Mad Men Finale: Thought Provoking Until The Very, Very End…


Every nuanced piece of the show’s finale was squealing one thing. IT ISN’T OVER!!! They’ve left it all open for a return. Mad Men’s creator Matthew Weiner is famed for his ambiguity, leaving storylines vague and open to interpretation; the last show ever was anything but.

The show’s title, Person to Person was about phone calls. To be more accurate, Coke (drink and recreational pharmaceutical) and telephone calls. The last ever episode picked up the pace after the previous few weeks as we got self-indulgent while Don did his Jack Kerouac meets The Fugitive. But in terms of structure and writing, instead of conclusion, loads of new seeds were planted. Just when we should be reaching the end of the story, new ideas were springing up. The show was plotted around calls to Don from Sally, to Betty from Don, to Peggy from Don and then Peggy to Stan. I was expecting my phone to ring.

Surely we need to find out how the conversation on Don’s return went after he confessed all to Peggy about stealing another man’s identity? Peggy refused to accept anything he said and thought he was drunk. The call to Peggy from Don was also like a suicide call. Saying goodbye before he ends it. That was how it framed and worded. After he hung up he almost hyperventilated with shock and grief. We can only assume he showed up for work as if nothing happened.

What’s going to happen with Olson and Harris? There’s surely so much more to come from these very different but intriguing, exciting characters. While the show ran we broke a curfew and spoke to discuss a TV spin-off scenario, a Mary Tyler More meets 1970s weekly glam fest Thelma and Louise/ Charlie’s Angels (minus 1); Charlie being coke, not the drink. Two women breaking into TV and movies? I’m glad The Guardian piece below agreed and thought along the same lines. What a show that would be. Joan and Peggy doing their thing with a cool 1970s sassiness, fighting the creative fight with a sexy cool funk soundtrack. We are left unsure if Peggy is burning the midnight oil for her moonlighting project with Joan and Ken or just working hard for McCann Erickson. (Can I be musical director please? Here’s a couple of tunes)

stan and peg

What about Peggy and Stan falling in love? It felt unusual for Mad Men as it seemed a bit forced. Then again sometimes, on reflection, love can be like that. It can be all around us every day, we just need the other person to stop and remind us before the moment passes. My initial feeling is that right now, it feels a bit gushing.

I’m writing this just after the show’s UK broadcast on Sky Atlantic on May 21st, 2015. I’ve just drank really strong coffee, later than I should have. Right now, I feel the same with the ending. I know I will have to watch it again. Even though I’ve just seen it and it makes sense, I wasn’t expecting it all just to be so happy, or hippy.

I loved the restaurant meeting and Bloody Mary lunch. The determination of Joan and the apprehension of Peggy. I don’t think Pete deserved as much time as the script has given him of late. I would’ve been more generous in terms of writing and character development with Stan and Ken. I liked Stan. I liked his almost civil servant approach to any kind of work. His serve yourself, not the man.

It’s the same with Ken Cosgrove, the writer, Ken would also have so much more, especially coming into the early 1970s. Imagine if he had written a best seller and sold the rights to Joan and Peggy? Pete’s story has tapered out. He was always the annoying ambitious guy who accidentally rises to incredible levels. Our very own example of The Peter Principle, rising, then stopping at his own level of incompetence. He’s there through connections more than ability. We all know people like that. His presence was actually starting to annoy me when he was on screen. Vincent Kartheiser plays Pete brilliantly, I just felt the character had ran his course and was one dimensional, whereas Stan and Ken had loads of depth.

As Don stood at the cliff for the perfect cinematic shot, at Big Sur, I was hoping he’d jump off. As I watched, I shouted ‘be brave, jump!’ I was thinking of the inevitable clamour (I’m already doing it) to return. It’s hard work but TV pays as well as Hollywood and now can provide comparable production values as well as a quicker turnaround. It’s difficult when TV shows become as successful as Mad Men, Breaking Bad or The Sopranos. Actors find they are always judged against their small screen success. If Telly Savalas couldn’t shake off the role of Kojak when starring in Escape to Athena and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, what hope have the new breed got? Give it 3 to 5 years and watch this space, or your TV, or by then, your wearable technology; the iPant device. Matthew Weiner discusses AMC, Netflix, and creating TV for binge-watchers in the article below.

The real inspiration behind the McCann Erickson Coke ad came from one of their men called Bill Backer. He was stranded in an airport in Ireland on the way to London, due to fog. He was flying in to write radio commercials with songwriters Cook and Greenaway. All around him in Shannon Airport he could see those who were irate, calm down and relax when they were drinking Coke. When he finally met up, he had this idea, of wanting to buy everyone in the world a Coke. That’s just a bit of trivia. There’s more in this excellent piece by Michelle Coffey on Market Watch.

Here’s Bill…he’s 89…

What else did we have? Roger is clearly happy chain-smoking, drinking and shagging his way to a happy, early death, safe in the knowledge business (his baby with Joan) Kevin, is taken care of. What about Diana the waitress? Whatever happened to her and what was that all about? Shouldn’t we have her come back to hunt down and torment Don? Betty has resigned to her fate. The law of averages stated someone had to die.

In the show, you wish it would be Pete and Trudy at the hands of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, there was a spree of airline hijacks around this time. Copycats of DB Cooper, the epithet given to man who hijacked a Boeing 727 in 1971, got $200,000 ransom and parachuted from the plane, never to be seen again. (There were rumours Don was DB Cooper). While we’re off on a conspiracy theory tangent, Megan was also thankfully spared the rumoured Sharon Tate treatment.

Like Stan and Ken I think far more could’ve been drawn from Betty’s wonderfully elegant character though you have to accept the show’s Grace Kelly lookalike was always going to be the one to die young and stay pretty. Her acting while speaking to Don on the phone was sensational.

When Mad Men started I loved the storylines about advertising. Yes I loved the glamour, clothes, decor, the style, the interaction and the drama. However the narrative seemed to drive with more power when it involved a campaign, a presentation, ideas and the creative spark. Don would seduce clients in presentations. We all knew advertising was a lie. We were in on it too. It was all cunning and so deceptive.

We stuck with the show during its midlife (mid arc?) crisis when they went off topic to Dick’s childhood, looking for a reason to justify why Don shagged everything that moved. Oh that’s why he’s such a misogynist. Who cares? Poor young Dick grew up disrespecting women because he was raised in a brothel and had nookie on tap. I’d consider that a lucky break.

A brief mention for Evan Arnold (I knew his face, remember, he was briefly in West Wing) who played Leonard, in the last moments of the show. How Mad Men-esque is that? Just bring in a new guy with a hefty and pivotal role to navigate us to the closing scene. In the end it wasn’t about spiritual enrichment at all. Don found clarity of thought and a million dollar hit ad while meditating to free himself from the shackles of corporate America only to create one of the most famous ads ever created.

As Emily Nussbuam of The New Yorker eloquently puts it ‘tension with Don’s supposed personal growth was perhaps the most cynical vision imaginable: our hero had hit on a way to sell sugar water by linking it with global peace’.

In the end it wasn’t Buddhist meditation, it was the creative spark. When Don smiled, we knew he’d nailed it and was coming back. When the end came it was respectful to the spirit of Mad Men and advertising, which is why we all loved and will miss the show…don’t be gone too long.

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