A show that epitomises the current television golden age has just come to a fitting conclusion.
Mad Men finished this week after 8 tumultuous years for Don Draper (John Hamm), his children and anyone who met him – 8 years of fashion, pitches and incalculable side-effects of second-hand smoking.
Years of speculation preceded the finale; whether Don would come out a changed man or forever submerge himself in the cynical and superficial world to which he dedicated so much of his life. The show’s producers pulled a fast one, and in an ending that will be debated almost as much as The Sopranos finale – they managed both.
For a show where cliff-hangers and anticipated dramatic moments are almost never watershed changes for the characters we know and love, but instead understated moments where they just generally get on with their lives, the finale departed a little from the formula to round off storylines. Roger and Marie eloped, Joan (Christina Hendricks) went off on her own steam, and in an oft-speculated, rom-com soapy moment in an otherwise terse finale, Penny and Stan professed their love for each other.
Don also had his breakaway moment, literally staring off a cliff at the sunrise, before the show’s final moments, meditating as a smile breaks across his face, us wondering whether he will ever return to the advertising world or if he has found some form of peace after running away for so many years. We cut to footage of an iconic 1971 Coca-Cola commercial, with people of all backgrounds singing peacefully atop a hill: “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony! I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.”
The promise of the Coca-Cola brand and commercial opportunities such as the famous TV spot which was produced by the real-life McCann Erickson, the ad agency mimicked in the show, was but one of the many offers made to Don to entice him to remain at the firm. Does it symbolise his new-found enlightenment and embracing of the then zeitgeist, or like so many times before, had he fled, only to come to a creative realisation and return to produce a winning commercial?
I’d say the latter – Don is not unlike Ken Cosgrove, the ill-fated character who wants to work full-time on his novel, but instead rounds out the finale pitching to Joan a short film for his new bosses at Dow Chemical. Don may have come to terms with his past, to some extent, but as Penny said, he always comes back.
The final episode is an affirmation of everything Don was and has become over a decade; a man who exploits feelings of love and affection to sell himself and his wares amongst the women he meets and commercial giants he craves. He can package love in consumer form and sell it to you just as he sold Kodak the Carousel in the very first season
The finale, ‘Person to person,’ is just that, the continuation of an exploitative yet affectionate ethos about human interaction and desire for material need, albeit Don’s new interpretation of this in an emerging 1970s culture.
With Don ever-evolving, it’s fitting that the final episode of a show largely about human want and commercialisation, whose final scene features Don at his most entrepreneurial, is actually a free, hugely propitious advert for the world’s most saturated brand.