How Mad Men Ranks Amongst the Best and Worst Series Finales of All Time

19 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mad Men’ Cast and Crew Raise One Last Glass to the Series at Animated Finale Party.

Let’s set aside “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” and Don’s cliffside zen. There’s something more than a little voyeuristic about watching the last episode of a beloved television series with the people who made it, so it was with a mix of bittersweet excitement and clumsy curiosity that fans and friends of Mad Men gathered at Sunday night’s finale screening. Mad Men was Don’s show, and enough of the finale was devoted to him and the tertiary characters around him (welcome back Stephanie, I guess?) that there can never be any doubting it. Kids back then had parents die much more often than kids today, and they had to grow up fast and make adult decisions, as Sally has. (I know, because it happened to me.) If there is a deep meaning to the finale of “Mad Men,” it is that everyone has to settle.

A long evening that capped off one of the more notable farewell tours in recent TV memory, the AMC drama signed off at downtown Los Angeles’ Ace Hotel with cast members past and present crowding the packed theater with creator Matthew Weiner, the series’ writers and producers and other familiar faces all in attendance. The grand expectations of the ‘60s give way to the disillusioned cynicism of the ‘70s—Charles Manson has people scared of hitchhikers, smoking can kill you, and the American-made car on the salt flats?

But before the episode aired, timed almost perfectly to the East Coast telecast, the horde sat through a live reading of freshman season finale “The Wheel” orchestrated by Jason Reitman. “We should lock the doors,” said Reitman, at the top of the night. “Matthew Weiner doesn’t get to leave until we get a few more seasons. Enigmatic and gorgeous as that final moment was, the parts of the Mad Men finale that really had everyone up off their couches were about everyone else— Peggy and Stan’s phone call confession pulled straight from When Harry Met Sally, Roger including Kevin in his will, Joan forging ahead with “Holloway Harris,” Peggy handing Pete back his signature line. This is what I want.” Reitman briefly beckoned Weiner to stand, when he received the first of several standing ovations for the night, and then welcomed nine actors on stage to fill the series’ familiar roles. And the guy whose job it is to sell us the machine—to convince us that it’s fulfilling our dreams, even when we can see it’s falling apart—he’s not doing a very good job of convincing himself, let alone the rest of us. Don’s behaviour in the last few episodes — wandering aimlessly, shedding his worldly possessions — made suicide seem a distinct possibility, and he certainly considered it on Sunday’s finale when he hit a personal rock bottom.

So he’s responding by drinking the Kool-Aid of the upcoming era—chanting oms, of all things, like he has any comprehension of the Hindu ideal of all-encompassing, divine peace. Of all the things I’ve told myself over the years, the only way I haven’t “settled” is that I’ve managed never to buy a house built in the ’70s. The dapper proletariat who paid for tickets in the upper balconies, after waiting in a line that wrapped around the block, sported period garb, slick suits and updos that would have made Betty Francis proud. Whether or not Don actually invented it, the series still ends with an ad that packaged genuine emotions—peace, love, friendship, joy—and used them to sell sweet chemicals.

It must have been tough for producers to resist the urge to show Don returning to McCann Erickson at episode’s end to deliver one final, masterful pitch, this time for a real, and truly groundbreaking, Coca-Cola commercial. Weiner recognized the unique scenario when he briefly took the stage before the screening, the last he’ll likely speak on the record before a May 20 conversation about the finale at the New York Public Library. “I will call this a relationship, even by Don’s standards,” he said of his nearly decade-long rapport with Mad Men’s audience.

The cynicism that surrounded Mad Men from the very beginning, that made it a story about a guy who invented love as a way to sell nylons, was the feeling that defined its final moments. Christina Hendricks and January Jones, both of whom were present at a TV Academy panel for the series earlier in the afternoon, were the only significant absences. If the world’s rotten anyway, if we’re all just products like Leonard waiting to be picked up off the shelf, if the past will always haunt you and even sunny California isn’t the answer, then what better can we do than settle in and make the best of it?

The other way the episode could have gone would have been for Don to return to civilization and reunite with his family and coworkers over Betty’s impending death. But seven seasons of the show have taught us that a happy ending is not just that, as much as our own weddings or children or personal successes cannot guarantee contentment. There was a sense that tying up all the loose threads would take a significant plot development — a death, a suicide, a major world event, or the revelation that the whole story was a figment of Dick Whitman’s war-ravaged imagination. The showrunner did take the opportunity to pay one final, public homage to his cast and crew and then left the crowd with this friendly message: “I will be in the audience. Mad Men leaves us with a final gift, saying goodbye to these characters in their moments of happiness—real happiness, not something Don or anyone else sold them.

Series’ producers and the bulk of the writers’ room made silent cameos throughout the supersized episode, drawing hoots, hollers and hysterics from the company and their pockets of comrades throughout the theater. The title of the episode was Person to Person, underscoring its emphasis on bringing a sense of closure to so many of the complicated relationships that we’ve seen develop over the years: Pete and Peggy; Don and Betty; Don and Peggy; Peggy and Joan, Joan and Roger … Peggy and Joan switched places. Instead, Peggy snuggles up with Stan, while Joan chooses labour over love, venturing out on her own (as Holloway Harris) and letting her millionaire boyfriend walk out the door. Weiner stood near the entrance to the intimate gathering, playing both consummate host and father of the bride, to shake hands with whoever would pause for a moment.

AMC president Charlie Collier got a congratulatory handshake from Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, young Kiernan Shipka and Marten Weiner (Sally Draper and Glen Bishop) caught up while the adults sipped cocktails and visibly proud Jon Hamm made the rounds Mad Men plugged these final seven episodes as “the end of an era.” That seems to be true in more ways than one. On a show that could often have been better described as Sad Men, it seemed unlikely that our favourite characters would be entitled to end on a happy note.

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