I have had an absolutely crazy month, and there’s a lot I could tell you about. Like the trip to Grand Cayman, a fantastic oasis in the middle of a lot of really terrible things. And how I found a short-term sublet in Cambridge that I moved into as soon as I got back from the trip. And how much dealing with the aftermath of the fire has sucked—having to search for a new longer-term apartment, which I’ve yet to find, and how there are lots of really important things that people don’t bother telling you in the aftermath of a fire (example: the stuff that you were told is still in your apartment has actually been boxed up and is sitting in a warehouse in Saugus). And I will talk about that in future posts.
But first, I want to talk about Mad Men.
I caught up with this show just before the second season started (and then blogged about it). Since then, it’s become one of my all-time favorites. I was Joan for Halloween one year. A few times, my friends and I have gone to see it at Noir, a hotel bar that shows Mad Men when it’s on and actually looks like something out of the show. I’ve often said that it’s a show for English majors—you can really dig into the language of it, the symbolism, and the character development and find a lot of layers to it. And even though the characters do a lot of really awful things, they retain a strange bit of likeability that leads you to root for them anyway.
WARNING: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MAD MEN FINALE.
Which is why I’m glad that in the end, in Matt Weiner’s words, everyone was “a little more happy than they were in the beginning.” For the most part, I liked the finale a lot, and although I know I’m quite late on this (like I said—it’s been a CRAZY month), I wanted to share my thoughts on it.
I did not see the ending with Betty coming. There was a lot of speculation that someone would die, and I heard Don, Megan, and Roger mentioned as possibilities, but not Betty. Even though she’s often a difficult character, I’ve never been among the Betty haters—back in 2009, I wrote a whole blog post defending her. Back then, I said that Betty didn’t quite know what to wish for and wasn’t quite sure how to be anything but a suburban housewife. In Season 7A, we saw her snap at Henry after an argument, “I’m not stupid! I speak Italian!” And then the first time we saw her this season, we saw that she’d decided to go back to school to study psychology, perhaps inspired by her own experiences. The sad thing is that she DID figure out what she wanted, but just a little bit too late. I know the moment that touched most people in the penultimate episode is when Sally reads Betty’s goodbye letter (that letter was so true to character, by the way—she’s concerned about how she’ll look at the funeral home first, but ends it with some genuinely loving words to Sally about how it’s a good thing that she marches to the beat of her own drummer), but for me, it was when Henry asks her why she’s still going to school, given her diagnosis, and she replies, “Why was I ever doing it?” She has the saddest ending of any character, but in the end she’s found a purpose she didn’t have at the beginning and is, indeed, just a little bit happier.
Henry Francis was always incredibly boring, but I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit moved when he broke down crying after telling Sally about Betty’s illness. He didn’t have much personality, but he did really love Betty and seemed to be a good stepdad.
Sally is definitely the most likeable character on the show, and we don’t know much about her future after the show ends except that she seems to be stepping up to be there for her brothers. Kiernan Shipka is such a great little actress—she made Sally really fascinating when she started off as a little kid who functioned mostly as a background character. I hope there are all kinds of great things in store for Kiernan in her post-Mad Men life.
I think Gene Draper said about two words in the finale and that’s the most he’s ever said. He was about seven by the end of the show, too, but he was always the afterthought of the Draper kids.
Pete, oddly enough, might have had the happiest ending of anyone. A lot of people really hate Pete, and while he can definitely be awful, he hasn’t really done anything that other characters on the show haven’t done. I think it’s his lack of the charm that someone like Don has that makes him so unappealing. Despite that lack of charm, though, he was married to a really awesome woman—it’s partly because she’s played by the fantastic Alison Brie, but Trudy was always one of my favorite minor characters. So when they split up, he lost the best thing in his life. It wasn’t that their marriage was unhappy so much as that Pete was unhappy. In the scene with his brother, when Bud’s only explanation for cheating on his wife is that their father did it, too, it dawns on Pete that he’s been doing everything he thinks he’s supposed to do and what he needs is something new. So he leaves advertising, leaves New York, and heads with Trudy and Tammy into a new life he’ll make for himself.
I really did not think that Roger and Megan’s mother would last, and maybe they won’t. I kind of would rather have seen him and Mona get back together, but I guess having two characters reunite with their exes would have been a bit of a stretch.
I’m surprised that Megan’s departure from the show after she and Don divorce was so complete. A million dollar check, and…that’s the end of Megan, along with most of Don’s furniture. It’s a far cry from being murdered by the Manson Family, as the conspiracy theory suspected she would. If the departed Television Without Pity and its successor Previously.tv are representative (and I’m not sure they are), a lot of people really hated Megan. I did not, although I think Jessica Pare is one of the weaker actors in the cast, but I did think she had outlived her usefulness on the show and am glad she took a backseat this season.
One of the biggest surprises of this season was how Meredith, the ditzy secretary who steals every scene she’s in, suddenly became competent in the months between Seasons 7A and 7B. (Although still dumb enough to think that Roger was serious when he said he wanted something translated into pig latin.) She was brought into the office action a bit more this season, and we learn more about her—she was an army brat, she doesn’t seem to have made friends with the other secretaries. And she did say something strangely wise in the finale: after mentioning that she hopes the absent Don is in a better place, Roger protests that Don’s not dead, to which she replies, “There are a lot of better places than here.” Stephanie Drake, the wonderful actress who plays her, has retweeted me twice, which made me happy, and I hope sometime soon we’ll be seeing her in places that are better than McCann Erickson.
I do have to say, though—I think the show missed a lot of opportunities to do more with Dawn, the first black secretary the firm hired. The few times she did get a storyline, she was always interesting. This Salon article sums up the wasted potential nicely.
And I always hoped we’d find out what happened to Sal, but no such luck. C’est la vie, I guess—sometimes you really never do see people again.
I’m so glad that Joan played a bigger part in Season 7B after it seemed like she had nothing to do in 7A, and Christina Hendricks, who sometimes makes me question my sexual orientation, was effing fantastic all season—I really hope she finally gets her Emmy, which she really should have gotten back in Season 5. I think Joan might actually be the character who changed the most over the course of the show. Back in Season 1, she was kind of bitchy to the secretaries she managed, using the small bit of power she had as a weapon, and reveled in the admiration of the office men. But gradually, that desire to be admired for her beauty morphed into a desire to be valued for what she can contribute at work. In Season 1, she thought that as office manager, she’d attained the highest position available to her as a woman—and by Season 3, she’d abandoned it in favor of marriage to a doctor, something she’d always thought she wanted. By the end of the show, she was a single mother fighting back against sexual harassment and not only starting her own company, but giving up a relationship with a rich man to do so. As awesome as I thought the idea of Harris Olson was, it’s really fitting that Joan ends up naming her company Holloway Harris: her maiden and married names. She’s in a financial position that lets her do whatever she wants, and she chooses to make her way on her own, in a company where she answers only to herself.
I was disappointed at first that Peggy didn’t take Joan up on her offer to join her, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that she didn’t. Joan’s path at McCann Erickson was so clearly blocked that she really had to leave, but as we see in an early finale scene when Peggy successfully fights her way back onto an account she was taken off of, Peggy’s learned how to find her own way at McCann Erickson. When Pete, in one of the most genuinely nice speeches he’s ever made, tells her that by 1980 she’ll be a creative director and people will brag that they worked for her, we have no reason to doubt his prediction. After that awesome scene where Peggy strolled into the office with her sunglasses, cigarette, and Japanese painting like a boss, we felt like whatever happened with Peggy at work, she’d be okay. But her love life was the big question mark, so I’m thrilled that after seven seasons of picking the wrong men, she ended up with the perfect one for her. Yes, the Peggy and Stan ending was a little rushed, but I didn’t mind their rom com-esque declarations of love over the office phone. Peggy might not need a man in her life, but she certainly wants one, and with Stan, she has someone who not only loves her but understands and appreciates her as well. I feel like the two of them will have a healthier relationship than any other two people on this show. (Side note: the finale aired the night before Christina and I left for Grand Cayman. We were staying in a hotel near the airport, and I was watching this on my laptop with headphones, since the hotel didn’t get AMC and Christina wasn’t caught up with the show. She didn’t know what was going on, but she saw my giddy reaction to the Stan/Peggy scene, and I can only imagine what she thought.)
Peggy’s other important relationship, though, has always been with Don, and I did love that phone call between them. Their relationship is complex and he often treated her badly, but there’s still a lot of mutual respect and admiration there. I like that on the phone call, she pleaded with him to come back, reminding him about working on Coke—and that, combined with the hippie retreat, is likely what lead to Don’s ending.
It does bother me that in the end, the question of Don’s role in his kids’ lives after Betty’s death is still unresolved. The ending’s implication is that he goes back to New York and advertising and creates the famous Coke commercial, but what that means for his relationship with his kids is less clear. But although Don’s ending is not what I expected, it makes sense and I kind of like it. He’s struggled with his identity through the whole show, and when he finds enlightenment at the retreat, I think one thing about himself becomes clear: he’s a really good ad man and always has been. But now he’s an ad man who’s found some inner peace and can use some of that to sell Coke. The pilot had him inventing another real slogan—“It’s toasted,” for Lucky Strike—but while that grew out of a cynical place, an attempt to differentiate a product from its competitors when, in truth, they all cause cancer, the Coke commercial, for another less-than-benign product, comes from someplace more genuine. He tells Rachel Menken in the pilot, too, that “what you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons,” but while he uses his experience in California to sell Coke, the peace he’s found is real. I think he really has lost at least some of the cynicism he had at the show’s beginning. And Emmy committee, I am going to be so disappointed in you if you don’t FINALLY give Jon Hamm the award he’s deserved for years.
I hope someday another show comes along that has as interesting characters and is as well-written and well-acted and as made for analysis as Mad Men, but it’s hard to imagine. I’m thinking I may have to rewatch the whole thing now, knowing how it ends.