“Mad Men” Says Goodbye With Don Draper’s Greatest Idea Yet

Last night on the series finale of “Mad Men,” we saw very satisfying conclusions for each and every beloved character. Peggy and Stan finally fulfilled the destiny that shippers across the land had been dreaming of, sharing an embrace following a telephone call straight out of Nora Ephrons playbook. Roger finally settled down with an age-appropriate woman. Pete, Trudy, and their gangly-legged daughter hopped on a Lear Jet, headed for the wide, flat plains of Kansas. And Don and Dick finally merged to create a fully-formed human, one with great capacity for both empathy and creative genius. The show ended as it should have — with a iconic Coke ad that packages the “turn on, tune in, drop out” ethos of the late ’60s in a palatable, racially diverse package, suggesting that Don has maybe been pulling a long con on us the whole time, like his entire life has been.  It’s a fitting end for a show that has felt at least partly rooted in fantasy.

Watching this finale, it’s easy to let the fantasies continue, casting spin-offs in your mind. Pete gets paunchy and he and Trudy have a couple more kids. Roger and Marie become that old couple in the cafe, two Lotharios who have found their perfect match in each other. Peggy and Stan make beautiful work, one lovely child and the cover of AdWeek. Sally, already making strides towards becoming a grownup, rushes forward into adulthood, clutching Betty’s letter of instructions, calmly making the arrangements when the moment comes.

But let’s talk about Peggy and Joan, the true, beating hearts of this show. Joan Harris ended up exactly where I wanted her — alone, but happy, and in charge of her own life. Richard, the aging, leathery-skinned playboy, never really felt like a good fit. Yes, he’d take care of her, and tend to her every wish, but it turns out that’s not what Joan wanted out of a relationship.

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Her entire trajectory throughout the show has been to be seen as a boss. But that meant working to being seen as an equal first. Like any other man, except for maybe Roger, Richard was just going to hold her back. Watching Joan’s face crumple as another shitty man walked out of her life was heartbreaking, but listening to her get it together and take that phone call like the boss bitch she is was a triumph.

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Peggy has also wanted to be a boss, but I think she’s also been fearful of ending up alone. She is tireless in her career, working the long hours necessary to get as far as she can, but she’s put every other part of her life on hold for this goal. There was no other person for her but Stan, who gladly takes the brunt of her sharp critiques, knowing that she is, at heart, a good and kind person, and a talented one at that. Unlike Richard, who didn’t want to compete for Joan’s attention, Stan understands and supports Peggy’s career goals. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, but I guess sometimes the bike is a nice option.

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Did Don’s entire cross country trip cum midlife crisis bring him back to square one? We’ll never know. It seems far-fetched that Don would go to such lengths for inspiration, but shirking responsibility and running away from trouble has always been his thing. He craves the unexpected and seeks out that which makes him uncomfortable, because it pushes him. That Don actually maybe finds himself AND his next big idea by joining his pseudo-niece Stephanie at a new age-y retreat overlooking the cliffs of Big Sur (likely based on Esalen) is more fitting than you’d think. The humor of Don Draper at a place like this is lost immediately when it’s clear just how broken he is. The phone call to Peggy, the choking, guttural noises he makes as he collapses to the ground and sits there, stunned, the two parts of himself — the Dick and the Don — have been wrestling inside him, causing rot from within that’s become impossible to hide. This retreat is his rebirth, whether it was planned or not.

As the camera pulls in tight on his “om”-ing face, a bright spot of khaki and crisp white buttondown in a sea of paisley, tapestry and gauze, it seems like Don has maybe found some peace and harmony. But he’s still an ad man, and as his lips turn up in smile, so begins his greatest campaign yet.