SPOILERS for last night’s Mad Men finale.
In the end, no one had to die. The core cast – Don Draper, Peggy Olsen, Joan, Roger, Pete – all survived the 1960s. Some of them had thrived, some had learned their hard lessons and moved along, and some came limping into the 1970s, broken. I really thought Don would have to die. I thought his story would bring him back to New York in the final moments, perhaps only to reunite with Betty (who clearly will die, but thankfully did not die within the finale). So, what really happened?
Betty & the Draper children. Look, they finally gave Bobby some lines! I hate that they kept on recasting the Bobby character, and if you really examine it, Bobby should be like 13 or 14 years old for the finale. I really liked the Maturing of Sally Draper – that she was just playing at being this wild child, but really she was the kind of girl to come home to take care of her dying mother and her younger siblings. Seeing Sally and Betty’s roles reversed – Sally at the sink, washing dishes while Betty read a magazine at the table – made me sad/happy. Sally is going to be a wanderer like her dad, but not yet. She’s going to be bored and filled with ennui like her mom but not yet.
Pete Campbell. Pete’s storyline moved the most in the penultimate episode, but we got to see a little bit of how he turned out in the finale. Pete and Peggy’s relationship ended on a happy note, with Pete even paying Peggy a wonderful compliment about her work. Then Pete rode off into the sunset in a shiny new Learjet with his ex-wife and child. Pete and planes… he’s going to work for a plane company and his father died in a plane crash. It fits.
Roger Sterling. Roger got his happy ending! That’s so crazy. And it just… fit. I loved that Julia Ormond did all of those little guest appearances and I loved that at the end of the day, Roger did not die in the arms of a secretary half his age. He lived his life to the fullest, in the arms of an age-appropriate French-Canadian divorcee with adult children (one of whom was a secretary once married to Don Draper). Marie is crazy (legitimately), she’s fun and she’ll keep Roger on his toes for the rest of his life. I was sort of hoping that Roger would reunite with Mona in the end, but I’m happy with this.
Joan Holloway (I will never call her Joan Harris). Perhaps even Joan knew her thing with Bruce Greenwood wasn’t going to last. Maybe she knew she was just having fun and it was nice to see her in a relationship with a big-business dude who wanted to spoil her and travel the world with her. But I thought it was interesting that they set it up as a choice she was making: love or self-sufficiency, romance or starting her own business. And she chose business. She chose to throw herself into the deep end of the business world and it was righteous. Romance will come and go, but Joan will always prevail. Oh, and when Roger stopped by to talk about his will and providing for their child together? That was a beautiful, funny, touching scene. Just lovely. I’m sad that Peggy won’t be joined Joan in her new business, because Harris-Olsen sounds like a great company.
Peggy Olsen. OMG. JUST OMG. Peggy has always been my favorite, and Peggy has always centered Mad Men. In my mind, the twofer was always Peggy and Don. And in the end, they didn’t even get one final scene together in the same room. Don did call her one last time (?) just because he “wanted to hear her voice.” He cried and told her how he ruined everything, and it was a brilliantly acted scene for both of them. I’m glad they got their goodbyes in. But then something magical happened – Peggy called Stan to tell him about Don’s call. And then Peggy got the ending that no one was really expecting. Stan and Peggy have been work husband and work wife for so long – their work friendship blossomed into true and deep affection for each other, even if they both just seemed content to have their relationship set at “BFF” and nothing more. But then Stan manned up and told Peggy that he loved her. Peggy couldn’t believe it, then she examined her own feelings and… Matthew Weiner gave us what is probably the most touching, believable and romantic scene in the history of Mad Men. Stan racing to Peggy’s office so he could see her when she said “I love you.” It made my heart swell.
And finally, Don Draper/Dick Whitman. Ugh, what is there to say at this point? I’m glad they didn’t try to introduce a new “love interest” for Don in the final moments. Yeah, he had sex with a prostitute (who tried to steal his money), but he eventually made it to California where he sought out Stephanie, the young beauty that he met through his “first wife,” Anna Draper (Stephanie was Anna’s niece). Blah, blah, Stephanie takes Don to a hippie retreat and then she ends up dumping him there, because Stephanie is as much of a flake as Don. Don is basically stuck there and he’s somewhat suicidal, and even though his gut was probably telling him to go back to New York to spend time with Betty and his children, he stays.
In truth, the “special snowflake” parts of Don Draper’s angst have been annoying me particularly throughout the past few seasons as Don’s self-absorbed myopathy seems, at times, callous to everyone around him. We know he’s an alcoholic, and it was nice to see a final image of him as clean, sober, centered and at peace. But realistically, will Don stay on that path? Of course he won’t. Many people believe that Don’s journey after the California retreat did take him back to New York, where he worked on the Coke commercial which ended the show. Perhaps. I hope so. There was always this duality to Don Draper, and I’m not just talking about the Don/Dick conundrum – one side of him was a survivor, a Depression-era kid who would do anything and fight anyone to stay in this world. The other side was the melancholy, self-destructive alcoholic willing to burn everything down. I guess I’m surprised that the survivor side won out. For now.
Final thoughts? I’m glad that I watched every season and I’m glad Matthew Weiner gave us some great payouts for our time. I would have loved so see a few more concrete images of the futures of these beloved characters, but all in all… I was pretty happy with the finale.
Photos and posters courtesy of AMC/Mad Men.