B&C Editors’ Verdict: ‘Mad Men’ Finale Delivers

Show’s flaws down the stretch faded away in classic last scene
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Related: ‘Mad Men’ Wraps With 3.3 Million Viewers

In the wake of Sunday’s series finale of Mad Men, there’s a lot for the editors of B&C to analyze: How many people watched? Where will AMC go from here? What are the show’s Emmy prospects? But we’re also TV viewers just like the rest of America, and most of us have developed a strong attachment to this slow-burning show during its remarkable eight-year run. So not long after the Moment of Zen that brought the curtain down, we grabbed some Burger Chef and started ruminating. What follows is a condensed version of our group emails, polished up with some Glo-Coat Floor Wax. And, oh yes, spoilers aplenty lie ahead.

Dade Hayes: Of all the places we thought Don Draper might go by the end of Mad Men, racing cars on the salt flats of Utah and meditating on the California cliffs were not two that I anticipated. I will say that I went into the finale agreeing with those predicting that Don would return from his walkabout and re-enter the ad game, the only real home he has ever had. The episode's closing cut from a beatific Don to the "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" ad for Coca-Cola strongly suggests that he did go back and engineer an iconic campaign for the blue-chip McCann client that was promised to him.

But even if, as some feel, Don himself didn't mastermind the spot, the last scene was a bravura capper. Advertising has never been about authenticity, but the moment drove home the fact that the spiritual wanderings of the 1960s are about to take pitches to new heights — think the Beatles’ “Revolution” selling Nikes or George Orwell defining the Apple Macintosh. Guys, there is so much else I am still digesting — Peggy and Stan! Joan's new direction. All that Betty left behind. But I definitely thought the finale delivered the goods. Parts of it suffered from late-Mad Men-era melodramatic sluggishness, but it ultimately offered the kind of ambitious, auteur statement that put the show on the map in the first place. What did you all think?

Tim Baysinger: It's interesting, when I first watched I didn't interpret the final scene that way, with Don writing the famous Coke ad, but I understand the logic. I still don't think he ever returned to advertising and that the Coke ad was a just a nice closer for the series, which always used its knowledge of the time period whichever episode was in.

The last few episodes were all about Don Draper freeing himself from “Don Draper” and actually starting over and that's how I saw the ending. (Meredith's line: “I hope he's in a better place” — I think that's the ending for him, he finally found that better place.)

Stan and Peggy had been teased for so long it would've been a surprise if they didn’t end up together. I thought everyone else got a fitting send off.

Mike Malone: Don 100% came up with the iconic Coke ad. I suspect Matthew Weiner would be quite upset for people not to come away with that. That's the vision Weiner had many years ago.

And what the heck happened to Harry Crane? Over the years, TV takes over, yet the agency TV guy shrinks to near obsolescence. He gets fewer lines than Ken Cosgrove.

I thought it was an uneven finale that ultimately paid off real nicely. Stan and Peggy? Cheesy. Roger and Megan's Mom? Yawn. Pete, Trudy and Tammy head west? Big whoop. Joan is in business? Yeah, OK. Don consorting with the hippies was bordering on the comical, but that final scene pulled it all together and made it one of the more memorable finales in recent television history. Of course, Don Draper gets back in the game, and dominates once again. Madison Avenue is the only mistress that ever truly held his attention and affection across these many years of Mad Men. Excuse me while I grab a Coke.

DH: So true about Harry! Although, his moment in the finale was perfectly played. He is forever the overweening striver, forever That Guy. Maybe more than any other character in the show, corporate offices everywhere have a Harry Crane (present one excluded, of course!)

John Eggerton: I thought Megan got short shrift. No closer for her. I note that none of the biggest womanizers got any comeuppance. Pete and Don and Roger all get either the girl or inner peace, though Roger was always a loveable rake rather than an insatiable user of others as was Don, or a lothario as was Pete. I definitely think Don returns to make the ad. That smile at the end was not just om-driven inner peace, it was an idea.

I thought briefly about my grandfather, who was on the client side of Coke in the ’50s and HAD a great Coke marketing idea GO south quickly (Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher as the Coke Couple, when enter Elizabeth Taylor to make it the Coke Trio). If you remember the tag “Coca-Cola is Coke,” thank my grandfather, sort of, I think.

Paige Albiniak: In a word, I thought the Mad Men finale was perfect. I know critics are currently debating that point, but I’m not sure what they expected from a show that was never about tying up loose ends with declarative sentences. Mad Men has always been about messy human nature, and about a particularly messy person, Don Draper/Dick Whitman. It stuck to that to the very end, and that’s exactly what I expected.

I felt like the ending was absolutely clear and I laughed out loud when the show cut to the Coke commercial. People had been debating whether that’s where the show was headed for weeks and after all the dropped hints, the meeting full of Coke cans, it was a sort of hilarious epilogue for the creative genius/human disaster that is Don Draper. He went totally off the rails for months, he walked out of a meeting without saying anything and then he creates one of the most iconic ad campaigns of a generation. Of course he did. And everyone loves him and forgives him for it and then he can start his cycle of self-destruction again.

It’s hard to be a creative.

My only regret is that we don’t get to live out Don creating and presenting that campaign, and we didn’t get to see him reunite with his children, but that’s what imagination is for.

I was interested that the finale was called “Person to Person” and that so much of the story involved characters we’ve grown to care about having the most honest conversations we’ve seen them have all over the phone. Phone conversations tend to be a no-no in fiction-writing — they are a boring way to advance story — but they worked here. Don’s heart-wrenching final conversation with Betty and Stan’s surprising reveal to Peggy and her wonderful reaction were both highlights.

I was actually really surprised that Weiner wrapped up the other storylines as much as he did. I did harbor a secret hope that all of them would return to open up Sterling Draper Cooper 2.0, but that would have been too neat of a finish. I really wanted Peggy to go with Joan and start Harris Olsen, but just as good was that Peggy ended up with Stan. I’ve always wanted them together.

Pete got a far better end than he deserved and was arguably the character that actually grew and changed the most during the show.

I love that Joan’s heart — like Don’s — is really in her work. She had a wealthy man offering to sweep her away from all of it and give her the world, but instead she preferred to start a company from her staid salmon-and-turquoise apartment. She could have gone a long way on her looks — and in a way she did — but she also was extremely competent and passionate. That, to me, is the better part of feminism.

Megan I never cared much about, so when Don paid her $1 million for her services, I knew that was the last we would see of her and fine by me.

Finally, Roger met his equal in Megan’s mother — played pitch-perfectly by Julia Ormond — did right by his son and finally answered the question of his paternity for all of us. 

Now, if only the Academy would give Jon Hamm the Emmy he has well and truly earned as the star of one of TV’s all-time great series.

TB: No way Jon Hamm does not get the Emmy this year. I loved Joan’s ending, it was so true to her character. Never believed she would go the “rich guy takes her away from life’s problems” route. And her and Peggy’s conversation at lunch — even though Peggy didn’t join her — was the perfect full-circle moment for them that began all the way back in the pilot.

DH: The depiction of Joan and Peggy is one of the distinctive marks of the show, the way it showed that pair relating/clashing/following their respective paths. No show had really gone there, certainly not one set before and during the women’s-liberation era.

MM: Even when Joan offered Peggy a partnership, you could still see how nervous Joan made her feel.

TB: Oh, and Don definitly created the Coke ad, I’ve accepted that as fact now. Still loved the finale. Just seems like a bit of a letdown (though would be true to the series I guess) that Don goes on this journey of self-discovery and has an epiphany… just so he can write a slick Code ad? Always viewed when he left in the middle of the that meeting at McCann that he was done with being an ad man.

PA: Was it really ever this show’s mission — a show about a depressed, womanizing, alcoholic identity thief working in advertising — to go deeper than that?

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