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‘Mad Men’ Finale: Is That All There Is?

by on May 18, 2015

Stripped of everything that defined him as a part of the world, there was one more thing that Dick Whitman had to leave behind. He may not have known it. But when Leonard began telling his story, his parable of refrigerator dreams, it all began to click.

“I don’t know,” he began. “It’s like no one cares that I’m gone. They should love me…maybe they do. But I don’t even know what it is. You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it, people aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize: They’re trying. And you don’t even know what it is.

This photo released by AMC shows Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men". (AP Photo/AMC Frank Ockenfels)**NO SALES** ORG XMIT: NYLS202

This photo released by AMC shows Jon Hamm as Don Draper in “Mad Men”. (AP Photo/AMC Frank Ockenfels)

“I had a dream I was on a shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door, and the light goes off. And I know everybody’s out there eating. And then they open the door and you see them smiling, and they’re happy to see you, but maybe they don’t look right at you and maybe they don’t pick you. Then the door closes again. The light goes off.”

This incredible monologue from “Person to Person”, the series finale of “Mad Men”, focused on several ideas that ran throughout the episode. Time’s fleetingness. Self-worth. Love. Penned by Matthew Weiner, this was a finale with boundless amounts of optimism. Peggy and Stan fell in love. Joan started her own production company. Roger planned to marry Marie Calvet. Pete reunited his family and headed to Kansas to start over. Sally became the woman of the house. Betty just kept smoking.

There were so many great moments, and there is so much to talk about. But now we have forever to talk about “Mad Men”, its subtleties and complexities. It’s never coming back. It was here, and now it’s gone.

This brings me to what I do want to talk about: Leonard.*

*Raise your hand if you had Evan Arnold in your Actor Who Delivers the Most Important Monologue of the “Mad Men” Finale pool.

His speech, about pining for love, in its fleetingness and seeming importance, highlighted some of Dick Whitman’s most difficult existential struggles, particularly his search for love and fulfillment. Leonard describes love as something everyone wants and something everyone wants to give, but something that no one can truly define (perhaps partially thanks to admen like Don Draper warping its definition to fit their goals). He describes it as something fleeting. And Dick can relate. He looked for love in all kinds of ways during his life, striking up affair after affair, hoping someone or something could get through to his broken soul. But he never found it. And he certainly never found it to be permanent. As Don Draper once said, happiness is just a “moment before you need more happiness.”

By the midway point of “Person to Person”, Don/Dick had pushed or been pushed away from everything connecting him to his former life and former identity. He divorced Megan. He sold his apartment after its furnishings were stripped bare. Sterling Cooper & Partners was no more. He left behind his job at McCann Erickson. He gave away his car. His ex-wife was diagnosed with lung cancer. His kids were effectively about to be orphaned. “I want to keep things as normal as possible,” Betty says, “and you not being here is part of that.”

All that’s left is Stephanie Horton, the niece of the woman who was married to the man whose identity Dick stole in Korea. This is the closest thing he has to family. And then without saying goodbye, she’s gone, too.

So he calls the person who understood him on a deeper level than anyone else in the world. “I only called because I never said goodbye to you,” he tells Peggy.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) - Mad Men - Season 6, Episode 7 - Man With A Plan - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) – Mad Men – Season 6, Episode 7 – Man With A Plan – Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

He may not be preparing to commit suicide as Peggy fears, but make no mistake: Those are Don Draper’s last words. As he slides down to the ground, the man sheds his former life. He had everything but is finally nothing. He’s starting fresh.

Does this mean Dick (or whoever is left) will live happily ever after? Does this mean that people can profoundly change their self-identity? Can they change who they are?

We may never know the answers to these questions, but what “Mad Men” argues is that we have cause to hope. If the grin on Jon Hamm’s face as the show cuts to black forever doesn’t make you smile, you’ve been watching it wrong.

It says a great deal that a show so mired in the cynical world of advertising ended with one of the most earnest advertisements of all time. A simple ad that hoped people could join together as a community and make the world a better, happier place.

Coca-Cola just wanted people to love it. Is that so much to ask?

What did everybody else think? There is so much to discuss from this finale, so leave your comments below.

UPDATE: It is probably worth noting that it never even crossed my mind that Don wrote the Coke ad (which feels incredibly dumb in retrospect), so consider my take the most optimistic one on the internet! Even if Don is supposed to have written the Coke ad, I think the optimistic tone of this episode and his emotionally powerful scenes speak to something that truly did give him a fresh start. 

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From → Mad Men, TV Shows

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