Email Roundtable #48 – The End of Mad Men

This week, we attempt to discuss the series finale of Mad Men.

Kerri: First off, I’d like to gloat. I long ago stopped making public predictions about Mad Men (I kept making predictions in secret) because I never, ever, ever got anything right ever. Well, it’s been 7 seasons and finally, in the last episode, FINALLY I got something right. I almost got two things right, so maybe we can score me a plus 1.5 (and minus, like 3 thousand, but that’s beside the point). First, I declared that Peggy and Stan should get together. And they did. Beautiful, wonderful, perfectly banter-y Peggy and Stan realized what we’ve known for a long time and professed their love for each other. And, I mean, ok, sure, as far as things being telegraphed from miles away, this relationship was a straight ahead lazer beam. So I got the obvious thing right. Way to go, me. (At one point I had also said that Peggy and Joan should start their own firm. I was this close, too, dammit). But here I am speaking in “shoulds”. And if Mad Men railed against anything, just like the hippie retreat in the last episode, it was these “shoulds”, these things that we expect to happen in our TV shows, with our favourite characters. Because I do know as an audience member I deserve nothing. What I want to happen won’t always happen and what I think should happen is meaningless. Just like in life.

I’m not going to attempt to dissect everything that happened in the finale because I honestly feel like many more people have and will do that and do a much better job. But I will say that series finales have an impossible task. We, as the audience, have so many expectations, so many things we want an ending to be. If Mad Men taught me anything (it actually taught me a lot of things) it is that excitement comes from not being able to predict things, even though, in the case of Don anyway, I should know his routines by now. Stan says, “he always does this”, about Don constantly leaving and coming back. And it’s true. Because Stan is always right.

The penultimate episode of this last wonderful season ended with Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”, a song that begins with the line, “Everyday it’s a-getting closer, Going faster than a rollercoaster”. This rollercoaster recalls Don’s famous carousel pitch. Don is always going around in circles but not in the idyllic way of that carousel. He’s going around like we all do, much more like a rollercoaster – there are anticipatory ups and scary downs, and it all goes way, way, way too fast but the ride always ends at the beginning. And Don ends where he began. But he’s different somehow. Or, at least he has a better sense of who he is. For once in the shows run it feels like Don is reinventing himself one last time by realizing who he always was – and being ok with that. Don may not have changed in 7 seasons but he has grown. Don says to Stephanie that he understands people but he doesn’t, not really, not in all aspects, but he does understand what people want sold to them.

And, if Don does go back to McCann and comes up with the famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad, well then he ends up selling the world love, peace and harmony, too – in a glass bottle with way too much high fructose corn syrup.

So that’s it. Here’s a cactus. It better be alive when I come back.

Katie: Well, I loved the episode. There’s a lot I’d like to talk about sometime in the indeterminate future when I’ve had more time to let the season stew, but at this moment I want to talk about Don’s smile at the end of “Person to Person.” Don’s smile seemed odd to me. It was so long and big and curled at the edges. Was the smile supposed to feel odd? Did Jon Hamm overdo it acting-wise?

Taking into account the facts: 1. Matthew Weiner is an excellent director. He deliberately chose to have Don Draper smile at the end. He could’ve had him stare blankly into the distance, allowing us to project emotion onto his face (a la Greta Garbo in Queen Christina) but he didn’t. Therefore, Matthew Weiner wants the audience to know unequivocally that Don is happy, in that moment. 2. Jon Hamm is an excellent actor. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s in control of his face. (He really has a thousand expressions. For proof in 1 1/2 minutes, see this video of Don Draper saying “what.”)

So what made me feel so weird about Don’s smile? Simply the fact that I hadn’t seen it before. In 7 seasons of Jon Hamm acting the heck out of the role of Donald Draper, I’d never, ever seen that smile before. That’s the point though. Don/Dick has never felt like this before. It’s a newer, truer, type of happiness that we can’t even recognize on him.

To an extent, I feel the same way about the entire finale episode as I do about Don’s smile. At first, the episode felt odd. I loved the scene with Don and Betty, the scene with Don and Peggy, the scene with Peggy and Stan, and on and on and on. I loved everything. But I’m not used to feeling unwaveringly happy about an episode of Mad Men. It kind of put me off.

Then I go back to Leonard in the sharing circle, talking about the love that his family and the people around him try to give him, but he can’t recognize it. And then I think, why can’t I just love an episode that is giving so much to me. Why should it feel odd? It’s a loving, hopeful finale, and it’s ok to feel that way about it.

Jane: Last week after “The Milk and Honey Route”, I realized that I had no interest in predicting how Mad Men would end. I hate endings. I was prepared to be sad about Mad Men’s departure from my life but I wasn’t prepared by how devastated I would be. No other piece of art has affected me this profoundly and I feel like dissecting it will ruin it somehow. I was prepared to love anything Matt Weiner threw at me. And I did. It’s his TV show. He gave us the gift of Mad Men for seven wonderful, brilliant seasons. I will say that I didn’t find the ending as positive as you ladies and that’s OK. It meant something to all of us and that’s important.

What surprised me most about last episodes was how haunted I am by the ghost of Betty Draper. I would have never expected to be as affected by her death. The image of Betty, walking up the steps of the college, knowing she would never finish is burned into me. It’s her smile at that moment that will stay with me. She is finally starting her own adventure. What will also stay with me was Betty’s wish to have Bobby and Gene stay with her brother and sister-in-law. A lot has been said about what a terrible mother Betty is. However, her instinct to protect Sally from turning into herself shows a self awareness and love for her daughter that I didn’t think was possible from Betty Draper.

A few weeks ago, I thought I’d have piles and piles to say about the ending of Mad Men but I don’t. I’d rather just feel it. I’m just so grateful it exists.

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