It took awhile to digest the final episode of Mad Men, and now that I have, I'd have to say that although it was neither my favorite nor the best episode of the series, it turned out to be a fairly low key, mostly fitting finale that left our hero Don Draper to a semi-ambiguous ending that more or less confirms all of our cynicism and ideals about who he really is- and I don't know what more you could ask for than that.
I also turned out to be 100% wrong in all of my predictions from the penultimate episode, which I seem to remember being the case every time I tried to predict something last season, so I guess I was due for one final lesson in the fruitless art of Mad Men predicting. Of course Matt Weiner would do the complete opposite of everything I expected. I thought for sure there'd be a time jump of at least several months (past Betty's death) and in fact it's only been a couple of weeks at most. And I thought that we may not see several key Mad Men characters, as it seemed each had more or less gotten their appropriate sendoff moments in the last few episodes, but lo and behold, everyone showed up in this episode for the final checkout. It doesn't turn out to be so bad on that front though, since they all get some pretty nice conclusions.
We'll go ahead and start with Joan, who we see is vacationing and doing the new and mysterious drug of cocaine with Bruce Greenwood, but she's not ready to leave New York with him and he's not so satisfied after all to be stuck there with her and Kevin. Joan meets up with Ken (hi Ken!) for his final moment, where he tells her that his firm needs someone to produce industrial films and he wants her for the job, and this gives Joan the bright idea of starting her own company and asking Peggy (in another lunchtime reunion) to leave McCann and become her partner. This is nice for fans of Peggy and Joan's friendship (they seem to love each other in this episode, even though they've never really been great friends), but ultimately Peggy turns it down, leaving Joan to start her company solo. And that solo means without Greenwood as well, who balks her new career because it will take time away from him, so good riddance, asshole. Joan never needed you anyway.
Now on to Roger, who comes to see Joan (her third reunion scene) and insists in putting Kevin in his will, so that he can leave his estate to him someday. Joan had always resisted his offers to help before, but she's mellowed now and agrees to it, and the two of them laugh over old times as Roger tells her he's getting married again, this time to Marie. Roger and Marie seem to end the show bickering and together, as they always were, but I'm not exactly sure why Roger deserves to end up with her of all people. Julia Ormond had some good moments on this show, but she's never been anyone I particularly cared to see again, and when you think about it, aside from being older, how is she any different from Roger's second wife Jane, who he always bickered with too?
Moving on again to Peggy, probably the most important person to see one more time (besides Don of course), where she's settled at McCann (and doing the best she can to not be ignored for accounts), where she says so long to Pete and Harry (whose final scene is typical Harry Crane as he steals Pete's cookies and shrugs off their canceled lunch), while Pete graciously tells Peggy that she'll be creative director by 1980 and someday people will brag about having worked with her. It's a nice moment for the two of them before Pete moves to Wichita with Trudy and Tammy, and it's even more meaningful knowing the history they've shared. Peggy then considers Joan's partnership offer, but Stan shoots it down, telling her she knows she belongs in advertizing, which makes Peggy yell at him, but then she receives a distraught call from Don (more on that later), which alarms her and forces her to call Stan for help. He calms her down over the phone as he assures her that Don always disappears and eventually comes back, and while doing so, Stan takes his big moment to confess to Peggy that he's in love with her as she reacts in shock. Her surprise quickly turns into a rambling confession of her own feelings though, as she seems to realize instantly that she loves him back, and before she knows it Stan has raced over to her office and the two of them get swept up in a big, movie style kiss- awww. Finally, a nod to all the Stan/Peggy shippers over the years. I was never sure if these two should get together or not, but I have to admit, seeing Peggy finally find love with a guy who will undoubtedly accept her professional aspirations is heartwarming to say the least.
So with all the New York stuff wrapped up this brings us back to Don, who spends the entire episode in California, where he eventually made his way, and has no contact with the NYC cast, save for three person to person phone calls with the three most important women in his life- Sally, Betty and Peggy. He's spending his time racing cars, wearing jeans (now that's a new and weird look for him) and sleeping with random women again (his favorite activity), but when he talks to Sally at school, she fesses up to him about Betty's condition (less than 6 months to live). Don is shocked at first and says he's coming home right away and the kids are all going to live with him, but Sally shoots him down and tells him to convince Betty to let the boys stay with Henry, for stability's sake. Don isn't going for it, but Sally is sure she knows that it's best for them not to be with him. Ouch. Don then calls Betty of course, who's now at least doing some serious coughing, and Betty also tells him just as firmly as Sally (but not unkindly) that she's going to send the boys to live with her brother and his wife. Don tries to push back on this, but Betty isn't angry about it, and ends up convincing him that taking the kids isn't in their best interest, since when was the last time he saw them after all? Don realizes she's probably right, and the two of them seem to come to terms with their own history as the sadness of Betty's fate seems ever nearer.
So Don then goes to see Stephanie (should have seen that coming) to give back her aunt's ring and find out that she gave her son to his grandparents and isn't doing so hot herself. Stephanie's on her way to an Esalen-like retreat and takes Don with her, where he spends the majority of the final episode with the hippies at the seminars, not finding anything close to enlightenment and losing himself even further. Eventually Stephanie gets upset about her kid and takes off, leaving Don alone again, and with no way out, so he makes his final call to Peggy, telling her that he forgot to say goodbye to her. Peggy's alarmed at his tone, and tries telling him to come home, that the agency would surely take him back, and reminds him that he's always wanted to work on Coke, but Don is shaking and practically curled up in the fetal position as he hangs up and sinks against the wall of one of the cabins. He fears it just may be the end, but then one of the seminar leaders (played by Helen Slater of 80's Supergirl fame) comes upon him and takes him with her to the group meeting. At the meeting, a stranger named Leonard takes the floor and confesses his feeling of being alone, ignored, unneeded and unnecessary, which unexpectedly moves Don to tears as he stands up and embraces the guy in a hug as Leonard breaks down in the center of the circle. So we finally find Don't enlightenment after all, as he joins the hippies for early morning meditation in the final scene, as the instructor tells them to think of themselves as being at peace with a "new you," and as Don closes his eyes in the same position as everyone else, the camera zooms in on his face, we hear a sudden "ding" and he smiles knowingly, while the shot immediately scans to the infamous 1971 "I Want to Buy the World a Coke" commercial to fade out the series for good.
So, the ending. What does it mean? Well, Don's "enlightenment" of course led to what was apparently his finest advertizing hour, as he seizes upon the ideas and the people in the retreat to come up with the Coke commercial and the lasting legacy he'd always wanted to leave. Is it a good one? Well, it's still advertizing, but that's who Don is. He's the ad man- he's always trying to find himself and he always ends up back in the same place. We know that Don went back to NYC, he rejoined McCann-Erickson (the real life agency who produced that ad), and gave them their greatest product. To me, that's a pretty perfect ending and it suits Don't character to a tee- and the idea that people don't change, they never will, they only go in cycles. Which has fit Don Draper for this entire show, all the way to the finish line. I'm impressed. I wasn't so crazy about Don spending this entire episode at the retreat and away from the main cast, but the payoff to it is pretty terrific, and the rest of the characters got their warm, and genuinely happy endings (save for Betty, whose last scene depicts her smoking at the dinner table while Sally diligently does the dishes in the background). It was a good, finely tuned, appropriate finale to the show I've loved for so long, and doesn't tarnish one bit of the massive TV legacy it's left. I'm satisfied, and I'll miss it, but I will always remember every bit of it, and in that way life goes on for Mad Men just as it does for the characters in that world. We'll be seeing you.