I’m mad always and forever for: MAD MEN. SPOILER ALERT!! Sunday’s final episode of the greatest TV series ever made, will forever have me reeling, as it did from my first ride on that “Carousel” of Don Draper’s imagination. MAD MEN, a saga of men and women on Madison Avenue, served up the most compelling, unpredictable, and fully fleshed out fictional characters ever conceived, brilliantly set in motion by writer Matthew Weiner against the back drop of Madison Ave. They presided over the postwar commercial boom, the roiling 60’s and the birth of an image-based culture that would eventually turn its lens, endlessly, on itself. Don Draper and Joan Holloway the instantly iconic male and female archetypes of the era led a band of ad execs, secretaries, wives, mistresses, kids, vagabonds, and strangers over seven seasons and last night’s finale kept us on the edge until the last moments. Would Don do himself in? Would Joan live happily ever after with her handsome, wealthy new lover? Would Peggy be poised to take over McCann Erickson, who had taken over Sterling Cooper?
All of these characters remained in flux until the very last moments, in other words fully alive, and propelled by every decision they had ever made up until those final moments, and yet so spontaneous and full of mystery. I didn’t foresee Peggy’s sudden eruption of love!! I didn’t guess that guy would walk out on Joan– is he nuts?? No problem. As someone tweeted, Joan discovers SHE’S her own best partner as she births a new business HOLLOWAY/HARRIS on her dining room table. And how about Betty? Stoic and smoking in the final throws of lung cancer, with nary a hair out of place, and having perfectly prepared her daughter Sally to carry on.
But it’s Don who almost did me in. My heart’s still pounding at the thought of that desperate farewell phone call from the precipice of the far west coast to Peggy; then suddenly, by the grace of yet another tall blonde ethereal woman, he is gently led from the brink, lost and numb, to a circle of sharing where he suddenly recognizes himself in a nondescript stranger in pain, embraces his lonely, broken life– and realizes he is not alone.
Don’s last beatific smile–of revelation? while “ommm-ing” in a yogic posture gives way to that iconic COKE commercial– did Don write it?
Did he once again use his personal experience as grist for the advertising mill and in service of… of… a carbonated beverage? It’s easy to think, I mean-so hilariously apt and obvious. Don wants to buy everyone a Coke and the “home” he never had.
But I’d rather think Peggy wrote it. It’s a great ad, so calculatedly in sync with the times and yet so ingeniously refreshing. She’s Don’s unofficial protege, urging him to come back and work on COKE, and we last see her in perfect harmony, typing away as her new lover hovers nearby. I don’t want to believe that Don returned to that grasping nest of vipers at McCann and commodified his new awareness. Isn’t he, at last, better than that? I’d rather think he left the fixing of that “COKE machine” to her, and moved onto a place that I can’t imagine but know he will create. But even if he did write it, and he’s still the ad man, still able to channel what the world wants, he’s certainly more at ease now, and maybe getting it on with that willowy yogini.
And this is the beauty of that ending– Matthew Weiner’s ability to create a finale that’s not final, that’s ambiguous, rich with possibility, and opens up a world of infinite meaning. For seven seasons, Matthew Weiner has held a mirror up to life, leading us forward and back to what drives us, to some feeling of belonging we call home in a world that was always, and will always be– mad. I am in awe.