Why Mad Men Could Not Have Ended Better

The following contains spoilers from the final episode of Mad Men.
When the last song played and the credits rolled on the final episode of Mad Men on Sunday night (aptly titled “Person to Person”), I was utterly speechless. I had to, in a sense, give it a few minutes. Not only had my favorite television drama ended right before my eyes—it felt like I had closed a fantastic book and was now staring in denial at the back cover—but it also ended on such an ambiguous note, one that was expected of Matthew Weiner.
Twitter roared all through the last hour, but at the end, I think it’s safe to say the fans were split evenly down the middle: some people hated it and some people loved it. After giving it some thought and setting many theories I’ve read aside, I, however, realized Mad Men could have not have ended better.


Have a Coke, Don!

In the final episode, Don Draper finds himself at a retreat of sorts with his somewhat-niece but mostly friend, Stephanie, who is trying to sort out her own demons. Having just learned that Betty Draper Francis is dying of lung cancer, Don tags along, arguably curious about seeking help or, in Draper fashion, is just buying some time (“What are you doing, Don?! Go home to Betty!” fans tweeted). His “breakthrough,” however, comes after two therapy-type seminars:
The first being when Stephanie opens up about her mistakes in life—including leaving her son behind—and feeling like everyone is judging her. One of the women in the group, after hearing her story, expresses her sadness and tells her that her child will “spend the rest of his life staring at the door, waiting for you to walk in.” This resonates with Don because he, too, 1) has left his children behind and realizes they are waiting for him, and 2) has his own mommy issues going on. Stephanie, overwhelmed with guilt, storms out of the session, and Don follows, offering to take care of her if she needs it. She shoots down his offer, reminding him that he isn’t even really family, and leaves, unknowingly at the time stealing his car to flee the resort.

“People just come and go, and no one says goodbye?” —Don Draper

Now distraught and grappling onto what he has left, Don calls Peggy back in New York. Since Peggy started working for him, he has often resorted to calling her for help when he was at his worst, and this time is no different. He tells her all his shortcomings (which Peggy doesn’t believe, assuming he is drunk or disturbed, when she tells Stan that “he wasn’t making sense”) and says he only called because he realized he hadn’t said goodbye, and hangs up. For a moment, a possibility of suicide is teased, but instead, help comes in the form of the seminar facilitator, who reaches out to him and invites him to come back with her. He obliges, hazily, realizing he has nowhere else to go.
In this second seminar comes Don’s breakthrough. Leonard, a man who “isn’t interesting” (his words!), tells the group about his family, who he believes doesn’t love him. “They should love me,” Leonard insists. Then, “Maybe they do, but I don’t even know what it is.” He goes on to tell the group about a dream that plagues him, one where he is a product on a refrigerator shelf. The door opens and he sees his smiling family (a family who “doesn’t look up” when he sits down) and he hopes they will notice him. “They’re happy to see you,” he says of the dream, “but maybe they don’t look right at you, and maybe they don’t pick you. Then the door closes again. The light goes off.” He breaks down into tears, and Don gets up, walks over, and crying, gives him a much-needed, warm embrace.
This dream scenario sounds a lot like a Don Draper pitch, one where Don uses nostalgia and family values to tug at your heartstrings, and perhaps this is why it reaches him so deeply. Perhaps he, too, feels like a product on a refrigerator shelf, the kind he has been trying to sell his whole life.
At the end, Don is seen mediating at the resort, looking more at peace with himself than he has ever looked on the show, and in the very last moment, cracks a very Don Draper-like grin. It cuts to the iconic Coca-Cola commercial, I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke, which was accurately created by McCann Erickson in 1971. Ambiguous, perhaps, but seeing the similarities Don pulls from his time at the resort (like that woman with the braided ribbons in her hair, for example), it is implied that Don returns to New York, works on the Coca-Cola campaign he has always dreamed of doing, and is massively successful with it.

“It’s the real thing,” sings the group in the commercial, implying that Don Draper has sold truth in a bottle.

So, no, Don Draper did not jump out a window, hijack an airplane, or steal another man’s identity. Instead, it ended with him doing what he does best: using his lows to create one damn good ad.
As per Mad Men tradition, this leaves much to be interpreted. Did Don Draper actually find peace? Has he “healed” and went home a better person, a better father? Or was that smile at the end quite cynical, as he used this opportunity only to sell another product, proving anything could be bought? I’m leaning towards the latter.
“A new day. New ideas. A new you,” appropriately chimes the instructor, the last spoken words of the series. Don certainly takes this to heart. Or does he? After watching Don constantly trying to be better and resorting back to his old ways for 7 seasons, anything is possible.

  • If you didn’t cry when Don said, “Oh, Birdie,” and Betty said, “I know,” something is wrong with you.
  • Peggy and Stan!!! While I thought this I-love-you-we-should-finally-kiss moment was totally not necessary, it seemed so natural, sweet, and platonic—I thought, “Of course.” She also chooses to stay at McCann to do what she does best, leaving Joan to:
  • Start her own company, Holloway Harris! I love that she got her “two names” by using her maiden name and married name. While snorting cocaine made her feel like “someone just gave her very good news,” it’s the thrill of working that gives her the high she loves.
  • Sally grows into a support figure for her mother after all these years, and Betty is last seen contented, smoking away—because you might as well at this point.
  • Pete and Trudy move to Wichita, and live happily ever after (and Trudy looks like a million bucks while doing so).
  • Roger marries Marie and lives happily ever after, while making mom jokes and trying to speak French. (To be honest, I was the least thrilled about this outcome since a part of me wanted him to end up with Joan.)
  • Did Meredith seriously translate Roger’s bit into pig Latin? God, love her.
  • While everyone else in the seminar group hugged and touched each other, that older woman PUSHED Don. Where’s that hand-clapping emoji when you need it?

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Why Mad Men Could Not Have Ended Better: Photographs courtesy of AMC

About Author

Megan is the former Editor in Chief of Cliché Magazine. In her spare time, she enjoys playing video games, blogging about her favorite things, and watching Seinfeld. Follow her on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook @meganportorreal.