Betty: “I know”
I haven’t read any reviews of the Mad Men series finale yet, because I wanted to sort out my own thoughts on the show. I don’t know if there’s much that I can add to the conversation surrounding the show, but I have my thoughts. When I wrote about the connection between Mad Men and The Graduate last weekend, I suspected that Mad Men would end with its characters at a certain point in their lives, and that their lives would go on, even if we didn’t see them. It’s well known that Matthew Weiner cut his television teeth writing for The Sopranos, and I knew that the end of Mad Men would be more nuanced than the end of Breaking Bad.
The only scene in “Person to Person” that gave me any pause was Leonard’s refrigerator speech. It was a beautiful speech, and Don identified with it, but it’s an example of Mad Men making its subtext text. That being said, I didn’t care. The whole retreat that Don was on was exactly what he needed. Mad Men was (it’s so weird to write about this show in the past tense) a show about a group of people in a time and a place, but it was also a show about consumerism and advertising. The ad men of the 1960s made money off playing on people’s desires, making them think that they wanted something they didn’t really need. Don had a wife and children and a house in the suburbs and he was unhappy. He was happy at the start of his marriage to Megan, but eventually that fell apart as well. Don Draper was selling the American Dream – he believed in what he was selling so much that he thought he should be happy with what he should want, but what did he actually want? That’s what the retreat was all about, because once again, Mad Men doesn’t like to leave things unsaid. Leonard talked about how he should be happy; he’s married, and he has children, but sometimes he feels like he’s just existing rather than being present in the moment and noticed by his family, which is something that Don can understand. Don was never happier than when he was playing the part of the hobo; in these last seven episodes we’ve seen Don shed his belongings: his wife, his furniture, his house, his job and his car. He ends up at a place where someone accepts him for who he is in Dick Whitman, and she’s able to give him what he needs, even if she didn’t get what she was looking for from the retreat.
Pete is always someone who has tried to emulate Don to the point of wanting to be him in the first season. He had the wife and child in the suburbs, and like Don, ruined it with his philandering. The scene where Trudy kicks Pete out in the second episode of season six is truly great. It turns out that Trudy and Pete haven’t been happy since they divorced; Trudy doesn’t really have any friends, and Pete is just feeling lost. Pete and Trudy’s second marriage may not last, but there’s a good chance it will: the two of them are old enough now to realise that they want this to work. What I wanted from this finale was to see our characters content with their futures, and this is what we got for the Campbells (their story basically ended last week), as well as Stan and Peggy!
Mad Men isn’t a show that’s too concerned with romance one way or another, but the dynamic between Peggy and Stan has been the basis for most of the shipping that has occurred around the show. If I’m being really honest, I wanted Stan and Peggy to end up together more than anything else in this finale, and my shipper heart is content for today. There are several failed romantic relationships in Mad Men’s archives, particularly for Peggy Olsen. Peggy is as much a lead of this show as Don, and I would have been even more annoyed if we didn’t get one last conversation between these two characters. Peggy owes her career to Don, who was not a particularly nurturing mentor, but he understood what the work meant to her. When Don’s at his lowest he calls Peggy, realising that he never said goodbye to her. Their professional relationship has been up and down, but Peggy still feels a little lost without Don at McCann, he’s been the only constant in her life for the past ten years. I was genuinely worried that Don was going to jump off a cliff after he hung up the phone, fulfilling the internet theories about the opening credits. Instead what we got was Peggy calling Stan, who she doesn’t realise she loves because her work is so important to her. What we’ve seen over the past few seasons is two people who love to talk to each other but can’t help fighting. When they’re on the phone they’re at their happiest, and those silences aren’t awkward.
One of the problems Peggy has had with her past romantic endeavours is that the men she’s been with haven’t respected her work, and Stan does; he tells her she’s talented because he believes it, and one of the most important reasons he doesn’t want her to leave is because he’d miss her. When Peggy calls Stan a failure, that’s a low blow, and she instantly regrets it. When she gets the partnership offer from Joan, the first person she calls is Stan. Stan’s also the first person she calls after she speaks to Don. He cares about her and he has good advice. It’s not about the best career move, it’s about what she actually wants and why she’d be leaving McCann. Having your name on the door isn’t a good enough reason to stop doing something you both love and are good at. He tells Peggy that she needs to let Don go, she’s capable of making it on her own – she got herself put back on that account that was reassigned. Peggy Olsen is going to be fine. Of all the scenes in the episode, this is one of the three that made me cry: I’m such a hopeless shipper that I’m going to cry at Stan running to Peggy’s office to kiss her. The other two were the scene with Leonard at the retreat and Don’s phone call to Betty.
Where the refrigerator speech hits you on the head, Don and Betty’s phone call is perfect. Everything that is going through Don and Betty’s head in the end of that call doesn’t need to be said. They may not be married any more, but they’ve been part of each other’s lives for so long that there are some things you just know. In addition, Betty isn’t letting Don’s pride get in the way of her wishes. Sure, he’s Bobby and Gene’s biological father, but he didn’t go to Bobby’s Little League game, and Henry Francis is the only father that Gene has really known. If Don takes responsibility for his children, he can’t go off and hobo around the United States, and Betty knows that. The hardest part for Don is to accept that Betty is dying; despite their troubled relationship (has Don ever had a relationship of any kind that wasn’t troubled?), he loves her. She’s the mother of his children, and she always will be.
As Betty Hofstadt Draper Francis’ life draws closer to its end, we see Sally Draper grow up. Watching Kiernan Shipka grow up with Sally Draper has been one of the pleasures of watching Mad Men. Sally was always precocious, and she probably always will be, but she’s able to make decisions now. Unlike Henry and Betty, she’s honest with Bobby about what’s going on with their mother. Bobby’s old enough to know what’s going on. In the final shot of Betty and Sally in the finale, Sally is doing the dishes while Betty is sitting at the kitchen table. Sally has grown up, and she’s doing what she needs to do to take care of her family – that shot was just as perfect as when Gene sat on her knee last week.
As for the end of the episode, is Don the man who comes up with “I want to buy the world a Coke” in this universe? It doesn’t matter, although Todd VanDerWerff and Eileen Sutton’s theory that the show would end with Don pitching this campaign was the closest to the truth of any theory about this final season. What matters is that Don and the rest of our characters are at peace with their futures. Will they be happy? Probably not all the time; these characters lives don’t end with the show, except for perhaps Betty. We don’t need to see Betty’s funeral, though I imagine it would probably be as upsetting as real life funerals. Mad Men has always been a show where people live their lives, and the fact that “Person to Person” ended at a point where Don is at peace is perfect. Mad Men has come to an end, but it reminds us that life goes on.
- I haven’t read any other reviews yet, I needed to get my own thoughts out first. I did however, briefly skim Todd VanDerWerff’s review over at Vox, where he points out the similarity between the costumes at Don’s retreat and the Coke ad.
- In a nod to Mad Men conspiracy theorists, there was a Charlie Manson reference as Don was trapped in the retreat.