Mad Men Series Finale: Downward Facing Don

There’s always been a bit of debate about what Mad Men is about. Is it the identity crisis of a man or just a decade in the life of a New York ad agency? As it turns out, it was a bit of both.

One thing Mad Men has always exceled at is being able to weave history with fiction, but last night, they finally met in the middle.

*Spoilers Ahead*

For those who haven’t seen last night’s episode, go grab yourself a Coke because there’s a lot to digest and you’ll need the caffeine. Plus, the product placement plays a very important role later in the episode (if you’re expecting D.B. Cooper to be drinking a Pepsi in the final scene, you’re wrong).

Admittedly, I have not been a huge fan of the last couple of seasons of the AMC show. On the Watercooler Podcast, I’ve called Megan Draper the “Oliver” of the series (you’ll remember that Oliver came into The Brady Bunch when the kids were no longer cute and the show was waning), and the last couple of years of MM have seemed to focus more on life outside of the agency than in Sterling Cooper Draper Whatever It’s Being Called This Season.

“Person to Person” opens with Don reenacting a scene from The World’s Fastest Indian, racing cars with a bunch of 20-somethings before bedding one of them (the female one, natch). I figured the whole episode would be dedicated to Don’s journey, but no, Matthew Weiner brought the whole supporting cast back to wrap up their storylines, and thankfully so, because Don’s is pretty flippin’ boring until the end (but we’ll get to that).

In what appears to be Don bragging like a teenager (“Guess what kind of racing I just did”), he calls Sally, and she spills the beans: Betty’s dying. When Don calls Betty to hear it for himself, they share one of their most heartfelt scenes, with Betty telling him to stay out on the West Coast because he’s not helping anyone by being in New York and that he hasn’t really been Father of the Year (something Don knows). When they hang up, you sense that this is the final time they’ll speak.

Don ends up going to California with the racers and meets up with his niece (and former wanna-be fuck buddy) Stephanie. They head to a retreat to recharge their batteries, which consists of yoga and sitting in a circle complaining, which is vastly different from ad agency life where you typically sit around a rectangle.

Back in McCann Erickson and NYC, Pete is packing up his stuff for Wichita, and Joan is offered a producing job by Ken, one she wants to get Peggy on board with. While “Harris-Olson” has a nice ring to it, Peggy is a lone wolf and doesn’t want to go into business with Joan, much to the redhead’s idea of female Shangri-la where they’re the bosses. Joan and Richard (Bruce Greenwood) talk marriage, but soon Joan’s beau realizes that she doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon, especially since she wants to start her own business. He exits just as “Holloway-Harris” begins.

Peggy gets to have it all, though, because in addition to the hope of becoming a creative director by 1980 (way to kill someone’s spirits, Pete), she realizes she’s in love with Stan in a scene straight out of a rejected Kate Hudson comedy (so. . .a Katherine Heigl comedy). Over office phones, they confess their love to each other before Stan runs to her and they kiss and embrace.

Back to California.

Stephanie disappears, which causes Don to have a breakdown and mentally go through a montage of all the terrible things he’s done on the show. He’s broken vows. He’s a shitty father. Oh, and he stole a man’s identity. Right. After a phone call to Peggy to say “goodbye” (is he going to kill himself?), Peggy tells him to buck up and come home, acting as a focal point similar to when he passes out in the first season and comes to consciousness just as she’s introducing herself. She tells him that someone has to work on the Coke account and that someone should be him.

Shortly after Don hangs up with Peggy, a retreat counselor hippie finds him and asks him to join their therapy session. During it, an office drone (think: 1960s Dilbert) expounds about feeling like he’s invisible, comparing himself to the open and close of a refrigerator (no mention of what brand). Don is so moved by this man’s confession, that he embraces him and sobs.

Before Don gets enlightenment in the final moments of the series, viewers are treated to a montage of where our favorite characters are going. Pete and Trudy are getting on a plane. Roger and Marie are a happy couple speaking French together. Joan is running her own business. Peggy is writing and getting a massage from Stan. Then, Don does yoga.

What? Yes, Don is doing yoga. We’re used to seeing big O’s of another kind coming from Mr. Draper and whoever his female companion is at the moment, but in this case, he’s omming himself to happiness, with each cymbal ding getting him closer to peace. After two clangs, a classic Draper smile spreads across his lips, and the next scene is the classic “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” Coke commercial from 1971.

That’s right. Don Draper came up with that commercial (or at least that’s what Matthew Weiner is positing). The signs are all throughout the season—and even in the episode (one of the retreat women has pigtails with ribbons EXACTLY like a woman in the ad). Mad Men has always walked a fine line between fact and fiction, but here, Weiner made the bold decision for a fictional character to lay claim to one of the most recognizable ads in popular culture.

I always wanted Mad Men to end in present-day, like Matthew Weiner hinted at back in 2011. And while the finale wasn’t quite what I envisioned (a gray-haired Draper still slaying babes half his age), it was partially true, tying the series to a generational touchstone that still speaks to people today.

3 comments

  1. Avatar
    Connor 7 years ago

    So many moments up for interpretation. Was Don embracing Dick or letting go? Was he embracing Don or letting go? Was that hug meant to give that stranger comfort or was it Don giving Dick a hug? Did Don stay and embrace the hippie lifestyle? Was it Peggy who came up with the idea for the Coke commercial when she was typing in her moment of the show (her dream was to create something memorable)? Was that finale “DING” meant to represent Don is finally at peace or just got the idea of the century?

    These are the questions I see popping up often on message boards.

    In my personal opinion, I think somethings are pretty clear:
    Don came up with the idea for the Coke Commercial. Peggy likely had a hand in the creative process, but she was not typing the commercial. The Ding was his creative juices running. He is an AD Man and a damn good one and he could not escape that.

    I think that Don hugging the stranger was a self embracing moment. I think in the finale moments, when the instructor tells the group, a new day, new ideas, new you; the new Don is a person who is comfortable and content with being Dick (the man he has been running away from the whole show) AND what he has made of Don. I think he chose to live the rest of his life as Don, but was not running away from Dick anymore.

    1. Avatar
      Clarence Moye 7 years ago

      Seems as good of an interpretation as any. Good job.

  2. Avatar
    Mego 7 years ago

    That sums it up beautifully, Connor!

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