As the promotional poster boldly states, it’s ‘the end of an era’ as Don Draper and company ascend to TV heaven with the final episode of AMC’s celebrated series airing last Sunday. I don’t know about any of you, but I was left quite satisfied, despite the flood of questions I had as the final shot of Don’s serene smile cut to a famous Coke commercial from 1971. What happened? Did Don finally climb out of the deep emotional pit he was wallowing in for the last few episodes and write the famous ‘Buy The World A Coke’ jingle? Did he ever go back to New York? Did he become a permanent resident of that New Age spiritual retreat? As with the best series finales, the final episode, entitled “Person To Person”, finished with an appropriate mixture of closure and ambiguity. (Side note: Showrunner Matthew Weiner has recently confirmed that Don did, in fact, pen the Coke ad. We can all rest easy now.)
The last half of the final season marks a massive shift for the folks at SC&P advertising agency as their beloved company is absorbed by the larger (and real-life) advertising agency McCann Erickson. In typical Mad Men fashion, the new employees have trouble adjusting to the disconnected, colder, and far more sexist landscape of McCann, choosing to pass the time the only way they really know how: doing no actual work (and getting tipsy in the process). The final episode sees Don’s vagabond journey to the west coast conclude as he reaches California and joins Stephanie (Anna Draper’s niece) on a spiritual retreat. After Stephanie promptly abandons Don at said retreat, he undergoes something of a mental breakdown. He decides to cope with this by phoning (arguably) the three most prominent women in his life: Sally, Betty and Peggy.
Back in New York, the main players of the former SC&P play out their endgames: Peggy and Stan admit their long-brewing love for one another, Pete and Trudy make amends and hop on their private jet to Wichita, Joan starts her own film production company, Roger and Marie enjoy their honeymoon in France, and Sally does housework while Betty defies her recent lung cancer diagnosis and smokes a cigarette. Don finally reaches a state of nirvana at the retreat after a particularly tender scene with a man named Leonard (Evan Arnold), and the credits roll. For a show that took an unabashed look at the life and hardship of the advertising world during the 1960s, it’s quite a chipper ending.
One of the most pivotal scenes of the episode features a monologue by Leonard, where he reveals to an Alcoholics Anonymous-style circle at the spiritual retreat that he feels like he doesn’t matter to anyone. I thought the whole ‘refrigerator’ comparison succinctly represented exactly how broken and alone Don was at that point. This monologue causes Don, and evidently a good chunk of viewers, to break down in tears. This moment is the catalyst for Don’s transformation into the unburdened, enlightened man we glimpse
at in the final shot. It also features some brilliant acting by relatively unknown actor Evan Arnold, who will hopefully become a household name (spinoff for Leonard, anyone…?).
For a show that historically stayed away from obvious story clichés, the finale wrapped up the various storylines in a very satisfying way, while still staying true to the vein of ‘realness’ that has become a hallmark of the show. Unlike Don’s storyline, the supporting characters all receive a fairly concrete finish to their arcs. I thought this perfectly complemented the relative ambiguity of Don’s fate, and made for some damn enjoyable TV. It’s quite a fitting end to one of the best shows of our generation.