Mad Men has meant a lot to me over the past few weeks (months?) as I’ve worked through it. I couldn’t bring myself to binge through it, as so many of the episodes demanded some really deep thought and reflection. I found Alan Sepinwall’s reactions to each episode to be a great after mint, even when I didn’t agree exactly with his take aways.
So I was really bummed when he appeared to completely misunderstand the ending. like, grossly. He took a beautiful story about enlightenment, and escaping the cage of a decadent work culture, and figured it meant nothing, didn;’t change the main character, and everything is corrupt. ugh.
Having just finished the series finale episode (maybe i should sleep on it…), here is my take on why the ending is NOT AT ALL suggesting that Don went back to the ad world and made that coke commercial (er, spoilers):
– note that joan casually does coke early on (cocaine), and later peggy asks don if he wants to come back for coke (coca cola). These are setups for the fact that don does NOT want back into the world of high stakes advertising – which is about to become a culture that involves doing a lot of coke, as the 80s rolls in.
– i think we’ve seen Don as a man who evaluates each product as what it could mean to him. it’s a small way for him to adopt another personality, which is his thing.
the point of the ending is that he has moved past that thing. he’s gotten real. and now we see one of the greatest advertisements/jingles ever created – and it’s aimed directly at people like this new enlightened Don. He is now on the other side of it, being pursued by ads instead of making them.
– further ammo for this take : although he’s part of the older crowd throughout the 60s, he’s always been chasing these young women around who are connected with what’s coming next. and like that final invisible guy’s sad rant, Don hasn’t been what any of these exciting futuristic women wanted. The women in Don’s life have all left him behind. This is why he breaks down and hugs that guy. He needs to stop worrying about being wanted by other people.
– and note how the coke jingle cuts off as the credits roll. suggesting that the song has been turned off, and we are left at peace without it. like don being at peace without the world of advertising. i think that was a careful editing choice.
+ I was also suprised Sepinwall didn’t mention how stephanie’s struggles with self hate over abandoning her kid is a setup for Don deciding not to hate himself for letting his own kids go. just a random detail.
Hope this much more positive take on the ending, regarding Don, is of interest. For anyone who is struggling with that ending.
i’m also thinking that final guy’s rant about being in a fridge, and nobody wanting you – is a metaphor for Don being a product on the shelf that nobody wants.
Again, I see this as ammunition for the idea that Don does find peace in that smiling meditation. And that the coke ad is trying to reach “real” people like him. He has become the sort of quality human product that advertisements use, to sell product to other unfulfilled humans.