Don didn’t go out of the window, or jump out of a plane. Mad Men ended with a Coca Cola commercial. Really, was there a better way? Don, who always used the emotions of others to fuel his best campaigns, finally used his own to create an everlasting campaign. (Maybe?) And the whole show built up to an ad. Fitting.
Let’s back up.
“Person to Person” was an old-school finale (heartwarming moments! tears! resolution!), and when it comes to Mad Men, that both works and doesn’t. Mad Men‘s entire final season has been a long goodbye, though, and “Person to Person” mostly (surprisingly) gave fans the emotional resolution to match it. Pete and Peggy had a sweet final moment together, before we later see Pete and Trudy together (with Tammy, of course), being led to their private jet. Harry got a cameo being a turd. Joan finally has the resources and the opportunity to start her own fem!power business, with two names devoted all to her: Holloway-Harris. And that was thanks in part to our favorite eye-patch wearer, Kenny Cosgrove (formerly Accounts). Roger actually seems happy with Marie, and has even learned some French. Sally is all grown up and incredibly mature, and our time with Betty ends as it should — with her in denial, smoking her cigarette while someone else does the work. Bless.
A little more controversially, perhaps, is the Stan-Peggy pairing, but you’re either going to love or hate it. Frankly, I’m a lover, and was dying inside over and over again regarding the entire thing. There was precedent for it peppered throughout their relationship, which began far more overt in these final episodes. I don’t think it’s betraying Peggy as a character to pair her off, because it wasn’t necessary in any way. She was going to be fine, and she’s still fine. But right now she also has it all.
As for Don, his trip across America continued, finding him unable to work his previous magic. He didn’t get the girl (Diana), he didn’t get to go home again to small town life, and he didn’t get to set the land speed record (or whatever the hell he was doing out in the desert). He was rebuffed by Betty and Sally about taking custody of the kids, and Anna’s niece Stephanie also ultimately wanted nothing to do with him. Just before she abandoned him, Don had given her a shorter and more desperate version of a famous speech he once gave Peggy: you’ll move on from this, and be shocked by how much it doesn’t matter. But Stephanie tells him he’s wrong, and for the first time, he actually internalizes that.
Just like a Carousel-esque pitch was spoken by someone else at McCann, Don’s honesty about his feelings and his fears also came from another person — in this case, Leonard, The Most Uninteresting Man in the World. The man pain was shared, and it snapped Don out of his brief catatonia. Though I had been convinced that Mad Men would end with the “death” of Don Draper to make way for the life of Dick Whitman (fueled especially by his time with Stephanie, who calls him Dick), indeed it did not. Dick is ready for Don to make something of this name, maybe. Did he find his inner om and realize there was a perfect ad in it? That’s how I’m choosing to read it. You may feel differently, and that’s just fine.
That’s the thing about “Person to Person” — it was personal. It was also, probably, polarizing. There are people who hate Lost‘s finale because it was all about (arguably unearned) emotions and focused on characters, and it left so many plot holes dangling. I am one of those people. But with Mad Men, its surrealism and many dropped plots over the years saved it from needing to answer all of those things in the finale. It was emotionally satisfying, something this show so rarely is. In that regard, maybe “Person to Person’s” main issue is that its tone feels so out of canon for Mad Men. And yet in the end, it’s easy to believe Don returned to McCann, created this incredible campaign, and kept being Don Draper. Like Stan said, “he always does this. And he always comes back.” This probably isn’t the last time he goes rogue and has to be brought back — it’s just the last time we’ll see it happen.
No series’ legacy can be or should be judged by its finale, even if it’s one that was planned. Some great shows have had great finales, because they fall in line with the show’s main trajectory, and take it to a satisfying point (I’m thinking at the moment of Breaking Bad, Justified, Six Feet Under). Mad Men has never been about one thing, or even anything tangible. Its finale wasn’t, either, but it ended on a surprisingly upbeat note for a show that was often very dark. It let us see what we wanted to in it.
Ultimately, “Person to Person” found the show’s characters all in places they didn’t expect to be. Joan turned down the kind of romance she would have stabbed for in the first several seasons of the show, in order to start and run her own business. Roger was married again, to a woman of an appropriate age, and seems happy about it. Pete is with his family, and wants to be. Peggy is in a romance with someone who accepts her fully for who she is, and she doesn’t have to make any concessions or apologies for it. Sally is at home washing the dishes and helping out her mother. There was growth and change, and sometimes both. And Don is … Don. But a new Don with a new lease on life. Maybe. In the end, Mad Men made us care about these characters as actual people, enough to want to know what happened to them after 1970 (or at least, enough leeway to believe what we want). “Person to Person” gave us that resolution. Now it’s a new day.
Does anybody else crave a Coke right now?
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Season 7 Part 2 Rating: ★★★ Good
Series Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Mad Men is dead. Long live Mad Men!
— Consider this recap a hot take; tomorrow, we’ll have a full finale postmortem roundtable for a more in-depth discussion of the series as a whole!
— And yet another Charles Manson reference. This show will never stop trolling us.
— Maybe Don never comes back from LA and Peggy creates the Coke ad. Who knows! EDIT: According to danielbblatt on Twitter, the pigtail girl shows up in the Coke ad, so that’s 100% Draper.
— “People come and go, and nobody says goodbye” – Don.
— Peggy and Stan and I don’t care if you don’t like it, I was essentially deceased over that phone conversation and Peggy working out that she does have feelings for him while talking to him.
— Betty: “I want to keep things as normal as possible. And you not being here is part of that.” Don: “Birdie…” Again, the feels, the feels …
— Mad Men still kept a lot of humor in this finale, with Roger shouldering most of that burden. Everything he said was Sterling’s Gold!
— “Little rich bastard. He really is I guess!” – Roger.
— “Spoken like a failure” – Peggy.
— Joan was so happy in this episode. Have we ever seen her so carefree? I loved her partnership offer to Peggy — think how far those two have come, Lord. But it would probably never have worked, and Peggy made the right choice. Also, I told y’all that boyfriend of hers was a scrub and beneath her!
— “I’ve been to the beach” – Joan.
— “A thing like that.” – Peggy, quoting Pete.