Mad Men Finale: Don Draper Becomes a Better Ad Man


What is the perfect ending? Main characters find resolution. Past pieces coalesce. The result is logical, but not predictable (except by one guy). The show does not shower itself in schmaltz. Viewers decamp satisfied and wondering. Mad Men had the perfect ending, but for a gratifying Harry Crane comeuppance.

Don keeps on keeping on to Utah, where we spot him driving a Chevelle on the salt flats. He thwarts a robbery. He says goodbye by phone to Betty. He arrives disheveled on Stephanie Horton’s doorstep in L.A. He follows her to a retreat center. She leaves him there. Her departure precipitates his inevitable breakdown.

Via another “person to person” call, Don unloads on Peggy. He wasn’t making any sense, by making perfect sense. Now shorn of everything, a woman leads him into a group therapy session. Don lets go, connects and embraces crying, lonely Leonard.

We depart with Don before the sunrise at a morning meditation.

"“The new day brings new hope. The lives we’ve led. The lives we’ve yet to lead. A new day. New ideas. A new you.”"

This is boiled down human desire. This is also the ideal angle for advertising. Don smiles to himself. We close with the iconic “Buy the World a Coke” ad. Ambiguity. Perhaps, Don has found inner peace. An interpretation truer to the show is that he uses his epiphany to create the ultimate ad.

Don spends much of the 1960s disconnected from time, place and true feeling. He left to America to look for himself. At last, he untucks his shirt, lets his hair grow, unbuttons a few buttons and settles in. Don isn’t a monster. He’s not a savior. His true identity is Don Draper, ad man. He has empathy. He masters the zeitgeist. He uses it to sell Coke. He’s a survivor. He’s home.

Peggy and Stan get together, finally. Peggy embodies the 1960s generational shift, caught between tradition and burgeoning feminism. She wants a career. She does not want that to preclude a fulfilling domestic life. The professional and personal for Peggy have been intertwined. She finds the man who understands and who makes things better: her best friend. May they have wonderful children, capitalize on her shrewd real estate investment and live happily ever after.

Joan does coke, but frittering her life away with Richard’s retirement experiments holds little appeal. Kenny approaches her, for her capability. She opts, without Peggy, to start her own production company, Holloway and Harris. Not coincidentally, her first non-secretarial responsibility was reading scripts for Harry Crane.

In 1960, Joan wants nothing more than to be beholden. By 1970, she wants anything but. She’s a business woman. Joan feels, but she will always answer the phone. With her son’s future secure, she can go out for herself.

All of the “person to person” departure scenes, from Pete giving Peggy the cactus to Don and a makeup-less Betty felt crisp, natural and poignant. Mad Men at its finest.

Sustaining any TV show, for nearly a decade, is hard. Compound that difficulty when it’s a precise, nuanced period piece with dynamic characters over, perhaps, America’s most tumultuous decade.

Mad Men is a feat of literary ambition. It is a slow burn. Episodes have different pacing. The subtext is often richer than the text itself. A great novel reveals the heart of the human condition. Mad Men comes as close as a television show has come.