“Mad Men” nailed the drama, and the glory, of the American workplace

19 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

An inspired ending for Don Draper — and for ‘Mad Men’.

“Mad Men” went out on top, and with a big exclamation point at the very end. 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.“Mad Men” diehards gathered in bars, restaurants and comedy clubs across New York on Sunday to discover the fate of Don Draper et al. as the curtain came down on the award-winning retro-cool television series.There was a little controversy today among those who like to debate these things about what, exactly, was going through Don Draper’s mind in the final seconds of AMC’s Mad Men.Mad Men fans have made much of the show’s final moments on Sunday night, with many agreeing that Don Draper had a moment of meditative clarity that led to the iconic Coca-Cola jingle “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.” Jon Hamm weighed in on his character Monday in an interview with the New York Times, and it sounds like he agrees with that interpretation.

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. Twitter threatened to go into meltdown, with #MadMenFinale trending, while there were tears and cheers at City Winery in the Tribeca neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, where more than 100 people settled down with wine and pizza in front of giant television screens. “We wanted to watch it somewhere. 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.

But I think, like most stories that we go back to, that it’s a little bit ambiguous.” In his interpretation, Hamm says Don wakes up the day after his emotional group therapy session and “has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is. 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. Last weekend’s penultimate episode ended with Draper – the dashing but conflicted anti-hero played by Jon Hamm – sitting on a bench in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma, having given away his car while driving west in apparent flight from his flashy Madison Avenue life. Was that less of a grin and more of an exploitative smirk as Don realized he could turn the optimism of his fellow Esalen attendees into a world-famous jingle? In the lead-up to the feverishly anticipated finale, US mainstream and social media had been awash with speculation about the denouement of the stylish series, which has won 15 Emmy awards and four Golden Globes over the years.

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. Was the serially seductive Draper going to throw himself or be pushed from a skyscraper, echoing the title credit sequence featuring a cut-out version of a man falling between huge adverts featuring beautiful women? When we find Don in that place, and this stranger relates this story of not being heard or seen or understood or appreciated, the resonance for Don was total in that moment.

He also pointed out, contrary to some of the episode’s critics, that the happy endings for certain characters shouldn’t be interpreted as sappy: “No one is suggesting that Stan and Peggy live happily ever after,” he said, “or that Joan’s business is a rousing success, or that Roger and Marie come back from Paris together … these aren’t the last moments of any of these characters’ lives.” 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 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. 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. To be set adrift for the last few weeks, really experiencing that aloneness, that self-exile that Don was experiencing, it was very disorienting, which hopefully played. 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? The 60s were very dramatic times – assassinations, Vietnam, civil disorder.” Twitter users flooded the social media network to express their feelings about the ending – with many describing it as “beautiful,” “earnest” and even “perfect.” One user, @sanriel, wrote: “A great hour of television.

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. 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.

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. There was no doubt that Joan would succeed beautifully, as she handed off her son — who will be rich one day, thanks to Roger’s new will — to her mother and turned her full attention to work. 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.

Interestingly, as Weiner gave us parting glances at the major characters in the last minutes of the finale, he spent only a moment on the Francis household. 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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