Created by: Matt Weiner. As you might be able to tell from previous posts, I’ve been kind of falling out of love with this show, bit by bit, for like half of the show already. But, as you’ll observe, I also kept watching. Partly it’s because I’m pretty compulsive, I hate not finishing a show or a movie that I start (which is why I’m phobically cautious about starting a show in the first place—when am I gonna find time to finish the second season of Rome??), and also because I was holding out hope that there was something really great in store for Don Draper, that his character, so ripe with mystery and allegorical/symbolic meaning, so much potential to say something really deep about America and the fall from grace that happened in the mythological consciousness in the latter part of the “American century”, would really blow the doors wipe open on some really uncomfortable truths that Americans need to face. Now, of course, it’s just a bloody TV show, and no TV finale can really live up to the expectations riding on it, unless it’s M*A*S*H and the expectations were low in the first place. (And really, maybe this whole mess we’re in with “quality television” and big finales that we expect to teach us something really meaningful about the human condition is all Alan Alda’s fault.)
Whatever way you want to cut it up, I was a little disappointed with the show overall. I’m glad Joan went into business for herself, but I’m disappointed that Peggy didn’t go with her, and instead settled for the beardo doofus in what I can only describe as a kind of backwards, patriarchal, domestic deus-ex-machina in which it’s revealed that their playful banter this whole time was a setup for Peggy to just settle down into a boring domestic relationship with some ding dong who lovingly looks over her shoulders while she types away at the keyboard. I think we all expected more of her after seeing that already-iconic shot of her in shades and a cigarette, swaggering into her new office. Peggy’s arc was the thing that kept people coming back, long after Weiner and co. started systematically depleting Don Draper’s mystique. Peggy’s initiation into the secretary pool in the first episode, her failure to fit into the world that Joan was the queen of, and her subsequent rise as one of the agency’s top creative talents, all of that shit was great. And to see it culminate in…that…ugh. I didn’t think it was fair how Betty had to die, but I guess life’s not fair. And I wish they could have thought of something better for Sally than washing the fucking dishes, but she’s still young. And I guess it’s to be expected that Pete would just embrace the life of a shallow, materialistic douchebag, but it wasn’t satisfying. Actually, almost none of it was satisfying, except, surprisingly for what they did with Don. For me, I took that ending at face value, maybe because I’m a sentimental type and I really wanted Don to come down a few pegs. I wanted to see Don—forever pessimistic, too cool for school, too old-fashioned and repressed and masculine to open up about his feelings in this new cultural paradigm that the show has arrived at in the early 70’s—finally just join in, become a dork, let himself look un-cool, allow the relative slovenly laid-back vibes of the modern era to chisel away at his postwar suit-and-tie armour. When he was sitting on that hill with all of those other proto-yoga-dorks, chanting “Ommmm”, and that broad smile crosses his face—I was happy! I was happy that he was happy! In this show, that was so invested in showing us how those old patriarchal values only served to make the patriarchal figure miserable (remember Sad Don Draper?), I thought it fitting, I thought it nice, that he finally achieved true happiness by just accepting his bullshit and taking his ego down a few notches, new-age silliness or otherwise. And although I don’t believe, like everyone else seemed to, that the show’s ending points to the unambiguous conclusion that Don was smiling because, like his cynical old self, he was able to use new age mysticism to hatch a brilliant ad campaign, I have to admit that that’s an element that’s certainly in there. But, call me sentimental, I’m still holding onto the open interpretation that maybe, even though the show ends with that Coke commercial, that maybe Don found happiness, cleansed his chakras or whatever, and that somehow, that means something for us. But really, I guess it was too optimistic of me to think that any TV show would allow itself to be optimistic in this cynical, post-9/11, post-everything landscape. But really, really, I guess it’s just a damn TV show.