Major spoilers for Mad Men are involved in this post.
Mattew Weiner has done a discussion about the last season of Mad Men and the final images displayed. The whole article is worth reading if you are a fan of the show. He claims that the last image of the show was not meant in any kind of cynical way:
“My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is,” Mr. Hamm said. “And who he is, is an advertising man.”
Mr. Weiner didn’t touch on how the Coke ad did or did not fit within the show’s narrative. But he defended the ad, with its notably multicultural cast, against those who would now dismiss it as “corny.”
Now, I definitely interpreted it that way. However, Weiner is defending the ad in it’s place and time and not ours. He talks about how five years before the ad you couldn’t even have black and white people in the same ad.
In one way, if the creator of something says something is so and so, you could say I was wrong. However, I think it is a credit to Weiner that the end was interpretive enough, so well put together, that its interpretations are more varied than just what he was thinking when he put it together.
I remember one time I wrote a song and someone misheard the lyrics. What they heard was even more compelling than what I wrote. Often when writing or doing anything, one goes on intuition more than reason. David Lynch is a director that is really interesting to watch work, as he operates almost wholly on intuition. Some of the things I have written that I’m most proud of, I don’t even know what they are till later on. Also, there is the argument that once created, something is the audience’s as much as it is the creator’s.
A friend of mine said that the ending also hinted at the artistic process. That so much goes into one song, or scene, etc. Nothing is created in a vacuum. It took Draper his whole life to arrive at a place where he could create that commercial. I think this is another brilliant way to interpret the ending.
I remember reading another interview with Weiner where he talked about how there was positive and negative advertising. There was advertising that tried to make what was being sold look appealing. Then there was negative ads that tried to make people feel like they would be losers if they didn’t by the product. Think of all of the male deodorant commercials that basically say if you don’t buy this you will never get laid. Draper was someone that believed in creating positive ads.
Now I still stick with my original interpretation of the ending. Even though the show takes place in the past, the viewing takes place in the now. Advertising has consumed and co-opted so many things by this point that it is hard not to be cynical about ads. In my mind tying peace and love to a Coke diminishes peace and love. If you take my friend’s interpretation about art, art is at least trying to communicate something of value. It is trying to represent the real experience as best it can so that other people can understand it. It is trying to build communication. Meanwhile, commercials end goal are to get you to buy a product. In the case of the Coke ad, peace and love are being used to try to get you to buy something that causes tooth decay and childhood obesity. It is turning peace and love into nothing more than a marketable commodity.
There is so much more I could say about the brilliant, beautiful, and somewhat disturbing, to me at least, ending of this great show. But the whole thing about such a great ending is that you don’t have to decide. You don’t have to tell yourself that this ending represents one interpretation and that nothing else is correct. The ending raises more questions, connects with more ideas, than Weiner, my friend, or myself have about it. The ending is art and that is a beautiful thing. It is not a final destination, but a river than can lead you to so many different places. Cast off from shore and explore this world and others on your own.