Linking up with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes this week. Spoilers for the Mad Men series finale follow.
I spent much of last week catching up on Mad Men so I could watch the series finale. I have no idea why I stopped watching the show when I did, which was around the middle of season five. My mom described every episode as a short story and it is so true. I love the intricacies of the story, the costumes, and the characters.
But I was so underwhelmed by the finale. Maybe it’s just that finales inevitably stink, giving resolution when part of enjoying a television show is the lack of it. (See: Lost)
Warning: many words ahead.
Mr. Milquetoast and “Me”
What bothered me most about the last shot of Don reaching some sort of enlightenment at that retreat on the California coast was the lack of restorative justice. He confessed to the vets at the army hall in the small town; he confessed to Peggy over the phone in a moment of despair. He had some sort of catharsis via Leonard, the guy my mom named Mr. Milquetoast, in the hippie therapy seminar. But, as far as we know, the result was the Coke ad. Life at home went on. Sally is the parent to Bobby and Gene (and Betty) she never had.
But I suppose that’s the point. Don is and forever will be a self-styled Byronic creative, only separated from the Me generation by style and birth date. He commodified even his enlightenment. As Emily Nussbaum wrote in the New Yorker, “Don may think he’s reached enlightenment, but really he’s just hit on a bold new form of selfishness—he’s entered the ‘Me’ generation, in which any type of sybaritic behavior can be justified, as long you’re being honest about it.”
As I write about it, I see now that I’m frustrated with Don, not the show, but, like Sally, I think I just have to accept he doesn’t change. He tells Sally to let the grown-ups handle things while taking an adolescent Kerouackian voyage across the US to escape stuff he just doesn’t want to do. That’s just the way he is.
Death Comes for the Advertiser
My own theories about the ending were somewhat frustrated as well. I kept seeing signals of Don’s possible confrontation with death and while he confronted the possibility of dying by his own hand (saying goodbye to Peggy, etc.), the show didn’t end with him echoing the opening credits and jumping out of the McCann Ericson window. I don’t think Weiner would have gone with something so obvious anyway and it would have been disappointing if he did, but nevertheless, I thought some sort of mortality-facing was on order.
The mid-season finale kicks off 7b’s exploration of death with Bert Cooper’s exit acting as a reminder of mortality amidst human accomplishment during the moon landing. One of the more moving scenes this season was Don’s awkward appearance at Rachel’s shiva and his conversation with Barbara, Rachel’s sister. She asks what he’s been up to and he explains his whole bummer two-divorces, rakish bachelor story. He spots Rachel’s children sitting on the couch.
Barbara: When’s the last time you spoke to her?Don: Years ago, before them [the children]…what happened to her?Barbara: She had leukemia. [beat] I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re looking for here.Don: I guess I just wanted to find out what was happening in her life.Barbara: She lived the life she wanted to live. She had everything.Don: Good
She lived the life she wanted to live. Can Don say the same? He certainly followed his whims and did what he wanted but did he live the whole life he wanted?
I keep going back to Don’s haunting hashish-induced hallucination of the soldier he met in Hawaii with Megan. “Dying doesn’t make you whole,” the ghost says to Don. “You should see what you look like.” Don’s full of missing appendages, having used what he’s been given for his self-gratification and rejecting love. What does the resurrection of the body look like without accepting the grace that elevates nature? Don embraced his fallen nature rather than allowing love to change it. Even his brief time on the straight-and-narrow with Megan marked by honesty about himself and his failures (ah, season five Don…so much hope) falls victim to his habitual concupiscence.
We come back to Mr. Milquetoast’s speech. He talks about not being seen and that his family should love him. “They should love me. Maybe they do. You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it and people aren’t giving it to you Then you realize they’re trying and you don’t even know what it is.” Don keeps lookin’ for love in all the wrong places. He’s offered the chance to truly love over and over again but rejects it because he doesn’t know what love is. (Here’s another terrible eighties song to accompany that sentence.)
Immediately following Don’s conversation with Rachel’s sister, the rites for Rachel’s shiva begin. The life she wanted to live is complete and perhaps doesn’t end with her death. The mourners around her pray and hope for her resurrection, made whole by God. Dying doesn’t make you whole but the consumer fire of the love of God burns away the dross to find gold. Don has rejected the image of that love, choosing the restlessness of self instead.
This is why his enlightenment seems more like another round of catharsis to me. Again, appropriate for the character. Bummer for the viewer.
Enough Don talk. Other random thoughts:
- I thought Peggy’s ending with Stan was pretty lame and bought them more as work spouses than, well, actual spouses.
- I love/hate Pete so much and his ending made me so happy. Yes! Move to Wichita! Get back together with Trudy! Love your daughter! Don’t sleep with any more neighbors! I don’t really buy that that will stick. He was unhappy being less than an hour outside Manhattan. This does not bode well for their life in Kansas. But I can dream.
- He’s just bein’ Roger.
- I just wanted Ken to quit Dow Chemical and write a pirate novel so he could have his eye-patched face on the cover. His weird kid would love it.
This Peggy moment from the penultimate episode was the best:
I also have loved her style this season. I would wear this outfit.
I finally got my haircut last week after it was reaching fundamentalist-in-denim-jumper lengths. I was fantasizing about season five-era Megan Draper hair as seen here:
But my chronic triangle hair + humidity + lack of groovy wardrobe makes it end up more like Liz Lemon on a daily basis:
Now I just have Zou Bisou Bisou stuck in my head: a fate worse than death.
Good reads this week, not all Mad Men-related
- In Defense of the Natural Family by Michael Brendan Dougherty // Biting and sad. Ireland was approaching a vote on the legalization of abortion when Chris and I went on our honeymoon to Donegal.
- Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide 2015 is out. I started reading her blog through last year’s Summer Reading Guide and while I think we have different tastes, I appreciate her recommendations. I read Astonish Me this week after coming back from Georgetown based on her recommendation and it was, hm, meh, but it was appropriately in the page-turner category.
- Revisiting Brideshead by Joseph Pearce // I always appreciate reminders of how much I love this book. A friend made a “twitch upon the thread” reference this weekend and now I want to re-read it again.
- 5 Saints Every Nursing Mom Should Know at Carrots for Michaelmas // Worth it for the “wait, what?” elicited by the last one.
- And I’m anxious to read what Christy has to say about the finale! I have the Mad Men episode of Fountains of Carrots to thank for getting me back into the show.
- My favorite theory is that Gilmore Girls and Mad Men are inextricably linked. Bum bum BUM.
What did you think of the finale? Let’s chat!