The most important thing Matthew Weiner learned from David Chase was this: Leave the Russian in the woods. In short, it’s okay to be subtle, ambiguous and leave something to the viewers’ imagination. That’s exactly what Weiner did in the Mad Men series finale, Person To Person. It was something that was lost on the twitterati. It’s one reason I never live tweet Mad Men. That’s okay for sports but Mad Men requires that you put the fucking phone down and pay attention.
Unlike The Sopranos where people didn’t change because it was easier to be a wise guy, the characters on Mad Men *have* changed and evolved over the years. I just re-watched the first two seasons and was stuck by how jerky most of the guys in the bullpen were, even my main man Deadeye Cosgrove. He was not a monumental asshole like Pete Campbell but he was an entitled jerk who thought he was God’s gift to women. It was before he became a GIF dancer I suppose. Oddly enough, Harry Crane was the least jerky guy at Sterling, Cooper so he changed for the worst.
The ending has occasioned the most discussion online and elsewhere, but we’ll get to that after the break. First, a picture of Pete and the Pegster’s farewell:
Curtain Calls: I didn’t expect Weiner to let us revisit most of our favorite core characters but the Perv was merciful and did so and without blowing up the finale, which leads me to something I don’t usually do in recaps: sub-headers. It’s the finale so it’s time to throw the rule book out and say fuck it.
Arrivederci Pete e Pegster. One of my favorite scenes was between two of our *original* main characters, Pete and Peggy. These two have a long and often gory history and this scene was a pitch perfect way to wrap things up. They’ve been lovers and enemies but part as friends and equals. Additionally, Pete gave the Pegster a cactus to kill before jet setting off to Wichita with Trudy and Tammy. That, in turn, made me think of the Jayhawks classic Wichita, which is a frequent set opening number for them but a closer for Pete and Peggy:
That’s spectacular; what a mess: Thus spake Joan when she learned that Roger and Mere Marie were getting hitched. It’s been a while since Roger The Sterling Silver Tongued Devil has been in an age appropriate relationship. This time, it’s with a volatile crazy woman but he makes her laugh. It may not be much of a gift but it’s his; mine too. We leave Roger and Marie in a cafe in Quebec contemplating getting old together. I have my doubts that it will happen, especially if she pitches a fit over Roger leaving half his money to his boy by Joan.
Joan: Industrial Film Mogul-We got to see a lot of our Joan in Person to Person. Her ambition is revived by a lunch with Deadeye Cosgrove. He needs a producer for a Dow industrial film pronto. Given his Raoul Walsh–John Ford eyepatch one would think he’d do it himself.
Joan thinks she’s on to something big and tries to take the Pegster along for the ride. Peggy is on to something big at McCann and Malaka and decides against it with a little help from her Stan. More about that anon.
Joan has the entrepreneurial itch and has to scratch it. She’ll have to do so without California Roger Dude. He seems to be ready to retire, wear Hawaiian shirts, and snort cocaine. Joan has work to do and Holloway-Harris is born. She’ll be the industrial film Queen as quick as you can say Dr. Dickhead is a terrible person.
That ends the sub-header portion of the post. I may consult with Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner next. Never mind. He’s all wet as well as an imperious motherfucker. Time for a picture of Peggy and Stan:
Work Husband No More: Weiner the Perv (sounds like a certain former Congressman from Brooklyn) rarely indulges in audience friendly gestures, but he finally did so in the finale and I say that with finality. I’ve been waiting for this to happen for years. Many of us know people who started off as good friends and ended up married. It usually works out. Stan is perfect for an ambitious woman like Peggy: he’s happy in his work and secure in his masculinity. Stan is also the Pegster’s biggest fan and will never, ever ask her to give up her job. It’s a match made in heaven as well as on the telephone.
Person to Person Call From Don Fucking Draper: Some of the best scenes in the episode involved our wayward, wandering hero Don checking in via telephone with the people closest to him. Personally, I hate talking on the telephone and am inclined to be taciturn whereas in person people beg me to STFU. Don is the opposite in the finale.
Don first speaks with Sally who grudgingly breaks Betty’s confidence about her imminent death from lung cancer. Like Sally, Don’s initial reaction is that Birdie is being dramatic. Don decides he wants the boys even though they’re among the things he ran away from without a farewell or an explanation.
Sally thinks that the boys should stay with Henry whereas Betty thinks they should go to her jerky brother. Why? Because he’s married and Betty wants the tradition of bad mothering to continue. Not really, but I’m with Sally. Henry may be dull but he’s responsible, reliable, and rock solid. As you can see, R is for more than Rockefeller Republican.
Don and Betty nearly get into it on the phone but she reminds him that he hasn’t seen the boys in quite some time. Mercifully, he backs down. A good thing since there may be a fourth kid cast as Bobby by the time he returns. Like the times,the Bobbys, they are a changin’
Don’s talk with Peggy frightened her. It scared me shitless too for what little that’s worth. Don sounded suicidal; mercifully, there was no elevator shaft to jump into at the hippie therapy compound. Don finally broke down and confessed to Peggy the lapsed Catholic his many sins. Instead of telling him to say some Hail Marys, she tells him to come home as opposed to Betty who told him to stay the hell away. Peggy believes that McCann will take Don back whereas I am dubious. I’ll elaborate on that near the end of this endless post.
Don is flummoxed and freaks out at the end of his chat with the Pegster. At first I thought it was a Roger-like heart attack but it seems to have been more of a Tony Soprano-like panic attack. Dr. Melfi wasn’t there to help but the woman who played Supergirl, Helen Slater, was.
Dick-Don Duality: It’s been a vital component of Don’s character from the pilot Smoke Gets In Your Eyes to the finale, Person to Person. Dick Whitman is a kinder, gentler version of Don Draper. Don is the guy who scoffs at emotions and insists that the other person shut up and have a drink. Dick is the one who befriended two of the most emotionally fragile mad men, Freddie Rumsen and Lane Pryce. Don drank with them, Dick comforted them.
I thought of Lane Pryce when Dick-Don hugged Leonard the self-admitted non-entity in the blue sweater. Lane, too, was a terribly insecure man who couldn’t deal with the pressure of being a boss when he was a born second or even third banana. Lane would have consigned himself to the bread drawer. It’s better for hiding…
Leonard’s dream about being on the shelf of a refrigerator was a brilliant bit of writing from Weiner. So brilliant, in fact, that it drew me in when I was prepared to emotionally withdraw from the scene. Who is this guy who resembles the Perv? That was my first reaction. Then, I thought of Lane and Dick’s own feelings of worthlessness and I was hooked.
Don has always been conflicted. The most admirable person he met as a child was the Hobo played by the guy who was Father Phil on The Sopranos. He was a man of his word, who had a code even if it did involve schnorring and making Carmela watch Rene Zelweger movies. Oops, I’m conflating characters again. Dick Whitman became Don Fucking Draper, a man whose code is “keep on moving.” Don is a human shark: if he stops moving he’ll die. Perhaps he should have been a lawyer.
There’s a fascinating first season episode called Nixon vs. Kennedy where you see the Dick-Don duality at play. Don sees himself in both candidates. He’s a self-made man from a hardscrabble background like Tricky Dick but his exterior is all JFK, the son of a son of bitch tycoon. Of course, Jack was warm, charming, and friendly and Nixon put the dick in Tricky Dick.
Person to Person conjured up another early episode, The Mountain King from season 2. It was the first extended glimpse we had of Anna Draper and in the finale, Don gave her hippie niece Stephanie, Anna’s ring. The Mountain King was where we learned that Don digs hot rods, hence the start of this episode where we find him drag racing on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. That brings us to another musical interlude:
Is Coca Cola Really Don’s Shangri-La? In my opinion, no. I think that’s a far too literal reading of the final scene and shot. I still think Don is all Dean Moriarty (On The Road) and Robert Conway (Lost Horizon.) Los Angeles remains his lodestone, his Shangri-La. He thought he could save Anna’s niece by moving to LA and tried to save SCP by focusing on its LA office. That’s the real thing.
Do I think it’s possible that he came up with the I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke campaign? Yes, even if it’s not really his style. Don’s ads were inclined to Bogartian world weariness. Do I think Jim Hobart will let him come back to work full-time at McCann? Absolutely not. Don walked out of a meeting with an important client, Miller Beer, and dropped off the face of the earth with nary a peep. He humiliated Hobart and men like that never forget being embarrassed. The Pegster was the first and only McCann person he contacted. Jim Hobart may be as slick as a Minneapolis road in January, but he’s a hard-hearted, cold bastard under that genial facade.
Remember Hobart’s meeting with Joan? He pulled out an icepick, stuck it in her ribs, gutted and abandoned her for dead. Who can forget his going on about Don as his “white whale?” Remember that Ahab wanted *his* white whale dead. Hobart owns Don’s work for several more years but isn’t letting him back in the front door at McCann. And Don didn’t want to be a high level bee in the McCann hive let alone a lower level drone. Yes, he was able to disappear and return to Sterling Cooper in its various permutations, but that was down to his de facto big brother, Roger Sterling. That kind of history never repeats and I’m not splitting hairs or enz:
I think Hobart might let Don in through the side door. A strong pitch from either him or Peggy acting as his front is the only way Don could sell anything to McCann. He’s used the front technique in the past with Freddie Rumsen as his stand-in. It would be a good way to advance his protege’s career but Jim Hobart would NEVER let Don handle one of his most important clients after walking out on him. I don’t care how many bells went off when Don was doing yoga, that’s how I see it. I could be wrong but unless the Perv says otherwise, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Right, Don?
I’m not sure what Don will do next. I suspect he’ll visit New York and attend Betty’s funeral. I see him hot footing it back to his *real* Shangri-La, Southern California, which was described as “the garden of eden” by Woody Guthrie in his song Do-Re-Mi. It certainly is for Dick-Don whose brother was-you guessed it-named Adam. I still think he’s done with the ad game and see him as more likely to surface as a media adviser to George McGovern in 1972 than as a part of the McCann machine.
I remain astonished that people expected a more overt and less cryptic ending to Mad Men. Have these people actually watched the rest of the series? Did they expect Don to go into a clock tower on a college campus and start shooting? I thought this was the *perfect* Mad Men ending. It’s open to varying interpretations, and left the Russian in the woods once and for all.
I’ll give the last word to Mike Scott and the Waterboys. I’ve used this On The Road inspired opus as the theme song of a Saturday Odds & Sods post, but I think of it every time I contemplate the 2015 run of Mad Men episodes: