How our favorite Mad Men characters looked almost 100 episodes later

18 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mad Men’ Finale: What Was Awesome, What Was Frustrating And Why It’s Hard To Let Go.

Well. Over the course of seven seasons, Mad Men—which came to a close on Sunday night—followed Don, Peggy and the rest of Sterling Cooper through a raucous decade.After eight years and 92 episodes, Matt Weiner’s rich, characterful drama about the lives of the advertising men and women of New York’s Madison Avenue in the Sixties and Seventies went out with a witty, absorbing final episode that brought endings and new beginnings for all its major characters, including emotionally disintegrating adman Don Draper (Jon Hamm). It’s hard to write about series finales, because whatever I say here might be taken as the final word regarding my assessment of the show in question. But, though its meticulous attention to period detail has often been praised, the show has always been more about character than events: Assassinations were met with quiet crying scenes; characters’ politics changed slowly over time; entire years were skipped.

That might sound way too much like Matthew Weiner had tied everything up in neat bows, and maybe he was trying a little too hard to give us what we all secretly wanted, but there was a coda that made it all seem right. Previous episodes had seen Draper walk away from his new job at the advertising giant McCann-Erickson (and the Coca-Cola account), and set off on a careening journey towards the void at the heart of his life. The man who had been brought up in a bordello, taken on the identity of a dead man and made his name in the newly sexy ad industry had been slowly coming apart at the seams. Since it premiered eight years ago, I could count on several things where “Mad Men” was concerned: The show would surprise me, it would confound me, it would make me laugh and make me think, it would frequently look amazing and it would experiment with storytelling and have top-notch aesthetic elements. In the finale, which began with Draper driving at speed in the desert-like conditions of the Bonneville salt flats in Utah (and with Weiner, metaphors are never too far from the surface), his breakdown was accelerating. “I messed everything up.

I’m not the man you think I am,” he told his successful protégé Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) in a long-distance call. “What did you ever do that was so bad?” she reassured him. You get to be the judge of that, but regardless, having conversations via email and Twitter and in real life with fans and fellow critics has been one of the best parts of engaging with this drama. Not for the first time, we had a premonition of his death. “I got a hell of a shake around 130,” he tells the young mechanics before casting a longing, if rather wary, eye over the car. Death, be my mistress. “There are a lot of better places than here,” she says, and I’m more than ever convinced that she’s going to involve into that hilarious and crabby-faced TV executive from Episodes. Peggy has been dealt out of an account she’d been working on, and maybe it’s just that she’s inspired by the slogan hanging on the boardroom wall – “Truth well told” – but she decides to stand up for herself even though she’s the new kid on the block.

For Christina Hendricks’s Joan Harris another love was disappearing over the horizon, as she found her latest flame unalterably opposed to her plan to set up as an advertising producer. Her former lover Roger, meanwhile, seemed to have found a soul mate to match his worldliness and wit in the mother of Megan – Don’s other former wife (and former secretary) – and we left them in a Parisian café anticipating a long future of sexy arguments and spritzy one liners together.

They followed a spitty fight with big-bearded, bear-like graphic designer Stan, the man who’s usually to be found with her in the long hours after all the other employees have gone home. The thing is, big chunks of “Person to Person” would have made a pretty good second-to-last episode of “Mad Men.” As the series finale, certainly as far as Don was concerned, it left a fair amount to be desired.

I love you Peggy,” he told her. “I don’t even think about you,” she returned unpromisingly, but after some shortness of breath realised: “I think I’m in love with you, too. We know it’s the 1970s because Joan and her real estate mogul beau Richard (Bruce Greenwood) are snorting coke. “It’s everywhere in Malibu,” he says, though not on the Mad Men set, we’re sure. I really do.” It felt like a gesture of love from Weiner towards a clearly favoured character (“I couldn’t leave without giving you this.”) But its soapiness was allayed by the fact that it came as a surprise, and that its essential rightness dawned on you about the same time as it dawned on Peggy. Peggy’s more relaxed and open when she’s half-distracted by the work on her desk, and she never felt pressured or tense during her phone chats with Stan.

Joan likes it. “It feels like I’ve just been given some very good news,” she says. “You know we could live like this all the time,” he says, and if this weren’t the final episode you’d swear we were about to head off on some weird Boogie Nights trajectory in which Joan squanders everything because of the blow. But as Don Draper faced his demons at the hippie retreat, it seemed its clifftop location could yet fulfil the promise of the tumbling fall in the title sequence. But we’re not, thankfully; Richard is talking about sharing a future together. “Do you want to get married,” Joan asks, looking half-excited, half-shocked, and all coke-frazzled.

Sure, he says, if you want, but he’s actually way more interested in subdividing her rather formidable assets and building some boutique apartments on them. “It seems to me your life is undeveloped property,” he says. “You can turn it into anything you want. Draper had experienced an unexpected moment of empathy with a man who told a group therapy session “I’ve never been interesting to anybody” – funny in itself, because he spoke up just when we thought we were going to get the real Don Draper from his own lips, and had to listen to this boring schmuck instead, who wanted to be loved, but “didn’t even know what it is”. It’s just Peggy’s brain wrestling with its greatest fear – letting someone get close – before admitting it might actually be her heart’s greatest desire. Peggy can be pretty waspish in person, and she needs to be with someone who is willing to call her on that behavior, but who also knows that her mean moments spring from a deep well of fear and anxiety. No doubt she’ll need to keep those walls up to survive in a harsh environment like McCann, as we saw in an early finale scene, in which she had to fight to keep an account.

But Stan has her back in every possible scenario, and with him at her side, there is literally nothing Peggy won’t be able to do. (I can’t help but think Freddie Rumsen would be so happy for her and proud of his protegee — his “ballerina.”) I especially love that my Twitter mentions lit up like a Christmas tree the minute Stan and Peggy kissed, and some Twitter folk went so far as to wonder whether that scene had been written by me. Here’s one of my problems with the Joan situation: We haven’t known Richard all that long, not long enough for any issues that couple might have to seem believably complex. In Los Angeles, he knocks on the door of his “niece”, Stephanie (Caity Lotz), the hippy daughter of Anna Draper who once turned up on Megan’s doorstep broke and heavily pregnant.

She greets him as Dick; she knows him in ways few others do and for one horrible moment (well, several horrible moments) it looks like the Draper family relations are going to head into some very “woe is me, shame and scandal in the family” directions. Not only does that not track with what we know of him — earlier, he’d realized that he’d do anything to keep a great woman like Joan in his life — it does not track with what he said in this episode.

He was excited about Joan’s prospects and called her entire life “undeveloped property,” and he didn’t say that in any way that indicated that he expected her to join the country club, enjoy her windfall and leave it at that. Sure, his excitement might have partly been the cocaine talking, but his comments were in line with his previous behavior: Richard has been generally supportive of her career and has always prized Joan’s intelligence and drive.

She puts him to sleep on the couch and then takes him to a hippy retreat that offers 57 varieties of therapy, a kind of Heinz of healing. “Roger, this is an expensive way to mark your territory,” Joan says. But it didn’t quite track for me; honestly, it felt as though creator Matthew Weiner wanted Joan to have a sad ending, so he jury-rigged one at the last minute. Was Matthew Weiner just waiting to get his leading man to somewhere suitably picturesque – a clifftop in Carmel, for instance – before pushing him over the edge? Joan is running her new production company, Holloway Harris (two names, her maiden and her married) from her apartment, having decided that any man who can only be with her if she ditches her career is no man she could ever be with. And this is Weiner’s masterstroke, the moment that saves it all from some “happily ever after” that would have been a fundamental breach of faith for those of us who’ve come this far.

That famous TV commercial is masterful and manipulative, the work of some evil ad man who took the hippy dream and reduced it to one syrupy 60-second spot in the service of commerce. It’s because the show made me so very interested in their fates that how things actually worked out in some arenas was, frankly, irritating. “Mad Men” boasts plenty of intellectual firepower, aesthetic ambition and shiny structural experimentation.

It’s one thing for an episode to thrum with a secret that the audience knows but certain characters don’t — that’s a tension-building strategy “Mad Men” has employed very well in the past. That tipped into irritation once I realized that Don was going to keep on hobo-ing, even as his neglected children risked a fire in an attempt to cook dinner. Here are some characters groups we got to see together in the series finale: Pete and Peggy; Pete, Harry and Peggy; Joan and Roger; Pete and Trudy; Betty and Sally; Roger and Marie Calvet. We got multiple scenes of Don and Stephanie, but the last time we saw Don and Peggy have a real conversation, it was a few episodes ago, and Peggy was mad at Don for dumping all over her dreams.

In all seriousness, I absolutely get that “Mad Men” loves to play around with ambiguity, grey areas and doubt — and I’ve reveled in that fact for eight years. Also, if you look at the similarities between the words of the meditation instructor said and the lyrics of the song, and add to that the gong-like tone at the start of meditation — which perfectly matched the note at the start of the ad — I think it’s a pretty open-and-shut case, myself. Don Draper had clearly thought of a great idea for an ad, one that would get him out of the massive trouble he was in at work and would win a shelf of awards as well. I know that that’s how the show operates — the revelations Don encounters in his personal life often inform his work, which is really the only way he can consistently communicate with the world. That moment could not have the resonance of something like “The Suitcase,” or even the impact of a moment like the one in which, some time back, Sally impulsively told her father she loved him.

It used to feel like a big deal for Don to confess, but this half season opened with Don regaling a couple of good-time girls with stories of his poverty-stricken upbringing. He’s been in the process of shedding his lies and sharing his truths for years now, and that process has been especially prominent in the last few seasons. Who knows where Gene and Bobby ended up (maybe they will get lost in transit between the homes of various caregivers and nobody will notice for months). I am still grateful to “Mad Men,” and I’m sad, not just because that frequently amazing journey is over, but because this moment feels like the end of an era.

When I got into the TV critic game more than a decade ago, back in the Elder Days, “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood,” “Lost,” “Battlestar Galactica” were on the air. My sentimentality about the early aughts is not so blinding that I fail see how amazing the TV scene is now — I truly love where the evolution of the medium has brought us. It might be tied with “Lost” or “Battlestar Galactica,” but the truth is, I have probably expended more words, more mental energy and more time on “Mad Men” than any other show I’ve ever written about.

January Jones has also been really wonderful in these final two episodes. “Keep it up and you’ll be a creative director by 1980!” Way to make a compliment sound incredibly depressing, which is such a Pete Campbell thing to do. It was nice to seek Ken and even Harry again, and I did enjoy the lyrical montage near the end, in which the show checked in on several main characters. Even so, the meeting I liked best was the final scene between Pete and Peggy, even though he once again left her with something she didn’t truly want. I had a theory before the finale that we’d see Don Draper working under the name Dick Whitman as a mechanic somewhere out west, and his grease-monkey racing antics partly fulfilled that prediction, sort of. I didn’t necessarily predict he’d get rolled by a working girl again, but I can’t say I was surprised at that either. “All I got was ‘suitcase’ — yell at me slower or in English!” I’m so glad we got one more classic Roger Sterling quip.

We got a final Joan-Peggy scene, which was another bonus. “The partnership is just for you.” I knew Peggy would never take it, but I love that their friendship had come that far. He also frequently appeared in group-therapy scenes in “Go On,” but he didn’t wear a bright red jumpsuit on that cancelled ABC show, so “Mad Men” gets the win in that department.

The best part of the Stan-Peggy scene was when they kissed, but the second best part was the goony smile she got when she truly realized she was in love.

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