How the Mad Men Finale Put the Don Draper Death Rumors to Rest

18 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mad Men’ finale isn’t all that final.

The episode had tears (many) and humor (plenty). Since the very first episode of Mad Men, many fans have interpreted the show’s opening credits—a suited man hurtling toward the earth from the top of a skyscraper—as foreshadowing of Don Draper’s ultimate death. Showrunner Matthew Weiner has suggested that the title sequence is meant to be metaphorical rather than literal, but it hasn’t stopped the conjecturing. When a series is as scrutinized as Matthew Wiener’s ’60s-spanning meditation on work, family, identity and death, nothing could ever live up to expectations.

The 49-year-old writer — along with the main cast and selected crew — was on hand for a “Mad Men” Q&A presented Sunday afternoon by the Television Academy at the Montalban Theater in Hollywood. At some point, some viewers surely felt like snapping at creator Matthew Weiner, who wrote and directed the episode, to hurry up and get to the point. The event was the pre-show of sorts to the night’s main attraction for the show’s elite — a screening of the finale at the Ace Hotel in Downtown L.A. — but Weiner was already feeling that twinge in his heart. “My son came home from college last night…. Don, last seen smiling happily on a bus bench in Oklahoma, had made his way to the Bonneville Salt Flats, where he was wearing denim, hanging out with grease monkeys and sleeping with a young blonde. Matthew Weiner finessed his craft on a show whose ending still divides audiences (I’d got with masterful, rather than annoying.) So we might have expected ambiguity.

As Roger Sterling sat with his secretary, Caroline, and the now-several-days-missing Don’s secretary, Meredith, the latter remarked on her boss’ prolonged absence. “Well, I hope he’s in a better place,” Meredith responded, offering what sounded like condolences even in the face of news that Don is likely alive. It feels like we’re getting dressed up, going to have a drink around 3 p.m., open the door to let the relatives in, and not forget why the day is about, which is being grateful for having this incredible experience.

Mind the Curtain Calls: Mad Men had a sprawling ensemble cast, but it’s my guess that most of those characters won’t make an appearance in the finale. The fact the [the show} meant anything to anyone else enough to let us keep doing it.… I feel so blessed, so grateful.” With mere hours before the finale, Weiner was amused that the moderator was trying to get details about the finale from the man so notoriously secretive about his show. “I love that you’re still asking, because tomorrow morning you’re going to be like, “Who are you?

Even at a slightly expanded 75 minute length, it’s likely we won’t see Ken Cosgrove or Harry Crane or Megan, and don’t expect to see a cameo by the lamented Sal Romano. I’d love for that to be the reason why we were played out by I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke but you suspect it’s less our man finding advertising nirvana (he couldn’t care less now), than Weiner coyly pointing out that even as Don found peace, the ideas of love and understanding – the hippy dream by which he did so – would soon be co-opted by the biggest of big businesses.

But when you place so much hope into a 60-minute episode of television, disappointment is the only possibility, even though the Mad Men finale was a worthy coda to the greatest show of the decade. Didn’t you used to date Jon Hamm?” Much of the Q&A involved the cast and crew selecting favorite scenes from the show’s seven-season run — which included “The Other Woman” (Moss) to “The Hobo Code” (Kartheiser) to “Severance” (Hendricks) — and reflecting on the process.

Moss, who has racked up numerous awards nominations for her portrayal of secretary-turned-copy chief Peggy Olson, said she’s put in as much into Peggy as she’s drawn from the character through the years. “When you do something for nine years, you sort of lose track of what’s you and what’s her. Don has made it from Oklahoma to Utah and was channeling his California mechanic period, helping out some young petrolheads on their way to El Mirage Lake.

But I also feel like I put things into her … I think she’s become a person I’m proud of.” The drama not only put cable network AMC on the map but it made stars out of its cast of relative unknowns — Hamm, January Jones, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks and Vincent Kartheiser. Then: “I don’t know, it’s very, very difficult because I can’t compare this work experience to anything else in my professional career.… Conceptually what’s next for me is that I will fade into nothingness. Like Beatrice taking Dante into heaven, she took Don with her and the pair embarked on a number of spiritual classes that Don tolerated in silence, while Stephanie came apart talking about her past. But a television show such as Mad Men is several dozen distinct pieces of art, most separated by week, but with every 13 or so episodes getting a year-long lag time. Or even a few decades to find Don in a very different place and time. “Do you want to hit a note that has nothing to do with the life of your series?,” said showrunner Matt Weiner to the New York Times. “No.

I think you owe them in the sense that you follow the instincts you had to make them want to watch the show to begin with” The prime example is the season 1 close, “The Wheel.” It ends with Don walking into the house, fresh off his nostalgia-tinged Kodak Carousel pitch, ready to take Betty and the kids on a holiday trip. And so I think the idea of a spinoff or a sequel or a prequel or origin story or whatever longer time to spend with these characters, i think it would be less fulfilling somehow.” “But that said, [a spin-off] would be Sally. Imagine how many elaborate theories one could come up with in that intervening time. (Megan is Sharon Tate!) The journey in a movie takes about two hours. Instead, the house is empty, and Don sits brooding on the steps as Bob Dylan sings “Don’t Think Twice.” Head home: While Mad Men has been a workplace drama, all of the previous season enders have ended not in the office but at home. In the first two seasons it was the Draper house. (In season 2 Betty tells Don she’s pregnant.) Or Don’s apartment—Tomorrowland, the season 4 closer, ends with him in bed with his new bride Megan.

If he really found peace, that’s nice, but we can be forgiven for being suspicious after seven seasons and 91 previous episodes in which Don showed us he wasn’t capable of change. It’s supposed to answer all our questions, leave no stone unturned and give us a satisfying conclusion to each of the characters we’ve cared about for so long. Then Leonard told us about a dream (and perhaps helped give some extra clarity as to why closing doors are so important in the show): I had a dream I was on a shelf in the refrigerator. Prepare to be Disappointed: Let’s remember that Matt Weiner was on staff at the Sopranos as David Chase Chase came up with the most controversial series ender of all time. The light goes off.” And then we left him, cross-legged, with his back to the Pacific, the smallest of smiles on his face, as his guru led him into the future with lines that could be either a yogic mantra or the copy for a new TV ad for Seacore Laxatives.

There are generally two ways a finale of a great show goes: It’s either a sparse finale like Mad Men that leaves people wanting more or a schlock-fest such as M*A*S*H, Friends, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Sex and the City, in which everybody hugs, gives each other knowing, smiling looks from across the room and generally lives happily ever after. “Serious” series rarely try that, except The Wire, which doesn’t get nearly enough guff for its cloying ending. The closest thing we got was a couple episodes ago when all those characters shared a drink at a bar after realizing they were definitely going to McCann. When programs try something truly inventive in their finales, like what David Chase did at the end of The Sopranos or the Lost team with the scene in the church, they’re lambasted for it and have to defend it seemingly forever.

But viewed in the body of those larger works, those shows had perfectly satisfying conclusions, with the former being a great ending, seeing as how we’re still talking about it today. Perhaps acknowledging that there might be criticism for those expecting Don to drive off into the sunset with Bobby, Gene and Sally (or jumping out of a window), Weiner decided to throw us a bone and finally explode the sexual tension between Stan and Peg. If the happy-in-love endings for Peggy and Roger (who made it to what I presume was Paris with Marie) made you smile, perhaps the happiest of all endings was reserved for Joan. Having worried that we saw the last of her in Time and Life, we met her and Richard in Key West, having a bump of Richard’s birthday cocaine (the final chapter in Mad Men’s drug odyssey). Fuelled by latent ambition (and maybe a bit of that coke) Joan – with the help of some divine Cosgrovian intervention – decided she could turn her hand to producing ads.

The growth of online criticisms — in the form of podcasts and recaps — has helped, or even created, the television renaissance, but is a double-edged sword that allows for the widespread critiquing and predicting of shows that haven’t even ended yet. So when the finale doesn’t wow as much as the preceding material, the unfortunate tendency is to define the show through the prism of its conclusion. What an extraordinary creative decision to give Mad Men’s final great scene and monologue to an almost unknown actor and a character who made his debut in the last 10 minutes of the final episode.

Despite the Atlantic delving back into its archive to republish his most famous work, he’s now reduced to worrying about being outgunned by the “plastics and packaging”. If you were a regular reader of the Monterey County Weekly, you might – by process of elimination – have worked out that Big Sur might have had a role to play in this finale.

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