Finales of TV series are tough to pull off. Let's all agree. That said, Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, and his team pulls off a finale by capturing hearts and minds, and also with closure. So with that, spoilers also are ahead.
The season 7 episode 14 finale titled, "Person to Person" opens as Don Draper/Richard "Dick" Whitman, played by Jon Hamm, channels his inner Mario Andretti as he speeds a muscle car across the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Yet the owners of the car are two amiable young men, whom both had been promised money from Don for further land speed racing by going to El Mirage, California. It's also here when he finally finds out during a phone call to his daughter Sally Draper, that her mother who's also his ex-wife Betty Francis having advanced lung cancer.
Sally, played by Kiernan Shipka, now already feels guilt that she's betrayed her mother's confidence after disclosing the matter to her father. Because now Don's also concerned about his two boys despite Betty's wish that they live with her brother and his wife. For Don says, "Sally, grown-ups make these decisions." Therefore afterwards and wasting no time, he phone calls his ex-wife as he pleads to be there for her and their children. To which Betty summarily replies, "Don, honey, I appreciate your intentions. I really do. But I'm not going to waste the rest of my time arguing about this. I want to keep things as normal as possible, and you not being here is part of that." Closely followed by Don now with tears in his eyes as he replies, "Birdie, I know." Later, the two likeable young men show up at Don's motel room to remind him of his promise to stake them to go to El Mirage. Don keeps his word, but only asks to be dropped off in LA.
Thus so far, after he suddenly left the Miller Beer account meeting at ad agency McCann Erickson in season 7's episode 12, Don Draper's complete road trip journey which began in New York City, follows him to Wisconsin, to Kansas, to Utah, and then on to arriving in California.
Meanwhile at a McCann conference room, a meeting had just adjourned after McCann exec Lorraine gave assigned accounts. This left former Sterling Cooper & Partners (SC&P) copy chief Peggy Olson unsatisfied, who politely and assertively, confronts Lorraine to ask why she and former SC&P art director Stan Rizzo were taken off the Chevalier account. Peggy opens first by asking, "Lorraine, do you have a moment?" Followed by Lorraine's brusque reply, "Not really." Shortly after, Peggy does get back the Chevalier account by taking on Lorraine's bluff, after Lorraine threatened to take the matter upward to David. The role of Lorraine was played by Brooklyn born actress Francesca Ferrara. Though her role was short, I liked her in that scene.
Then later, former SC&P partner and colleague Pete Campbell shows up at Peggy's office for a lunch date, along with another former SC&P colleague and head of television, Harry Crane, to join them. "Let's go. I'm starving," says Crane before swiftly putting a cigar into his mouth. Of the former colleagues of SC&P, only Harry Crane, who ever since season 7's episode 12, did not appeared bothered at all by SC&P being totally moved over into McCann Erickson. Peggy then regretfully declines lunch to catch up on work, but wishes Pete the best on his move to Learjet. So "Duck" Phillips came through for Pete after all. For one just never knows about Duck.
Joan Holloway Harris also starts her own business, not only with the help of the $250,000 McCann gave her to leave, but also with the help of new client and former SC&P colleague Ken Cosgrove, now head of advertising at Dow Chemical. Yet not everyone is happy. For Joan's new venture causes a rift between her and her wealthy boyfriend Richard, who decides to leave her.
And there's Don's faithful former secretary Meredith, delightfully acted by Stephanie Drake. Former SC&P partner Roger Sterling says to her, "Sweetheart, I have some sad news." She next asks, "Is he dead?" To which he replies, "Don? No." For he tells her they would have heard, before telling her their secret has been discovered by McCann in that he doesn't need both her and Caroline. "Well, I hope he's in a better place," she adds. "He's not dead. Stop saying that," Sterling replies firmly. "There are a lot of better places than here," she says softly, next as Roger while in his office tells her, "I'll give you the recommendation he (Don) would have."
Then the moment of truth, as Don places a person to person call to Peggy from California. Don is now at a holistic communal retreat, like a 1970 version of Canyon Ranch. It's a place where Stephanie, niece of the departed Anna Draper and wife of the real Don Draper who died in the Korean War, suggested they both attend. After Peggy opens with anger mixed with genuine concern for Don, asking also doesn't he want to work on Coke, Don says softly, "I can't. I can't get out of here." Then later with tenderness, Peggy says, "Don, listen to me. What did you ever do that was so bad?" Don then comes clean. Yet even so, she wants her former mentor back.
A while ago I read a book called The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. I might never have known it existed had I not came across the movie version I saw on TV starring Bill Murray. Murray plays Larry Darrell. Yet on the book's last page, the narrator describes that all the main characters got what they wanted. Elliot Templeton gets social eminence. Isabel gets cultural standing with fortune. Gray Maturin, husband of Isabel, gets a steady career and the wealth that comes with it, and his best friend former World War I hero buddy Larry Darrell, gets happiness.
The book The Razor's Edge came to my mind after having watched the Mad Men finale. For it seems that everybody got what they wanted. Roger Sterling is with new love Marie Calvet in a Paris café. Pete Campbell is seen victorious, holding his daughter, while he and Trudy are about to board a Learjet. Joan, former junior partner of SC&P, begins her production company. Betty, though ailing, is content that her wishes be fulfilled. And what about Peggy and Stan Rizzo? Be honest, for we all knew it was coming that Stan and Peggy would unite in love. So that leaves Don. Well at the end, Meredith's hope for him is fulfilled for Don is in a better place.
And about that better place, the actor Jon Hamm speaks in the online article by Dave Itzkoff on May 18, 2015 for The New York Times: Arts Beat titled, "Jon Hamm Talks About the 'Mad Men' Series Finale." For he says, "My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has a serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is. And who he is, is an advertising man." Nonetheless, if it was Don who created that 1971 Coke ad, I believe the finale works. But even if he didn't, the finale still works because either way, he has accepted himself.
Don has arrived at accepting himself. Beginning after the phone conversation with Peggy, to later after that emotional therapy session scene, during which all listen to a man named Leonard describing being alienated in both his work life and home life. That woke Don up who was the only one among the group, not even the therapist, who embraces the man. Then at last, Don is among others all in a lotus position. We hear a bell, he smiles, and there's the Coca Cola ad.
My only beef with the finale is this, what the hell happened to Dawn Chambers, Don's secretary before Meredith? When last we saw Dawn, memorably played by Teyonah Parris, it was in season 7's episode 11 when she and Shirley were worried about their jobs. At least we know what happened to Shirley, played by Sola Bamis. For in season 7's episode 12 titled, "Lost Horizon," Shirley tells Roger Sterling she will not be going to McCann, by already having landed another job. While Roger was hurt that she'll not be at McCann, Shirley then says, "...I have to say I thank you. You're very amusing." To which he adds, "Fat lot of good it did me."
In any case the series finale of Mad Men captures brilliantly, and will always be remembered.