(Spoilers, so many spoilers!)
And with one final, very fitting flourish, Matthew Weiner brings an end to one of the most beautifully crafted television shows of all time. After seven years we’ve finally arrived at the end of one hell of an era and really no one could have expected where Don Draper’s ultimate fate lay.
Over the past few weeks, people have speculated all sorts of things about the final episode of Mad Men, from Don throwing himself from a Wall Street window to becoming the mysterious and infamous D.B. Cooper. Instead of anything quite so dramatic, Don becomes a yogi, a spiritual practitioner among the ranks of California counterculture. With the caveat, however, that his final vision, at least the last one we get to see, is of the Coca Cola ad that blends free love and 60s ideals with the onslaught of consumerism.
So what does it all mean?
At the beginning of the episode, Don’s secretary Meredith sets the tone for what is to transpire, saying, “There are a lot of better places than here” following Roger letting her go. And later, one of the inhabitants of the surreal yoga retreat chimes in during an emotional sharing time, “Life is full of shoulds.”
The overarching theme of Mad Men’s final moments seem not to be pursuing dreams or finding fluffy piles of happiness but finding balance in the present. Facing a tragic death, Betty, who shares one of many incredibly moving phone calls with Don during the 80 minute run time, effectively accepts her fate, not allowing Don to return. Does she find peace? I’d wager that finally, after long last, her impending demise gives her a chance to at least find balance with her daughter after seasons and seasons of verbal warfare. And what a perfect send off to Sally, making peace with her mother. A little sad she doesn’t get to go to Madrid, but she’ll join the hippies soon enough.
Joan at long last answers her calling of being the one woman business powerhouse she’s always wanted to be – “I can’t just turn off that part of myself” she says to that handsome older gentleman Richard – and Roger leaves a life of cavorting for… cavorting in Quebec with Don’s ex-wife’s mother? That’s about the silliest and most apt we could hope for for Sterling.
The real triumph of the episode is Peggy. Joan’s decision to spearhead Holloway Harris is a stroke of genius, and the most satisfying curtain call for a character who’s never been taken seriously, but Peggy realizing her love for Stan is a beyond brilliant. Throughout the entire episode, characters are calling one another from long distances, trying desperately to connect, and it’s fitting that Stan sprints away from his phone to sweep Peggy off her feet in person. Don becomes a memory, the ghostly mentor who, through his disappearance, allows Peggy to face her feelings in a way she wasn’t able to when Don was looming over her shoulder. Peggy does get one incredible last phone call with Don; a heartbreaking goodbye that severs Draper’s last connection to his old world.
To all the Stan/Peggy detractors, before the moment of truth, Stan tells Peggy, “There’s more to life than work,” which doesn’t mean that Peggy will never be happy working – she’s continued to climb and climb ever since Don told her to move past the mysteriously surprise pregnancy – but she needs that balance. For once I’m loathe to agree with Pete, that she’s destined to be a creative director. But now she gets a romantic happy ending as well.
The best thing about Mad Men is that it’s always felt organic, always felt correct in where it’s going, and the finale is no exception. Life is weird and messy, and of course, of course, Don’s life trajectory led him back to California to hug it out with a man who feels invisible, then meditate on a cliff. He’s always been a man lost in his work, in his life, in his very identity, so it’s perfect narrative justice to finish where the show started, with Don envisioning the next big thing in advertising.
Ending the show on a Coke ad is a surreal nod to the strangeness of that time period. There’s the juxtaposition of the hippy’s dreams of world harmony, and the soda conglomerate, who took this song of harmony and used it to sell gallons of a tasty sugary beverage. Don’s – or Dick’s, as Draper’s been washed away on the Pacific breeze – journey ends with him as an enlightened version of his former self, but still not without the Man Man spark he’s had since episode one, the one that’ll be with him no matter where he finds himself in the future.
The episode’s title – ‘Person to Person’ – reveals what the show was about the entire time; forging meaningful connections between people. It’s the best way to sell things. That coke ad, after all, is transcendently revealed to Don after he connects with himself.
Seven seasons later, there are still so many questions, so much Weiner left unanswered about people we care so much about, but one thing’s for certain. Mad Men was an achievement, and will keep us wondering for many more years to come. What an era it’s been.
Have an idea of what it all means? Think you know who ended up writing the infamous Coca Cola ad? Discuss in the comments section below!