Week 6: Soto has the yips & the Mad Men Finale (mostly Mad Men)


Hey the Sox are back to .500 and Soto totally has the yips (I don't care what he says) and it’s the most amazing thing to watch in sports right now: Soto throwing the ball back to the pitcher. But that’s all the baseball talk for today because…


First off, dawned on me this weekend, but “The Suitcase”—for my money the best Mad Men episode and one of the best hours of TV—was the 46th episode of Mad Men. In total, there were 92 episodes of Mad Men. That’s right, “The Suitcase” was the halfway point of the series.

I don’t think Mad Men is structured as ring composition, but if so, even if loosely so, that’s pretty amazing: “The Suitcase”, the peak Don/Peggy episode for me, falls right in the middle, which often is the most important section of a story/epic set in a ring composition structure.

***Mad Men Spoilers***

As I’ve said, I haven’t been interested in Don Draper for a while. But he gets the ambiguous ending, one which everyone is talking about, so let’s dive into that.

My thoughts on Mad Men’s ending are starting to come together; I’m going to try and not say anything that has already been said, the numerous excellent reviews have already done that (here’s the New Yorker review which I don’t quote but is worth reading).

I fall into the Sepinwall camp regarding the ending: Don’s smirk is the killer idea he has, not some sort of inner peace he’s discovered/found.

However, I also don’t view this as cynical as others do. Sure the ending is cynical, but it isn't overly cynical. Don’s an asshole, we have a 92 hours of TV backing this up. To expect him to change just because he traveled across the country, ended up on a retreat, and did some yoga would, in my opinion, be missing the point of the previous 91 hours of the show. Don’s committed to change almost once a season, only to fall back into his old habits of being a shitty husband, a somewhat shitty dad*, a shitty co-worker, and often making poor, rash personal decisions that he would come to regret (‘sup Megan!).

*Don, oddly, does have his moments of being a very good dad, however, he is far too distant to ever be considered a good dad.

Don having a killer idea to sell the world Coca-Cola and not changing personally is true to the character. If anything, this is the first time that Don ‘gets’ the social change that the ‘60s has brought and will bring during the ‘70s. Don Draper wasn’t very good at his job the last latter half the 60s (or so it seemed). The Lucky Strike “It’s Toasted” tag occurs in 1960, the Kodak Carousel is 1961, GloCoat is 1964/1965, and Samsonite is 1965. In the late 60s, Megan and Peggy are the two who are leading the charge: they come up with the ideas for Burger Chef and Heinz (beans that is; ketchup is Don’s idea, but it is not picked). Don’s work (Ginsberg really) on Jaguar has nothing to do with SCDP being picked. As has been regularly pointed out, the world passes Don Draper by as the 60s progress: he suddenly turns off “Tomorrow Never Knows” remember.

But something begins to click with Don after his phone call with Peggy. Sure he’s been rejected by his future (Sally), his past as Dick (Stephanie), and his past as Don (Betty) prior to the call with Peggy. As the AV Club review highlights wonderfully, the conversation with Peggy, who tells him to come home (advertising is the only home he has at this point) is a turning point. Listening to Leonard puts him over the top. But this doesn’t (necessarily) mean Don (or Dick) has realized anything about himself, instead, maybe Don just figured out that as the dream of the 60s dies, he can… actually take it away John Teti

After the nuclear-family utopia of the ’50s failed to eliminate all of society’s ills, Don’s nostalgic ads promised that products would make the lost fantasy real. Now that the ’60s vision of perfect harmony has frayed, Don will once again convince a nationwide audience that consumer goods can make up the difference between the ideal and the reality. Coca-Cola will teach the world to sing.

And that’s why I don’t think Don changed. I don’t think he came to any sort of enlightenment. Dick is not gone. Nor has Dick been rediscovered. I think he’ll continue to struggle with all his demons and depression through the ‘70s. If the end of the show, originally, was supposed to be Season 6’s closing shot of Don coming to terms with who he is, where he came from, and telling his kids (Sally) who he truly is… then why would Weiner change his entire point of view of Don Draper in the 7th season? I’ll let Roy Edroso take it away (emphasis mine): 

Don has always been an empath who, because of his emotional damage, is uniquely attuned to the pain of average citizens, and when he sees a valuable crop of it he gets in there and grabs and holds it close to drain its essence. And then turns it into a commercial. He is what America has instead of artists. And that's why, despite all the historical signifiers that made the show look like the chronicle of a New Day Dawning, nothing much has really changed. Don has not rediscovered Dick Whitman -- he has, after a crisis of confidence, rediscovered Don Draper. And gone back at work.

I get the desire of us wanting Don to be a good person, for finding some sort of peace. Or accepting some sort of himself and changing for the better. But he never does. Even if Don/Dick has found some sort of peace, does anyone think he’ll now become a good father? If anything he'll still be a minor player in their lives. And does anyone think that he won’t fall into another relationship that’s bad for him? That he’ll now stop making rash decisions? That he'll stop drinking too much? 

We’ve seen Don hit rock bottom then bounce back up (like the opening credits, as pretty much everyone has pointed out by now): Season 2 with Betty, much of Season 4 but specifically his binge drinking weekend, much of Season 6 where he ends up getting fired from the firm he co-founded because he was a drunk that was costing them business, “Meet the Mets” and Lou Avery in the first half of Season 7… and each time after hitting rock bottom, Don didn’t really change. Why would he now after his road trip across America and hippie retreat? And that’s where I’m at, Don didn’t find peace and he isn’t changing, as Tom and Lorenzo say:

b) He dreams up the Coke ad there on the spot, based on everything he’s experienced recently, which is perfectly par for the course with the Don Draper we’ve been watching for the last 8 years; the one whose very best ads have always come from some deep place inside himself… He will win awards, become a legend of the advertising industry and the Golden Boy of McCann-Erickson, make even more money, and live happily ever after – at least until the next emotional crisis comes along and he has yet another meltdown because he hasn’t effectively dealt with all of his shit, still drinks too much and only sees his abandoned children sporadically. But who knows? Maybe the next breakdown will give the world “I Heart NY.” Or the Reagan presidency. Don Draper will continue ever on, unchanged, but still a genius in his own way, plumbing the depths of his psyche to sell more sugar water.

This is the Don Draper we know. And I suspect that’s the Don Draper that will continue. We may want something else for Don, but of course, it’s not up to us.

That said, as Todd VanDerWerff points out, the ending can be happy and cynical. I agree. And that’s why, despite my concerns a few weeks ago, I think it was an excellent finale. I mean even if Don will continue making the same mistakes and being the same person, well, as Rust Cohle said:

I respect that Weiner didn't give us the ending for Don we might have wanted. He gave us the ending that Don Draper wanted.


As for everyone else in the show… I enjoyed the hell out of it. The various Joan scenes in particular were wonderful.

I see the argument that everyone got too nice of a send off (save Betty, and note that Megan did not appear in the finale), but such an argument is a bit cheap. Mad Men was never tidy, but stories have to end. In life there are always loose ends, in fiction there usually isn’t.

Finally, check out this NY Times story on Bill Backer, the guy who came up with the Coke commercial. If I have one issue with the finale, it's fictional Don Draper getting credit for something that a real person wrote... it feels a little too out there for me. That I'd like to sit with some more.

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