I am rarely completely faithful with any television series. I’ll like something for a while and then grow weary of the characters and their shenanigans and move on to something else.
I watched Downton Abbey for its first seasons and enjoyed it well enough. They production values were good and the acting excellent and the story lines, at least up through the First World War tended to, if not rivet the viewer, at least interest.
But, this year I had had enough. I watched the first episode and DVR’d the rest. I realized with that first one I was nearly bored to insensitivity. It came to me that I didn’t give a damn about a bunch of heedless toffs or their toadying underlings downstairs. So I think I’ll probably scrap the unwatched episodes and won’t feel bad about doing so.
The other series I watched (almost) in its entirety, was Lost. With that one we come to the crux of this discussion – finales – last episodes – how do the people who make these vehicles pull it all together and leave you feeling satisfied. In fact, they don’t. The final episode of Lost, frankly, sucked. Much as did the final episodes of other beloved long-living series like MASH, Seinfeld, or Friends. To bring a vehicle to an agreeable, non-cliche conclusion seems to be beyond TV creative ‘geniuses’ and that is irksome, and it brings me to today’s topic. Mad Men.
I can say with no equivocation that I watched every single episode of the series that concluded this past Sunday. For seven long years I followed the trials, tribulations, boozing marathons, chain-smoking and fuckaramas of Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Pete, Peggy, bountiful Joan and the rest and didn’t miss one of them.
And then we came to the grand conclusion. How were they going to pull all of that together and leave people satisfied? Well, I guess they couldn’t. Or, at least they didn’t leave this faithful viewer satisfied. Mainly what they left me was confused.
At the final scene our beloved rogue Don is at a hippie retreat in N. California, obviously modelled after the Esalen Institute. He is at one with all the meditators as they sit on a bluff at an exquisite hillside overlooking the Pacific and in unison uttering their “omm”. What, Don Draper doing this? Or so it seems. He had just completed a Kerouac-style trans-continental journey that saw him shuck all his worldly possessions after having walked from his job. Ultimately he ends up in LA, ravaged with alcoholism and shitfaced drunk at the home of his hippie female friend from a few seasons ago. He’s a mess. Long story short, she takes him to the retreat – where they got the money there is no indication – and he gets his head together.
So, you think he has maybe shucked the Madison Avenue bullshit? Maybe, or maybe not. It’s left to you. Right after the Omm moment that image passes to one of the most famous ads of all time – Coke’s “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing”, and Coke is Don’t account.
I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. Is he saved or is he going to continue being the same callow bastard he was all along.
Meanwhile, for the rest of the gang – Roger Sterling (whom I grew to like more and more) ends up with Don’s ex mother-in-law and seems very content with this ‘older’ woman. Peggy links up with her creative partner; lovely Joan starts a brilliant business of her own, and a slightly redeemed Pete gets back with his ex and we are to assume they all live happily ever after – or not. The one who seems to end up on the poopy end of the stick is Don’s ex, Betty, who is dying of lung cancer. Hardly seems fair somehow. And if she’s dying of cancer, why isn’t Don dying of cirrhosis?
Some found Mad Men a little too dark to be an entertainment. Some had such a visceral loathing for the Don Drapers of the world, they chose to watch something less dispiriting in lieu. I get that.
But, for me, having been a young man during that era, I got it – and at two levels. I got the lifestyle, and feel blessed in having gotten out of it alive. And even though I was never in advertising, I was closely associated with it in all my newspaper work, and was once even married to somebody in the racket. It, to an outsider, is a challenging and often soul-destroying calling – just like on Mad Men. Therefore in their striving, and sometimes in their excesses, I can give them a nod of understanding, if not approval.