‘Mad Men’ Finale: In Ratings, Don Draper Is No Tony Soprano

20 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Bumper audience bids farewell to ‘Mad Men’.

The series finale of advertising drama “Mad Men” drew in 3.3 million live and same-day viewers, a 74% bump over its average this season but still a much smaller audience than the finales of hits such as “Breaking Bad” and “The Sopranos,” according to Nielsen data.ANGELES, United States – More than three million people tuned in for the eagerly awaited finale of cable television drama “Mad Men”, according to data released Tuesday by Nielsen. A total of 3.3 million viewers watched Sunday’s farewell to the award-winning show which charted the tangled lives of New York advertising executives in the middle of the last century.

So many critics have weighed in with thoughtful and insightful essays; even when I don’t particularly agree with another writer’s opinion, I’ve been floored by how eloquent and intelligent the post-finale commentary has been. The finale — which ended with tormented anti-hero Don Draper (Jon Hamm) chanting at a cliffside California retreat — was widely praised by critics as the curtain came down on the show after eight seasons. And while some other side characters also got an emphatic good-bye (Trudy Campbell in that hat for the win!), a few favorites might have slipped out the door without you noticing. Harry Crane—Season 7, Episode 14, “Person to Person”: Unlike Ken Cosgrove, Harry Crane didn’t get a nice long good-bye meal with one of the show’s main characters and he certainly didn’t get a big romantic scene like Stan.

And so, in the last scene we see him in, he has a wry smile in a yoga pose at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, where serious introspection is expected. The AMC show is one of several highly-polished dramas to emerge during the past decade, which has been described as a new “Golden Age” of US television.

It’s easy to project that Don’s smile is Mad Men’s creator Matthew Weiner’s smile, laughing at his audience that a show that has been thoughtful, intuitive, cynical and subtle for the past seven years would go out in such a saccharine, predictable way. My view of “The Sopranos” has evolved a lot since that famous cut to black, and there are moments and ideas from a dozen other long-dead shows that still percolate in my brain to this day. AMCX -0.85 % ’s namesake channel. “Mad Men” is heavily time-shifted, meaning that viewers frequently record episodes and watch them later, often fast-forwarding through commercials. Rich Sommer has been with the show from the very start and—despite being a very likable presence off-screen—did an incredible job transforming Harry into someone we loved to loathe. When it comes to the closing images of “Mad Men,” I just want to add my voice to the chorus of those who have said that there doesn’t necessarily have to be a binary choice when it comes to how to view Don Draper’s smile and the famous Coca-Cola ad.

Even though Megan is hotly defending her mother, Marie, here, we can assume that she’s also talking about herself when she says, “She’s been very unhappy for a very long time. Henry Francis—Season 7, Episode 13, “The Milk and Honey Route”: Henry’s final moment actually comes a little later in this episode as he chases his angry wife out of the kitchen calling, “Betty!” But Christopher Stanley’s most memorable final moment is, undoubtedly, this breakdown on Sally’s bed. None of the characters or storylines was predictable or came packaged in a neat little box. “No one cares that I’m gone,” Leonard says in the final episode to the encounter group at the retreat, talking about his family, before Don Draper crosses the room to hug him, in shared understanding of the shortcomings of having everything, but really having nothing at all. “They taught us at Barnard about that word, ‘utopia’…..‘ou-topos’ the place that cannot be,” Rachel Menken tells Don in Season 1, episode 6. “Advertising is not a comfortable place for everyone,” Shirley tells her boss, Roger, in the penultimate episode, before she lightens the mood by telling him she was amused by him, with a tone that suggests she was laughing at him, not with him.

At its core, the show was about how people that benefit from white privilege and racism suffer in ways that they’re unwilling to reconcile because of the short term benefits of privilege. He may not have gotten the girl (you remember that thing he had with Peggy, right?) or the best of Don, but he does have a final triumph serving as a sobering reminder for Pete of what his life could become. Whatever the payouts from various business dealings, the money in his bank account wouldn’t support vacations, private schools and college for three children, let alone the posh lifestyle Don likes to lead when he’s not crashing in cheap motels. Like Robert Downey Sr.’s film, Putney Swope, released in 1969, a comedy satirizing the advertising world where Putney, the only black person at the firm accidentally gets voted to lead the firm and fires all the white people, Mad Men is about the fear of change.

He’d get back into the ad game because he loves the thrill of the chase, and pursuing a great ad concept has always brought him more joy than any relationship. Stephanie Drake made the most of her boosted screen time in this final season of Mad Men and while Meredith may have been ousted from McCann Erickson, we have no doubt that Don got her hired back when he returned from California to write that Coke jingle. Martin Luther King’s death, the overwhelming sentiment is that it is a tragedy of inconvenience— commutes will be delayed and there will be potential property damage. Ted Chaough—Season 7, Episode 12, “Lost Horizon”: Ted Chaough (and his brilliant Chaough-stache) had possibly the finest under-the-radar good-bye.

Kevin Rahm sold the stuffing out of his final moment with a look that seemed to say, “All of this has happened before and will happen again.” Like Meredith, Ted undoubtedly enjoyed a nice reunion with Don upon his return but this is where the series chose to leave him, giving one last rueful shake of the head to the cyclical Draper shenanigans. Ultimately, he’s trying to sell himself ideas that he has been resistant to, because he is a reject, an orphan, an outsider who finds it hard to experience or feel love. In the 1950s the black consumer market had risen, with estimates topping $19 billion per year, according to Jason Chamber’s book, “Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry.” A selective patronage campaign started in 1961 by 400 ministers motivated area companies to employ blacks, not as tokens, but in white collar positions in Philadelphia. So, if he didn’t have a great idea for a Coke ad — and I think the show strongly implies he did — he’d have another great idea about another product someday, and, being who he is and needing a paycheck as well as validation, he’d simply have to follow through. One day, he’ll ditch morning yoga and don (!) the power suit and floor a client with something they didn’t know they wanted but need, once he creates that need inside them.

The National Urban League, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) united in working towards integration in advertising. CORE members met with agencies and advertisers, including Coca Cola, about integrated advertising and increasing black employment and were successful in their efforts. I lean toward this interpretation, partly because, as I said in a Twitter dialogue on Monday, the expression on his face was the satisfied smirk of a man who knew, in his bones, he was going to absolutely crush a pitch. It was Roquel Billy Davis, a black former music executive courted by McCann-Erickson, who produced the song for the Coca Cola commercial, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” that ended the series. My nickname for early-seasons Don Draper is “Sex Batman” — you know it’s true — but when he’s on his A-game at work, you could also think of him as the Iron Man of pitches.

He would eventually be credited for popularizing song form in advertising and eventually became the vice president at McCann-Erickson and has a conference room named after him. He also worked on Miller Life, another campaign featured in the series, producing the song “If You’ve Got the Time.” There were other black executives. Like Don’s clients, we want to believe a man can fly, and the sharp-suited, suffer-no-fools, tells-us-what’s-what Don Draper lets us believe, for a moment, that liftoff is possible.

I’ve referred to a couple of Don modes here — to go with the theme of Sunday’s finale, we could call them Downward Dog Draper (booze, self-pity) and Upward Dog Draper (Sex Batman, pitch master). At the end of the series, we saw Don enter a phase we’ve seen him in many times before (perhaps one or two times too many, which is why it was time for the show to end).

The Don who walked into the ocean in “The Mountain King” is the Don who embraced Leonard: We are seeing Don, once again, find a few precious scraps of self-acceptance, self-awareness and compassion. Don created perhaps the most famous advertising campaign in history or he spent his life as a hippie in California with a nice cushion in case he changes his mind.

Not if he conducts himself in a way that doesn’t make Sally or Peggy ashamed of him, and not if he conducts himself in a way that doesn’t make him lapse into self-hatred (well, not too often). Will they all just end up spinning circles on Don’s imaginary carousel, not really having changed at all and just enjoying, as Don’s girlfriend Faye told him “the beginnings of things?” If I had a problem with the finale, it’s because throughout, I wanted Don to go home to Sally, the human being with whom he arguably has the most powerful bond. She was in pain and in crisis, and even though she addressed those problems with typical efficiency, she was still in great need of someone to lean on.

I accept but can’t love Don’s story in the finale, because it was distracting for the formerly unwanted child to ignore his own childrens’ obvious and pressing needs. Don’s life — success and money and Coke aside — will be a constant turning of the wheel, cycles of self-doubt and pain followed by halting attempts at self-awareness and connection.

But that’s the great comfort of Buddhist thought: It takes it as a given that we are all stuck on the wheel of samsara, an eternal cycle of endless rebirth. Like Don, I’m a work in progress, but part of that progress is an awareness of my worst impulses, which in turn creates more opportunities to interrupt them. Matt Weiner was masterful at telling great short stories on screen and populating those richly imagined stories with believably complex, intelligent, driven people. Everything I’m bringing up here — it all sounds hippie-ish and earnest and vague, and yes, the quest for self-awareness can quickly slide into a state of self-absorption (which certainly happened in the ‘70s and it undoubtedly happens now).

It might be cynical to beam out ads about love and tolerance into the world in order to sell sugared water, and it might also be a meaningful act that promotes kindness. That’s why the world of advertising has been such a fertile arena for the show: Don is pitching the world on what he wants to be true, and as consumers, we also want to edit reality into something we can cope with and possibly even enjoy.

People are receptive to great pitches, which can be double-edged swords; “Mad Men” reminded us every week that “the truth” can be malleable, which is a scary and thrilling idea. I find the Coke ad, and Don’s possible role in the creation of it, no more and no less cynical than Don’s role in the creation of the Carousel pitch, which, viewed from a certain perspective, tells the entire story of the show. “It goes backwards, forwards … This is an ancient truth.” Don is able to bring a mode of Buddhist-flavored thought to the creative process: He can make observations and evaluations that help him and his protegees — and the work — evolve and change for the better.

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