‘Mad Men’ finale mostly satisfying

19 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mad Men’ finale mostly satisfying.

Seconds before “The Sopranos” ended in 2007, Tony Soprano heard a bell ring — the opening of the diner door — and looked up before the show cut to black. Now that everyone’s had time to digest last night’s “Mad Men” finale, we’ve moved into the stage of grief known as Obsessively Nitpicking Over What Happened to Don, Even Though That’s Not The Point.It took no time at all for Mad Men fans to start debating the final scene of the series, which finds a newly peaceful Don meditating among a group of hippies in the hills of Big Sur.If you’ll take a teeny time-out from dissecting the end of Mad Men with your friends and how Don Draper seemed to go from having a smile on his face to having a Coke and a smile, the man who actually played the enigmatic ad exec for seven seasons is ready to offer his interpretation of last night’s finale. While the general consensus seems to be that Don was responsible for the iconic 1971 Coca-Cola ad “Hilltop” and its accompanying “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” jingle, some fans don’t buy it, or they believe that it was actually Peggy’s brainchild: But aside from a pretty generic shot of Peggy typing, and Pete’s premonition that “someday people are going to brag that they worked with you,” there’s no solid evidence that she came up with the ad. (After all, Pete also suggests that the bragging won’t start until about 1980.) Sure, one way to read that final, relaxed smile on Don’s face is that he decides to leave the ad world behind and join the hippie commune—but that would be too sunny an ending for Matthew Weiner’s world, and too dramatic an overnight transformation (after seven seasons of very little transforming!) for Don.

In a clever final twist, which series creator Matthew Weiner delivered as a kind of gigantic wink, we were left believing that all of Don Draper’s angst, all of the suicidal frustration and existential grief that had caused him to leave McCann Erickson and drive aimlessly across the country, ultimately led him to create one of the great ads of the time: the Coca-Cola hilltop commercial of 1971. You gave us so much grist for discussion and debate over the years—about identity, family and home, about race and gender and sexuality, about a nation losing its innocence, and people raising their consciousness. And as Peggy notes to Don over the phone, this isn’t the first time he’s run away from his job and his life, and McCann would still likely take him back. “Apparently it’s been done before,” she says. But what I loved most was your thoughtful commentary on the American workplace, which you authentically portrayed as both a center of scintillating drama and a microcosm of the characters’ daily lives. As the ad ran, you could almost hear Don pitching the idea to Coke in his seductive Don voice, using the philosophy of self-help, the peace movement, and civil rights in service of selling soda as the solution to despair.

Why we work, where we work, how we work—these questions were just as relevant to Don and Roger and Peggy and Joan as they are to us today, and no doubt would have been all the more confusing in Don Draper’s era, at what was essentially the dawn of America’s service-led economy. We see him in an incredibly vulnerable place, surrounded by strangers, and he reaches out to the only person he can at that moment, and it’s this stranger.

The one-time McCann creative director, who was born in 1926, says his phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the show aired and finds all the attention “flattering.” In a conversation with CMO Today, the 88-year-old addressed why he stopped watching Mad Men, whether he was as successful romantically as Don Draper, and what to make of data’s role in the ad business. Backer witnessed these irate passengers later in the journey, calmer and bonding over bottles of Coke.) So the big question viewers and the millions who debated the ending around watercoolers Monday morning were left with was, did Don Draper return to McCann and create that commercial? (Peggy even mentioned in a phone call that Don could come home and work on Coke.) Or did he stay in California and become further enlightened? Peggy convinces them to put her back on, but given that they’re hardly letting her hold onto Chevalier, it’s unlikely that they’d so quickly move her onto one of their most prized accounts. Weiner, who wrote and directed the final episode, may not have satisfied those viewers eager to see Don change completely, and become a new man, a better man. Mad Men was was at its madcap best when it showed Sterling Cooper (as it was called at the start of the series) getting bought, sold, reshaped, or resurrected.

In the end, even though he was the lead character, Don Draper turned out to be the least interesting of the main characters in the “Mad Men” series finale, which gave viewers more reason to care about the other characters in their signature finale moments. This is especially notable in the penultimate episode, when Don is asked to fix a Coke machine at the motel he stays in for a few days while his car is being fixed. Perhaps the best example of this was in the finale to season three, when some crafty maneuvering at the eleventh hour gave us the birth of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. In fact, Don has been coming up with real-life slogans and ads since the pilot, which ends with Don coming up with Lucky Strike’s real-life, longtime tagline, “It’s toasted.” It seems likely that Don, as he meditated on his surroundings—the grassy cliffside hilltops, the circle of hippies—imagined a locale just like this for the ad.

There’s a way to see it in a completely cynical way, and say, ‘Wow, that’s awful.’ But I think that for Don, it represents some kind of understanding and comfort in this incredibly unquiet, uncomfortable life that he has led. In January 1971, Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca-Cola account for the McCann Erickson agency, observed passengers in an airport sharing bottles of Coca-Cola. “That was the basic idea: to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be — a liquid refresher — but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples,” Backer later wrote.

Although “Mad Men” has had Pittsburgh connections from early in its run — from the Heinz account to creator Matthew Weiner’s affection for Pittsburgh to writer and Shadyside native Tom Smuts to Pittsburgh-born actress Alexandra Elena Todd, who played the pregnant woman who bought Don Draper’s Manhattan apartment a few weeks ago — there was no Pittsburgh reference I could find in the series finale. And then a few seasons later, there was another transformative deal, one that led to an entire episode mainly devoted to the challenges of merger integration—and it was riveting! There was a little bit of a crumb dropped earlier in the season when Ted says there are three women in every man’s life, and Don says, ‘You’ve been sitting on that for a while, huh?’ There are, not coincidentally, three person to person phone calls that Don makes in this episode, to three women who are important to him for different reasons. All the emphasis in “Person to Person,” which we now know was about all of Don’s collect calls back east (and a pivotal Peggy-Stan phone call, too), was on setting up the characters for their goodbyes.

He understood what both Sally and Betty —his “Birdie” — had told him, that he was not the right person to be a full-time parent to his own children. You see the slow degeneration of his relationships with those women over the course of those phone calls.” Hamm did not agree with those fans who felt that the show wrapped up its characters’ arcs too cleanly and sweetly. “There’s people saying, oh, it’s so pat, and it’s rom-com-y, or whatever it is. The pitch work by Don and Peggy Olson et. al. made for compelling television—in part because it forced us to think about how Americans, all these decades later, get turned on by the same ideas (and in some cases the very same brands) that spoke to our parents and grandparents. “She died like she lived: surrounded by the people she answered phones for.” How many of Roger Sterling’s best lines, like this gem about the dearly departed secretary Ida Blankenship, were delivered in, or inspired by, life at the office? She got the first of two collect calls from Don — to, arguably, the two most important women in his life, Betty and Peggy — and while Don wanted to drop everything and be there, Betty said she wanted the status quo in as cutting but honest a way as possible. Joan (Christina Hendricks) ended up without her California suitor, Richard (Bruce Greenwood), who wanted her to have fun (like trying cocaine on vacation!), not be ambitious.

He couldn’t escape it even when he wanted to — remember last week when the motel owner was begging Don to repair his old Coca-Cola vending machine because he didn’t want the new one? Peggy, the character I’d always assumed would have to sacrifice love for work, found love — and it looked like a long-term thing — with the teddy bear known as Stan. No one is suggesting that Stan and Peggy live happily ever after, or that Joan’s business is a rousing success, or that Roger and Marie come back from Paris together. Joan started her own production company, initially trying to woo Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), who ultimately decided to stay at McCann, to join her in Harris Olson Productions (“You’ve got to have two names,” Joan said). If Joan got bored with living as a woman of leisure, Don probably isn’t going to make it through the rest of his life meditating, especially when he doesn’t have anyone keeping him in California since Stephanie took off with his car.

It was Doris Day-Rock Hudson cute, and it was poignant; they couldn’t say they loved each other face to face, even though they were in the same offices. Ultimately Joan went into business on her own — employing her babysitter as an assistant — and used her two last names for Holloway-Harris Productions. And if the show is, as it always has been, about how people don’t really change — except in small ways that they end up fighting anyway — then sure, it makes sense that Don would eventually return to New York. And on Mad Men, two of the most realistic dynamics of all were Don’s relationship with Peggy, and—up until the season finale anyway—Peggy’s relationship with Stan.

She has a “gift” when it comes to advertising, as Stan said, and the clear parting impression was that she would continue to ascend professionally. Leave it to Peggy to figure out that it’s a lot easier to succeed at the office when you have a brilliant, if fallible, mentor who will steer you through the big decisions, as well as a work spouse who will get you through the daily grind. With “The Sopranos,” creator David Chase chose to go his own way with an ambiguous ending (did Tony Soprano live or die?) that infuriated many viewers. “Lost” raised too many questions it didn’t answer, and when a revelation came, it proved unsatisfying for many who had stuck with the show. She doesn’t have much time left, but damn if she’s not going to spend it the way she wants to spend it.” Hamm also shared his thoughts on the way that Peggy’s and Joan’s stories ended, which can be read in the full interview at The New York Times.

Just as Weiner pulled a twist by making Joan, and not Peggy, the woman who can’t have it all, he made Pete, and not Don, the guy who changed most dramatically across the series. Peggy and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) had a nice farewell moment before he boarded a Learjet to his new job in Wichita and a reunion with ex-wife Trudy (Alison Brie) still seeming like it will take. (And miracle of miracles, no plane crash!) Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) got the bum’s rush, but that character deserved nothing more.

Of all the things we really dread, the top one has to be Sally missing out on her life because she becomes a mother to her two younger brothers after Betty dies. I felt a great sense of pleasure at seeing Sally, once so bratty, and later angry and “scandalized,” as Don put it, acting more mature than the adults around her.

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