Mad Men aired its final episode on AMC on Sunday night after seven genre-driving seasons. We’ve given you our recap— and what we thought would be the most talked-about scene of the night — but the question of the day seems to be: What was up with that ending?
The final scenes of Mad Men were split between a final wordless wrap for Peggy, Joan, Pete, Roger, Sally, and Betty, followed by Don Draper on the cliffs of Big Sur, meditating his way to transcendentalism. Cut to Coca Cola’s famed Hilltop ad spot, and we’ve been left to wonder: Did Don write this?
We polled the office. Here are our thoughts:
What a perfect ending to Mad Men. Joan and Peggy finally get to venture out on their own and start a business, Pete and Trudy live happily ever after, and even Roger gets to ride off into the sunset with Megan’s mom. While no one could have predicted that Don would check into a hippie retreat, it was a strangely fitting sendoff for him. As for the Coke ad, I’m in the minority and believe that Don didn’t make the iconic commercial. I think he finally found solace out in California, and the ad is just a metaphor for that.
Don may not have created the Coke ad, but it’s a product of the world he created. Coke is celebrating generosity and sharing in an ad to sell Coke. Even rejecting commercialism can be commercialized, and it’s out of Don’s hands now. He couldn’t stop this world if he wanted to. Even his little commune is a sketchy for-profit enterprise.
For me, the most defining moment was when, in the circle full of young hippies, the unnamed man in his collared shirt talked about what it means to feel like nothing. We’ve seen Don struggle with these feelings for the entire series, but instead of talking about them, he’s coped by disappearing for days at a time, drinking, and having sex. The man in the collared shirt could’ve been Don.
And while Don never quite figured out how to express his depression, he did identify with the other man’s struggle. The hug Don gave him, the one that says, “You are not alone in this,’’ was as much for the man as it was for himself. I think it was feeling this connection that allowed him to unleash his creative potential again. The Coke commercial says, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.’’ Of course Don translated his feelings into his work, but that’s what Don does. He’s an ad man through and through. But at least he knows he’s not alone, and, instead of being a “mad man,’’ is one of many Mad Men.
The fairy tale endings of Joan, Pete, Peggy, and Roger were only satisfying in a cheap way the first time around, but an entire morning’s worth of reading arguments that say these characters have “earned’’their happiness has swayed me otherwise. Or perhaps it was watching Peggy and Stan’s embrace on an infinite loop that’s caused me to find acceptance through repetition. It’s over. Fine. Let love in!
The music that plays as the final credits roll have long been subject to debate by followers of the series. Playing out Don’s final scene with “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,’’ an iconic advertisement for Coca-Cola created by McCann in 1971, couldn’t have been more fitting. Did he create it? Did Peggy? What did it mean? What did it all mean?
This is the more satisfying end to a series that has always kept us wondering. It’s no coincidence that the show’s own advertisements have always featured a series of vague questions and reactionary gasps and door slams. Something that’s so simple at face value, but is then left to permeate and resonate in our minds and be dissected, interpreted, and remembered. That’s a very good ad.
The finale showed that, as Anne-Marie Slaughter noted in her famed piece for The Atlantic, women still can’t have it all — but that’s OK. The three most prominent women of the later half of the show — Peggy, Joan, and Sally — each stepped into a role they’d long coveted but previously thought they were unable to reach, often because of men.
Joan overcame the inherent sexism that barred her ascendance at McCann by starting Holloway Harris, taking the names of two men who gave her nothing but a name, and using that to her advantage. Sally became an adult overnight, learning responsibility on the fly while coming to terms with her father’s lack of it.
And then there’s Peggy, who most perfectly captures the “having it all’’ female archetype of Slaughter’s piece. She’s sacrificed her personal relationships throughout the show to climb the corporate ladder: ending relationships, giving away her child, and removing her family while seeking career actualization. When she hears from Don — her mentor and tormentor, her role model and road block — alone and desperate in California, she uses his motivational tactics to try to snap him out of it, but to no avail. It’s that conversation, and the other two with Stan, that provide Peggy with clarity. Being Don Draper (or being with someone like Don Draper) won’t make her happy. She wants someone who listens to her, who values her career and her mind, who recognizes her faults and helps her focus on the interpersonal, someone who’s been standing right in front of her for years. Someone like Stan. A bit too picture-perfect an ending for some, but an ending that was earned for Mad Men’s other main character.
The ‘60s were a tumultuous time for America and for Don Draper. As the show came to its conclusion, he was both forced to (by circumstances outside his control) and chose to (by stripping himself of his possessions and hitting the road) confront those experiences and by extension, his own identity. This was devastating for him, until it wasn’t, as he made himself new again. Don, apparently, went back to work better than ever, creating one of history’s most famous ads. The ad draws on the image of peace and love of the ‘60s, moving away from the chaos and tragedy that also helped to define it. That’s not all that different from how Don spent much of the ‘60s, creating campaigns that drew on nostalgia for the ‘50s.