Jon Hamm Explains What Don Was Smiling About in that Mad Men Finale

19 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Inside the ‘Mad Men’ live read, finale screening and swanky after-party.

Sunday night’s finale of Mad Men ended with Don Draper meditating on a hillside, right before the 1971 “Hillside” Coca-Cola commercial plays, sparking debate about whether the fictional advertising maven had created the actual iconic ad.As “Mad Men” closes its accounts for the last time, AMC and Film Independent found a unique way to celebrate the Madison Avenue period drama that fans have loved (and sometimes mocked) for seven seasons: Invite Jason Reitman to direct a stage reading of one of the show’s most iconic episodes.

“Mad Men” ended its eight-year reign as television’s most artful and intellectually engaging drama Sunday night with a marvelously unexpected ending that twisted its timeline into a full circle.It’s a breathless moment of confession, one that confounds (and concerns) Peggy and leaves the rest of us waiting for some sign of personal redemption, however fleeting or thin.Six years ago, as Mad Men was preparing to enter into its third season, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature about the series’ female writing staff. “A writing team dominated by women shapes the chauvinistic world of the TV hit,” the article declared, while writer Jennifer Getzinger doubled down, telling the WSJ: “A lot of people think women can only do women shows.” Last night’s series finale wasn’t explicit about the specific trajectory of protagonist Don Draper, but it was crystal clear on one point: AMC’s flagship series ended as much a “women show” as it’s ever been — which is assuming it has, in fact, ever been anything else. In reality, the commercial was brewed up by Bill Backer, the creative director on the Coca-Cola account for the McCann-Erickson advertising agency at the time.

AMC threw a major party for its now-departed show on Sunday night — hosting a live-read of the Season 1 finale, a screening of the final episode, and a buzzy afterparty at the gloriously restored Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Most of us figured the show’s protagonist, the brilliant ad man Don Draper, would have to die in some fashion or another, physically or metaphorically. He’s now a guy who’s happy in a commune doing yoga on the ground and crying with other grown men, which made a weird amount of sense for a guy who’s lived such a guilt-filled life. I guess it’s true what they say, COKE: IT DOES A BODY GOOD.™ If you, like me and the vast majority of people, didn’t watch the Mad Men finale, I don’t even know what to tell you. By the end of Person to Person, Mad Men’s final episode, the show’s leading men had all found strength in women: Roger in Quebec with Marie; Pete in Wichita with wife Trudie.

Everywhere you looked, series creator Matt Weiner, stars Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss — heck, anyone and everyone who’s been associated with the show — snapped photos, flashed huge smiles, hugged, playfully tackled one another (Hamm’s signature move). He tried to make some amends in a way as he tried to get Betty to allow him to come back to be with the kids when she died, but she refused his help, saying that everything needed to stay as normal as possible. At a retreat full of hippies, he resists the suicidal lure of Big Sur’s big cliffs, rises at dawn, chants “om,” and smiles a Mona Lisa yogini smile.

Don’s only interactions, meanwhile, are with women: he phones daughter Sally and ex-wife Betty, visits Anna Draper’s niece Stephanie and calls a tearful goodbye to onetime protege Peggy Olsen. But bad weather forced his plane to land in Shannon, Ireland, instead, and Backer noticed how many of the initially irate passengers on his flight seemed to calm down and relax after chatting over food and Cokes in the airport cafe. That’s the headline, folks: Don Draper finds peace at last! (A peace that will, it seems, eventually lead him back to advertising, McCann, and the creation of the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” campaign that played before the credits—but peace nonetheless.) The finale was kind to Don, and kind-hearted generally.

These are women who, unable to rely on immutable societal structures to hold them up, have quietly built themselves as pillars; men whose dominance, so long taken for granted, has atrophied. 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. The Wonder Years star-turned-director played Pete Campbell — absolutely nailing Vincent Kartheiser’s waspy diction to a degree that was so spot on, the crowd tittered after every line. Watching Matthew Weiner dole out so much redemption, hope, and love, after all his years convincing us that people are bitter, cruel and self-defeating, that they can never escape their own foibles and sins—well, it was what I said I wanted before the season began. As the live-read was winding to its conclusion, Hamm, John Slattery and other Mad Men cast and crew mingled in the empty lobby of the Ace, slapping each other on the back in giant hugs.

She may have stormed off after a group therapy session went wrong, but Don seems to have found his place there, and ended the episode meditating in khakis. But that shift isn’t just about co-dependence: look at Joan, whose final scene sees her letting go of a potential husband to run her own business out of her kitchen — an immediately powerful, if somewhat obvious, metaphor, supported wholly by her company name: Holloway Harris.

They were actually a subtle way of saying, ‘Let’s keep each other company for a little while.’ And [I] knew they were being said all over the world as [I] sat there in Ireland. The result was a slowly unfolding period melodrama that should have been marginally successful but became a mainstream hit because it told a universally compelling narrative — a story about the tension between our consumeristic American existence and our deep-seated search for identity, meaning and fulfillment.

I gotta keep up my skills for the start of the self-driving truck economy, where self-driving trucks will briefly deliver all our goods until the 8.7 million people who just lost their trucking-related jobs can’t afford to buy anything anymore and the self-driving trucks lose their jobs as well, an irony we will all find briefly hilarious as we starve. Weiner fell into the trap of sentimentality to some degree, stuffing in a last-minute love story between Peggy and Stan and handing happy endings to Joan, Roger and Pete. If that sounds generic, it shouldn’t. “Mad Men” transported us to the pivotal decade of the 1960s and dealt deliberately with the advent of Madison Avenue and the heyday of the advertising industry. Transportation hacking will be a booming industry and I intend to get in on the coach cabin of that, if my other new job as NYT media columnist doesn’t work out. Betty, meanwhile, has ensured that in the aftermath of her death her children are sent to live with her brother and his wife — “they need a woman in their lives,” she tells Don, refusing to concede to the suggestion that, as their father, he deserves custody, or anything at all.

This was the time in our nation’s history when our materialistic fates were sealed: We became a people defined by things, things produced in mass quantities to feed an insatiable cultural appetite. Davis was initially doubtful, saying, “Well, if I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke.” Instead, Davis prioritized giving people a home and sharing peace and love.

Stephanie gave her child to his grandparents to raise, and she tells the hippies at the retreat she feels like people are judging her for abandoning her son. In other news: futurists have been renamed “historians.” If this Tabs seems scattered so far it’s because I took a week off and the world completely lost its mind. Throughout Mad Men’s entire seven-and-a-half season run, Peggy has been a foil to Don, benefiting from his tough-love tutelage as much as she kicked back against it. Though Mad Men still feels like it’s ending too soon, it went out with a party that Don, Roger, Peggy, Joan and all the good-timing Mad Men characters would’ve loved to have seen.

The episode opened with Don (Jon Hamm) rocketing across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in a souped-up Chevelle, engaging in more of the self-destructive, seemingly random behavior he had been practicing since fleeing the offices of the giant ad firm McCann Erickson two episodes earlier. Don Draper, the quintessential ad man, describes advertising early on in the series as “selling happiness.” In the boardroom, Don repeatedly does exactly that — creating scenarios that attach emotional, if not transcendental, value to otherwise common products and services. When Don calls Peggy from a hippie retreat in California, abandoned by Stephanie and bereft of hope, he tells her between tears that he “took another man’s name and made nothing of it.” “That’s not true,” she replies. Back then, Don argued for perpetual motion, for endless reinvention, and now he sings the same tune: “You can put this behind you,” he says, with the fervor of a lifelong escape artist. “It will get easier as you move forward.” “Oh Dick,” Stephanie returns. “I don’t think you’re right about that.” After Stephanie leaves, presumably to engage her responsibilities in some way, Don goes dark at the thought of the responsibilities he’s shirked. And it’s not: if it is in any way accurate that Don has made little of his personal life, squandering relationships and fleeing adversity, his greatest professional success has not been landing accounts or navigating mergers.

The news of Betty’s cancer—and the fact that the one thing his first wife and daughter can agree on is that wherever Bobby and Eugene end up when she dies, it certainly won’t be with him—leaves him wrecked. Whether he knew it or not, Matt Weiner’s main character, the womanizing, hard-drinking, identity-stealing Don Draper, had spent 11 years building the confidence of a young woman. Yet the ad’s shoot—which first took place in Dover, England, then in Italy—was marred by bad weather numerous times and production costs eventually hit $250,000. It’s why her union with Stan is so perfect, too: here’s a man willing to stand behind his woman, literally as well as figuratively, unafraid of her talents and ambitions.

California was where Don moved right after assuming the identity of his dead platoon commander in the Korean War, leaving his true identity of Dick Whitman on the battlefield. If we are tempted to admire the style and sophistication of a millionaire executive and his glamorous dalliances, we are soon faced with the destructive results of his pathologically duplicitous personality. He signed off with the now-traditional TNR catchphrase: “Until next time, please remove me from your masthead!” If you needed a journalism-related chortle today: Judith Miller and James O’Keefe “talk about the state of the media today, and how, in the last several years, the attitude — and, more importantly, the professionalism — of the once noble Fourth Estate has declined…” And in the Times: relationship fails, equality fails, commune fails.

And it was in California where he met the real Draper’s wife, Anna, and struck up a strange but profitable friendship – perhaps the only real relationship the faux Don ever had. Finally arriving in Los Angeles, Don hooked up with Anna’s niece, the only person alive who called him Dick, who dragged him to the Esalen Institute before abandoning him. The Hillside ad certainly had a big impact on Backer’s career: it was considered one of his highlights and he was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1995. The man who had been the picture of 1960s success found himself at the beginning of the 1970s with nothing, broken and tearful, at one point unable even to move. Today in Tabs Canada Correspondent Karen Ho is here to tell us what our neighbor to the north (or northwest or northeast depending where you are, but definitely not south under any circumstances) is celebrating: It’s Victoria Day in Canada today, another moment where we celebrate a member of the British monarchy that somehow still rules this country despite our independence almost 150 years ago.

It’s was egalitarian conclusion eleven years in the making, delivered with all the deceptive simplicity of a hilltop choir singing the virtues of Coca-Cola. A new Minute was released, a Drake-themed Twitter feed popped up, and even free, packed showings of them were held in cities around the country where a proud group of nerds did their best Rocky Horror impression of shouting at the screen.

What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.” But Don has been looking for some version of love ever since, and he recognizes himself in Leonard’s dream about being on a shelf in a fridge, waiting to be chosen every time the door opens and the light comes on, bereft whenever it goes dark again. (Since this speech came a few moments after a distinctly un-Draper-worthy ad for Heinz’s new mustard, I couldn’t help but imagine Leonard and Don as matching condiments, side by side.) Don embraces Leonard, and sobs. It’s a call to action — living to embrace others in this new reality of belovedness, to find ourselves in serving people, not in consuming things.

I think I made our mobile email version work a lot better, so please reply and let me know if it’s still broken, or if it’s not broken anymore and you are happy. Understanding that his loneliness and lovelornness are universal is, somehow, just what Don needs. (This scene also so flagrantly violates Seinfeld’s “no hugging, no lessons” rule of television that it seems almost intentional.) Finally at peace, Don can stop running, return to New York, live his life, and make a few more ads—including one for Coke. (Someone buy Todd VanDerWerff a Coke for nailing that prediction.) I liked Don’s feel-good arc, but I’m less certain about Peggy’s. Abiding love and support that’s not romantic; colleagues that become—the word Peggy repeatedly used when cajoling Don to return—a kind of “home”: These are aspects of office life that Mad Men has portrayed better than almost any other show.

Rather than abiding by his dictum of “moving forward” and not looking back, starting over and taking on yet another identity based on a lie, he is headed in the opposite direction. As we enter the final days of Sterling Cooper & Partners, Slate’s TV Club will celebrate the show’s retorts and rejoinders by highlighting a Mad Men Zinger of the Week for Slate Plus.

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