefly after having his sendoff in a way last week. Pete evolved over time for sure, and seemed to mature almost as much as Sally Draper did. He figured out that work is just work and that he could never find again what he had with Trudy, and used a new job and new state to try and hit the reset button to before he messed it all up. That last scene with him and Peggy was a perfect opportunity for the show to make a “wonder what it could have been” type comment, but that is what Weiner does so well, sidestepping the tropes of every TV show before his. Speaking of Peggy** and television cliches, the fact that her and Stan ended up together fits in that mold, except it doesn’t. Although there was always a whiff of flirtation going on there was never an in your face “will they or won’t they”. That makes the revelation that they are in love with each other almost as much of a surprise to the audience as to them. It was a great moment, and a happy ending for Peggy. Her personal life was always been the question mark in her life. There has been no doubt for a long time that she would succeed professionally, it was just a matter of whether or not she would find love. Great ending for her.

Then there is Don. The entire episode ended up feeling like a great “bait and switch” for Don. As Chris and I were texting during the episode, it looked like Don was going to get on the hippie bandwagon (albeit a little late), but it turns out that this Don story ended up the same way they all do. A breakdown, some big catharsis about how/why he is the way he is and then back to the conference room. While it’s not explicitly said it sure appears that Don got the idea for the famous Coca-Cola commercial and returned to the advertising world. This makes a ton of sense because that is how Don has always operated, and instead of having some big awakening and drastic 180 from the man he has always thought he should be, he did a 360, like always and ended up back at the beginning. He tried to suddenly become a father to his soon motherless children. He tried to “save” someone again (this time Stephanie), he realized again that he has nothing but his work. And so he went back to it. It’s what he loves. It’s what he does. It’s what he will always be. And that was the story of Don Draper.