The final episode of Mad Men takes some turns we expected and some that we didn’t, wrapping up relationships between people instead of plotlines, because Mad Men has never been about plot ines. In a recent interview on The Nerdist podcast, Matthew Weiner insinuated that Mad Men is a show about real people–normal people–who do bad things to each other, disappoint each other, and hurt for the dreams promised to them by advertisements. Don Draper spent nearly his entire adult life pretending to be the man he saw in advertising, until it unraveled him.
Over in Utah, Don is doing some drag racing and sleeping with a hot blonde Midwestern lady. He’s essentially re-enacting his transformation into Don Draper here, showing up in a new place and playing the hot and mysterious stranger while he insinuates himself into a new community. It’s the same deal, whether its Madison Avenue or small-town Utah.
In New York, Pete gets cookies and, inexplicably, a cactus, for his going-away party. Pete and Peggy have a sweet goodbye scene where Pete assures her she’ll be a creative director by 1980. It seems like a long time, he said, but the industry needs time to get used to it, and once they do, they’ll see how great she is. Peggy, at a loss for words, replies with “A thing like that,” echoing one of Pete’s most frequent sayings. It’s a great, fitting end for Peggy and Pete, whose brief affair culminated in a secret the two of them kept for nearly a decade and who developed a stronger bond despite keeping a distance. “I’ll see you again,” Pete says, and while he may or may not, they’ll think fondly of each other.
When Don calls Sally to update her on his travels, a distracted Sally finally tells him that Betty’s dying. Sally insists that Don convince Betty to let Bobby and Gene stay with Henry, in the same house in the same school, instead of going to live with Betty’s brother. It’s not fair that they have to adjust to the death of their mother and completely unfamiliar surroundings, and Sally sounds more adult than Don, who just keeps patronizingly insisting that grown-ups are supposed to make these decisions. She’s already teaching Bobby, who knows exactly what’s going on despite the adults not telling him, how to cook. Sally would like Don’s help, but it’s not necessary–she’s taken it into her own hands now.
Don makes a call to Betty, to insist that the boys live with him and that she not worry. Run-down and tired, Betty’s reasoning for why that doesn’t work is heartbreaking and sound: they need a normal family, with a mom and a dad like they’re used to, and to barely see Don, like they’re used to. There’s sincere pain here for each of them, and Don calls Betty “Birdie,” as she calls him honey. Betty is grateful for his concern and offer of responsibility, but knows it’s not the life he really wants. It was the life she tried to live with him before.
Don goes to Stephanie’s house, to the home of another woman close to him lost to cancer (Anna, Rachel, and now Betty, each representing a road not taken for Don). Stephanie doesn’t want to see him, and I’m not entirely sure why (I think because it’s so obvious Don needs her to provide something for him). Instead, she takes Don along to some sort of hippy dippie retreat in California.
Joan is on vacation in Florida with Jackie Treehorn (Richard!), who essentially proposes that she jet-set around the world with him as his hot arm candy. Instead, she has a business lunch with Ken, who offers Joan a job as producer for some industry videos Dow Chemical is producing. It’s a really great callback to how Joan almost became a producer a few seasons ago, showing great aptitude for media until dumb Harry got the job instead. It’s ultimately the life she chooses instead of the glamorous Malibu life with Richard. “I can’t just turn off that part of myself,” she says, while the telephone rings in the background, beckoning her to literally answer the call. When she picks up that phone, the decision is final, and Richard leaves her.
Joan calls Peggy and offers her $1200 for 10 seconds of copywriting, and a more permanent job at the production company she’s decided to start. She wants Peggy to be her partner, offering her a position as a woman in charge with another woman. Pete’s right–it’s something Peggy won’t be able to achieve until at least 1980 in the advertising world. When she asks Stan for advice on what she should do, Stan is unconvinced it’s what she wants to do, and Peggy snaps at him, saying he’s a failure because he isn’t consumed by the job like she is. “There’s more to life than work,” Stan says. Peggy’s never been good at that “more,” though.
Meanwhile, Roger, preparing to marry Marie, is revising his will now that Margaret is off at some similar hippie dippie commune. He’s deciding to give half of it to Joan’s son, who is also his. It’s another sweet goodbye scene between two characters who were once emotionally involved. Roger has always been somewhat of a disappointment to Joan, failing to care for her and about her as much as she’d like him to. In doing this, he’s given Joan a more meaningful gift than the caged bird in Season 1, ensuring her son’s future is secure as well as the freedom to build her own business as she pleases.
At Hippie Camp, Don walks around a group of bearded weirdos wearing caftans, one of whom shoves him when asked to describe how she feels about him without words. At some sharing circle deal, Stephanie is upset by a judgmental woman who tells her she shouldn’t feel regretful about having a baby. Don immediately tries to jump in and play that father figure, offering help in the form of a dream. Don still believes in the dream of a nuclear family, as cynical as he is. “You don’t know what it’s like for people who believe in things,” he says of the judgmental woman. It’s a bit rich coming from Don, who made a living peddling dreams he didn’t believe in while chasing his own futile ones. Instead, Stephanie leaves, taking Don’s car with her.
Don makes a phone call to another woman important to him: Peggy, the one person who’s great at cutting through the bullshit and talking sense into Don Draper. “What have you been doing?” she asks angrily. “I have no idea,” Don says, tiredly. We have no idea, either, but he can’t come home, too full of the shame of being alone with his thoughts. “I’m not the man you think I am. I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name, and made nothing of it. I only called because I realized I never said goodbye to you,” he explains.
After Don’s emotional phone call, an upset Peggy calls Stan, who insists she has nothing to worry about (Don does this sort of thing all the time). When Peggy apologizes for saying shitty things to her earlier, Stan, in a roundabout way, first insists she drives him nuts, then that he wants to be with her, because he loves her. Peggy, adorably, just yells “What? What?” into the phone, then tells him she totally doesn’t feel the same way. “I don’t even think about you. I mean, I do, because I see you all the time. Because you’re here. And you make everything better. All the time, no matter what.” And then they make out.
Aw, Peggy and Stan! I love that Peggy’s found the one person she does respect, who does understand her desire and drive for creativity, and who isn’t threatened by her will to succeed.
Don, slumped in the corner on a pile of hay, gets invited back to the sharing circle. A balding, middle-aged, boring white guy admits that he’s never been interesting to anyone. He works in an office, and everyone walks right by him. He can’t connect to his wife or kids. He sees them trying, but he can’t feel a thing. He had a dream that he was on the shelf in the refrigerator, and the door closed on him while everyone ate without him. They’re happy to see you when they open the door, but they may not pick you up off the shelf.
As this is happening, Don is looking at this guy like he’s the most interesting man in the world. When the guy breaks out in tears, Don hugs him, and they cry together, which is the least likely scenario I ever expected from this scene, but it’s so moving because this is exactly what Don has felt his entire life. He sees people, living their lives, but he can’t feel them. He can’t connect to them and he lives a life that is utterly alone. He’s that bottle no one picks off the shelf.
In the final minutes of the episode, a smiling Pete, Trudy and Tammy board their private plane to Kansas, while Joan enters her apartment with her son and mother to greet her new partner (Kevin’s cool babysitter) and get right to work, calendars and post-its surrounding them. Roger and Marie order food in French at a restaurant surrounded by other happy old couples. Sally does the dishes for her mom, while Betty continues to smoke and read the paper. Peggy works late, while Stan rubs her shoulder appreciatively. Don sits on the grass meditating by the sea, peacefully omm-ing, and as he smiles, the episode closes on an old Coke ad, smiling young people of all races and genders singing about teaching the world to sing. Don Draper may be getting his karma on, but in his head, he’s forever an ad man.
- “Who gave you cocaine as a birthday present?” Oh look, the ’70s are here.
- “Oh, that’s fast! I feel like someone just gave me some very good news.” Joan’s reaction to cocaine is kind of adorable.
- Harry Crane will be remembered for his whining, his obliviousness, and his obnoxious fur coats.
- “Sleep on the sofa! The television is in there, that is your friend.” Marie is incredibly good at shoving some sense into Roger.
- “I translated your speech into pig latin.” Maureen! You’ll land on your feet.
Images courtesy of AMC.