Spoiler alert for the finale of Mad Men
The more I think about the ending of Mad Men, the more I think it was brilliant. I want to try to ignore doing any kind of traditional recap, as there are plenty of those online. I want to talk more about how things ended with the shows main character, Don Draper. His story line wrapped up in a way that was perfect in that in some way it gave people what they wanted, but was also disturbing and critical as well. It somehow managed to be happy and depressing at the same time.
Don Draper finally seems to find a glimmer of inner peace while meditating. He says, “ohm”, and you hear the sound of a bell. The next and final cut is to a famous Coke ad where people sing about harmony and how Coke is the “real thing”. (This is a real ad.) I don’t see any other way to read this than Don created the ad from his life experiences as he had all series.
In one sense those fans that want Don Draper to find a happy ending got one. He will essentially be alright. Stan said earlier that Don was a “survivor” and Peggy replied that he was always right. You get a sense that whatever happens to Don Draper after the credits role, he will survive and be essentially alright.
However, as a character, even if he does or doesn’t find lasting inner peace, he is basically ending up at the same place he began, turning his life experiences into advertisements. He is commodifying the experiences of life.
What is disturbing is that this is essentially what advertising does. It takes real experiences, strips them of their meaning, and uses them to sell people things that they don’t need, some of which are even harmful. Don’s inner peace was used to sell Coke, a product we know to cause tooth decay and child obesity. As my brother said, “Draper took all of the pain, all of the things he learned, all of the idealism of the 60’s, and turned it into something banal.”
So much of our society commodifies and cheapens things that should be sacred. In free market capitalism the market takes everything in life and reduces it into something that can be sold on the market. Peace, love, and happiness become just mere commodities, stripped of any higher purpose.
The brilliance of the ending is that Mather Weiner, Mad Men’s creator, was able to give Draper an ending that was both happy and disturbing, and that also commented on his character, his TV show, and the real world all at once. That’s quite a feat to go out on.