The long-awaited climax to AMC’s Mad Men (‘Person to Person’) left viewers, thankfully, with more answers than questions, bucking the trend of many modern dramas’ attempts to puzzle an audience into gleeful submission. Was the show all an elaborate coma fantasy while Dick Whitman was in a Korean War-induced purgatory? No. Was Don Draper the real identity of infamous heistman, D.B Cooper? No. Would Lois ride that accursed lawnmower into the sunset, straddled by Pete and Peggy’s secret love child and Bert Cooper’s backing dancers? No.
Mad Men has consistently avoided the use of dramatic plot twists and cliché-induced cliff-hangers, in favour of the constant slow-burn of character development and a window into both the mainstream and counter cultures of the 1960s; a slow-motion approach to the modern drama. But the necessity of presenting the immediate and long-term futures for a range of significant characters in the finale led to a more direct approach than is the Mad Men norm. Show-runner Matthew Weiner gave us the headlines and the small print in attempting to tie up the many frayed loose ends of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce, Putnam, Powell & Lowe’s remnant parts.
Perhaps unavoidably, little is left to the imagination in the approaching futures of Betty, Roger, Pete, and Joan, with Weiner offering a simplified vision of their worlds with an uncharacteristic montage moment.
Perhaps the most direct example of plot simplification is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shift in Peggy and Stan’s relationship, going from platonic work buds to full-throttle life partners in mere seconds. Almost clunky and schmaltzy (almost), the support that plucky Peggy has been built up over the years allows us to root for her one more time, and thus for the relationship. We’ve seen her douchey boyfriends and douchier hook-ups, and if cliché-induced sentimentality is required to ultimately satisfy Peggy, then that’s just what it will have to be. Go Steggy, go.
And so to Don Draper, the show’s broken, alluring, train-wreck of a central protagonist. As ever, the final episode largely centred on Don’s innumerable weaknesses and longing to both find and preserve the happiness that has been so elusive in his life and relationships.
Don’s final scenes with, arguably, the two most important women in his life illustrate the predominant factors within his closest relationships, each on the other end of a phone. While Betty and Don’s interaction portrays the intangible intimacy of their literal and figurative separation (with the unspoken emotional distance to rival the five thousand miles of telephone wire between them), Peggy is able to provide the maternal, unconditional love and support that Don has craved since childhood.
Throughout the episode, as was increasingly portrayed throughout the seven seasons, we see Don’s despair and shame take centre stage, a million miles from the confident, articulate ad-man we were introduced to in Season One. The story of Don Draper, as captured in Mad Men’s credit sequence, has been the story of a man falling in slow motion. As we reach the end we find a breakthrough of sorts, with Don reaching out to Leonard (the World’s Most Boring Man) in an attempt to understand the source of his own unhappiness and reclaim whatever there is of his patchwork identity.
For a fleeting moment it seemed as though Don Draper had finally shed his despair and dysfunction, and found the spiritual fulfilment he had been searching for throughout these seven seasons. What he found instead was Coca Cola, with its most iconic advertising campaign and famous imitation of happiness.
Leaving enough questions answered and ‘a-ha!’ moments to prevent general ambiguity and fandom controversy, the finale of Mad Men was satisfyingly, refreshingly, the real thing. Despite the characters’ overwhelming flaws and frustrating missteps, they will be missed (except for Pete, for obvious reasons).