Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t seen the series finale of Mad Men, “Person to Person.”
“People just come and go and no one says goodbye.” — Don Draper
Oh Matthew Weiner, you sly little thing. After weeks of telling viewers we’d seen the last of many characters and making us believe we’d gotten the endings for Joan, Pete and maybe even Peggy, you packed this finale full of the goodbyes we all wanted and needed to see.
The title of the episode was “Person to Person” and that’s exactly what the hour was full of: two people in a scene either saying goodbye to each other or to the audience. We got all the goodbyes we wanted, from Pete and Peggy; Joan and Peggy; and Roger and Joan to Betty and Don; and Peggy and Don. We even got some we didn’t know we wanted, like Ken and Joan; Sally and Bobby; and Don and Stephanie. But we’ll get to Don in a minute.
First, lets focus on the ladies. Our first introduction to Mad Men came from Ms. Joan Holloway as she lead new girl Peggy Olson around the Sterling Cooper offices. Things have changed a lot since then, but there has always been camaraderie between those two from the beginning. They both took much different paths to get to this point because they’ve always been very different people.
From day one Joan made it clear that her greatest ambition was landing a husband. She told Don once, “my mother raised me to be admired,” and that’s the mindset she’s had throughout her life. She believed her worth could only be measured in the way men viewed her. But she also liked power. She liked bossing around the other secretaries and when Harry had her help read scripts she found a passion and talent completely outside her appearance. She found it again as an accounts woman and partner and despite her aversion to working at McCann, Joan had come too far to simply be content as a rich man’s plaything.
Meanwhile, Peggy showed up her first day at Sterling Cooper ready to work. It became clear that she was a natural copywriter and her trajectory never dipped from there. Of course her ambition left no time for anything other than ill-advised office affairs and a drawn out relationship of convenience. She’s been so focused on success as an end goal that she barely pays attention to what the success actually is.
And so, while these two women constantly butted heads as they came up against the same problems from opposite positions, they were also clearly rubbing off on one another. In the end, Joan chose a career over a man who wanted her all to himself and Peggy chose to remain a cog in the machine a while longer, with the love of her life at her side. The idea of Harris Olson was exciting, but it was time for Joan to stand on her own and time for Peggy to settle down and focus on what actually makes her happy, i.e. advertising and Stan.
Side Note: I have been waiting for Stan and Peggy to realize they love each other for four seasons and the reality of the moment was even more perfect than anything I could have imagined. It was pure perfection and completely makes up for any flaws within the rest of the episode.
Speaking of those…
I’m sure there are plenty of people who view Mad Men’s ending as somewhat lacking. I’ll admit the first word out of my mouth when the credited started rolling was, “what?” But honestly, I was fully prepared for a finale that simply ended without any lasting note of finality. Instead we got wrap-ups worthy of a network show (but that felt deserved and satisfying) for pretty much every major character. Can we fault them for leaving the ending a little ambiguous for the most ambiguous man on the show?
I think we are meant to draw our own conclusions about where Don goes after he leaves his kumbaya circle, but there are clear indications of where he went and who he was when he got there. When Stephanie stormed off during group therapy Don gave her pretty much the same piece of advice he gave Peggy in a very similar situation; it never happened.
But Stephanie wasn’t having it. She knew what it would take Peggy ten years to figure out. You can’t just forget something like that. It will always be with you. Just like, no matter where Don ran, Dick Whitman was always there too.
Don thought he had found happiness living his hobo life wandering aimlessly across the country, but just like every other time he’s ran away it was just a temporary fix to a permanent problem. Because the real thing Don was always trying to run away from was himself. And as cracked out as that retreat was, it provided him with the tools to finally look within and perhaps accept that Dick Whitman will always be there, but so will Don Draper and despite what he told Peggy, he did quite a lot with that name.
Don identified with the man talking about how unseen and unwanted he felt, because he’s never gotten over the rejection in his childhood. But in his present, he has a whole host of people awaiting his return; from Peggy to Sally to probably Roger once he returns stateside.
So yes, I believe that Don returned to New York, to his family, despite Betty’s preparations, and back to McCann where he worked on Coke and made the most famous ad of a generation. Because that’s who Don Draper is.
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