What to Know About the Coke Ad From Mad Men’s Finale

18 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mad Men’ Finale: What Was Awesome, What Was Frustrating And Why It’s Hard To Let Go.

The series ended Sunday evening with a classic commercial, the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” TV ad from 1971, an advertisement that, like all good advertising, is drenched in cheap sentiment, cynically concocted to sell a product that nobody really needs.Sunday night’s finale of Mad Men ended with Don Draper meditating on a hillside, right before the 1971 “Hillside” Coca-Cola commercial plays, sparking debate about whether the fictional advertising maven had created the actual iconic ad. It’s hard to write about series finales, because whatever I say here might be taken as the final word regarding my assessment of the show in question. In reality, the commercial was brewed up by Bill Backer, the creative director on the Coca-Cola account for the McCann-Erickson advertising agency at the time.

Since it premiered eight years ago, I could count on several things where “Mad Men” was concerned: The show would surprise me, it would confound me, it would make me laugh and make me think, it would frequently look amazing and it would experiment with storytelling and have top-notch aesthetic elements. But bad weather forced his plane to land in Shannon, Ireland, instead, and Backer noticed how many of the initially irate passengers on his flight seemed to calm down and relax after chatting over food and Cokes in the airport cafe. He concluded his quest, his shedding of the past – the point of drifting west – in California, at a retreat, in meditation, in a yoga pose, chanting. In that moment [I] saw a bottle of Coke in a whole new light… [I] began to see a bottle of Coca-Cola as more than a drink that refreshed a hundred million people a day in almost every corner of the globe.

You get to be the judge of that, but regardless, having conversations via email and Twitter and in real life with fans and fellow critics has been one of the best parts of engaging with this drama. The show’s unstoppable narrative drive from the hectic, bracing social change of the 1960’s to the solipsism of the Me-Generation 1970’s, was complete.

Ken Cosgrove offered Joan some freelance work, producing industrial films, which reignited her ambitions to be her own boss and brought an abrupt end to her too-good-to-be-true romance with Richard, her super-rich LA boyfriend. They were actually a subtle way of saying, ‘Let’s keep each other company for a little while.’ And [I] knew they were being said all over the world as [I] sat there in Ireland. Viewers looking for clues about the ending were rewarded if they took note of the request that Draper “fix” a Coke machine in the penultimate episode.

Davis was initially doubtful, saying, “Well, if I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke.” Instead, Davis prioritized giving people a home and sharing peace and love. He calls Peggy, and she tries to get him to come back home to New York and back to his job at McCann Erickson. “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” she asks.

The thing is, big chunks of “Person to Person” would have made a pretty good second-to-last episode of “Mad Men.” As the series finale, certainly as far as Don was concerned, it left a fair amount to be desired. Yet the ad’s shoot—which first took place in Dover, England, then in Italy—was marred by bad weather numerous times and production costs eventually hit $250,000. Of course, their in-person relationship has had many terrific moments too, but on the phone, Stan and Peggy both let down their guards, or maybe it’s more accurate to say they let down their hair (and in Stan’s case, that is a lot of hair). Peggy’s more relaxed and open when she’s half-distracted by the work on her desk, and she never felt pressured or tense during her phone chats with Stan. In an odd blend of the maudlin and the maddening, Peggy found true love with Stan, Joan chose business over love (a hint of the coming women’s liberation movement that has been a thread stitched into the show’s entire narrative arc) and Sally Draper became her mother Betty even as her mother approached death.

It was a fitting sign-off for the Emmy-winning series, that, in its seven seasons, gave TV drama an air of sophistication and depth it doesn’t strive for often enough. The drawn-out scene, switching from phone conversation to in-person touchy-feely encounter, was brazen stand-up-and-cheer sentimentality. “All I want to do is be with you,” Stan says. “I’m in love with you.” And there was a cuteness to Joan’s decision to forge ahead in business, against all odds, that was satisfying but vaguely contrived. The Hillside ad certainly had a big impact on Backer’s career: it was considered one of his highlights and he was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1995.

It is probably the most adult show ever created for mainstream TV audiences, ambitiously breaking away from formulaic storytelling to portray one man’s search for identity. Creator Matthew Weiner introduced us to an impossibly beautiful group of upwardly mobile white New Yorkers who pursued fame and status in a business where seduction and illusion was the name of the game. Don himself was an illusion — a Korean War vet who grew up in a brothel and stole his commanding officer’s identity to come home from the war. “Mad Men” will be remembered as the show that made every office worker wish they could join the conga line at a Sterling Cooper party.

This was less a neat summing up than it was like a music diminuendo, a gradual decrease in loudness, until the only real noise was going on inside Don Draper’s head. Peggy can be pretty waspish in person, and she needs to be with someone who is willing to call her on that behavior, but who also knows that her mean moments spring from a deep well of fear and anxiety. No doubt she’ll need to keep those walls up to survive in a harsh environment like McCann, as we saw in an early finale scene, in which she had to fight to keep an account.

Here’s one of my problems with the Joan situation: We haven’t known Richard all that long, not long enough for any issues that couple might have to seem believably complex. Not only does that not track with what we know of him — earlier, he’d realized that he’d do anything to keep a great woman like Joan in his life — it does not track with what he said in this episode. He was excited about Joan’s prospects and called her entire life “undeveloped property,” and he didn’t say that in any way that indicated that he expected her to join the country club, enjoy her windfall and leave it at that. Sure, his excitement might have partly been the cocaine talking, but his comments were in line with his previous behavior: Richard has been generally supportive of her career and has always prized Joan’s intelligence and drive. We’ve been down this road plenty with Joan, and for her to have a functional relationship with a solid, kind man would have felt like a new and fresh thing for her.

It’s because the show made me so very interested in their fates that how things actually worked out in some arenas was, frankly, irritating. “Mad Men” boasts plenty of intellectual firepower, aesthetic ambition and shiny structural experimentation. It’s one thing for an episode to thrum with a secret that the audience knows but certain characters don’t — that’s a tension-building strategy “Mad Men” has employed very well in the past. That tipped into irritation once I realized that Don was going to keep on hobo-ing, even as his neglected children risked a fire in an attempt to cook dinner. Here are some characters groups we got to see together in the series finale: Pete and Peggy; Pete, Harry and Peggy; Joan and Roger; Pete and Trudy; Betty and Sally; Roger and Marie Calvet.

Before you send me a long email, I can already think of a million reasons why I should just accept how those relationships ended — starting with the fact that they didn’t end. I do know one thing about that final scene and the Coke ad: Matt Weiner has ensured that he will probably be asked about whether Don created that ad in every interview he does for the next decade of his life. In all seriousness, I absolutely get that “Mad Men” loves to play around with ambiguity, grey areas and doubt — and I’ve reveled in that fact for eight years. Also, if you look at the similarities between the words of the meditation instructor said and the lyrics of the song, and add to that the gong-like tone at the start of meditation — which perfectly matched the note at the start of the ad — I think it’s a pretty open-and-shut case, myself. Don Draper had clearly thought of a great idea for an ad, one that would get him out of the massive trouble he was in at work and would win a shelf of awards as well.

I know that that’s how the show operates — the revelations Don encounters in his personal life often inform his work, which is really the only way he can consistently communicate with the world. That moment could not have the resonance of something like “The Suitcase,” or even the impact of a moment like the one in which, some time back, Sally impulsively told her father she loved him.

It used to feel like a big deal for Don to confess, but this half season opened with Don regaling a couple of good-time girls with stories of his poverty-stricken upbringing. He’s been in the process of shedding his lies and sharing his truths for years now, and that process has been especially prominent in the last few seasons. Who knows where Gene and Bobby ended up (maybe they will get lost in transit between the homes of various caregivers and nobody will notice for months). Talking to a distraught Stephanie, he still clung to that belief — that the past can be shed and its pain minimized — but we in the audience know it’s not true and I can’t quite bring myself to believe that the man who worked so hard to embrace his past truly believed that anymore.

I am still grateful to “Mad Men,” and I’m sad, not just because that frequently amazing journey is over, but because this moment feels like the end of an era. My sentimentality about the early aughts is not so blinding that I fail see how amazing the TV scene is now — I truly love where the evolution of the medium has brought us. It might be tied with “Lost” or “Battlestar Galactica,” but the truth is, I have probably expended more words, more mental energy and more time on “Mad Men” than any other show I’ve ever written about.

January Jones has also been really wonderful in these final two episodes. “Keep it up and you’ll be a creative director by 1980!” Way to make a compliment sound incredibly depressing, which is such a Pete Campbell thing to do. It was nice to seek Ken and even Harry again, and I did enjoy the lyrical montage near the end, in which the show checked in on several main characters. Even so, the meeting I liked best was the final scene between Pete and Peggy, even though he once again left her with something she didn’t truly want. And that was a lovely last line from Peggy, echoing a favorite line of Pete’s: “A thing like that.” “This way, you’ll see them exactly as much as you do now — weekends and, well, wait — when was the last time you saw them?” Even with her dying breaths, Betty Hofstadt Draper Francis can still slay with the sick burns. I had a theory before the finale that we’d see Don Draper working under the name Dick Whitman as a mechanic somewhere out west, and his grease-monkey racing antics partly fulfilled that prediction, sort of.

I didn’t necessarily predict he’d get rolled by a working girl again, but I can’t say I was surprised at that either. “All I got was ‘suitcase’ — yell at me slower or in English!” I’m so glad we got one more classic Roger Sterling quip. We got a final Joan-Peggy scene, which was another bonus. “The partnership is just for you.” I knew Peggy would never take it, but I love that their friendship had come that far. He also frequently appeared in group-therapy scenes in “Go On,” but he didn’t wear a bright red jumpsuit on that cancelled ABC show, so “Mad Men” gets the win in that department. The best part of the Stan-Peggy scene was when they kissed, but the second best part was the goony smile she got when she truly realized she was in love.

If you want more “Mad Men” talk, I was on WDCB Public Radio last week talking for a full hour about the show’s history and context, and I thought that conversation turned out really well.

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