To be perfectly honest, Season five's final episode left me feeling a bit disappointed. Maybe this was Captain Weiner's intent: To let us diehards down easy in order to spare us the pangs of withdrawal over the long months ahead. Or perhaps he thought it proper to say "goodbye" on a more sedate note... especially coming off the two humdinger episodes leading up to number 13.
Either preceding episode would have made a great season closer, in my opinion. "The Other Woman," episode 11, easily my all-time favorite, focused on the Jaguar pitch and all the behind-the-scenes intrigue it took to bag that account. Then came the haunting "Commissions and Fees" episode in which poor, proud Lane took his life. These back-to-back shows captured advertising's highs and lows with remarkable force and poignancy. They played like anthems to advertising's mood swings.
Maybe Weiner decided to amuse himself by catching us off-guard at season's end. Was Sunday night Matt's attempt to stick his thumbs in his ears, wag his fingers at us and deliver a big, bad "boo!"? Watching the show and simultaneously trying to imagine what the hell was going on in Weiner's head led me to a funny place. Suddenly, I was transported back to the early '70s and I was once again spinning vinyl for the local Bar and Bat Mitzvah party crowd. One of the big hits back then was Ike and Tina Turner's classic song, "Proud Mary." As many of you boomers recall, it began with a soft, slow burn.
I could see Weiner up on a stage somewhere, wearing a highly teased Tina Turner signature platinum blonde wig atop his head, singin' -- actually, voicing -- the song's low-key intro: " Y' know, every now and then I think you might like to hear us sing somethin'... nice... and easy." And then, as the band continued grinding out its soft, rhythmic build up, heavy with acoustic base, Weiner ad-libbed: "So, tonight, we're going to slow things down a bit with a series of ... nice... and easy season-ending theatrical minuets."
For whatever reason, Season five failed to go out with a bang... or a whimper. Instead, it managed a soft, subdued flutter. But the slow minuets left my boomer lens with plenty to see.
Let me report what I saw. First I watched Don do a metaphysical cha-cha with his dead brother, Adam Whitman. Adam hanged himself in an earlier season when Don refused to acknowledge him and give him the love and acceptance he needed. Next, we see Don get a great big "slap in the face" when he pays Lane's wife, Rebecca, a visit. Don offers Rebecca his condolences along with a $50,000 check to help her get through any "hard times." Is Rebecca appreciative? No way. She berates Don for winding her dead husband up with more ambition than the man could handle.
Next, we watch Megan struggle with her stalled acting career. She panics and then begins to deconstruct completely, after just a few days' exposure to her cold mother's tender mercies.
That brings us to Peter Campbell. In his opening scene with his wife, Trudy, we see a very unhappy couple. "I'm sick of the gloom and doom," she tells him, to which he replies, "Me, too." Next, Peter seems to finally get a shot at the brass ring when the woman of his dreams, Beth, invites him for a passionate afternoon tryst. Beth has decided to treat her chronic depression with electro-shock therapy. Afterward, Peter visits her in the mental hospital, only to discover that the treatment has erased all memory of him.
Depressing stuff, isn't it? And that's just the point for this Baby Boomer columnist. Episode 13 shows us that, back in the '60s, everyone seemed stuck, waist deep, in the quicksand of depression. Some, like Don and Roger, drowned their despair in drink and promiscuity. Stoics like Peter believed they could change their mental state either by force of will or by making permanent changes in their lives. Others, like Beth, were willing to use extremely blunt instruments to escape emotional pain. Electro-shock therapy brought Beth temporary reprieve, but it deprived her of important memories and associations.
No wonder pharmaceutical companies and their breakthrough anti-depressant drugs replaced the cigarette firms of Don's day to become one of the leading advertising categories of the boomer generation. Anti-depressants such as Lexapro were the stuff of science fiction back in the '60s. Imagine, popping a pill that could turn a gray sky blue? Could it ever really be that easy? Could we get ourselves to "happyville" without attaching power cords to our heads or putting our frontal lobes to the knife? Despite the crazy state of our lives today, it appears we have made some progress, at least in our ability to make the problems go away.
If the Mad Men characters were real people with real problems, how nice it would be to dissolve a Lexapro or two in their morning coffee. Imagine the season opener that would follow as the cast gathered at the ocean for a group hug, followed by a brief, playful dash after the receding waves? Can't you just see them, with their pants rolled up to escape the tops of the wavelets, and permanent, non-lobotomized smiles plastered on their faces?
To quote another Baby Boomer song writer Don McLean, "Maybe they'd be happy for a while." And that's why my new battle cry for the cast is, "Lexapro for everyone!"
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