As the credits rolled following Mad Men Season 7 Episode 14, one of the best and most celebrated shows ever came to a bittersweet conclusion.
How did the final chapter of the life and times of Don Draper and company play out? Where will this rank among recent finales of iconic TV series?
Mad Men was created with intentional slow development and ambiguity.
Often the episodes and seasons ended with possibility for analysis and discussion, making the show both entertaining and cerebral.
Because the audience was frequently left in the perpetual ambiguity of the character’s lives, my personal prediction was that the show would have an open ending.
Surprisingly, the lives of the main characters were left with much clarity and hope for the future by the end of Mad Men Season 7 Episode 14.
For instance, the show’s romances ended clearly with Peggy and Stan professing their love fore each other, and Roger and Marie Calvet getting engaged.
Most of us probably have more hope for the longevity of Peggy and Stan’s relationship. But it wouldn’t be an appropriate ending if Roger didn’t make a rash, impulsive decision to get married.
However, perhaps the most definite conclusion of the show is the tragic prognosis of Betty. In last week’s episode, she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
From Utah, Don calls Sally. Although resistant at first, Sally breaks down and tells Don her mother is dying of lung cancer. Of course, Don calls Betty, and the tears start rolling—Don’s, Betty’s, and mine.
Betty coughs and staggers her way to the phone. On the line, she listens to a distraught Don Draper as he insists he is coming back to New York to take care of the kids.
However, Betty refuses and demands that Don stays away. In what is possible her first moment of self-assertion, Betty says, “I want to keep things as normal as possible, and you not being here is part of that.”
“Birdie,” Don replies. As Don and Betty (and I) start to cry, Betty quietly responds, “I know.” And they bid their final farewells.
In Betty’s final scene, she is smoking a cigarette while Sally does this dishes. If Betty wants to maintain a sense of normalcy, she is doing a good job.
Although she is dying, she maintains the indifference and coldness toward her children that she has over the show’s seven seasons. If she were to act in any other manner though, it would be inauthentic.
Her children are best remembering their mother as she is rather than playing a character others have wanted her to be.
This may be the truest Betty has ever been to herself.
Not everyone’s ending was as definite as Betty’s.
Just about every Mad Men fan was delighted to see Joan finally step out into her own to start Halloway-Harris, her own production company.
With excitement, she tells her new boyfriend, Richard, about starting her own company. He doesn't share Joan enthusiasm, however.
Richard has shown disdain for her life in the past. First, he was upset that he might take the backseat to her son. Now, he decides to leave Joan because she wants to work.
“You are acting like this is happening to you, but you are making a choice,” Richard says. Richard believes the Joan has to choose between her career and him. However, Joan argues she can have both.
As she answers a work call, Richard grabs his coat and leaves Joan.
This scene reinforces the continuous battle Joan has had and will have with men. Her choice to have a career is constantly threatened by her partners’ feelings of inferiority and constant need for attention.
What made Sterling Cooper unique was that it evolved from a misogynistic workplace to an environment that was on the upswing toward embracing women as professionals. That dissolved when McCann purchased Sterling Cooper.
Now, Joan has to battle the division of labor and the struggle for power personally, professionally, and romantically.
For a moment one likely feels tremendous sadness for Joan. But that is quickly kicked to the wayside when Joan reveals she is launching her own production firm—and offers Peggy a partnership in it.
Initially, Peggy says she isn’t taking the job. But as the final scenes flash on screen, Peggy is writing late at night. It could be argued that she is onboard with Joan.
This is especially arguable because in Joan’s last scene, she answers what appeared to be an important phone call. Could it have been Peggy accepting her offer?
When McCann purchases Sterling Cooper Joan and Peggy are pushed back to the sidelines because of their sex. Their talent is ignored.
The series ends with Joan’s production company opening new possibilities for women. A workplace where, as Joan says, “We won’t have to answer to anyone.”
Joan and Peggy are entering a brave new world for women. The 70s will encourage workplace rights and equal pay for women as the second wave of feminism takes hold.
But Joan and Peggy are one step ahead of the game. They’ve always been one step ahead of the game.
If Joan and Peggy were women in real life who worked their way into developing their own firm, they would probably flip their sh*t that in 2015, women are still fighting for equal pay.
But it is 1970, and 2015 is a long, long way off. In fact, the characters are just beginning to see that there is a future at all.
And this couldn’t be more true for Don.
As Don sat in a McCann meeting drinking a can of Coke listening to the monotonous vibrations of business meeting chatter, he up and left.
Since then, Don has been gallivanting around the country getting drunk, getting beat up, and (of course) getting laid.
He finally ends up on the front porch of Stephanie Horton, his first wife’s niece.
Stephanie is less than thrilled to see him—the man she knows as Dick (Don’s true identity). Despite her hard feelings, she sees that Don is in desperate need of help. So she invites him on a mental health retreat.
His time at the retreat does not begin well. He has a bad attitude about the therapy. His fellow patients dislike him. Eventually, Stephanie runs away from the facility and takes his car.
So Don is left with nothing and no where to go. He calls Peggy, and their conversation reminds the viewers of the intimate and tender relationship they share.
“You can come home,” Peggy says. “Where? I messed everything up. I’m not the man you think I am,” Don responds. He ends the conversation, “I realized I never said goodbye to you.”
Don isn't going to back to New York.
And finally. Finally, finally! Don begins his transformation.
Don finally begins to become a new person—the person he was meant to be.
It isn’t a coincide that in the final episode of the series, he is using the name Dick. He is one step closer to finding himself, so he must start with who he really is. Dick Whitman.
Stuck at the retreat, Don realizes that the Self isn’t just a name or a job. It isn’t Don Draper or Dick Whitman. It isn’t Sterling Cooper or McCann. And it certainly isn’t the notches of women on his belt.
After he breaks down during another man’s therapy session, Don begins to see that the Self is understanding. It is internal.
Don is last seen sitting in a yoga/meditation class. He is in lotus, chanting “Om.”
Chanting Om is a form of mediation, so this suggests he is healing. Don needs a lot of healing.
On the phone with Peggy, she asks him what he has ever done that is so bad. Responding, he unrolls the laundry list.
Don’s behavior, at best, has been reprehensible. He has treated nearly every woman in his life badly, including his own daughter. He lived his entire adult life as a lie. And he has refused to accept accountability for any misfortunes.
With his track record, Om is a good place to start.
However, the scene of Don chanting “Om” is more complex than just meditation.
Om is Sanskrit for "the sound of creation" or "the seed of all creation." As Don chants “Om,” he is creating himself. He is starting anew, getting to the core of who he is so a new, more authentic Self can begin.
The series ends with an iconic 1971 Coca-Cola commercial. “I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company. It’s the real thing, what the world wants today” the commercial claims.
The lyrics reminds us of our friends on Madison Avenue. First, the commercial tells the audience that the series ends in the 70s. It is the end of an era.
More importantly, through their revolutionary advertising, the men and women of Sterling Cooper helped decide what it is "the world wants today"--a coke, cigarettes, panty hose...
And, at the end of the series, the characters are just beginning to understand what they want.
Cheers to you, Mad Men.
What did you think of the finale? Click the link to watch Mad Men online if you missed it, then hit the comments below to share all your thoughts.