Monday, May 18, 2015


Is the ending a joke?

Actually, the whole thing is. Someone on Twitter said, as if surprised, that she was laughing more at the Mad Men finale than she had at any other episode. Part of that, I assume, was the petit finales for the other principals' stories, which came off fairly breathless, not to say rushed, like the wrap-up of a Sixties sex comedy. The Peggy and Stan resolution in particular seemed like fandering (THE MOMENT YOU'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR), but sure why not, especially with Elizabeth Moss and Jay R. Ferguson so game about the funny romantic stuff. (From her phone takes especially, it would appear Moss has been studying Ross Hunter.)

Surewhynot, too, with Joan bravely going it alone with her wimmyn-owned company and Roger and Mrs. Megan in Paris Quebec. As I've said before, these characters were never going to achieve enlightenment: They were just working out career and personal issues, and though the times a-changin' made their challenges and opportunities bigger than they might have been, in the end they're no more fraught with meaning than any other TV officemates, just better written than most. (Betty and Sally are a slightly bigger deal, but that set-up came last week. Nonetheless I appreciated their Don scenes as fine examples of that other type of TV staple, the emotionally purgative phone call.)

The real story has always been Don Draper, and after all that drama, all that identity crisis, and all those harbingers of bardo, it was a shock to find, first of all, people from Don's Old Life not only talking about him ("He's not dead! At least I don't think so") but also chatting with him on the phone, and secondly, after a few rounds of Don doing Don stuff -- fucking a stranger, barking life lessons -- to come to that cynical comedy ending. But the thing that saves it is Leonard. How this Joe Average got to Thinly Disguised Esalen I can't guess, but when he started talking about his dream of being in the refrigerator and Don went to embrace him, you could be forgiven for thinking Don had learned some new kind of empathy that would help make him whole. After all, he had just cut all ties with his Old Life people; he gave Peggy the same spiel on the phone that he'd given her, basically, in "The Suitcase" (she even responded the same way: "That's not true"), and then hung up; even Stephanie, his last link to Anna Draper, took off and left him with hippies. And here he was, not working out his angst with a sexual conquest but in the embrace of Leonard, another desk guy who can't quite believe in love even when it's at the table with him.

But surprise, it's not a new empathy for a new life, it's the same empathy that made Don great at selling cigarettes to potential cancer victims and plastic wheels to sentimental families. Don has always been an empath who, because of his emotional damage, is uniquely attuned to the pain of average citizens, and when he sees a valuable crop of it he gets in there and grabs and holds it close to drain its essence. And then turns it into a commercial. He is what America has instead of artists. And that's why, despite all the historical signifiers that made the show look like the chronicle of a New Day Dawning, nothing much has really changed. Don has not rediscovered Dick Whitman -- he has, after a crisis of confidence, rediscovered Don Draper. And gone back at work.


  1. He is what America has instead of artists.

    i've said it before roy, but you've made me reconsider setting this thing aside.

  2. sundaystyle12:51 PM

    Thanks Roy, for the recaps this season. Some wag said they'll be almost as many people recapping the Mad Men finale as there will be people watching the show, so congratulate yourself on not being a Johnny-come-lately! But seriously, thanks, I've really enjoyed your insights.
    So in this last episode Don's story amounted to half of the Seinfeld mantra: no learning, some hugging. I'm perplexed by people who saw the ending as ambiguous, e.g. maybe Don creates the greatest ad campaign ever, or maybe he really HAS found peace and the closing song is just ironic commentary on how capitalism swallows everything. I'm sure Weiner will publicly comment at some point, but I think the message is as simple as this: Draper's gonna Draper. He doesn't stop running, he just keeps running in circles.

  3. BG, puppet making crank calls1:58 PM

    Don has not rediscovered Dick Whitman -- he has, after a crisis of confidence, rediscovered Don Draper. And gone back at work.

    Not only that, he goes back and creates one of the most iconic commercials of all time, the one that signaled the beginning of the end of the "counter-culture" ---

    Call me crazy, but I think that's a green Coke bottle in the poster for the last few episodes (done by the great Milton Glaser).

  4. prufrock2:02 PM

    I'm perplexed by people who saw the ending as ambiguous, e.g. maybe Don
    creates the greatest ad campaign ever, or maybe he really HAS found
    peace and the closing song is just ironic commentary on how capitalism
    swallows everything.

    Raises hand: I was one of those people. However, I'm seeing a lot people (probably a majority) who have your opinion of the finale and I've been swayed in your direction.

    I saw one commenter at mention that the Coke ad juxtaposed with his little smile at the end was all we needed to see to know that Don created it. We didn't need scenes of Don repairing his relationship with McCann or the creative process, or the pitch, as we've seen that all before. As you said, running in circles.

  5. I assume that background is a Peter Max knockoff?

  6. susanoftexas2:27 PM

    There is no greater consumer good than pain. There is a bottomless supply of it. It's addictive. It's the key to mass consumerism. Selling is finding a consumer need and filling that need. Advertising is finding an emotional need and using that to sell your goods.

  7. M. Krebs2:48 PM

    And there's inventing a product and then creating a need for it. There ought to be a name for that ...

  8. FlipYrWhig2:53 PM

    after all that drama, all that identity crisis, and all those harbingers of bardo, it was a shock

    Harbinger of bardo
    Language of the Mad
    Harbinger of bardo

  9. FlipYrWhig2:55 PM

    Didn't Mad Men previously imply that Peggy had come up with "You've come a long way, baby?"

  10. Bizarro Mike3:14 PM

    To borrow a joke from another blog, a con artists is a type of artist.

  11. MRC2104:25 PM

    Exactly. Don's little smile at the end? "I can sell this!".

  12. JennOfArk4:29 PM

    I thought the ending was purely brilliant. I especially loved the foreshadowing in that first little "ping", which repeats right as we see Don's smirk and it goes into the Coke ad, and I'm sure it was intentional. Look at modern ads and how they use sound - for example, the Intel audio logo. I knew the second I heard that first ping that we were going into an ad. Then you see Don sitting there in the lotus position and I think, holy crap, he's gonna be a New Age guru and this is part of his infomercial. Then you get the smirk and the second ping and the ad, and it's like, no, he's going to do what he's always done - pick up and put on whatever is handy that suits his purpose. Don is gonna Don.

  13. BG, puppet making crank calls5:03 PM

    No, Milton Glaser is another iconic designer from that period. He did this:

  14. BG, puppet making crank calls5:08 PM

    That's how I see it. "Om" => "perfect harmony"

  15. TGuerrant5:55 PM

    Oh yeah, while you're all over here sparkily smarkin with the teevee, Jonah's dropped a big one and no one was there to clap with one hand for it. This comes hard on the heels of his public disclosures of his parenting practices and is very significant.

    1 - His daughter is his and no one else's. The collective ownership of children put forward by libtards is libtarded.

    2 - Dogs are great except some of them (like dachshunds, which are tubular snapping turtles) and his dog is The Wonderdog.

    3 - But The Wonderdog erred in making friends with a fat man who brought a bunch of dogs to the dog park when poor Mrs. Jonah was struggling alone there (no reason given for Wonderhusband's absence). The fat man was Ted Kennedy. Oh, hilarious. And convenient since Kennedy's dead and can't tweet that he's never been in a dog park that didn't serve single malt.

    Jonah states, by the way, that he was baited into writing the quite lengthy and wandering and drivelly article by an editor who claimed to hate dogs. This has potential. How much would an NRO editor charge to tell Jonah that he hates fractals?

  16. sigyn6:05 PM

    I hate to say it, but dachshunds="tubular snapping turtles" is the funniest thing Jonah has ever written. I wonder who he stole it from.

  17. Marion in Savannah8:01 PM

    Thanks for reminding us why we actually come here.

    (Confession — I had never watched a single episode of Mad Men until AMC started their marathon. Got hooked — it's a great show.) HOWEVER, there are plenty of places on teh intarwebz where I can read "learned commentary" about fiction. That ain't why I visit here.

  18. Disboose8:01 PM

    Thanks for these, Roy, I checked back more than once every Monday to see if these went up, and you always help frame my perspective on them.

  19. Marion in Savannah8:13 PM

    That was a great line, so obviously Der Pantload didn't come up with it. (There was a pull quote stating that dogs were the only animals who chose to associate with humans. WRONG!!!111!!! Research tells us that cats pretty much domesticated themselves.)

    That being said, it's the only time I've ever read a bunch of comments at NRO that didn't make me want to shower in Lysol...

  20. Marion in Savannah8:16 PM

    I suppose it would be too much to ask if anyone is going to volunteer to read the "book-like object" from which this was extracted... it's a veritable Ship Of Fools Cruise.

    (Click here at your own risk:"

  21. javamanphil10:57 PM

    So nobody believes the Coke commercial was the work of Don's protege, Peggy, and Don just decided to be happy in the California sun? After all, what did Don need? He had money. He had food and light. He even had a place. Maybe he really is done. Not personal growth, mind you, but no more need for the grift. Of course, that is never how it works, is it. There is never the last job because the payout is not the payout but the thrill of the grift itself. Perhaps Don just took a break and then convinced some computer company run by California hippies to run an ad at the Superbowl featuring a girl chucking a hammer at big brother's pathetic projection.

  22. Jmaharry1:32 AM

    "He is what America has instead of artists."
    An elegant sentence expressing an even better insight. It also suggests a related thought — that all the books, classes, videos, preachers and shrinks promising self discovery, which the U.S. has been mainlining for over a century, don't necessarily deliver enlightenment, yet aren't necessarily fraudulent, either. In many, many cases, like Don's, for instance, they simply exist to affirm and make us feel more assured about whoever we were and whatever is we were doing in the first place.

  23. GeorgeMokray1:46 AM

    Somebody was reading Thomas Frank's The Conquest of Cool.

  24. Jmaharry2:05 AM

    As Don explained several seasons ago, ads exist to alleviate our anxiety. Specifically they sell or extol products that promise to quell our dread. And, in cases like last nights series ending spot, the product that brings relief is the commercial itself.

  25. Wrangler2:54 AM

    Inherent Vice makes for an interesting bookend to Mad Men.

  26. I can't even. Its warmed over yakif smirnoff with a butter knife hiding in every joke. A butter knife he thinks is a rapier. Primarily its a monument to compartemenalizatiin and the ability of right wingers to forget the very arguments they were making yesterday when commenting on orher peoples parenting, controlling other peoples kids, the dead hand of tradition, the role of the schools and churches is shaping society was bragged about.

  27. Helmut Monotreme8:56 AM

    And that's only the start of a long list. You can add rats, mice, flies, fleas, tapeworms, mosquitoes and a large array of other parasites and scavengers.

  28. Halloween_Jack9:58 AM

    I didn't even bother to read Jonah's drivel after I clicked through and saw that NRO was proffering the links below. The title in the other Jonah link says it all, but I'm simultaneously astonished and amused that not only is NRO promoting old Derbyshire links--the post was written about a year before NRO themselves fired him--but the link goes to a page where they give the first paragraph and paywall the rest, WSJ-style. Yeah, good business plan there, guys.

  29. redoubtagain10:10 AM

    I wonder who he stole it from.
    The intern with the working gas mask.

  30. AmusedAmused11:00 AM

    One problem I've always had with existentialism is that it's so ... nebulous. Alright, let's say all the characters are shallow, fail to find authenticity and "learn nothing". Everyone keeps writing that, but the lingering questions I have (and I think they are questions that the show suggests) are: If Don "rediscovered Dick Whitman", what exactly would that consist of? What would it look like? Is Dick Whitman really a completely different person from Don Draper? Does a mere name really have that much significance? What does it mean to rediscover oneself? I mean, those are fine words for a self-help book or superficial bloviating on self-actualization, but what does it actually MEAN? If the thoughts you think, the words you say, the relationships you pursue, the things you do (to other people, because EVERYTHING you do ends up affecting other people), aren't the "real you", then what is? Is there really some elusive, hidden "Real You" that's radically different from how you present yourself to the world? Does embracing your "roots" do that, and what would that embracing look like? Personally, I think the idea of "authenticity" is overrated -- mostly because there is no such thing.
    What are all these people supposed to "learn"? Is there some deep philosophical lesson that the Universe is teaching us, and if so, what is it? (I mean, apart from the usual nonsense about how you are beautiful and special the way you are, and you should love yourself, and also forgive yourself, and then love yourself some more, and no one should judge you, etc., etc., etc.?) What should we take to represent "enlightenment"? On a personal level, in our culture of emotional self-aggrandizement, I believe "enlightenment" would be realizing that it's not all about you and your feelings; that you should try to do some good in your life, even if it's something small, without expecting anything in return; that if you bring a child into this world, you have a responsibility to be a good parent, and not just sit there wallowing in self-pity, complaining about people "judging" you for being a bad parent, just because you are one, or desperately trying to decipher the "lesson" that the cosmos must be trying to teach you by withholding the happiness and inner peace that you are so clearly entitled to. But I know I'm in a minority on that one.

  31. CMSFoundation11:53 AM

    [Exec] Our job is to manipulate the consumer by arousing his desires,
    and then we satisfy those desires for a fixed price.

    It sounds familiar.

    [Bissinger] It sounds familiar.

    [Nathan] It's called "advertising"!

    - Putney Swope

  32. dstatton12:58 PM

    Just wondering. Can it be both? His inner peace is found in advertising? Is a Zen adman possible? Someone called it a smirk, but I saw a happy smile. Think Sergei Eisenstein. I realize that I'm wandering around a little. Running it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes it.

  33. P Gustaf3:22 PM

    Peggy doesn't seem like she'd have insight into the hippie ethos. And Don's an asshole right up until the last 15 minutes of the show, and then he finds peace? Doesn't ring true.

  34. sundaystyle3:30 PM

    I think a Zen adman is possible, I just don't think Don could be that adman. The central question of the show is, "who is this guy?" Is he Dick Whitman wearing a Don Draper uniform, or is he Don Draper trying to exorcise the Dick Whitman demons? And I think we've learned over the run of the show that it's a case of both/and, not either/or. It just seems like Weiner has written the character as someone whose personal trauma is intrinsically linked to his creativity.

  35. drspittle4:30 PM

    I like your insight and I agree. He's all of the above.

  36. Religion.

  37. Ohhhhhh, okay, I see.

    I grew up with this shit and only am just learning about it...

  38. Jonah's dropped a big one

    What, as opposed to The Big Ones he drops every morning?

    His daughter is his and no one else's.

    Oh, fuck, yet another goddamn wingnut trope I grew up with: Children As (Valued, Mostly) Property. Which always, in my case, seemed to lead to the "you need to help me on whatever projects I am working on, especially outside, because children are there for labor".

  39. the link goes to a page where they give the first paragraph and paywall the rest

    They should just hire one of us to write The Shorter and put the entire goddamn thing behind the paywall, where it can fester in peace.


  40. Memo To Selves: Got to find a copy of Putney on-line and watch it again.

  41. CMSFoundation6:12 PM

    Here you go:

  42. dstatton10:40 AM

    Dick Whitman is dead. Long live Don Draper.