Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mad Men Recap - Person to Person or; THE FINALE

Well, guys, we made it through the end. And now I'm here to recap both the episode and my myriad feelings both during and after the actual episode because - ALL THE FEELS!

Feelings such as:

Bewilderment - oh wow, so you can just do coke on vacation just like that?

Don-Draper-is-crying crying - Because is there anything in the world sadder than a man you love crying? Your dad? Your husband? No, no there's not.

Surprise routing for the guy you've hated for years - Yeah! You jump on that jet with Trudy in her kickass hat, Pete!

A good dash of rolling your eyes(or whatever the emotional equivalent is?) - Really, Stephanie? Does anyone actually like Stephanie?

Uninhibited tears of happiness - Because Stan and Peggy's scene over the phone was one of the best romantic scenes I've ever seen!

A good Roger laugh for old time's sake - Because Du Maurier cigarettes really are "le shit".

Genuine anger at Don - For the Love Don!! You can't keep going forward!!!! Have we learned nothing!!

Heartbreaking empathy - You never thought you'd experience that emotion through a group therapy session on television, did you? Just saying it seems bizarre. Bravo, Matthew Weiner.

My feelings about the finale really came down to the final ten minutes. As I was watching the minutes of the episode flash by, and I realized there were ten minutes in the show left I didn't know how the show would wrap up. But then that soul-barring confession phone call of Don to Peggy, then that almost visible moment of grace moving within Don as he accepts himself in the form of refrigerator guy, then the wrap of the other characters, then Don smiling and meditating in the California sun, then the famous Coke ad.

At first I was dissatisfied and pretty disappointed.

Let me explain. I really thought there should be more tangible connections to Don finding his personal redemption between him and his family. I felt his offer to move to California to help Stephanie really dismissed all ties to his family in New York. Then the last scene with Betty looking close to death while smoking in their depressingly dark kitchen while Sally washed dishes contrasted against Don smiling serenely while basking in his new found glow seemed jarringly insensitive and dismissive of any connection Don should have had with his family. That's all there is? Don's smiling while they suffer? It felt really awful to me at first.

Then the ad. Upon my first watching I felt that it must have had no connection to Don. Was this ad rubbing Don's nose in it? Was it the brainchild of those identical lackeys at McCann? Or did Don hatch this idea out of his newly found tidbit of hippy-dippy, feel-good, yoga enlightenment? Does spiritual credibility mean nothing to Don that he is just using it to pump the wheels of capitalism? It left me at loose ends, until I started thinking about things and discussing this with people much smarter than myself, (hi, Kathryn and Karen!).

There's really a lot to say about the finale and how it relates to so much that has already occurred, especially for Don, but as usual I'll just gloss over the bits that hit me the most.

As the episode opens with Don literally trying to get away from himself as fast as possible, by driving some crazy car in the middle of the desert, it becomes obviously fairly quickly that whatever knowledge he's gained of himself through the simplicity and clean living of the last episode has left him with nothing. Nothing to help him move forward, nothing to believe in, and most importantly no hope for his future. The first person to person phone call of the episode is to Sally who breaks to him the news that Betty's dying. Sally is the mature voice of the conversation, pleading with her father to listen to her because she knows the situation, while again he is so far from them and removed that he really can't know what's going on. Here Sally is switching roles with a parent once again, she's proving to have more maturity in handling a terribly difficult situation. She's really proving that she is already on the path to becoming more insightful about herself and her family, and more sacrificial as well, than both her parents have been in the past. But in contrast to Sally is Don, left alone again with terrible news in an empty hotel room.

Don's enforced isolation becomes worse during his second person to person call to Betty where she tells him to not rush home - to not come home at all, that he hasn't even been present enough to register as a normal part of their sons lives for him to come back. It's doubly heartbreaking to watch. Don then tailspins by getting drunk and somehow winds up in California, his destination for starting anew when he himself has no direction. A whole post could be dedicated to Don and California - how he has gone there so many times in the past looking for renewal of some kind, a new answer, a new distraction, but that is very different than finding true meaning and a home. Don somehow winds up at Stephanie's house and we learn she does not live with her son and is headed to a retreat in Big Sur.

Don ends up getting dragged to the hippy-dippy retreat centre where he is obviously not impressed, but seems to stay just to see what it is all about. Stephanie confronts her issues with being separated from her son which propels Don to spew a line when trying to get her to stay, "You never grew up with Jesus. You don't know what these people believe. You can move forward from here." Followed by a plea to move out to California to help her out. The whole dialogue from Don was so rife with what he has clung to for so long, it's been his life motto which has led him down a path of emptiness. He's believed he can just move forward from being Dick Whitman, he can move forward from his traumatic childhood, his mistakes, his broken vows, his failures as a father. He believes he can move forward so easily because he doesn't truly believe in anything, not himself, his job, his family. Don is still grasping onto the remnants of this mistaken philosophy, and Stephanie sees right through him.

Don's next person to person call is to Peggy and here is where things get interesting! Don is clearly at the end of his rope and near despair, and calls to say goodbye to Peggy and confesses all the things that he has done wrong. This confession is so poignant and important to what follows for Don I think, he's truly remorseful and confessing this to the only person who has understood him for so long, and it is so needed for him. Peggy rightly reassures Don that although he's done terrible things, he's also done good things. He has done things of worth and real value. He may have broken his marriage vows but he has three beautiful children, he may have taken another man's identity but with it he has mentored and helped others, and he is loved even if he doesn't recognize it. This conversation is very emblematic of confession. Here is Peggy welcoming back the sinner, telling the sinner to indeed come home, reminding him of his worth and that no matter what he has done he is still loved.

It is exactly this confession to another person that is what Don has needed in order to deal with his life. It's this wholehearted, sincere, and heart wrenching confession that opens up Don to the movings of grace within himself. Don has been such an individual. Always isolating himself from those around him, especially his wives and family. He has never confessed the fullness of his culpability to anyone before, maybe this kind of confession, has been what he has been running from for so very long. It's amazing how the act of physically and vocally expressing our sins truly opens our hearts to letting go of the wrong we have done, and becomes the first step towards reparation and wholeness. As Catholics we believe this wholeheartedly and have access to the Sacrament of Confession, but it is so true from a human and psychological level that this need to confess our wrongs is the first step to better understanding ourselves, experiencing love, and experiencing real change.

Then Don is sitting in a group therapy session where each person is invited to share. When a nondescript, middle aged man with crappy clothes and a combover talks about working in an office being invisible and unseen by even his family, how this makes it impossible to know real love it's as if Don is broken open. He sees himself in this everyman, he understands that what he has been running from - even to the extent of creating a glamorous, outwardly successful career, while pursuing his every desire, that this fundamental wound inside his heart has kept him from wholeness and from understanding love. Don's actual embrace of the man is a beautiful image of him embracing himself in his woundedness. Grace is moving within him to acknowledge and understand himself and to, in effect, forgive himself and love himself.

The next we see Don is after a wrap-up of the other characters, he's sitting cross-legged on that gorgeous hill overlooking the ocean, sun bouncing off his amazing bone structure, the ding of meditation, and then -- Don Draper smiles. We're then shown the famous Coke commercial with the iconic song that's big on the words "love" and "the real thing". At first I was so put off by the insertion of the commercial, it immediately felt as if whatever real epiphany or spiritual insight Don had must have been on only a slight, shallow level that could easily be pawned into a commercial for soda. But the ad is really the hope and future of Don Draper. The ad shows us that Don has hope for the future, he has gone back to New York to a real home with a solid foundation for the future because he has become more whole. And Don creating such a successful ad is proof that he is in a good place again, because his creativity is dependent on the stability of his personal life. Over the years as his private life has imploded again and again, his love for his job and what he has such a gift for has waned. Putting to work his creative genius to such effect shows us that he has gone back home to recover, change, and live life with a purpose. He has been redeemed to live a new life with hope.

I will say that I was especially jarred by the image of Sally and Betty in the dank kitchen shown right before Don glimmering in the California sun. It seems to show that domestic darkness of Don's life, to the stark contrast of Don smiling in the sunlight of newfound enlightenment. I always wanted there to be a deeper connection with Don's redemption to his family. But because of the hope of the ad, maybe there is hope that there may be room in the life of his family when he returns? Maybe Sally in her sacrificial love for her family will have empathy, and most importantly, forgiveness to offer her father? And maybe because of Don's fierce independence and trouble with intimacy he was never meant to find redemption in those closest to him, but in the strangers he always dealt with with charm?

Catching up with the rest of the characters briefly, I think Joan has come a long way from the beginning of the show. I caught a couple episodes of season one last week during the marathon, and Joan was far from the feminist up-and-comer in the office at the beginning. She also didn't get along with Peggy at all, so I so appreciated how far their friendship has come in the show, it was a really cool moment to think about Joan and Peggy starting their own company and setting their own rules, and hopefully putting up with less sexist crap. Joan has also learned a lot about compromising for men and she wasn't willing to let go of this new opportunity to please her boyfriend. She wraps up as a feminist character who never was a feminist, but a woman who really loved her job. I love Joan, and I think she probably went on to be successful while being a mom and getting along with her mom more than she'd like to admit.

Pete even got a scene saying goodbye to Peggy minus animosity or bitterness which I thought was a nice touch. I'm still surprised that I don't despise Pete anymore, that I honestly wish him the best as a character and believe his change of heart to be genuine. I also was completely in love with Trudy's hair, coat, and hat.

Then of course Peggy and Stan. I've been so hoping for them to get together since he began working there and she began driving him crazy. It's a quirky relationship based on honest friendship and the telephone scene was played to such perfection I still swoon thinking about it. Peggy so richly deserved a happy ending. She chose the tough road of remaining in advertising where she has a real gift and drive to succeed, even though it will be challenging, and it leaves us with great images of her future with Stan supporting her in the crazy world of advertising.

Roger made me laugh until the end and I think that's where we all wanted him to end up. He may not have changed drastically, but he's getting married again and this time to a woman who knows what she's getting herself into and who is around the same decade in age. Every Roger scene in the finale was enjoyable and even though Marie is somewhat bat-shit-crazy, she'll keep him interested much longer than any young secretary could. And it was a very nice gesture seeing him leave lil'Kevin in his will.

I have to give a shout out to one of my faves - Ken! So glad he and the patch made it in the finale and with Joan no less! I also love him a bit more for calling his son "weird".

And finally, may be my favourite secretary, and not just because you always land on your feet!

Thank you all for reading this extremely long novella dedicated to my favourite tv show of all time. There is still so much to say about it and I will still think about it and enjoy wondering where the characters have gone. What has been proven by this final season however, is that this really is a show that tells the story of human nature in a very careful and honest way. The human soul is restless until it rests with God, but what is so evident within Mad Men is the varying ways that our individual experiences, wounds, and sins can close our souls off from that love, especially in a society that encourages us to run as far as we can from the Truth. But no matter how far we may run, the call of love and the reaches of mercy are always waiting, even for Don Draper.

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  1. I think it's telling that with the idea of the three phone calls being confessionals.... that it is the confessional that he is given forgiveness and guidance that leads him to his final scenes (alone, with New Age-ism, producing ads). Perhaps it's not so much that Don chose that life in the end, but that it was chosen for him due to a lack of forgiveness (Betty) and guidance (Stephanie). It's not the path we want him to take, but it's understandable how he go there when it was the only one to offer him both.

  2. When I first watched I had a similar disappointment/enjoyment reaction. I think I said to my husband "I don't know how I feel about that..." But it left me thinking and delving deeper, which I think speaks to what a great show it really was, always leaving you thinking a little, and I its up to interpretation- for me I landed on the idea that Don's confrontation with Stephanie, and heartbreakingly honest conversation with Betty leave him gutted as he bares his soul to Peggy. And as you put it his confession opens him up to grace. So I like to believe Don goes on to return to NY and rise to the occasion in hopefully all aspects of his life.

  3. I mostly loved the finale... but I'm not on board the happy train (plane?) for Pete and Trudy. I mean, Yes, I hated Pete just like everyone, even to the point of loving Pete for being so typical, awful Pete. But I can't help but feel a sense of foreboding as they board the private plane to Wichita, and take off for their prosperous life thanks to Lear. Pete's Dad died in a plane crash, remember? I don't think it's all roses for the Campbells.

    I am firmly on the happy train for Peggy and Stan. I don't care if people thought it was pat and sappy. Peggy deserves happiness in my opinion.


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