I am thankful for the Mad Men ride. I laughed. I enjoyed the visual aesthetics. I rolled my eyes at the insertion of modern 2000s issues and concerns into 1960s America. The finale even had one of those; "I feel like everyone is judging me". Whatever. Mad Men can take its place in great television just for "The Carousel" pitch to Kodak scene at the end of season one. I've written about it before, but that scene was about how Americans in the '00s viewed old peak America and how it is a painful, aching feeling for that lost moment. Mad Men became too much of a soap opera and progressive performance piece, and had fallen into a trap of "and then watch what happens" because Weiner did not wrap up anything. Ending a show well has grown in importance. The Sopranos had a great ending that for one little bit at the absolute end angered fans. LOST fell off the wagon like all J.J. Abrams projects after a few seasons and muddled along. Mad Men should have ended two seasons ago. How does one do it? Weiner pulled off a good ending.
Life goes on. Change is difficult, better to call it growth. No one really changes here, they just grow comfortable with their position within new circumstances. Don is still ad man Don dreaming up perfect pitches. Peggy is doing creative work with an office romance who gets her, and whom she allows herself to love (she rejected the lustful Pete way back). Roger has a younger, but generationally appropriate woman who can still rev his engines. Joan is still business perfect Joan, seeking self actualization through work, who can bang men when she wants even if they now have to be much older. Pete is still business Pete, but maybe now knows he wants the life he thought he wanted ten years ago. As the show moved on, viewers saw how these five people had ideas about themselves and saw them slide away as the world around them changed. This was effectively done with Don by having his dress rarely change even as the '50s look became more and more square. These core characters often fought change. Not just around them as America changed but personally. Peggy had to deal with a beau who wanted to shack up, not get hitched. The men had to deal with no fault divorce and the decline in tolerating extramarital shenanigans. Joan had to deal with the change of having every guy lust for her in 1960 to being seen as a matronly figure that only older men wanted by 1970.
Life goes on. This was actually a great ending considering how terrible the show's final season had been. I had expected Don to end up at the edge of the Pacific and walk into the water to kill himself or at least metaphorically wash away the sins of his past in an oceanic baptism. We saw a different piece of the Christian ritual toolbox as Don performed a huge confession to a confused Peggy via phone call. Peggy, the Catholic good girl, hears his confession to every dirty thing he did. She does not believe it, because Don's con worked so well on her. She gives him the "that's not true, you're a good guy, come back" pep talk, and how close is that to real confession? How much does the man in the collar know about you to hear you confess your darkest misdeeds and grant absolution? This scene is an echo of the blatantly obvious Clint Eastwood-Hmong kid locked screen door confession at the end of Gran Torino. Peggy might not have understood Don, but he chooses her to confess everything to. "We have a connection, you idolize and respect me, now hear my dark secrets". An average priest probably knows less about a confessor than what Peggy knew about Don the person. Don hangs up, sits on the ground and resembles a spaced out druggie as he comes to grips with his isolation. His kids won't be with him, he is single again, even the last connection to his Whitman days is gone. It's just him.
Life goes on. Don sits there looking refreshed with the Pacific behind him. He looks clean, focused, and has great posture for the meditation session that Don skeptically looked at during his first arrival to the retreat. That flicker of a smile as he meditates and bellows out "Aum" followed by the famous "Teach the World to Sing" Coke ad implies all you need to know. Peggy's dream was to write a catch phrase. Don is going to give the world the most memorable ad. Weiner lied years ago about this series showing the downfall of a man. I would expect nothing less from a Hollywood figure writing a show about advertising. If anything, this show showcased a man who was a fraud, be exposed as a fraud to the people he should have cared about most, and then to come to grips with the lie and accept it. Draper will go back to McCann, sell America Cokes and make a nation, a world, forever remember that having a Coke is akin to sharing a memory, a moment, a great happy moment for all of us, and then it is gone.
Life goes on.