Om My, It’s Really Over

Come on, really, what else is there to talk about? “Mad Men,” the series that I referenced in the very first post on HSS over two years ago, came to a conclusion this past Sunday (or yesterday if you’re like me and consume the show via iTunes. I also want to add that I executed the most perfect media blackout yesterday so as not to ruin anything for myself.). I’ll give a little bit of commentary at the end of the post – fair warning, there will be spoilers if you’re not caught up – but first, I want to round up several of the more compelling pieces about the show’s finale as well as a smattering of good old internet detritus I think you might find interesting. Here goes.

I have my go-to sources for cultural commentary, and not surprisingly, opinions varied. Vulture had a nice, if not nostalgic, take and The New York Times followed in similar fashion. Esquire, on the other hand, was a little less congratulatory. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with their review at first maybe because it didn’t align with my own thoughts or state of mind, but there are some fantastic points in the second half of the piece. Joyce Carol Oates, however, slammed the finale on Twitter. Jon Hamm was typically Jon Hamm in the NYT and the Slate TV Club was on point as always. Are you bored or not a “Mad Men” fan? You’re not alone. Okay, let’s take a short commercial break and cleanse the palate for a moment.

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This week’s WTF is brought you by this.

Spoilers for the “Mad Men” series finale follow. 

As far as series finales go, the “Mad Men” series finale exceeded expectations for me. And that’s no small achievement given the long build up to the show’s eventual conclusion. In the age of binge-watching, it seemed quite a vintage move to make us wait nearly two whole years for the final season to play out. But it was worth the wait.

For me, the show’s ending was the perfect balance of tying up loose ends, but leaving the story sufficiently open-ended that there was plenty of room for interpretation and discussion. (Contrast that with The Wire, which in my opinion, had one of the worst and most contrived endings for a series of its caliber.) All of our favorite characters’ stories came to some sort of conclusion.

Betty’s losing fight with lung cancer is sad. Joan’s decision to choose work – starting her own company – over love solidifies her position as the feminist character on the show. Peggy and Stan finally cut the tension in the room. Roger is characteristically Roger with Marie. Sally grows up. Pete prevails. And Don… Well, that’s something to talk about.

One of the things that has been most satisfying to me in “Mad Men” is its way of moving forward while at the same time looking back. If you’ve been a close watcher, you’ve no doubt noticed countless parallels and recurring themes this season that harken way back to the show’s first season. (N.B. Terry Gross teases many of these out in a fantastic interview with Matthew Weiner.) For our purposes, however, I want to focus on the now iconic opening: a man falling, falling, falling, and finally landing in the catbird seat.

Many people, myself included, hypothesized that this image foretold the series’ ending – namely, that Don would commit suicide. I mean, with all Don’s failings, wouldn’t that be a logical conclusion? I always fixated on the fall rather than the image after, with Don sitting on the couch, cigarette dangling from his hand. To me, that image was a prelude, not a conclusion. But in a brilliant twist, it was revealed that it was the conclusion. Or so I think. As do others. (See links above.)

Don hits rock bottom – not the first time, admittedly – but finds a way to parlay that experience into an ad that truly became a phenomenon in the early 1970s. It follows after Peggy plants the seed in Don’s mind earlier in the episode – “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” – and also that Don has nothing without work. To quote Journey from the ambiguously iconic ending of “The Sopranos,” “Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on.”

I’d love to know what you think. Share your thoughts on the “Mad Men” series finale. And tell me: do you think Don is a good or bad guy?

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

Brian Sacawa
He Spoke Style

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