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television -> Mad Men series finale recap/ review

Mad Men series finale recap/ review

Person to Person

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Recaps contain spoilers from “Mad Men.”

Series creator Matthew Weiner (“The Sopranos”) fittingly wrote and directed the final episode, “Person to Person,” of his television brainchild “Mad Men” which ended Sunday night on AMC after a seven season run that began in 2007.  Many fans and experts speculated the end game for a long time now and the answer finally unraveled in profound fashion.  The finale opens on Don a little ways farther on the road after giving his vehicle away to the young grifter from “The Milk and Honey Route.”  A sweaty, determined Don speeds across the desert in a race car. He returns the vehicle to a grungy garage run by several young people and tells them what parts need repair/ replaced on the machine. For a man without a car, Don impresses these young people with his automotive knowledge and later agrees to stake them for a future competition.  Over in New York, Roger gets his daily briefing from Caroline and Meredith.  When Caroline leaves, Roger breaks it to Meredith that he only needs one secretary and that he really only kept her around in the event that Don would return.  Meredith cheerily understands and states that she’ll land on her feet somewhere.  As Peggy and Stan leave a meeting elsewhere in the building, she manages to retake an account for Stan and herself that was first taken away by a jealous, angry woman at McCann-Erickson.

Don sleeps with one of the young girls from the garage and correctly assumes that she’s stolen his money to cover the cost of an evening with her.  The interesting context of this scene is when the girl doesn’t think Don ever paid for sex and he, of course, sets her straight but doesn’t explain that he grew up in a brothel of sorts and began his last relationship with Diana based on the premise that she would sleep with him because of an earlier, generous tip at the diner where she worked.  The girl asks him about a ring he keeps with the money and Don assumes that she was about to steal that, as well, but never tells her about the ring’s importance.  In Key West, Joan and Richard enjoy some cocaine he received as a birthday gift from an old business partner.  Richard pitches Joan that *this* could be their life, with houses all over the world to untether her from New York.  Back at the office, Harry and Pete stop in Peggy’s office to pick her up for Pete’s goodbye dinner.  Peggy tells them that she’ll have to cancel before Pete offers her some kind, thoughtful words and a cactus.  That’s right—Pete Campbell gave Peggy Olson one more living thing before he left.  They share a child out there somewhere and we’ll never know more than that.

Hamm

At boarding school, a painfully distracted Sally listens to Don’s tale about the guys trying to break the land speed record in California.  Her father detects something wrong and gets her to break the news regarding Betty’s cancer.  Sally tells Don about Betty’s wishes to have the children go to her brother, but Sally thinks they should stay with Henry to keep a sense of normality.  Don balks at all of these ideas, stating that the children should go to their father. When Sally leaves, Don immediately phones Betty to speak “person to person.” Perhaps one of the most emotionally-loaded scenes in “Mad Men” begins with Betty substantiating Sally’s words.  Don again states that the kids should be with their father, but Betty insists they need a more stable life and that Don will still see them as often as he currently sees them.  She refuses to debate Don any more about this. Her ex-husband acquiesces in the moment and can only bring himself to tearfully utter, “Birdie.”  Betty sorrowfully responds with “I know.”  This is perhaps the last time that Don and Betty ever spoke to each other in their lives.  Back in New York, Joan meets with Ken who suggests over a meal that she produce an industrial film for him at Dow Chemical with Peggy writing the script. Back in California, the boys from the garage wake up Don, still drunk from reacting to Betty’s sad news, and ask him for the stake they asked about earlier in the episode.  He agrees as long as they give him a lift to Los Angeles.

At her apartment, Joan looks after Kevin, who watches cartoons.  She speaks on the phone with Peggy and asks if they can catch up at lunch.  She also pitches the job offer from Ken to Peggy, who seems apprehensive until Joan tells her what the pay would be.  In L.A., Don is greeted with his real name, “Dick,” by Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie Horton.  They catch up and realize that both of their lives are hot messes.  He tries to give her Anna’s ring, but Steph declines on the grounds that he looks like he needs it more than she.  Back in New York, we catch up with Roger and Marie post-coitus. Marie hints that she may have slept with her ex-husband when last they saw each other, sparking a disagreement between the two that ultimately sees Roger hilariously struggle to rip the comforter off the bed after Marie boots him to the sofa.  Roger finally got a taste of partner infidelity and didn’t care for it—how cosmically ironic. Weiner jumps back to the west coast in the middle of the night to feature Steph convincing Don to join her for a mental health retreat up the coast that may do them well.  In the Francis home, Sally returns from school where her brothers greet her with concerned faces.  It seems like the boys have caught on to Betty’s illness since the last time Sally stopped home.  Sally and Bobby have Gene leave before they discuss how long Betty has left and that Sally cancelled her planned trip to Madrid.  The older sister notices that Bobby tried to make supper for himself and his brother, but burned the meal.  She steps up, offering to make dinner for her brothers while showing Bobby how to make their dinner without burning it as the camera fades to a guide with a lantern leading Don and Steph into a cabin because they’ve arrived late at night to the retreat where everything is communal and new-age. This stuff isn’t really his bag, but Don stays with his friend.

Marie and Roger

In Joan’s apartment, Roger arrives to ask her if it’s okay that he name Kevin in his will.  Viewers recall that Kevin is not the real child of Greg Harris, Joan’s ex-husband, but rather Roger as a result of a heated, emotional moment in “The Beautiful Girls” from the fourth season.  Joan has a few trepidations about explaining the money’s source down the road to Kevin, but ultimately agrees for her son’s sake. She then states that Greg still thinks Kevin is his child, but doesn’t call or write simply because he’s a terrible father who chose to forget about his son.  Roger confesses to his former flame that he and Marie are engaged but that nobody cares if it’s a mess like they did last time when he married Jane Siegel. Joan gets a kick out of this news, nostalgically telling her old friend that he finally got the timing right for once.  Back at the retreat, Don and Steph participate in exercises and activities that neither stimulate nor inspire the talented ad man. During an activity, a counselor has Don and the others walk aimlessly about a room, stop, grab a partner, and nonverbally communicate how the other person makes them feel.  Don’s partner is an old lady that makes him uncomfortable.  As others embrace or touch each other’s faces, the old lady picks up on Don’s unwillingness and shoves his chest to get her point across. Back in New York, Peggy and Joan meet for the lunch they discussed earlier in the episode.  Joan pitches Peggy on an idea that they should begin a production company called Harris/ Olson where they answer to no one, especially men, but themselves. The exciting offer is too much for Peggy to process as she requests more time to think about it. 

In a group therapy session at the retreat, Steph unburdens that she’s tired of everyone in her life judging her for the mistakes she’s made—including giving up her son.  When another member of the group tells Steph that her son will look for her for his entire life, Steph tearfully darts out of the room as Don catches up with her outside to tell her that he can help her if he moves to L.A.  She says that Dick isn’t really her family (she’s the only one who doesn’t call him “Don”) and that he’s incorrect about life getting easier as she moves forward. We then catch up with Peggy later that evening as Stan pops in to announce his departure for the day.  She philosophizes about having her name on a door and if Stan thinks her business would fail.  Stan replies by telling her that she’s so talented at what she does, that she shouldn’t care about what others say or do.  Peggy tells Stan he lacks ambition and that the fact he feels he has nothing else to prove is spoken like a true failure.  This stings Stan a bit and he tells her that she’ll have to apologize later when she sobers, stating there’s more to life than working a job. On the west coast, Steph wakes Don in the middle of the night when she enters the cabin with a lantern.  She puts the light out and goes to bed while Don thinks nothing of it at the time. Back in Joan’s apartment, Joan seems to have a spring her step following the meeting with Peggy but quickly turns to a sour mood when Richard flies off the handle again about making her choose between her son/ life in New York and himself.  He storms out of her life for good as Joan masks her emotions to take a phone call in her kitchen.

Person to Person

Don wakes up the next morning to find that Steph bailed in the middle of the night, ditching him at the retreat. He then phones Peggy, who hasn’t heard from him (like everybody else at the office) in months, and suffers a momentary meltdown.  She explains that M-E was irate with what he’s done, but that this kind of thing happens all the time, that they’d give him his job back with arms open, and how he has Coca-Cola waiting for him upon return.  It doesn’t matter to Don because he doesn’t know where he is or how to get out of there because he’s messed everything up in his life.  He breaks down further and tells her that he isn’t the man she expects.  When Peggy asks him what he committed that is so bad, Don replies "I broke all my vows, scandalized my child, took another man's name and made nothing of it."  Peggy says that last part isn’t true but doesn’t say much else after Don says that he only called because he never got a chance to tell her “Goodbye.” Peggy appropriately thinks that Don is about to commit suicide after the way he’s been speaking to her (not unlike Lane Pryce at the end) and wants him to get help.  He explains that he’s in a crowd, that he just wanted to hear her voice, and will see her soon.  When he hangs up the phone, Don slumps to the ground in a pile of sadness.  Peggy then speaks with Stan on the phone.  Stan calms her nerves and points out that Don is a survivor who always returns, explaining that she can still care about him even after letting him go. Peggy replies with an apology for her earlier words and that she plans on staying with M-E.  The conversation then blows up as Stan confesses he never wanted her to go because he’s in love with her. A shocked Peggy Olson has him repeat this so they can both be sure, but she quickly confesses that she loves Stan, as well. She wonders if Stan hung up the phone on her, but he appears in her doorway, and walks into her office to finally share a kiss after a scene that shows even “Mad Men” has adorable, heartwarming, rom-com moments.

One of the therapy session leaders finds Don in his sadness pile by the payphone and asks him to accompany her to her next session because she’s late and doesn’t want to enter alone.  Obviously she’s merely saying this for Don’s benefit, but he rises to join her, the good sport that he is.  When they enter the session room, one man shares about his failed marriage and the hang ups that ended it.  The man finishes and takes his seat as the group waits for the next speaker.  The woman who found at the pay phone looks at Don to speak, but Don is clearly off in his own world still rattled at his self-realization to Peggy. The next man, Leonard, shares that he isn’t very interesting. He expresses a feeling of invisibility his entire life: at school, work, and even at home with his wife and children.  “People walk right by me and they don’t even see me.”  Leonard doesn’t think that anyone cares that he’s away from home.  He piques Don’s interest with this line. Leonard recalls a dream he had where he was on a refrigerator shelf.  The door closes and the lights go out, but he knows everybody is on the other side of the door enjoying their food.  When the door opens again, he feels like they’re happy he’s there but that no one’s really looking at him before the door closes once more and the lights turn off.  As Leonard sits sobbing, Don rises with tears, moved to embrace and comfort his fellow man—perhaps making a personal connection to the man’s fears. Leonard returns the embrace as the rest of the group looks on at such a profound moment in both men’s lives before we’re treated to a montage of the other major players.

Don at peace

In the concluding montage: the Campbells (Pete, Trudy, and Tammy) exit a limousine with ear-to-ear smiles and board a LearJet, Joan hands Kevin to her mother and begins Holloway/ Harris company in her dining room with only her babysitter for staff to answer phone calls, Roger—in French—happily orders lobster and champagne at a bistro for Marie and himself, Sally washes dishes in the Francis home as Betty reads a newspaper and smokes, and Peggy types from her office late in the evening as Stan lovingly appears from behind to comfort her and provide a kiss on her forehead. After the montage, Weiner takes us back to Don at the retreat.  Barefoot, he greets a sun rising over the Pacific and sits to meditate. The meditation instructor talks about the lives they have yet to lead—the future. The camera gets close on Don as the “omm” mantra begins and a clever smile appears on his face.  When Don smiles, we cut away to the famous Coca Cola commercial featuring The New Seekers’ “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” before the credits roll one final time on “Mad Men.”

A few lines need connecting between Don’s grin and the Coke ad.  One would be that Don took Peggy’s advice to heart: he returned to M-E after flaking out like others before him (apparently) and got the Coca Cola account back. After this, the lines get blurrier.  Was Don’s grin supposed to be a “cover all” of sorts to comfort the audience that everything will be okay for Don and his family?  Weiner never told us just what happened to the Draper kids after Betty’s eventual death; do we assume that Betty’s wishes were honored? Or Sally’s? Did Don ultimately keep his children after learning so much about his short-comings at the retreat and the success of his Coca Cola commercial? Whatever became of Sal or Ted? All programs leave a few loose ends for audience interpretation, and the implications of “Mad Men’sfinale have yet to etch a place in television history as viewers are still fresh off the ending.  In the coming days, more and more audience questions will pour out for Weiner, but for now let’s simply reminisce on the captivating series that redefined television drama and the mysterious ad man with a tragic past who eventually found inner peace at a hippie retreat in southern California.

Keywords: Mad Men, finale, Person to Person, recap, review, Don Draper, Peggy Olson, AMC, Jon Hamm, Matthew Weiner, Elizabeth Moss
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