Well, at least Don didn’t wake up with Bob Newhart. Or sleep with da fishes.
There are no “shoulds” in life, as we learn from one of the bearded sages of the West in this episode. And that goes for TV endings, too.
Still, as it unfolded, I found the series-ender rather agitating to watch. First, the opener: Don is a race car driver? Where did that come from? And this is the precious finale de tutti finales and yet we have to watch him in bed being taken for a ride by yet another young blonde female hustler?
And speaking of distasteful. How about Don’s showing up drunk, out of the blue, in his full Fred Flintstone-unshavedness at Stephanie’s place? Yes, Stephanie, Anna’s niece, whom at least half of the audience couldn’t quite place?
Right — she was the free spirit whom Don would have easily boinked if she hadn’t been a drug addict, or pregnant at the time. It’s all about getting the timing right, as Joan said.
And that leads to the odd pacing of the finale. It felt herky-jerky — too abrupt, or too boring, full of “bits” with different tones, some too sacchariney, like a rom/com, minus the com (”What? What’s that? What did you just say, Beardy? Why yes, I do love you, too!”) Other moments seemed to come from Mars — or Esalen (“How does that make you feel?”)
Surely some of it was intended as satire, but which parts? And remember, all this time, Don’s riding on one deep number 10 yellow envelope and a dream of a tiny JCPenney bag, which magically keeps producing fresh plaid shirts! Where did he stash the Brylcreem?
I was screaming at the screen when our hero/antihero found out from Sally that Betty was dying and he didn’t bolt for home immediately. (Whatever his ex-wife’s final wishes were.) Those poor kids! Plus, even Betty knows that Don is always at his best when he can swoop in and be a savior. Damn you, Weiner!
And then the final shockeroo: a moment of enlightenment for Don, ending up in a lifetime of selling soda.
Altogether, I got the feeling that show creator Matt Weiner’s real message was “You might have projected all of your needs on this one little show, and filled in the blanks with your own life, and elevated it to Dickens or Shakespeare, or some other treasure, because you needed it to be so. And you know what? In the end, it’s just business.”
As if to say television, movies, advertising, psychology — all that manufactured stuff that we worship as gospel — it’s all a bullshit con, as “real” a thing as a bottle of caramel coloring and sugar water.
Such cynicism might lead someone to a mighty fall.
So let’s look at it another way. “Mad Men” is a genius body of work, a literary Rorschach test that allowed us to reevaluate American mid-century history and even our own individual and family pasts. The ascension of women was a more interesting story than Don’s. We’ll get back to that.
But the staggeringly unique thing about MM that I’ve neglected to mention is that as with the movie “Boyhood,” it was shot over eight actual years of the actors’ lives. That made Sally’s story about a billion times more moving. On top of the bravura acting by those who were unknowns in the beginning, that resonates.
The key point: Underneath the meticulous attention to performance and period detail, it is a show about what’s most primal and universal: mothers.
The idea that mothers (and naturally, children, both grown and little) were a fulcrum of the show struck me about a month ago, when I saw Weiner being interviewed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He mentioned that many people were amazed by how cruel Betty was in that class trip episode, when she told Bobby “You’ve ruined everything!” after learning that he’d traded her sandwich for candy. Weiner said that was taken from his own history with his own mother. And the audience was in shock.
What "Mad Men" has given us is the secret underbelly of this whole “Greatest Generation” thing that Tom Brokaw rode so proudly: the alcoholism, racism, sexism, cheating, undiagnosed PTSD for men, and stifling gender limitations for women.
In extreme contrast to today’s style of parenting, many of the mothers of that time were distant, cold, unhappy or overwhelmed by their big families and not terribly on top of what was happening with their kids. Then, during the sexual and women’s revolutions of the ‘70s, many women, like Don, just took a powder or checked out. Or went back to school or to work, leaving latchkey kids.
So the happiness that Roger has finally found with a woman who is his age and his equal has to do with finding a loving and sparring mother figure. Pete decided he’d no longer be hurt by the upbringing he had with his mother, and he was going to correct it with his daughter. Peggy is cool with not wanting kids. Joan got her kid squared away with his father, and her own passions squared away by letting go of a rambling man who didn’t want to be limited by his woman’s interests or child.
But of course, the mother of all problems in "Mad Men" is Don’s: his intense issues with mama abandonment, and afterwards getting abused by his faux mothers in the whorehouse. This is why, regardless of how traditionally gorgeous and sexy his wife at any given time is, any woman who is dark-haired, older, or wears a schmatta of some sort on her head, is a huge turn-on for Don. His Madonna/whore agony is literal, and he keeps reliving it — until, as with the search for the Glum Waitress, we want to scream.
That’s where the phone call with Peggy comes in. And Peggy, acting as a mother, told him “Come home…. We’re all worried about you. McCann will take you back.”
That fed into the whole “nostalgia” MM meme: the pain that makes you want to go home, where you are loved. Don realized that he is not loved as Dick: only beaten up, and homeless. Anna was the mother he never had, and he can no longer go to her home as Dick. As much as he makes it hard for himself, he is loved in advertising, and can make a home there as Don.
Back at Esalen, he gives Stephanie, upset after being criticized for abandoning her child, the same line he gave Peggy after she gave birth: "Move forward. You won’t believe how much this hasn’t happened.”
But Stephanie tells him he’s wrong. And for the first time, he looks within and allows himself to feel the mother loss, not run from it. This permits him to identify with the Refrigerator Man on feeling insignificant, like a product on a shelf. Which leads to …. Don's Lotus Position smirk.
The first time I watched it, I thought it was actual inner peace, along with the Yoga ping. But seeing it again, later, as a precursor to that fantastic Coke Hilltop ad that was the first to reflect the ‘70s zeitgeist of acceptance of diversity, the smile was more like a nose twitch on “Bewitched.” It made the advertising magic happen.
What bothered me most was that Sally had to become a teen mom. Many other critics have said that it’s great she’s there for her brothers, and that they’ll all be fine. But the final scene, with Sally at the sink with yellow rubber gloves, doing dishes, while her mother sits and smokes with her back to her in the kitchen, was for me, the most devastating. It was the only unhappy wrap-up. Not that I’m over-identifying or anything.
But happily, unlike the writers on “Mad Men,” I can take as many finale columns as I want. So we return in the next few weeks with "Mad Men" and Its Women. And Manchild and the Soda Myth. It’s gonna take a while to squeeze all that MM juice out of my system.
Thanks, Barbara. Saw all 92 episodes from the beginning.
You had me at Birdy or Beardy; Brylcreem and fresh plaid shirts.
I do not believe nor is it that believable that Don would be "allowed" back to McCann after he walked out of McCann. And there are rumors that when he went back he created the World/Smile Coca Cola spot. Having worked in a couple of agencies one person doesn't create by themselves. It could take many for a spot and campaign such as the great Coca-Cola one.
As Peggy said to Don: "You get tired of things." Don said he messed everything up. Then Stan said he is a survivor.
It was a great seven seasons and eight years.
Thank you for not jumping into the debate on whether or not Don returned to McCann to actually write the Coke spot (he didn't, a real person did). The nuances and story are much more important and telling, and what the series was all about. I can't wait to read your next columns. I'm still processing and thinking about everything.
I wish Peggy's story line had ended with her entrance to McCann, or with her responding to Rizzo, "What?? I don't think about you at all!"
I was left feeling a little depressed about the ending; the happy scene of global brotherhood and love, used to convince me to buy a soft drink. What Don said 9 years ago, "Advertising is based on happiness. Whatever you're doing is OK. You're Ok," is what George Costanza said years earlier. "It's not a lie, if you believe it."
Is this all just bullshit? And only dying is real?
Barbara... Good news, I have been in touch with Professor Dumbledore at Columbia, and after bribing him with many Newt Eyes and Toads. He has agreed to establish the "Chair of Mad Men Studies." And you will be the first to occupy it. As in your final paragraph you threaten to bombard us 'til our eyes bleed with never ending "Mad Men" columns, you should have a long career in academia... Congratulations!
Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker
Thanks, Doc, for another fruitful session. The finale has grown on me, even though it felt rushed and too tidy with happy wrap ups. But damn, what a series. I believe it could have continued much longer. Interesting, complex characters living in interesting, complex times-- all filtered through pop culture and filling our bottomless pits of desire. Sigh. What will we do?
I guess Don Drapper actually listened to Peggy Olson about working on Coke.
What do you think his answer would have been to the famous Steve Job question to John Sculley: "Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?"
Meditate on that one! Ommmmmmm!
I have to disagree with Larry. I worked at McCann in the '80s as an Account Executive (and religiously read Barbara's early columns then). Most of my job was creative wrangling. And sometimes senior account person wrangling since they often weren't where they were supposed to be. I felt lucky at the time to be able to see a bit of what the Mad Men days were about (though they were fading fast) and a big part was massive egos, breakdowns and a lot of drinking. It did make the job interesting and for most of these smart women and men, I was very happy when I found them and got them to the right meeting. I can very easily believe that a man of Don's talents would have been brought back again and again and again. I watched it happen.
Have to fix my profile, I am no longer at MEC, in fact I describe myself as a "recovering" ad person, who has neverthless been highly distressed by anti-advertising sentiments posted on other articles.
Barbara I have followed you for years and know your critiques to br wither be antipathy or dreaded however this article contains a major historical error.
Of the primary Mad Men characterS, only Roger Sterling is a member of the "greatest generation". The others, are part of that generally undefined group, born in the 30s and during World War Two,. Don fought in Korea which means he was probably born around 1930, way too young for WWII whereas characters like Betty, Peggy and Pete were probably born just before the war. This was a small generation to be ssure, depression and war tend to have a depressive effect on the birthrate, and theY can claim some awsome people, MLK for example, but they are not "greatests" (except Roger of course.)
Went into this finale really expecting to hate it and although it wasn't nearly as great as Six Feet Under's it was better than I imagined. I do agree Barbara that it was unconscionable that Don wouldn't have dropped everything to be with his children after finding out about Betty. The one thing I most wanted was to see was some kind of scenario that required all the originals to appear together in one scene, even if it was a dream sequence. So much for that! Weiner after 7 seasons had the hard task of trying to make this everything for everybody. Also found it interesting that both Mad Men and HappyISH referenced the exact same Coke commercial...and on the same night!
Bang on analysis, as usual! And I had not thought about the concept (or conception) that the whole show was about mothers. But it was. I look forward to your subsequent MM posts.
I have read many many reviews of this episode (they crawled out of the woodwork, didn't they?), and they just are levels below this one.
I'm trying to decide if I'll miss Mad Men as much as I'll miss BL's 2-3 day delayed critique, review, anaysis, totally pleasurable column.
Barbara, please, a follow up on some new, moderately enchanting continuing "drama." That assumes anything at the Mad Men level!
Congratulations. . . you have been a joy and a challange to follow.
Yes! Someone else who was gutted by the way things were left with Sally, Bobby and Gene.
The sadness of those poor kids stuck with me long after I'd blocked that damned peace-love-harmony Coke ad out of my mind. The image of Bobby and Gene trying to feed themselves -- Bobby scraping the charred bits off a piece of toast, Gene peeling the plastic off a slice of processed cheese -- brought me to tears.
I don't believe Henry would abandon them to fend for themselves. If not Carla, he'd bring in Violet (wasn't that the name of the maid Betty grew up with?) or someone else to take care of the kids when Betty (only referred to as "she" by Bobby) became too weak to spend much time out of bed. I also believe Henry would assume full care for the children regardless of what Betty wants, although he might do it behind the scenes to avoid conflict with her. Since first entering their lives, he has befriended them and defended them -- at least Sally and Bobby -- from Betty. And clearly Sally and Bobby trust and like him (remember during the riots after the King assassination when Bobby revealed he was afraid Henry would get hurt?).
Describing Sally as a "teen Mom" made me hurt even more. Because she abruptly cuts off the phone call with Don, we never learn where she thinks SHE should live after Betty's death. She tells Don where she thinks the boys should live, but doesn't tell Don where she pictures herself. I can't see an easy time for any of the three kids and I hope they -- with Henry -- refuse to honor Betty's almost vindictive wish that all three be sent off to live with her brother's family.
Like you, I wanted Don to head straight out and go to his children. In the end, I resented him being on that hillside instead with the earnest "How does that make you feel?" spirits and I resented him even more when the von Trapps burst into song (I'd love to hear what Roger thought about THAT ad).
Speaking of whom -- loved the scene of Roger whipping the duvet around his body as he stalked into the "other room" at Marie's command. Reminded me of Bette Davis whipping up the train of her skirts with her riding crop in Jezebel. Actually, I liked every scene with Roger in the finale -- "le shit," "rich little bastard," "pour ma mere," "All I got was suitcase," "No one cares." He and Marie are perfect together -- she'll keep him challenged and happy and maybe even persuade him to get rid of that horrible Mark Twain mustache.
Roger really was the only character with a sense of humor in the whole thing. And I really loved the "all I got was suitcase" scene.
Thank you, Barbara, for mentioning the painful tableau of Sally at the sink, scrubbing the dishes. Like you and Cynthia Ambrose above, I found my heart aching for Sally who will for the next few months have to parent her siblings and her own 'refrigerator mother': a cruel fate that supports your theory that the show is ultimately about mothers. I would write more but for some reason I'm compelled to give my kids a quick call....
I'm so glad you plan to extend your commentary past this polarizing finale. I think Peggy's jaunty walk into BBDO, following the surreal vision of her literally skating circles around Roger, was my favorite ending. I can't wait to here about your Mad Women piece and want to chime in with my thanks for sharing your Mad insights - Now if you can just explain Orphan Black to me.....
This was incredibly intelligent and clever. And loved the headline!! I also felt a terrible sense of loss when Sally became the mother. And whatever house Betty was in was so "dark" that it always felt a bit claustrophobic to me.
funny about Peggy. When did that spark ignite?
Think they miscast Joan's lover. Think he should have been more likeable or at least handsome so viewers would have felt more conflicted when he left. Personally, I was happy to see him go. And go go joan!
agree with you on race car don. Where the heck did that come from? (let's not talk about the fact Hamm sux as mercedes sales guy).
I miss don so much. Empathize with him. Though I haven't taken over anyone's identity I do know that this profession is a bit like a death from a thousand cuts.
As for roger, I think every scene with his mustache must have been such a hoot. Not sure I could have gotten a line out without laughing.
Boy, would I love to have lunch alone with MW.
Wish they'd do a movie, but doubt it.
Gonna grab a coke which I just bought! Wonder why?
One small piece of humor that almost went unnoticed in its dark scene; when Sally comes home and Bobby is scraping toast because he ruined the dinner, Sally tells him to get the frying pan, and she would show him how.
Because he was actually trying to make French toast.
I just found that a charming "kids will be kids" aside that captured me (after I noticed it the second time I watched) and somehow added a measure of levity to one of the saddest scenes of the whole series.
I thought that Bobby number three was attempting to make grilled cheese. and that's why Gene, who had his FIRST LINE EVER in the finale, "(Hello, Sally!") was unwrapping a slice at the table.
Great column Barbara. Love the perspective on Mothers.
After his two heart attacks early in the series, I never expected Roger to survive MM's entire run. (I suppose Matthew Weiner had the option of giving him the Fred Sanford "Big One" if actor John Slattery became difficult.) Especially with the final season, I braced myself for it to happen, yet he survived. However, Megan's mom, Marie, may be his angel of death.
Maybe the smile/smirk was anticipating L.E. Sissman (poet, critic, and copywriter) "At its best, the office is a place where your training and your ego get at least an intermittent chance to shine; where you work with others who, with luck, may include you in a team of motivated, purposeful people combining forces to achieve a goal; where you work for something more than survival alone. In that kind of office, your time is not wasted, your life is not frittered away in eight-hour segments; however trivial the product may be, you are actively furthering your life while earning a living."
@Rob, me too. However, the way Roger looked at the end, with his shaggy hair and that droopy white mustache, he seemed almost "gone" anyway.
Great piece. Somehow I felt more attached to the Sopranos characters than these. The mob just killed people; these guys tortured them.
Bravo Barbara! As always you nailed it. Even those little things like Brylcreem, plaid shirts and a Penny's cross-country hobo bag -- should've been tied to a pole. I shall miss your pithy review and analysis far more than the show which ran it's course a season or two ago. Don/Dick doesn't change, he's just cleaning-up for the next round. Thank you.
Yup. Seems like you nailed it. You must have been a shrink in a former life!
Great analysis as always Barbara. Just a few brief thoughts. One, Sally says that the boys should be with Henry. Never seen any sign that Henry wanted any of those kids and since he didn't adopt them, he has no legal responsibility. With a living father, I'm not even sure he has a moral responsibility to them. Wish the show had ended with Don in the backyard playing ball with Bobby and Gene. As to the whole mother thing, it has been my long-held belief played out by virtually everyone I know that you are who your mother thought you were when you were three years old. It's your internal "you" whether you like it or not.
Excellent analysis as usual Barbara. As a child of the Sixties I remember my parents not being a huge part of our lives. Being the greatest generation they were more interested in living theirs than ours. So the issues with Sally, Bobby, and Gene would not have been that unique. As far as the ending, my take was Don went back based on the sh*t eating grin on his face and the closing commercial.
I wanted to make a point about Don's caddy from a few blogs ago. the car was a 1966 not a '68 as mentioned. The '66 was level front to back while the 68 has a slight rise on the rear corner panel. I will miss the show and your insights. Thanks, Barbara.
Mssr. Weiner's genius is in delivering strong characters interacting in surpising situations, and respecting the audience to interpret as they like. Nevertheless, watching this 'herky-jerky' effort to complete their stories made me imagine Mr. Weiner standing at a bank of sprinkler valves, turning them on and off, one at a time.
I came away reminded that TV series are very much like Coke, a cynical concoction of chemicals, caffeine and sugar water designed to addict people and make lots of money. Not at all "The Real Thing".
Thanks again, Barbara, for all the thoughtful, smart and entertaining insights. I will miss them.
Thank YOU, commenters, for your totally engrossing and always insightful opinions. I really enjoy hearing from you.
As for the kids, the best outcome would be for them to live with Henry, and for Henry to hire a warm, kindly, live-in cook/housekeeoer. That would allow Sally to have a life in high school and go off to college. And Don and Betty's brother and sister in law could visit as much as they want, and act in loco parentis for the big decisions. There. That makes me feel better! Although, on second thought, Don and the B- and S-I-L won't get along. Damn, life is complicated! Still, the kids will be covered and not scraping burnt black stuff off of their toast day to day.
Amen to that, Barbara. I'd love for Carla to go live with them and be the loving, stabilizing force she was before ("Are we negroes?" was one of Bobby's funniest lines, even if in a different context). And the B- and S-I-L won't visit often enough for Don to be an issue -- they'll stay out of each other's way because none wants to be a full-time parent to the Draper kids anyway. It'll be a home life straight out of Nancy Drew -- a professional father figure and a kindly live-in housekeeper.
True, Cynthia. So many TV shows of that era killed off the mothers, anyway: Andy of Mayberry, My Three Sons, etc. !
Yes, the many just dad or father figure shows -- "Bachelor Father," "Courtship of Eddie's Father," "Family Affair." Even a brief motherless stint on "Make Room for Daddy" when Jean Hagen "died." Why was that considered inherently more interesting?
Lest we forget "Bonanza"–– God help a woman who fell in love with one of those Cartwright boys. That was a surefire death sentence.
On those father-based TV shows, no father ever raised his voice to his children, no matter their behavior. The worst judgement a child could get was to "disappoint" their father. (although I remember an Eddie's Father episode where Bill Bixby actually spanked him because Eddie climbed up to a spot where he could have easily fallen off the terrace and the father was terriried. Just don't ask me what I had for dinner last night).
It wasn't all that one-sided in the old TV days, guys. Remember "Big Valley", where Barbara Stanwyck was the "head of the family" and let's not forget "Gunsmoke" where saloon owner Kitty was obviously in love with Matt Dillon and, visa versa, but they never got "hitched".
In terms of the aptly named, Miss Kitty, wasn't "saloon owner" a veiled way to suggest she was a Madam?
As I recall, Kitty started out as a plain saloon "gal" and Matt sometimes "visited" her, certainly suggesting thatbshe was a hooker. But as the series evolved, she became "part owner" and then full owner, presumably becuase the show's creators---and, perhaps Arness, himself--- wanted to make their "relationship" more acceptable to the show's many millions of "mainstream" fans.
Great overview as always, Barbara.
One thing that always bothered me about this show was its dismissive approach to anyone involved in the progressive issues of the day. It ridiculed anyone "finding themselves" in that day (like the character who became Hare Krishna) as well as anyone "long hair." Everyone in advertising, though -- cool!
Sorry to tell you, but this is historical revisionism. The ad folks back in the day - and pretty much any businessman -- were the "squares." While I'm sure they got it right with the business execs embracing the sexual revolution, that's about as far as their"hipness" factor went. Just take a look at "Salesman," the 60s documentary on Bible salesmen to get a glimpse how horribly repressive and oppressive the business culture was back in the day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salesman_(film)
But it makes a good story, I guess. In the end, the hippies at Esalen not only helped Don find his emotional stability but a new ad for Coke (which, btw, symbollically heralded the end of 60s idealism and anti-materialism and the embrace of hippie culture for their own profits by Madison Avenue).
For the most part, the ad industry and most businesspeople in the 60s stood on the sidelines waiting for the godawful 60s to be over, then stepped in to capitalize on it as soon as it could.
So the series ignored or ridicules the idealism of all the civil rights activists, women's rights, gay rights and everyone else in the streets of those days. But that's the ONLY way that office would've been as relatively progressive as it was.
Like my dad used to always tell us, the only way the big insurance company he worked for would ever hire a black person was when the building next door burned down during the Watts riots. They hired a black employee the next day.
That's much more representative of the business culture back in the day.
BL, loved your commentary as most of us have since the beginning. And as I said last week, I'll miss both you and the show! Here's a question I was surprised no one mentioned: In the episodes that chronicled Don't bolt from McCann, with the exception of the final episode, wasn't he carrying a SEARS shopping bag? I wonder why he switched to JCP? Oh, and I, too, was puzzled and perplexed at the opening scene with Don driving that race car. Where the hell DID that come from??
Great work, and we'll be waiting for your epilogues!
One last thought: Do we reallythink Pete, Trudy and Tammy will find happiness in Wichita, Kansas? Notwithstanding the draw (and the perks) of working for LearJet, of course!
Re: Fathers. Arthur Kopit wrote a plat during the 50s: Oh Dad Poor Dad Mama's Hung You In The Closet And I'm feeling so Sad. Theme the father as dolt, wimp.
Terry Wall, my opinion is that a Lear Jet will ultimately give Pete license to jet around the country and, well, you know. Would he be happy in Wichita? Unless his epiphany in his return to Trudy is as complete as we are led to believe Don's is on a California cliffside.
Carl Ally had Lear as a client. I thought they were in Nevada.
Tom-- they are definitely in Wichita-- with maybe an outpost in Nevada, too.
Maybe it's Norman Lear
MEDIA POST REPORTS TODAY THAT
"(Omnicom) shareholders voted down a proposal from the New York City Comptroller’s Office that sought the adoption of a policy requiring Omnicom to disclose its EEO-1 data — a comprehensive breakdown of its workforce by race and gender according to 10 employment categories. The comptroller’s office has made similar proposals in past years and shareholders declined to approve."
Who are the major shareholders, Tom ? Maybe that'll be the clue of why not. Meanwhile, there's like a piece of my heart missing without Barbara's column to revere everyweek. It is always a spice of life. There will never be another MM, but may there be another show for Barbara to show that side of her sparkle. Your fans will the there for you.