More than three million people tune in to ‘Mad Men’ series finale

20 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mad Men’ Finale: Jon Hamm Gives His Interpretation of Final Scene, Addresses Critics of Happier Endings.

In the wake of what will likely go down as one of the best (and better received) series finales in television history, one bit of Mad Men analysis has baffled me. Jon Hamm has his interpretation of Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men season finale, which closes with him hugging a stranger at a retreat and meditating with hippies, before the episode cuts to the 1971 Coca-Cola “Hilltop” commercial. “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.If you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the past day or so, you know that the AMC series Mad Men ended with the iconic “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ad Sunday night.The series finale of AMC Networks Inc.’s “Mad Men,” which generated extensive discussion about the ending for Don Draper, attracted about 3.3 million viewers on Sunday, based on preliminary results.A famous 1971 Coca-Cola ad occupies the last minute of AMC’s Mad Men series finale—but the network didn’t pay anything to use it. “No money exchanged hands,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson told People. “We’ve had limited awareness around the brand’s role in the series’ final episodes, and what a rich story they decided to tell,” the spokesperson said.

And that’s the cynical take on the ending — that Don Draper didn’t experience any personal enlightenment and merely came up with a way to sell soda to hippies, end of story. We’ve given you our recap— and what we thought would be the most talked-about scene of the night — but the question of the day seems to be: What was up with that ending?

Libby Nelson: One of Mad Men’s most prominent themes has been its characters’ ambiguous relationships with motherhood, particularly in an era when having children was the default for most women. 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,” he told The New York Times. “My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is. The implication is that Draper thought up the idea for the ad and went on to create it. (In reality, a McCann Erickson creative director named Bill Backer was responsible for the famous commercial.) But I do believe it’s important to reiterate how the narrative structure, which Weiner made open-ended (I described it in-depth in the deconstruction) contributed to an ending that allowed viewers (and critics) to imagine what they wanted about the unseen future as the major characters lives moved forward. What I didn’t expect was a theory that the ending proves Don learns nothing at Esalen and goes back to his life an unchanged man — a theory that seems shortsightedly cynical and wrong.

Until Weiner says something definitive on the issue (and unlike his mentor David Chase of The Sopranos, who chose silence and then vagueness when discussing his own controversial ending, he just might), I’m a little surprised about the more cynical reading of that ending. Past episodes of “Mad Men” have seen their audience expand by more than 75 percent with three days of their first airing, Benjamin Mogil, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co., wrote in a research note on Tuesday. Joan and Peggy finally get to venture out on their own and start a business, Pete and Trudy live happily ever after, and even Roger gets to ride off into the sunset with Megan’s mom.

Stan’s mother didn’t like him very much. “You shouldn’t have been with a lowlife, you shouldn’t have gotten pregnant, you should have loved being a mother,” Stephanie says halfway through the finale. I just knew that he had this final image in mind.” Hamm also noted that his westward journey was difficult for him to shoot. “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. I’m the kind of person who was, for many seasons, rooting for Don to remain Don to the end, not because that’s some cool way for an iconic character to “go out on his terms” but because making change in a life, any life, is difficult. Joan’s decision to have and raise Kevin largely alone underlined a core theme of her character — that it’s a good thing she’s reliable, because she’s surrounded by people who can’t be relied upon. For me, the most defining moment was when, in the circle full of young hippies, the unnamed man in his collared shirt talked about what it means to feel like nothing.

The “shoulds” of motherhood came up earlier this season, too — in Peggy’s stunning conversation with Stan about the stage mother she fought with that turned into her admission that she’d had a baby and given him up for adoption. We’ve seen Don struggle with these feelings for the entire series, but instead of talking about them, he’s coped by disappearing for days at a time, drinking, and having sex. So, to be on the side believing in real personal growth for Don — to be someone basking in the positive and believing the ending was, in fact, a sign of positive personal growth — is a little foreign.

Everybody picks up and thinks, oh, that’s too bad — that guy had a nervous breakdown.” The last onscreen chat between Don and Peggy was a phone conversation, shot with Elisabeth Moss on the other end of the line. Peggy and Stan’s grand romantic scene felt as if Nora Ephron had dropped by Matthew Weiner’s office and slipped a couple of pages into the script behind his back.

Matt had said at one point, ‘I just want my characters to be a little more happy than they were in the beginning,’ and I think that’s pretty much true. I would argue it made for good television, a memorable ending that will get people talking, but one that may not have served the massive amount of time spent prior proving that Don had indeed come to a point in his life where he could absorb change. The fairy tale endings of Joan, Pete, Peggy, and Roger were only satisfying in a cheap way the first time around, but an entire morning’s worth of reading arguments that say these characters have “earned” their happiness has swayed me otherwise. When it comes to actually working together, rather than separately representing different facets of female empowerment in feminism’s second wave, Joan and Peggy’s track record is rocky at best. (The slightly cloying tone of their post-McCann interactions rang absolutely true to me; absence makes the heart grow fonder.) Going into business together would have been a middle finger to the patriarchy. What’s left open to interpretation — and I hail Weiner for choosing that storytelling construct of keeping the story alive — is what happens before and even after the ad is created.

For all that Mad Men likes to depict darkness, realism, and anomie, joy and love are real parts of the human experience, too; I’m okay with the fact that the finale was broad enough to acknowledge that. Endings tend to cast everything that came before into a different light, and now I’m stringing scenes from the fifth, sixth, and seventh seasons into a conventional Peggy-and-Stan romantic comedy. (It’s actually not that hard!) And that brings us to why Mad Men is so difficult to wrap up: these characters don’t have one story that comes to a neat conclusion. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion wrote. “We live entirely … by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria — which is our actual experience.” You don’t always know what story you’re watching until it’s over. The entirety of season seven is about real, absolute change to Don’s life — to his wishes and desires, in his personal and professional life, and to him, coming to terms with his past and looking at a future he can control. But we were also watching a pretty conventional romantic comedy about how she started off hating Stan’s guts and eventually realized she was in love with him.

By glomming on to a cynical theory that Don just becomes Don again in the finale 60 seconds of the finale and races home to make that ad requires an unwillingness to acknowledge what Weiner labored to put in front of you. We thought we were watching Sally grow up and away from her parents, trying to become anyone but Betty, but in fact we were watching her growing stronger, growing up because she’s going to need to grow up. Why not allow Weiner, as the storyteller, to finally after seven seasons bring those incremental and difficult changes to Don’s character and imagine a more optimistic future for him? The three most prominent women of the later half of the show — Peggy, Joan, and Sally — each stepped into a role they’d long coveted but previously thought they were unable to reach, often because of men.

Joan overcame the inherent sexism that barred her ascendance at McCann by starting Holloway Harris, taking the names of two men who gave her nothing but a name, and using that to her advantage. Here’s a guy who just had a cathartic experience, and maybe that smile on his face — when he’s happy — is the understanding that he can make a killer ad out of the positive emotions he’s experiencing at Esalen.

She’s sacrificed her personal relationships throughout the show to climb the corporate ladder: ending relationships, giving away her child, and removing her family while seeking career actualization. When she hears from Don—her mentor and tormentor, her role model and road block—alone and desperate in California, she uses his motivational tactics to try to snap him out of it, but to no avail. As the show came to its conclusion, he was both forced to (by circumstances outside his control) and chose to (by stripping himself of his possessions and hitting the road) confront those experiences and by extension, his own identity. Beyond that, there’s a weird acceptance that Weiner can make the other characters change in some positive way — and outside of Betty, they all do — but he can’t make Don change. I mean, you don’t have two deaths that impact Don’s understanding of his current life’s situation — Rachel Menken’s, and the impending loss of Betty and what that means to Don as a father — and then have him revert to the norm.

It’s the culmination of seven seasons of introspection, and at least a season and a half of hard truths leading up to the behavior illustrating that change. That’s not only boring, it doesn’t allow for Weiner to move a character from A to B (or as I noted earlier, you’ll accept change in every other character but this one). Weiner had done so much beating of that drum that it seemed like overkill (even acknowledging that the repetition of mistakes over time is essential to show a pattern of behavior, particularly if you’re tackling the intellectually challenging aspect of unhappiness, discontent and the inability to be satisfied with your own accomplishments).

But if you look at how Mad Men was negotiated as a television series, you’ll see that Weiner got that sixth season but AMC owned on option on the seventh (and there was no way Weiner wasn’t going to be involved in the ending). But credit the latter part of season six as a time when Weiner could then begin the real descent, the real end, the real change that his protagonist needed to suffer. I think this final season — not just the final episode — will reveal itself upon repeated viewings as a span of time where Weiner moved Don Draper toward self-realization. He did it, however, like he’s done everything else — by clinging to the realism of human behavior, where we take two steps forward and then one back.

Existential dread, the questioning of whether you’re happy or whether you’re content, of whether you lived your life the way you should before you see the end rushing up on you — those are not issues most people comfortable talking about. Whether you like it or not, that’s why he ends up in California, at Esalen, made to confront the past and what brought him to this point and to be given an opportunity that’s stated very clearly in that finale — to start a new life that’s yet to be lived.

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