After seven seasons and 92 episodes, Mad Men came to an end this week with “Person to Person”. So for one last time, we’re going to shut the door, have a seat, and cue up the Mad Men Roundtable.
I don’t even know where to begin. One thing I really appreciated about the finale was that it was structured for the most part like a regular episode. It didn’t span years or bring everybody to a stopping point. If not for the number of main cast members who left the firm for good this season, it could almost have been a season finale. (Except for that last bit.) And that’s what I wanted. A big confrontation and massive body counts work for Breaking Bad or Justified or The Sopranos or LOST or what have you – those were shows built around conflict. There was genuine tension as to whether the main characters would survive. Mad Men wasn’t about a terminally ill meth dealer or a flawed mob boss. Don Draper’s story didn’t need to end with the finale; this is just where we stopped following him.
That meant some characters got shortchanged in this last episode, but that’s how it has to be. We know, sadly, how Betty’s story ends. We don’t have to see it. Pete’s story wrapped up last week and this time he just said goodbye to Peggy and then boarded a plane with Trudy and Tammy. Short of giving everybody an American Graffiti-style crawl at the end, this is as complete as their stories can be. I love that scene of the Campbells leaving as a happy family You know who didn’t miss his flight? Pete Campbell, that’s who.
(It is weird that with all the airplane imagery over the last two years, that was the only air travel in the episode. And no elevator scenes!)
For all the melancholy, this was such a warm and funny episode. Roger and Joan’s scene was genuinely hilarious and it was so good to see their chemistry again after all the years of complications. Roger calling Joan’s son “a little rich bastard” after adding him to his will was such a great moment.
And Joan starting her own production company was the amazingly badass finale that she deserved. It’s such a natural progression for her, set in motion by her days reading scripts for Harry Crane. And she called it “Holloway Harris” because, as she put it, you need two people. Or just one Joan, I guess. I found myself wishing that Peggy would have taken her up on her offer, but I can’t help but think they would have butted heads eventually. I loved their last scene together, though. Their relationship was so often contentious and closing them out on a nice, respectful note was a good thing.
Look. I wanted Bruce Greenwood and Joan to end up together as much as the next guy, but I’ll admit that’s mostly because he has a special place in my heart from the John from Cincinnati days. But what we saw here, and there were inklings before, was another guy who wanted to hold Joan back and turn her into his ideal partner without regard for what she wants. At least he was decent enough to leave on his own without Joan breaking a vase over his head first.
I almost don’t want to say much about Peggy and Stan because I’m sure Myndi can make a meal of it, but, man. if that phone call doesn’t replace the speech from When Harry Met Sally in our collective conscious, I don’t even know anymore. (Peggy’s repeated “What”? Pure gold.) I don’t think anybody could have seen it coming back when Stan was introduced, but it’s perfect and I love these two together.
And then there’s the man of the hour, Don Draper. I sort of thought he’d turn up as a mechanic somewhere, and that was partly right. We’ve seen it before – he does love that stuff even if the life he built doesn’t leave room for it. But the thing I forgot is that he also loves advertising. He picked a job and became the person who does it, after all. Remember how hurt he was when Megan didn’t want to work in advertising? Or all the times he defended what he does to snobs and hippies? We’ve seen it become a millstone over the last few seasons, to the extent that it was plausible that he really would walk away from it. But the guy loves what he does. If you can get past the backstabbing and corporate shenanigans, he’s doing the thing he loves. It’s been easy to forget that, especially as we’ve seen him pulled more and more out of the creative end, but that love is still there.
The fact that Jon Hamm was having all of his final scenes with his co-stars over the phone really made it seem like Don wasn’t going to come back. And that’s how good this cast is – Don and Sally aren’t together for their last scene, and it doesn’t even matter. I loved Sally just laying out how things are going to be. Somebody has to be a parent in that family, and it’s going to be her. And the role reversal continues as Peggy fires his Season Two pep talk back at him. She doesn’t say “It will shock you how much it never happened”, but they both know that she’s thinking it. It’s great.
The retreat where Don and Stephanie end up is an unlikely location for the finale, but it all helps sell that killer final moment. To me, it wasn’t clear for most of the episode whether Mad Men was making fun of the participants or embracing them. (Except Brett Gelman, of course.) Was this exactly what Don needed or a symbol of just how bad things had gotten? I like the way they didn’t show all their cards. (The Americans did something similar with EST this season, to good effect.) Yes, some of the things we heard were ridiculous, but that moment where Don gets up and hugs the crying man was genuinely beautiful. That’s where I was completely sold that he was going to give it up and go back to being Dick Whitman once and for all.
But then we get to the end where Don’s meditating and could not possibly look more at peace. And he realizes that’s going to be a hell of a way to sell some soft drinks. That cut to the famous Coke ad is one of the best jokes in the history of the show and such a perfect ending. For weeks, we’ve been led to to believe that Dick Whitman is starting over, only to end on the revelation that in his heart, he really is Don Draper. He looked within himself and, with perfect clarity, saw an ad campaign. Incredible.
There’s still more to say, and I’ll follow up in the very near future because now that it’s over we can really compare Mad Men to The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, its most obvious TV soulmates. But I’ll save that for another day. Today is for celebrating Mad Men and thanking everybody involved for seven excellent seasons.
The more I have thought about this episode the last few days, the more I realize that I loved it. My only real wish for it was that it was a little bit longer. I would have loved to see Don making those boys milkshakes again, giving Sally a hug or even visiting Betty on her death bed. But, that’s just not Matthew Weiner’s style. We don’t need to see Betty die from the very thing that saved her husband’s job in the pilot (“It’s toasted!”) The choice to have both Don light up a cigarette upon hearing she had lung cancer and for the final shot of Betty to be puffing away as she stared off into space were both deliberate. And it wasn’t lost on anyone who knows someone who refused to quit smoking even after they were diagnosed with a terminal illness. There was so much we didn’t know back then: littering is bad, drinking all day at work could have some nasty repercussions, kids wearing dry cleaning bags over their heads isn’t safe and smoking could very well kill you.
Plenty of people will say there was way too much of Don’s road trip out west and it deprived us of more substantial stuff. But, it was really a combination of a long con by Weiner and a completely necessary journey to the eventual payoff in that last scene. Don had to feel lost, alone, adrift. He had to unburden himself of his biggest secret on his own terms, and he had to realize that he hadn’t actually failed at being Don Draper. Yes, he’d made many horrible mistakes, had numerous affairs and, as he put it to Peggy, “scandalized” his daughter, but he could go home again. The three women in his life would welcome him back. We were so sure that he was going to decide to reassume the identity of Dick Whitman, which Matthew Weiner had to know we’d think was the case. Naturally, that was never his plan. It reminded me of that entire season we waited for Megan to be killed by the Manson family.
Jon Hamm’s work in this episode should really earn him the Emmy that’s eluded him. His phone call with Betty was heartbreaking, and his phone call with Peggy wrecked me. He was as close to a nervous breakdown as he’s ever been (and that’s saying something). His breakthrough moment in the therapy session when he finally identified with another man about feeling invisible to his family was so long in coming and you could feel the relief and release of years of pent up anguish through the screen. And that cocky little smile at the end as he meditated? He’s back, baby!
Elisabeth Moss also earned an Emmy with two phone conversations. The call with Don brought their relationship full circle beautifully. And the phone conversation with Stan was a delight. I’ve seen the criticisms that it was too hokey for those two to have an eleventh hour revelation that they were in love with each other, but it’s classic, slow burn Mad Men that a relationship that began with two people stripping down in a hotel room to show dominance would end years later with those same people realizing their real feelings. The fact is that Peggy and Stan truly get each other; unlike the men Joan has found who can’t wait for her to quit her job to be a wife, Stan would never dream of having Peggy stay home. He knows that her job is her identity and it’s a big part of what he loves about her. And who says the two of them weren’t involved in the creation of that iconic Coke spot?
Beyond that, there was a perfect amount of Pete, Ken, Harry and Roger in this finale. You can draw your own conclusions on where those guys are headed, and it’s alright that things are somewhat open-ended. Pete appears to have really grown and (hopefully, for Trudy and Tammy’s sake) come to see the errors of his past ways; Ken has decided to put aside his literary dreams for the relative safety of corporate America, but he’s loyal to his old friends; Harry is forever a dorky sleazeball who can be placated by a tin of cookies; and Roger has settled in with Marie, a relationship that may very well end in a murder-suicide.
Happily, Joan got a fitting end to her story. She didn’t get the guy, but she doesn’t need anyone who is going to hold her back. Holloway Harris Productions is going to be a success because there’s no one like its founder. And its very existence allows me the fantasy that Sal Romano eventually does some freelance work for her in the swingin’ 70s and beyond. Her concluding scene with Roger was perfect, even though it was about a year too late. The quick mention of Greg, and Joan’s comment that he is simply “a terrible person” was about the closest to fan service Weiner would even dream of getting. We might not have gotten everything we wanted to see happen, but we got the creator’s ideal story. And after he crafted this meticulous homage to such an amazing era in our nation’s history, he deserves to tell it any way he wants.
That’s it, everybody. Let us know your finale thoughts in the comments and we’ll check them out after our meditation.