The unveiling of THE DRAPER BENCH, a semi-permanent art installation at the Time & Life Plaza, home of Sterling Cooper & Partners Advertising Agency in the iconic series Mad Men, on March 23, 2015 in New York City.
I unabashedly loved how Matthew Weiner closed the show. I definitely favor the more cynical interpretation that Don, after experiencing this somewhat profound experience, doesn’t just change entirely and retires to a peaceful, contemplative life in Claifornia, but returns to McCann and creates one of the most iconic works of advertising ever. He takes what was seemingly a profound moment of clarity, an experience that brought him down to new emotional depths and then goes on to exploit it, commercialize it to sell soda. Brilliant. It was a necessary and strangely satisfying shot of cynicism after the sentimental montage that depicted the rest of the characters in their final moments. Not that I didn’t like seeing everybody get happy, uplifting endings, but this more realistic and sardonic beat feels more in tune with the overall tone of the show.
And I don’t feel like this reading of the ending completely discards his recent pilgrimage, his shedding of everything weighing him down, his return to Dick Whitman or change or whatever. This doesn’t mean that he didn’t have a meaningful experience traveling across the country or in this retreat. Yes, he might have had a semi life-altering experience, but he is still Don fucking Draper. People might grow and mature, curve their behavior in significant ways, but they fundamentally stay the same. This is what Don does, like Stan mentions to Peggy. He knows he’ll be back and so do we. He comes back perhaps a kinder, more peaceful person, but Don all the same.
Also, I really appreciate that the series began with Don pitching an existing, real-life ad, Lucky Strikes “It’s Toasted”, and ends with this one for Coca Cola, perhaps the most iconic advertisement of the 20th century. I’m not sure how often the show employed the use of existing ads, or if these are the only two examples of that practice, but this bookending adds a nice symmetry to the show.
I’m not crying, nor have I been crying for the past two hours because I
hate the show or because I want to kill Matt Weiner. I’m crying and have
been crying for the past two hours because Betty Francis, a character I
adore and am painfully attached too, is dying. She’s fucking dying.
She’s got nine months to a year to live. I fucking hate the storyline,
but I’m not mad at the show or the writers. So, in a weird way, the
storyline makes sense, “Mad Men” is not a show about happiness, is about
life. And in life you search for happiness. Sometimes you find it,
sometimes you don’t. Joan got a shitty exit from McCann, Roger knows
he’s condemned to spend the rest of his years trapped in those offices,
not being a leader, Don is a hobo again and Betty is fucking dying. Did
this ruin “Mad Men” for me? Hell no! Do I like it? Hell fucking no! “Mad
Men” is that show that happens to be different, the one that sets
itself apart, the one that makes sense, the one that grips you and makes
you get involved because of the characters, and not the ships, the one
that built an amazing fandom where we can all talk and discuss in a
civilized way, the one that you don’t get angry with. The finale
probably won’t hurt as much now that I saw what’s happening to Betty,
and I may joke that that’s what Matt planned all along with this
storyline, but I still don’t want to say goodbye to it. I know Betty’s
story sucks, and that she’s dying before her time. I’m well aware the
woman smokes like a chimney and yeah, that’s life! And that’s “Mad Men”.
And Matt and the writers have given her seven seasons of amazing
storylines and watching her go through the rollercoaster that has been
Betty’s life was a thrill. But still, I feel validated to keep on crying
because the Queen is dying of cancer and it fucking hurts. And watching
this show end will also fucking hurt.