Ad It up: A Splendid Drama, ‘Mad Men,’ Comes to an End

18 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ad it up: A splendid drama, ‘Mad Men,’ comes to an end.

After spending the better part of the finale in the throes of depression, Don wound up at a commune (rehab facility?) with Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie, and had an emotional breakthrough.

Mad Men’s much-anticipated closing song wasn’t a gritty track by an artist who served as an icon for the sex, drugs and rock and roll generation—but a jingle.The Mad Men series finale ended with Don Draper at peace, freeing himself from his demons, and punctuated by one of the most iconic Coca-Cola commercials in history. This incomparable drama set in the 1960s New York advertising world concluded its seven-season run Sunday night on AMC with a resolution that rang true to its spirit and likely left its devotees satisfied, even as they bade it farewell with regret. “A lot has happened,” Don Draper (series star Jon Hamm) tells Stephanie, a damaged young woman from his past, after his wayward odyssey from New York finally brings him to her doorstep in Los Angeles. But as the camera pulled close to his face—and Don let out an appropriately New Age-y “ommm”—the best creative director on Madison Avenue smiled.

It might not have had the adrenaline-pumping impact of The Sopranos’ “Don’t Stop Believin,’” but it made perfect sense for the end of a story about Don Draper—a guy to whom it was once said, “If you had to choose a place to die, it would be in the middle of a pitch.” “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” was, of course, a real ad from 1971 for Coca-Cola, Don’s white whale. The song was actually the brainchild of a man named Bill Backer, a creative director at McCann-Erickson, the firm that employed Don for a brief minute. It was such a success that it was released as a single with lyrics disassociated from Coca-Cola (“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”); subsequently, it’s been revived as the company’s jingle several times.

She intends for them to live with her brother and his wife. “Please don’t let your pride interfere with my wishes,” she said coolly. “I want to keep things as normal as possible. Seems that way! (The photo on the left is from the episode; on the right, a still from the Coke commercial.) But in real life, the Coke ad wasn’t dreamed up by Don Draper.

The song works not only because of its overlap with the particulars of Don’s career, but also because of its placement right after his seeming revelation while meditating in paradise. And your not being here is part of that.” “Mad Men” traced Draper’s journey through the 1960s in his identity as a successful, charismatic but tormented ad man. Has he really bought into the vision this retreat is selling? (Don’t forget, it is a business—Don thinks it’s a good thing when the receptionist takes his money after he arrives.

When Backer finally reached London, he conveyed the scene to the Coco-Cola execs and the song writers, saying the message he hoped to portray in the ads was “to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be — a liquid refresher — but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes.” Unfortunately, the idea wasn’t an immediate sell. Ken Cosgrove offered Joan some freelance work, producing industrial films, which reignited her ambitions to be her own boss and brought an abrupt end to her too-good-to-be-true romance with Richard, her super-rich LA boyfriend. Also note that the receptionist wore her hair in the same ribboned braid as a woman in the Coke ad.) It certainly seems possible—after all, that man’s weepy confession in group therapy sounded uncannily like a Don Draper pitch, complete with a domestic setting and a sentimental message. A Coco-Cola music producer said if he could do something for everyone it the world he would “buy everyone a home first and share with them in peace and love.” To which Backer responded, “Okay, that sounds good. But based on the way series creator Matthew Weiner approached the show – and especially the meandering, detour-heavy nature of the half-dozen episodes leading up to this – there were clearly wrong ones, starting with those who hungered for definitive closure.

It’s always been hard to tell how much Don actually wanted that American dream he’s been selling to people—full of soap, lipstick, beer and cars. Some have grumbled about Don’s marriage to former secretary Megan (Jessica Pare) as having undercut the story, but it was really more about struggling to reflect the increasingly groovy world in which the program existed. But it’s equally hard to imagine him sitting in a lotus pose just for the sake of going along with the crowd. “It’s the real thing,” the singers declare in the jingle.

He calls Peggy, and she tries to get him to come back home to New York and back to his job at McCann Erickson. “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” she asks. Whatever the cause, it’s hard to think of many moments in recent seasons that rival a favorite from the early going, when the Kodak carousel was pitched to the client as having the attributes of a time machine.

Backer wrote of the scene: “In that moment [I] saw a bottle of Coke in a whole new light… [I] began to see a bottle of Coca-Cola as more than a drink that refreshed a hundred million people a day in almost every corner of the globe. Written and directed by Weiner, the finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) was characterized by a lack of urgency that has been emblematic of the show’s brand of storytelling, but especially true since its return in April. Ferguson), her art-director colleague with whom she has worked and bickered for years, finally realize what every viewer has long suspected: They’re in love. That was because all of Don’s scenes with other key characters – from his dying ex-wife Betty (January Jones), to his daughter (Kiernan Shipka) to longtime colleague Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) – took place over the phone. To their credit, the actors got the most out of those exchanges, and when Betty dryly said in regard to Don not taking custody of his children, “This way you see them exactly as much as you do now,” it had the impact of a punch to the stomach.

Still, Don’s whole sojourn to California and the commune, while building toward the payoff ad, felt as frustrating during the episode as much of what has recently preceded it. It was a fitting sign-off for the Emmy-winning series, that, in its seven seasons, gave TV drama an air of sophistication and depth it doesn’t strive for often enough. It is probably the most adult show ever created for mainstream TV audiences, ambitiously breaking away from formulaic storytelling to portray one man’s search for identity.

There were other big flourishes, such as Roger (John Slattery) marrying Megan’s mother (Julia Ormond), or Joan (Christina Hendricks) ultimately choosing career over romance. Don himself was an illusion — a Korean War vet who grew up in a brothel and stole his commanding officer’s identity to come home from the war. “Mad Men” will be remembered as the show that made every office worker wish they could join the conga line at a Sterling Cooper party. That said, a contingent of the audience doubtless came to this primarily wanting to feel as if they had seen Don’s entire journey, and on that score, the final shot risks being as divisive as Tony and his family sitting in that diner. And given the reams of scholarly analysis the program has already generated — a cultural footprint that went well beyond its ratings — leaving something to the imagination has an element of poetry to it, even if it reads like a haiku.

Taking all that into account, the finale wasn’t bad, but like much surrounding “Mad Men” these last few seasons, it felt – in a somewhat exasperating manner – like less than it might have been.

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