05/19/2015 12:58 EDT | Updated 05/19/2016 05:59 EDT

How the Mad Men Finale Mirrors Real Life


This blog contains spoilers for those who haven't seen the Mad Men finale.

After seven seasons of cable television glory, AMC's Mad Men ended not with a bang but with a whimper. And that's exactly the way it should be. Aside from the unlikely but incredibly satisfying match of copywriter Peggy Olson and art director Stan Rizzo, the final episode held no monumental or cataclysmic conclusions. Just as the show's main character, troubled but charming ad man Don Draper, said: "People just come and go, and no one says goodbye."

Just as in life, the television drama's last stand offered few absolute endings. We get a glimpse into what the future holds for the show's characters post-Mad Men, but there are no concrete resolutions and certainly very few goodbyes. Even during Don's emotional phone call to Peggy, he says, "I only called because I realized I never said goodbye to you." Yet he never actually says goodbye.

Despite Don being the driving force for much of the show's drama, the culmination of his story arc is the most open to interpretation. He follows Anna Draper's niece Stephanie to a California retreat, where he is ditched and pushed to his breaking point. However it is there, in the end, he appears to find some peace sitting cross-legged in a yoga class smiling and chanting. We'll never know if this is Don really changing or just inspiration for his firm's most famous ad, "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke." And it remains unclear if the ad, shown in the final shot, was even written by Don.

Don's departure from New York in the previous episode is also a testament to how little any individual matters in the grand scheme of things. Don was initially proclaimed the "white whale" at ad agency McCann Erickson but when he suddenly exits, life goes on and very few people seem to notice or care. Even when his secretary is let go, she seemed relatively unfazed, with an unnaturally perky attitude that she'll get back on her feet.

Despite being such a quintessentially American show, Mad Men did not afford its viewers a typical American ending. It brought to mind the Irish movie musical Once in which two people fall together and fall apart. No happy ending, no tragedy, and no real goodbyes. I suppose the impending death of Betty Francis (formerly Draper) from lung cancer could be viewed as tragedy, however, she seems uncharacteristically calm in her final scene, still smoking a cigarette.

Many things about Mad Men were unrealistic, particularly when held against modern standards (for example, the excessive workweek day drinking). However, the series finale gave viewers an authentic, if unwelcome dose of reality. In real life, there are far more open endings than clean breaks and the final episode understates the incredible rarity of getting to say a proper goodbye. It may not have been as gratifying as being given explanations and closures for every loose end, but Mad Men's conclusion, or lack thereof, delivered what Hollywood seldom does -- honesty.


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