“Mad Men” came to an end Sunday with an ad. At first glance, a show about advertising ending with advertising does not seem odd, but the episode’s lingering question – Did Don (Jon Hamm) write Coca-Cola’s 1971 “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” spot? – was an unexpectedly strange, if appropriately ambiguous, conclusion to an otherwise surprisingly tidy finale. Ultimately, after a roller coaster hour that saw the acclaimed AMC series give its viewers the emotional endings to many of the show’s storylines that fans wanted, “Person to Person” finished by giving its main character the cynical, more sardonic, ending fans deserved.
The past few episodes of “Mad Men” saw the show display a willingness to leave major characters out of key home stretch episodes, giving many of the series’ leads possible early curtain calls leading up to Sunday’s finale. So, it would not have been altogether surprising had Joan (Christina Hendricks), or Roger (John Slattery), or Betty (January Jones) not appeared in the last episode. However, “Person to Person” instead played out like a high school reunion, hitting almost every significant storyline and assaulting fans with a barrage of de facto farewell scenes that ran the gamut from cheers to tears.
By and large, these scenes were perfect. Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) paid Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) a visit before leaving for Kansas where the prickly account man gifted her a cactus and earnestly paid her the most meaningful compliment she could ever hope to hear – “Someday people will brag that they worked with you.” Then, Roger showed up to tell Joan he was leaving his estate to their son and the pair got to laugh like old friends about their romantic shortcomings. What made both scenes powerful was how much shared history between the two couples went unsaid during the two tender moments.
Even smaller characters got to take a bow, like Meredith’s (Stephanie Drake) naively graceful exit after what was, ironically, Roger’s most merciful firing and Harry Crane (Rich Somner) stuffing his face with a tin of cookies.
However, the biggest goodbyes were reserved for phone calls in the aptly named episode. As if to emphasis his isolation, Don, adrift in California at a new age mediation retreat, had to give his parting remarks long distance.
First, Sally (Kiernan Shipka) called her father, telling him about Betty’s cancer and urging him to let Bobby (Mason Vale Cotton) and Gene (Evan Londo) live with their aunt and uncle. The scene, coupled with a later one in which Sally helps her brother cook dinner, shows just how fast the young woman has had to grow up in the wake of her parents’ sins.
Next, Don called Betty, resulting in a devastating scene where he was forced to face the reality that keeping life “normal” for their kids, even with Betty’s illness, meant Don not being around. Though at the end of the conversation, a broken “Birdie” from Don revealed just how much complicated affection remained between the two exes.
Don’s last call was to Peggy. In the middle of a panic attack, he admitted to her was not the man she thought. “What have you ever done that was so bad,” asked Peggy. “I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name and made nothing of it,” confessed Don. “That’s not true,” replied a very concerned Peggy. For such a complicated relationship, the conversation, while moving, still felt a bit dissatisfying as a conclusion. Perhaps, though, all viewers could expect of Don and the selfish way he has treated Peggy the past seven seasons was just him “wanting to hear her voice.” Fans will always have their “My Way” dance!
Distraught from her talk with Don, Peggy dialed Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) for the last seminal phone call of the episode. After Stan reassured Peggy that Don would eventually come back, he made a confession – he was in love with Peggy. The admission startled Peggy, who was hilariously speechless for a moment before realizing that the feeling was mutual. The scene was the show’s most fan fiction feeling moment ever, as “Mad Men” shippers around the world rejoiced. However, while the moment felt slightly pandering, no true lover of the show could claim to be upset by the romantic revelation.
Earlier in the episode Peggy turned down a name partnership in Joan’s new production company venture because she wanted to continue doing what she loved – copywriting – at McCann. Perhaps Peggy finally realized that there was more to life than work.
Meanwhile, Don had a very different kind of realization. In a group therapy session at the tail end of his panic attack, the retired ad man had a breakthrough of sorts listening to an anonymous office worker’s description of how inconsequential and unloved he felt in his life. Don broke down in tears, crossing the room to embrace his fellow broken man. Don was next seen in the throes of peaceful mediation before the show cut off his smile to that iconic Coke ad.
It would be hard not to interpret from the end that Don goes back to New York to pen the famous campaign. The question then becomes, does he write the Coke ad because he has truly changed or is this the latest in an unending series of partial breakthroughs, much like his Hershey pitch. It might comfort fans to imagine the former was true. However, for a show that has spent so much time meditating (no pun intended) on how much people try to change, yet how little they really do, the latter is much more likely.
That might make Sunday’s “Person to Person” the perfect finale. For as far as it went towards tying up loose ends and providing closure for its characters, the true sendoff of the show was marred with uncertainty. The finale had its sweeping, this-is-the-end moments, but finished with the same message it has been subtley pedaling since the beginning. Don Draper is still Don Draper.
What did you think of “Person to Person?” Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.