SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t seen the MAD MEN finale and still want to, thanks for stopping by. See you tomorrow.
I’m sure there are a gazillion reviews (all in 140 characters or less), but here’s mine:
Backstory: I’ve been a huge fan of MAD MEN since Matt Weiner showed me his original script years before it was made. The concept was brilliant – a man living a lie in an industry built on selling lies. And my favorite era is the ‘60s (as evidenced by my book, which you need to buy immediately even if you already have one). I saw a rough cut of the pilot even before titles and music was added. It was clear from day one that this was something special. I thought the first season was the second greatest first season of a drama ever (behind the SOPRANOS – it’s hard to top Tony’s mother putting a hit out on him). Every episode was a little masterpiece, filled with fascinating characters all doing surprising and compelling things. Betty shooting pigeons with a cigarette dangling from her lips was enough to qualify the series for Hall of Fame status.
After that the series shifted for me. It became a show about disgruntled people who were never satisfied no matter what they had. It also started introducing subliminal references to past moments. You really had to be an expert in the MAD MEN universe to fully appreciate every nuance. I would watch an episode then read Alan Sepinwall to find out what I just saw. Eventually I wasn’t interested enough to do even that.
And yet, along the way, there were still spectacular episodes or scenes. The “suitcase” chapter with Don and Peggy was exceptional. Even though the series had become somewhat uneven I always tuned in. It’s like in baseball – every time Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan took the mound you knew you had a chance to see a no-hitter.
So I was eagerly anticipating the finale. The only thing I was certain of was that Matthew Weiner would find an ending no one expected. I was right.
But what I saw was essentially a 1:17 minute shaggy dog story. Interspersed with neat wrap ups of the other characters (in some cases through lovely scenes) was this winding tale of Don Draper going to an Esalen retreat (popular in California during those hippy-dippy times), experiencing enlightenment, having his emotions stripped bare, discovering inner peace only to learn that his takeaway from all that was to create the “Buy the world a Coke” ad campaign. (That is if I interpreted it correctly.) What a cynical but wickedly funny ending. And what a relief. I was wondering, does Matt really believe all that psycho-bullshit was going to change Don Draper? (That said, I’m sure there are those viewers who believe that that was the ending and maybe the Coke commercial was just in Don’s mind. I so hope those people are wrong.)
But it took a long time to get there. Was the payoff big enough? Yeah… I guess… maybe. But I will say this: the JUSTIFIED finale was better and way more satisfying. Sorry. I know I’m spitting on the cross.
Even though Sally and Betty told Don not to come back and take care of the kids and it appeared he was ceding to their wishes, I’d like to think that part of his decision to return to the world of advertising was to have more of a role in his children’s lives after Betty passed on. (I loved how Betty continued to smoke.)
As a writer, it bothered me, that Weiner attributed an actual campaign to his fictional character when in fact, a real person other than Weiner or a MAD MEN writer came up with it.
A happy ending of Don finding peace is not a happy ending. The guy was fascinating and had glimmers of kindness, but let’s be real -- he was a giant asshole. Joan and Peggy deserved happy endings.
Pete’s going to love it in Kansas City. With access to private jets he’ll be home four days a year. If that.
It bothered me that so much of the episode was played over phone calls. They’re static. And I think they undercut the big one – between Don and Peggy.
You know it's a very special episode of MAD MEN when Bobby has some lines.
Poor Gene. Every time something happens he gets sent out of the room. In forty years he’ll be the guy at the Esalen retreat whining that no one chooses him in the refrigerator.
When Don broke down crying I was so relieved he didn’t confess to killing a Korean baby to avoid detection.
I bet Coke sales spike today. And cigarette sales go up.
I didn't read Alan Sepinwall's recap. I hope I got even some of my interpretations right.
I look forward to Matt’s next project. And I look forward to your thoughts on the finale.