Mad Men finale recap: Season 7, episode 14 Person to Person: Saved by the bell?

19 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Did everything have to end quite so neatly?.

Fans had many theories of what would happen on Sunday’s series finale of the popular AMC drama Mad Men. Complaining about a series finale, especially of a series that has been as consistently excellent as Mad Men, seems churlish to me, like not thanking your dinner host because you found the strawberry shortcake too sweet.

For a group of people who seemed to genuinely enjoy making a decade of brilliant television, the creators, cast and crew of Mad Men sure were giddy to watch it all come to an end.“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.The last time I wrote a column about “Mad Men” was midway through Season 4, and I was worried that the show—one of my favorites—was being weighed down by its own main character, Don Draper.In a scene that was one part Nancy Meyers, one part Richard Curtis and three parts straight-up Olson-Rizzo fan fiction, “Mad Men” went full-on rom-com in order to close out the story of arguably the series’ most important character.

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. 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. At the time, we were deep into the hillbilly-flashback era and, despite Jon Hamm’s spectacular performance, Don seemed to me to be degenerating into a grating Freudian symbol—of America, mostly, but also of late-twentieth-century masculinity and capitalism, as if he were a thesis statement for some graduate student in semiotics. 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).

While the TV series that examined ’60s sexism, racism and alcoholism was notable for its dark tone, Sunday’s 75-minute finale turned unusually optimistic. Because Peggy got her man!” But here’s why I’m not too bummed about Peggy’s lovey-dovey narrative arc: Because we already saw her triumph at her career two episodes ago. Julia, you pointed out last week that the Mad Men writers had pulled off a nifty trick: In the two episodes that preceded the finale, they’d given nearly all of the main characters a valedictory turn, leaving the finale free to strike out in some unexpected direction. 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. She refused to start at McCann Erickson under the false assumption that she was just another secretary, standing her ground – well, more like roller-skated over it – at the old Sterling Cooper & Partners location until her office was ready.

Don’s behaviour in the last few episodes — wandering aimlessly, shedding his worldly possessions — made suicide seem a distinct possibility, and he certainly considered it on Sunday’s finale when he hit a personal rock bottom. That’s the way it has always been with Matthew Weiner’s great series, a seducer unlike any other—it always came back and it was always forgiven. Then, in that now-iconic image, Peggy strutted into her new place of employment like a boss, hung over, cigarette in mouth, sunglasses on face and red thermos in brown box. 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. This seductive pattern certainly paid off with the finale, which may not have been a perfect episode of “Mad Men” but which had a genuinely original, resonant, and existentially brilliant ending, one that revolved around an image that was, at first sight, both cloying and inconceivable: Don Draper, blissed out at California’s Esalen Institute, his legs crossed in yogic meditation, purring, “Om.” A bell rang—ding!—and filling the TV screen, Don’s grin began to stretch wide, like a rubber band, in seeming mystic revelation.

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. The biggest surprise lay in the fate of star Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the deeply troubled but genius ad man whose search for identity and contentment was the driving force of the series. 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. When the screen cut out, we were watching that incredible and iconic Coca-Cola TV ad that became a hit in 1971, a clip flooded with nostalgia on so many levels.

Even in last night’s series finale, Peggy reiterated her seniority and her status by insisting to her McCann colleague Lorraine that she remain on the Chevalier account. It must have been tough for producers to resist the urge to show Don returning to McCann Erickson at episode’s end to deliver one final, masterful pitch, this time for a real, and truly groundbreaking, Coca-Cola commercial. 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.

The lights went down, a whoop went up and the well-lubricated crowd ate up every minute of “Person to Person.” They were standing and cheering heartily after Don Draper’s Mona Lisa smile gave way to the classic Coke commercial. On a grassy hilltop, beautiful youths of all races, creeds, and nations swayed, singing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony!/I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” The tagline: “It’s the Real Thing.” Last night, it took a moment for this to sink in, but once it did, that dinging bell seemed to resonate back through the whole series, finding echoes everywhere. Mad Men has rarely been sentimental, even when it comes to its heroes, but last night everyone got their exciting new job, their longed-for loved one, or, in the case of Pete, both. But the minutes dedicated to Don and his family were spectacular, filled with the genuine emotion and oblique storytelling that made “Mad Men” one of the handful of best series ever.

And, yes, she ultimately chose not to partner up with Joan in the latter’s new business venture, but that doesn’t mean there will never be a Harris-Olson Production Company. 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.

What looked like hippie revelation, punctuated by a yogi saying, “A new day, new ideas, a new you,” was Don tapping into the seventies Zeitgeist, hitting on the genius tagline that he would present to his new bosses, the cretinous advertising conglomerate McCann Erickson (who in real life actually did create the Coke ad, although not under these circumstances). The other way the episode could have gone would have been for Don to return to civilization and reunite with his family and coworkers over Betty’s impending death. But I preferred the sense of possibility, and precariousness, that each character brought into this episode to the sense of dreams delivered with which they left it. In tension with Don’s supposed personal growth was perhaps the most cynical vision imaginable: our hero had hit on a way to sell sugar water by linking it with global peace.

The rest of the episode was a simpler matter, made up of happy endings and goodbyes and lunches and phone calls for the many characters whom “Mad Men” fans had come to love. Known for the unusual secrecy surrounding all its plots – no one involved in the show had given away how the series ends – although filming finished months ago.

It’s always been a huge part of her story for the past seven seasons – if it wasn’t, then why else would creator Matthew Weiner spend so much time parading around Peggy’s long line of unsuitable suitors? (Quick – name a guy Peggy dated/slept with not named Pete Campbell before she met long-term unsuitable boyfriend Abe Drexler in Season 4. 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.

Some endings were romantic but with obvious cracks (Roger’s wacky, likely doomed romance with Marie) or romantic with a nicely disturbing undercurrent, once you thought about them (Pete, that raper of nannies and lifelong weasel, is emotionally whole, wealthy, reunited with his wife and family, and flying off to the perfect job, although one that’s bound to end with a skyjacking, given the time period). They all blur together in a sea of mediocrity.) When she cried to Don over her love-life crash-and-burns in Season 7A’s “The Strategy,” right before they danced to “My Way,” it’s a reminder that for all of her on-the-job accomplishments, she’s still lonely and deserves a shot at real love. One story was sad in a way that was bluntly powerful: Sally Draper standing at the sink, doing dishes, as her mother, Betty, sits smoking, silently, at the kitchen table, dying of lung cancer (“It’s Toasted!”). 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.

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. There was nothing wrong with those other, often very pleasurable stories, in aggregate, although for a person like myself, who tends to like her finales like her men, without too much closure or wish fulfillment, the fan-service element made me twitch a few times. (My favorite ending was probably the nastiest of the bunch: Ken Cosgrove has become a cheerful suit working for Dow Chemical, having refused to step through the open door in his own life to pursue his creative dreams.

But he is a damn good ad man, the kind who goes out into the world, puts a finger in the wind, and comes back with campaigns that don’t just reflect the culture, but shift it. (As Jeff Chang pointed out in a Slate piece this morning, two different versions of the Coke jingle ended up on the Billboard charts.) If we believe Don is the author of that ad, it suggests that he’s gone back to being something like the man we met in Season 1, who took pride in his vocation, even if he perhaps recognized that his work, like his life, was frequently a lie. 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.

At the Slate offices last week, we had fun revisiting the now-classic Season 1 scene in which Don sells Kodak on his nostalgia-soaked campaign for the Carousel, in which he used snapshots from what seemed like his blissful family life to sell the executives on his concept. 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.

And it’s no surprise that their declarations of love happened over the phone, because that’s where their relationship blossomed, over those intimate, late-night phone calls when Peggy was working at Cutler, Gleason and Chaough in Season 6. Instead, Peggy snuggles up with Stan, while Joan chooses labour over love, venturing out on her own (as Holloway Harris) and letting her millionaire boyfriend walk out the door. 7. Watching that scene again, I was struck by how genuinely great the pitch was, and it made me realize how long it’s been since we’ve seen Don work his magic as a creative director.

The only reason I feel these two might have a chance is because when Peggy confessed to Stan – face to face – about the baby she had in 1960 during the episode “Time & Life,” his response was to listen intently, without judgment, and with kindness and affection. Watching an episode with cocktail in hand was not the joy it was back in season one, not after watching Don and the gang drunkenly humiliate themselves so many times over the years.

This was nothing new for Don, as Stan pointed out to Peggy, who was at once Don’s professional mentee and his designated workplace codependent. “He always does this and he always comes back,” Stan said. “You’ve got to let him go.” In Kansas and Utah, Don tumbled through the motel trysts, a run-in with an aspiring junior grifter, a confrontation with an angry Christian family, a dangerous night out drinking with some veterans whose stories seemed just about to tilt into cannibalism, a week or so with some handsome race-car drivers who hired him as a mechanic, until finally, at last, Draper ended up in California, with those hippies at Esalen. Still, it’s okay to enjoy that rom-commy scene from last night’s “Person to Person,” because we like seeing Peggy happy – and boy, was she ever happy, giddily smiling to herself and touching her hand to her heart. Esalen was an unusual setting for Don Draper, a man who, even as fashions went Day-Glo around him, maintained his fifties-style masculine manner, his wariness about counterculture affectations.

As Roger tries to ink the deal, Don breaks down and describes his real childhood, in a brothel, noting that the only affection he ever received was from a girl who paid him to go through the pockets of johns while she had them otherwise engaged. (Don comes by his suspicion of prostitutes honestly.) The scene is startling to watch: It suggests not just that Don had lost his touch, but that the very idea of the work had become horrible to him. 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.

On a show that could often have been better described as Sad Men, it seemed unlikely that our favourite characters would be entitled to end on a happy note. Because she’s come a long way, baby. (Side note: While I’m in the “Don-created-that-iconic-Coke-ad” camp, who’s to say that it wasn’t all Peggy’s doing? As Jeff Chang points out, its saccharine message arrived in the midst of bitter turmoil: “prisoners attacked at Attica, the Watergate scandal and the Pentagon Papers, the Manson and Serpico and My Lai trials, guns in Munich, bombs in D.C., and troops in Derry.

And then there was that speech by Don’s Esalen encounter-group companion Leonard, which was all about feeling invisible, like his connection to other people wasn’t real. Coke currently has an ad in frequent rotation in which the beverage—in a throwback hobble-skirt bottle—becomes a symbol of good will toward men, handed from person-in-need to person-in-need as 1969’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” plays in the background: There’s no problem we can’t solve if we’re all willing to give each other the occasional soft drink. 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. Like she says to Richard about her innate drive to further her career, “I can’t just turn off that part of myself.” She shouldn’t have to, and she didn’t. Even in the early days of Sterling Cooper, Joan may have vocalized a desire to abandon the working life for a married one, but there’s a reason she never really did, because she would’ve missed it too much.

While it’s a damn shame Don Draper never got Stan’s memo about how “there’s more to life than work,” I don’t think Peggy and Joan needed to learn that lesson. By the finale, both of their stories demonstrated that the reason why they put their work first is because they valued the importance of a happy life.

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. 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? Their relationships are authentic. (Roger not so much, but that’s why we love Roger.) But if Don Draper is as much a symbol as a person, maybe that’s the point. 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.

Now, with Coca-Cola, Don has built his masterpiece, a fantasy of American innocence, of a world purged of the late sixties, one that erases the painful aftermath of the civil-rights movement and Vietnam and violent assassinations. (And, by nature, the show itself also occludes the real history of the ad.) In the “Hillside” ad, the future appears as a beautiful young Californian white woman, her face free of makeup, trilling about “apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtledoves.” As a child about the age of Baby Gene, I adored that advertisement, without reservation and without irony. 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. My Magic 8-Ball says, “Very Doubtful.” Who knows who Don Draper will be in the eighties—he seems like just the guy to make sweater-dresses the sexy choice. US TV host and comedian John Oliver has issued a spine-tingling threat to Australia: remove all things Australian from the US in 50 hours or the tiny baby koala gets it – right between the eyes.

The Agriculture Minister’s campaign to have Hollywood actor Johnny Depp’s two pet dogs Pistol and Boo either deported or euthanased last week, was superb fodder for the comedian who has garnered a huge following for his incisive parodies. “I’ve got to say that’s pretty ballsy. Oliver dug up an unflattering photograph of Mr Joyce struck with a look of pure horror as he eyed an alpaca, before flashing up a photoshopped image of the agriculture minister splashed with blood and beaming as he held a dead dog by the tail. The comedian had ample material to draw on after the Australiam media took great delight in documenting every incremental development in what was dubbed the ‘war on terrier’. “I am not sure finer words have ever been spoken in the English language than “shut up Barnaby you insensitive wanker,” said Oliver, quoting Sandilands.

In the vein of a terrifying public service announcement, Oliver’s team told Australians they had 50 hours to “get everything Australian out of our country or else”. Finally, Oliver went after the closest thing native Australia had to Depp’s furry little terrier – a koala joey at the Los Angeles zoo framed in cross hairs. During the first season of Last Week Tonight, Prime Minister Tony Abbott copped a walloping over his positions on immigration, women and homosexuality in a four minute segment that featured some of his most notorious gaffes. Oliver also helmed a segment on fellow comedian Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show that featured Australia’s gun control that featured interviews with former prime minister John Howard and former politicians Tim Fischer and Rob Borbidg.

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