Mad Men is the reason I watch so much television. If it wasn’t for Matthew Weiner’s fictional opus I don’t know if I would be as big a television fan. If I remember correctly, Mad Men premiered during my junior year of college and I became fascinated by its style and grace, by its main character and by the time period in which it took place. The pilot is really good. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times and it never gets old.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
After I watched the finale, “Person to Person,” I decided to view “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” once more with the series finale in mind, and it has recontextualized the whole series for me. Don Draper’s epiphany in that Lucky Strike meeting is a marvel and the quote, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness,” correlates beautifully with his meditative epiphany in “Person to Person.” Don Draper/Dick Whitman is happy in that moment and whether it leads to him creating that Coca Cola ad or not, it’s a wonderful way to end a wonderful series.
It’s The Real Thing
I don’t need to know if Don flew back to New York, somehow was welcomed back by McCann Erickson and created the “It’s The Real thing” ad. The fact that the series is supposed to take place in our world, where JFK was assassinated and Charles Manson still committed those murders, there’s no reason to think Weiner would change history by giving Don credit for a historical advertisement. Of course, it’s left open that he did and it’s definitely implied, but who gives a shit. That’s not the point of Mad Men. The whole series is filled with ambiguity, so it’s only right that it goes off the air with a bit more.
“The Real Thing” advertisement came from McCann Erickson in real life, so I’m not apposed to believing it’s Don Draper’s advertising masterpiece. That final shot of him humming “Om” and that smile getting as wide as we’ve ever seen it from Don Draper, can be interpreted in so many ways, which is why I find the ending so great. I’ll go with the idea that Don created the advertisement, but the fact that he seems to be at piece with himself in that moment is a much more potent idea for me. If we never saw that coke ad I would still be able to put together an idea in which Don could have gone back east or stayed in California or even continued his hobo journey elsewhere — maybe he travels to Hawaii.
I believe Don has an epiphany in that moment just as he does in the Lucky Strike scene in “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” The series begins and ends on these two ideas from Don, with him creating an advertisement for a product that we know kills people and will continue to kill people because of Don’s “It’s Toasted” tagline, to an advertisement that conveys universality and hope for the world at that time. It shows real growth for the character. As the gap between each episode is evident in years, look, feel, etc, there is a gap between the mindset of the ad man who is in both and the type of message he’s trying to send in those advertisements.
Person To Person
Everything else in “Person to Person” felt right, whether it’s Joan choosing her ambition over a relationship, to Roger marrying again but to someone his own age, to Peggy and Stan realizing what viewers have already known for a while: that they are in love with each other.
And to piggyback on that last one, it’s an ideal situation for Peggy. She’s in love with her work and it’s only right that she finds someone who she loves at work. She’s going to see Stan everyday, work with him on accounts and presumably be with him for the long haul, so it makes sense that she wouldn’t have to sacrifice much to get it. She’s already sacrificed quite a bit to get to where she’s at, so in a way it’s cathartic as a viewer to see her find a sense of happiness, even though she sacrificed being a mother to do it.
Pete Campbell’s Evolution
Which brings us to Pete Campbell. Along with Peggy, he has grown the most since “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and it has been astonishing to watch. The arrogance of Pete Campbell in that pilot to the self-awareness and hope for his future in the series finale, is one of the elements that has made Mad Men so great.
The one thought that came in my head when I viewed the pilot again was funny: “I never thought I would one day appreciate and admire Pete Campbell.” He seemed to be a younger version of Don in the early going, but his personality and the idea that “No one will like you,” as Don states in the pilot, has turned Pete into a likeable character for viewers and a likeable person within the office. And ultimately he realizes that being with his family and moving to Kansas is where he wants to be instead of in New York City. That’s some real growth if you think about it for a moment. He loved the city.
What else is there to say? The final interaction between Don and Betty was heart wrenching. Her realization of her life and her purpose towards the end was masterfully written by Weiner and masterfully acted by January Jones. Of course, as in life, it goes on. So having our final person-to-person interactions throughout the episode, with Roger leaving his estate to his child with Joan, to Don losing it completely while saying goodbye to Peggy, to the emotional moment Don has at the retreat hugging Leonard.
I got the closure I needed for these amazing characters and the idea that we can interpret their futures in our own way makes it all even more satisfying.