Farewell, Mad Men

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Mad Men has always been a show about change. Think about where we were in the beginning and where we’ve ended up. SC&P has gone a long way from Sterling-Cooper, all the way to Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce, back again to a simplified name and with a new partnership that had made its original partners very rich, but finally dissolved the legacy, snuffing it out and letting it die.

When we think about Mad Men, the first thing to think about is the most obvious sort of aesthetic choice: The style of the 1960s. No other show has been as consistently gorgeous as Mad Men, from its costume and set design, to the cinematography to very deliberate choices in the cast. And, of course, Mad Men portrays a world that no longer exists, and period pieces are always exciting to watch for that very reason… you’re looking at this piece of history that’s so close to our current one, but so very alien in so many different ways.

Seven seasons have taken us from this stodgy decade of family morals and uptight collars to free love, hippies and the eventual rejection of authority–even from one of the most authoritative characters in the entire show, Don Draper himself. Where he ends up is not made crystal clear (of course not, that’s not the show’s style), but every shot, every beat in every line of dialogue, means something in the world of Mad Men. Simply seeing Don sitting in the grass and chanting wouldn’t mean what it does without that last push, that lose closeup of his face where he allows a smile to tug up on his lips. After that, the entire era is wrapped up perfectly with an old Coca-Cola advertisement. I think his world and the world around him have finally made peace and he can become the man he always wanted to, the man he thought he would become when he took the name and identity of Don Draper. When he shed the skin of Dick Whitman.

Throughout the series, I always thought he would reject Don Draper and become Dick Whitman again. That is, I thought it was going to be a show about deconstructing the myth of larger-than-life Don Draper. It turns out, the show is about the death of Dick Whitman and embracing his new identity and making peace with himself. He’s confessed multiple times, although maybe not 100% truthfully, about his true identity. And now, him sitting on the grass, the old fogies back at the VFW miles away, knowing his secret, he’s happy. For once, I think Don’s smile was a smile we’ve never seen before.

Everyone who’s seen the show since the beginning has known that the show is just as much about Peggy as it is about Don. The first episode was her first day. She’s evolved from the mousy new girl to someone who’s sort of an old pro in the industry. She even, at this point, seems confident enough in her skills as an ad-woman that she’s kind of bored with it now. She loves it still, but briefly flirted with the idea running away with Joan to start Joan’s production company. What she’s after now is fame, and she seems primed to get it from where she is.

Pete, Ken, Roger, Joan and Betty and Sally have all had their stories fittingly ended. The entire workforce of SC&P, the dissolved company, will be missed, but thanks to reruns and streaming services like Netflix, their stories can be enjoyed from the beginning again and again. Mad Men is the type of show that benefits from being seen again. Multiple viewings flesh out vague, cryptic clues and you realize the depth of the writing talents’ knack for foreshadowing. Some of it is so skillful, set up years in advance, that it’s breathtaking. It is, without hyperbole, in fact awe-inspiring when you actually see the amount of thought that can go into the planning and the evolution of the show’s storyline.

And, straight up, I don’t give a fuck: I thought that Peggy and Stan realizing that they loved each other was cute as hell. I don’t give a shit if it was something more fitting for a rom-com, I thought that it was well-earned and even a deadly serious show like Mad Men is allowed some levity.

Right now, Mad Men is a sort of highwater mark for what television dramas are capable of. Though there was death involved in the show from the beginning to the end, the show never relied on killing off characters to fabricate a drama. The drama was created by characters and their interactions and came forth from that. Drama emerged from seeing people we grew to care about acting in sometimes foolish, but always human, ways. It will be missed, but will live on as one of the most important TV shows that’s ever been filmed.

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