Farewell Mad Men

The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning.
— Sam Shepard

Mad Men ended a few weeks ago and I’m just getting around to thinking about the final episode, the much speculated series finale. I watched it. I thought about it. And then I got busy with life.
It’s not to say I didn’t like it, or love it, or hate it, or not understand it. I just saw it as a perfect circle of writing, a nod to the genius that is Matthew Weiner, the creator and writer of Mad Men. Controversy? No. Tear jerker? Nada. The ending made sense in a non-sentimental satisfying way. (Spoiler alert!) Don drops out. Don is humiliated. Don can’t buy love or respect with money–hello! he doesn’t even get a thank you from the scary scamming motel maid, Andy, who he gives his car to so he can start a new life. He’s humbled by the women in his life. Betty tells him to go along with the program she has in mind for the kids when she’s gone; his daughter, Sally, tells him that arrangement doesn’t involve him; Peggy Olson and the rest of the team at McCann-Erickson seem to move on effortlessly without the mighty Ad Man’s leadership.
I was prepared to cry, to wail at the end of Don Draper and his lack of identity and ultimate search for self. Sure he was a flawed, flawed man. Alcoholic, a bad husband (twice) and an absent (most of the time) father. But there was something so soulfully sad about him that Weiner captured beautifully on the page. You winced at the man’s actions but cared that he survived them.
I thought the end of Don would happen. That he would tumble out of a skyscraper, like the image in the opening to the show, and fall to his death, not literally but metaphorically. And it seemed like he was headed in that direction.But Don doesn’t die. Don doesn’t lose the will to live. Don doesn’t drop off the face of the earth as you might have originally thought based on the journey he was on.
Prior to the last season the rumors flew around and the soothsayers portended Don’s demise in so many configurations you needed an algorithm to understand them all. But Weiner surprised us all–or maybe just me–by giving us an ending that made perfect sense.
If you think about what the series, all seven seasons, was trying to convey through its characters and events, I would say it was that we all survive somehow and move on and readjust, even Betty with her terminal illness still showing up for college classes. When her husband asks her why she’s doing it, Betty responds, “Why was I ever doing this.”
As for Don’s future? Well, I think he goes back to McCann-Erickson and writes the slogan, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” for Coca-Cola’s ad campaign. It makes sense time wise. Don’s on a retreat in Big Sur in 1970 meditating while the ad plays in his head. If Wikipedia is right, the actual Coke commercial aired in 1971. So Don’s given a second chance, just as Pete Campbell, Joan, and Peggy are too moving on to new jobs and relationships.
Even poor Sally, who I instantly related to since I was around Sally’s age during the time period the series is set, is given some hope–her mother, albeit through a letter, acknowledging her uniqueness and her strength.
Weiner said, “I want to leave the show in a place where you have an idea of what it meant and how it’s related to you.”
Matthew Weiner is giving Don a second chance. Much like he gave Tony Soprano in the diner having dinner with his wife and son while Meadow tried to parallel park outside. Yes, Weiner was a writer on The Soprano’s, too. Somehow he pulls the essence from these characters, with all their foibles, and circles back to what makes them tick; Don’s rush with creativity; Tony’s with family. And he allows them new beginnings, at least in our imaginations.