For the last eight years, Matthew Weiner‘s Mad Men has teased us with the prospect of closure for Donald Draper, who has spent a decade in and out of marriages, love affairs, business mergers and interstate lines, all on a quest for fulfillment that never came. Don Draper had never found true love in any aspect of his life except his work. Fittingly, the show ended Don embracing New Age mysticism, only to watch it fuse with the world’s most valuable brand. “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke,” with its saccharine vision of globalized harmony, shows a utopia that never existed, and represents a particular Western promise rising from the political tumult of the 1960s. In fact, it’s a song that was originally developed by a creative director at McCann-Erickson in 1971, signifying that Don may indeed have taken his new outlook, returned to Madison Ave and monetized it toward ubiquity.
A double-faced symbol rife with varying, even discomfiting interpretations was as much as we could have expected from Mad Men finale, which did not take the lightly experimental route favored by classic endings like Twin Peaks or The Sopranos. Instead, it spent its final hour saying casual goodbyes to its spirited ensemble, all characters that made distinctly individualistic choices, to stay the course that they had already chosen and to never look back.
JOAN TRIES COCAINE AND REALIZES HER AMBITIONS.
While on vacation with Richard in Florida, Joan tries cocaine, one fingernail at a time: “I just feel like someone gave me some very good news!” But Richard is thinking about their future. “Your life is undeveloped property,” he says, promising Joan a lifetime of wealth and happiness shacking up with him, away from the office. But Joan calls Peggy to set up a meeting while watching Sesame Street on a hazy TV with her son in the kitchen, resembling a glasses-clad domestic Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut. She proposes starting a production company together, as partners: “Harris-Olson. We won’t answer to anyone.” Yet Peggy relents, and so does Richard, who seems to not want Joan to be self-sufficient or ambitious. “I can’t just turn off that part of myself,” he says. He leaves her, and Joan stays the course. She is a self-made working woman through and through, and will not rest on her laurels this late in the game. We last see her running a new business from her own home, having accepted Roger’s promise to support their love child in his will, and all is well in the jungle.
BETTY TELLS DON TO LAY OFF.
Don calls Sally at school, and she tells him about Betty’s lung cancer. He gets angry that Betty has requested to have the kids stay with their uncle after her death, rather than move in with him. Sally takes her mother’s side; she knows it would be easier for them to keep on living in a familiar environment. Don calls Betty immediately. He insists that he must do his part and take responsibility for what she’s leaving behind, but Betty refuses.“I want things to stay normal, and you not being here is part of that.” She wants the kids to have a father and a mother figure around, not someone who will constantly be coming and going. She knows Don better than he would admit to himself, and it’s here that we see the last remnants of what was once a strong, committed union between them.
DON VISITS STEPHANIE IN CALIFORNIA.
Don/Dick goes to visit his niece Stephanie in California, whose baby is now being cared for by another family. He decides to join her on a trip to a spiritual retreat, which promises a daily regimen of yoga, tai chi, psychotechnics and group discussions. In one of the group exercises, the counselor has everyone stand in couples, so as to “communicate without words”. Don, lost in observing everyone else’s tender and honest interactions, gets shoved by his elderly partner, who isn’t having it. Later, Stephanie opens up to the group about her insecurity having left her baby alone, and gets irritated by her cohort’s honest and disappointed reactions. Don follows her out of the meeting and attempts to console her.“It gets easier once you move forward.” “I don’t think you’re right about that,” she says. He wakes up the next morning in their communal tent and finds that Stephanie has vanished, taking the car with her.
PEGGY AND STAN ARE IN LOVE.
“There’s more to life than work,” Stan tells Peggy, after she tells him off about convincing her to refuse Joan’s offer and stay at McCann. She muses over this before getting a call from Don in California. He’s a wreck. “I never said goodbye to you. I just wanted to hear your voice. Ill see you soon,” he says. Peggy calls Stan in the other room to vent about this, and he consoles her. “When I see you, I want to strangle you. And then I miss you when I go away, and I miss you and I call you on the phone and I get the person I want to talk to.” Wait…what?? “All I want to do is be with you…I’m in love with you.” Peggy is dumbfounded, but then she begins to work it out for herself, in a series-best performance by Elizabeth Moss. “You make everything okay. You always do, no matter what.” He comes into her office, and the two of them kiss. It’s nice to know at least two people found love on this show.
THE FINAL PITCH.
At the end of his rope and in a near-catatonic state, Don lifts himself up to attend one more group seminar. In a circle of a half-dozen people, everyone, including Don, turns to listen to a man named Leonard. “I’ve never been interesting,” he says. “I work in an office and people walk right by me. I know they don’t see me.” He describes the banality of domestic life, how his wife and kids “don’t look up when I sit down,” and has a theory about love. “You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it, that people aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize they’re trying, and you don’t even know what it is.” He bursts into tears, and Don gets up and gives him a long, hard hug. This is his doppelgänger—the man he could have been had he truly had an average life.