The long anticipation is finally over, and the Mad Men series finale finally aired last night with some surprises. Fans of Mad Men finally got to see what ultimately becomes of the main characters from the show. Predictably, there were some surprises with the direction that some of the characters took, while others seemed to follow the direction that they had been already been going in.
Some regular Mad Men characters did not make an appearance in the finale. These included Duck Phillips, Ted, and Henry, to name a few. We also barely see Ken, as he has a friendly meeting with Joan. And, of course, Bert Cooper did not make it, having passed away earlier in the series.
Joan had finally looked settled and happy, outside of the office. She had received half of the money that she was entitled to from the settlement for her departure from McCann Erickson, and she was in a budding relationship with Richard. But she approaches Peggy about being equal partners in a new firm, and begins to lay the groundwork to begin a new business. Richard does not approve, but ultimately, Joan pursues her dreams and goes it alone.
Peggy is quite surprised and moved by Joan’s business offer. Back at the office, she brings it up to Stan, who tries to discourage her. Peggy mistakenly interprets his disapproval as doubt that she can do it, and ultimately insults him, calling him a loser. Then, after receiving a surprising and highly emotional phone call from the recently departed Don, Peggy finds out the real reason behind Stan’s opposition to Peggy’s joining Joan is that he, in fact, loves her. She is shocked at first, but after thinking about it, she realizes that she loves him, too. Just like that, they appear to be a happy couple in love, and all of Peggy’s past relationship demons are buried.
Pete is back with his old wife, and starting a new life with a new firm in a location. He is heading to Topeka, Kansas, away from the debauchery that the city tempted him into, and looking to fulfill what he feels is a more wholesome life, as a VIP for another agency. He says his goodbye to Peggy, and reveals the departure gifts that he has received: a cactus and some cookies. He gives his cookies away to Harry, and his cactus to Peggy.
Roger is now with Marie, and there is the definite sense that they are not the picture perfect couple. They get in an argument while in bed, and Marie orders Roger to go sleep on the couch. Still, in the final scene, they are together in a cafe, with Roger speaking French, and joking that Marie is his mother. They do indeed appear happy.
Then, of course, there is Don, the main character of Mad Men. A scene of him racing a car through the desert opens this final show, and he is in some mysterious town somewhere in the desert west. He heads back to the more familiar setting of Los Angeles, but not to try and get back together with Megan. He is there to visit Stephanie, and offers her a family heirloom, as well as financial help if she needs it. But she tells him that he seems like the one who is in dire straits and in need of help.
Don winds up at a hippie retreat in northern California, in a picturesque setting of rugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Don initially looks decidedly uncomfortable and stiff at first, watching yoga exercises from a distant as he smokes, and generally not participating in the activities. But that changes once Stephanie unexpectedly leaves the retreat without him, much to his distress. He appears stranded in this remote location, and on the verge of a breakdown. There are more tears from Don in this one episode than perhaps in the rest of the series combined, or at least it feels that way. Don breaks down while on the phone with Peggy, giving her his final goodbye.
He collapses onto the ground after the emotional phone call with Peggy, and is approached by one of the facilitators of the retreat. She asks him to get up, but he says he cannot move, and he appears inconsolable and unreachable. But he gets up and goes with her when she requests him to accompany her to her class. It is a class where people get things off their chest and tell truths that have long pained them. When it seems clearly his turn, he is still immobile, despite being silently urged by the instructor. Instead, a stranger goes up and talks at length about his feeling of anonymity, that he hardly feels like he exists or matters in the world, getting no respect, much less love. The room is silent after this man starts breaking down, until we see a visibly moved Don approach the man and embrace him, shaking with tears himself.
The next scene with Don, the final scene for any Mad Men character, sees him meditating on one of those cliffs by the ocean. He no longer appears to be maintaining his distance, and in fact, he appears to be seriously meditating, and finally at peace, revealed by the smile that begins to light his face. To this point, Don has seemed to embrace his real identity as Dick Whitman, and it appears that he is finally distancing himself from the toxic environment of Don Draper. That, however, proves just a tease, as this scene immediately changes to the famous commercial by Coca-Cola, with the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” and the assumption clearly seems to be that Don has returned to McCann Erickson, and back to New York City.
That is how Mad Men ends in the long-awaited finale, complete with its trademark surprises and unpredictability. It was a smartly written television series with wonderful acting, and characters that were every bit as flawed and petty and generally human as people tend to be in the real world. All of it came in the backdrop of the sixties, a time of turbulent change in America, and indeed in the world. The very fact that the monumental events that took place in that decade remained largely in the background as the characters lived their lives lent Mad Men a more real feel. Mad Men was beloved by many fans who are saddened to see it now come to an end, although there will now surely be much discussion and even debate about how the series ended.
By Charles Bordeau
New York Times – ‘Mad Men’ Series Finale Recap: The Door Closes, The Light Goes Off
Vulture – So, How About That Mad Men Finale?
Time – Recap: Mad Men Watch: Om Sweet Om
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