The final episode of Mad Men, the long running hit cable show, aired last night. If you haven’t seen it but plan to, read no further.
Mad Men is an overrated show, but that’s mainly because no television show could be as good as gushing liberals deem it.
Why do liberals love Mad Men so? I think it’s because it tells them that America in the early 1960s was not only a hell hole for blacks, gays, and women, but that the wholesome family image of the time was a mirage. Liberals can thus feel less guilty about the near collapse of the family, and of wholesomeness, that the left-wing culture helped bring about.
Ironically, though, the upscale liberals who love Mad Men tended to opt, in the end, for the nuclear, intact family. Broken homes and single moms are for the lower classes.
Thus, Mad Men provides many liberals with an additional reason to pat themselves on the back for being superior to their parents. That generation gave lip service to the nuclear, intact family, but didn’t live up to its requirements. By contrast, modern liberals have embraced “family values,” while having the decency not to preach about them.
But you don’t have to be a liberal to be fond of Mad Men. The season finale, “Person to Person” reminds us of much of what there is to like. In particular, it reminded us of how the show offsets its cynicism with beauty and, above all, ambiguity.
Most of the most important characters got ambiguous send-offs. I found nothing cheap in any of them, not even the unambiguous fates of Joan Harris and Betty Francis.
Pete Campbell reunites with his wife and child, and moves to Wichita. Will this brat, philanderer, and big-city dweller find happiness as a family man in Kansas? Campbell has come a long way, but has he come this far? I don’t know.
Roger Sterling pairs up, finally, with an “age appropriate women” with whom he has great sex. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she’s the biggest bitch to have appeared in the show. Will the union between the impossible Sterling and this impossible woman work? Possibly.
Peggy Olson discovers that she loves her long-time co-worker Stan, who adores her. But should we believe that she truly loves him without ever having realized it? Or is she just “settling”? Her epiphany with Stan occurs moments after a disturbing conversation with her mentor Don Draper, about whom she has obsessed for years, in which she comes to believe that Draper may commit suicide.
Did this conversation spark a moment of madness or a moment of clarity? Somewhere in between, I’d guess.
Draper does not commit suicide, as the show often hinted he might. Stranded at a retreat on the California coast, the great cynic begins participating in New Age healing activities. We are all but told that the experience will inspire him (indeed, is inspiring him before our eyes) to the give the world the blockbuster “I’d like to give the world a Coke” ad, which will put him back on top of the heap.
This ad, with which Mad Men ends, is the same one Draper has built his career on — associating a product with “perfect harmony” — with one important exception. In his prior ads, the connection between family and product provided harmony. Now, having ignominiously failed as a family man, “the world” has replaced the family.
Draper will milk his New Age therapy for an iconic ad. But will the insights he seemed to gain at the retreat and during the rest of his “Sullivan’s Travels” enable him finally to be at peace when he arrives home and reinstates himself at the top of the heap (as was the case with Sullivan in the Preston Sturges classic)? I’m way too cynical to think so, but “Person to Person” permits this conclusion.