My daughter got us hooked on Mad Men.
It was one of those shows I had intended to watch, but it took a little push to get us started. That push was a Christmas gift -the DVD of Season 1 – about four years ago (DVD? How far we’ve come in a few short years!).
The opening scene had Don Draper sitting at a table in a smokey, dimly-lit, restaurant, sketching out some thoughts about a tobacco ad campaign on a cocktail napkin. He then asked the waiter what brand he smoked and why.
The waiter answered, “Old Gold.”
Don’s target client was Lucky Strike. So he asked the waiter why Old Gold was his brand of choice.
The waiter replied that he “loves smoking.”
The maitre d’ walked over and asked Don if the waiter, who was black, was bothering him. He did not stop to think that perhaps a well-dressed executive might engage in a conversation with a black waiter
This simple, short scene offered a gritty, realistic image of 1960 society and culture – acceptance of smoking and racial stratification as norms. While smoking and race relations were not the prominent themes of the series, they were there in the background to some degree. They served as a constant reminder of how different life was in the not-so-distant past.
I enjoy period shows that are true to the time and offer an unvarnished portrayal of characters and events.
Along that line, Mad Men delivered.
I have occasionally been inspired enough to refer to the show or its principal character, adverting genius Don Draper, in my articles.
In this, it’s final season, the plot is well into 1970.
How do you end a saga that follows a host of intriguing people over the course of a tumultuous decade?
Regardless of how it plays out this Sunday, I am sure many fans will be disappointed.
Writing an ending is much tougher than developing a plot. It is tougher when the characters have become household favorites.
I am sure it will not be as disappointing as the final episode of the Sopranos, which cheated loyal fans out of closure with respect to the main character, Tony Soprano. I can buy into life not always providing closure, but fictional film and TV programs are primarily meant to be entertainment, which means you owe the fans something in the end. It does not have to be perfect, if perfection is even possible, but it should have an element of finality that one can use to project likely outcomes.
The last few episodes have set the stage for a story line that focuses on the two most important characters of the show – Don and his daughter Sally. All of the other characters have had what can be described as curtain-call worthy scenes, my favorite one depicting Peggy Olson traipsing into the offices of ultra-corporate McCann Erickson, conveying a bad girl image. It is easy to imagine her as one who will create waves which will either change the firm’s culture or propel her to a new career in advertising elsewhere. Either course is fulfilling to this fan.
Betty Draper Francis, Don’s ex-wife who has always been the most important relationship in his life regardless of his philandering, had the most poignant sendoff. She was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and given nine months to live, the price for a life of smoking, a habit featured throughout the series for almost all the key characters.
The envelope she left for Sally to open upon her death contained explicit instructions about her funeral but, more importantly, an expression of sincere love along with some sound advice about living. Sally, of course, opened the envelope soon after she received it and was deeply touched. You could sense the inspiration it provided her. It also disposed of the ill-feelings harbored by Sally towards her mother.
Most certainly, all of this points to the plot flash-forwarding to 1971. It was a benchmark year for the tobacco and advertising industries – televised cigarette commercials were banned effective January 1. A fitting point in time for the series to end, made more so given the cause of Betty’s demise.
It would seem Betty will succumb to cancer around June, roughly nine months after the date of her letter to Sally. Therefore, it would be logical for the episode to pick up at or soon after her funeral. This would also allow for some final farewells among the characters. With the exception of Roger Sterling and Peggy, who appear willing to pursue a course with McCann Erickson for at least a limited time (probably Ted as well), everyone else appears to be on divergent paths, never to meet again.
This season started with the death of Rachel Menken, the department store mogul who Don respected as an equal in terms of independence. She goes back to the very first season. The two became romantically involved, but she realized Don was not mature enough to warrant deeper involvement. Beginning and ending the season with memorial services for the two most meaningful women in Don’s life seems appropriate.
But Don must deal with one more challenge in his life. He is already heading in a healthy direction; however, he is still a father to three children who will soon be without a mother.
The kids’ stepfather, Henry Francis, does not have the mindset or the tenor to be an effective parent. If anything, he would be unable to cope with Sally’s independence and rapidly- progressing maturity, so important in her developing role as a surrogate mother to her much younger siblings.
Sally will need Don to resume an ongoing presence in caring for the family. Despite Don’s failings over the years, he has always loved his children….and their mother. Sally will ask for his involvement.
As he has in the past, he will not run away from this obligation. Over the final season, he has grown beyond seeking self-serving escapes from relationships, notwithstanding the dalliance with the waitress, the reason for which had its roots in the death of Rachel.
Perhaps the family will settle in New York; more likely move to California where he began life anew after returning from the Korean War with the stolen identity of Lieutenant Don Draper. It would not surprise me if that’s the impression left at the end.
Let’s hope Matt Weiner leaves us with a satisfying end to this brilliant series….not an ending that will leave us Mad.