The miniseries saga of Don, Betty, Roger, Joan, Peggy and Bert deserved a terrific finish, and at the end of seven plus one seasons, creator Matthew Weiner delivers in fine style. The agency undergoes a major transformation, but each of our favorites moves on to a thoughtful, better-than-acceptable resolution — all except for Don. He is given one of the more interesting character finales in TV history, even better than Robert Morse’s topper at the end of Season Seven Part 1.
Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2
2015 / Color / 1:78 widescreen / 352 min. / Street Date October 13, 2015 / 39.98
Starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Paré, Jay R. Ferguson, Julia Ormond, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Kevin Rahm, Christopher Stanley, Maggie Siff, Diana Bauer, Alison Brie, Caity Lotz.
Written by Matthew Weiner, Tom Smuts, Jonathan Igla, Erin Levy, Semi Chellas, Carly Wray.
Creator Matthew Weiner
Directed by Scott Hornbacher, Michael Uppendahl, Jennifer Getzinger, Jared Harris, Phil Abraham, Matthew Weiner.
We’re told that Mad Men was not a champ among miniseries in terms of top viewing numbers, but I can’t imagine a classier or more insightful show, ever. The ratio of minor goofs to marvelous moments is off the scale. I personally haven’t been that much interested in TV-generated drama since the 1980s, and that’s because I was stuck at home with small children, and things like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law were suddenly the best life had to offer. Mad Men was the darling of the industry smart set despite getting off to a rocky start. There was that troubling hiatus, where a year was skipped over contract negotiations; we were afraid the show would return in a radically stripped-down version. Well, it did seem a little less lavish for a while. Finally, the notion of splitting the seventh and final year into two parts met with my approval, mainly because we’d be getting a little more of a good thing.
Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2 launches our intrepid advertising professionals on their last go-round. The story has so many threads and characters needing to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, that the suspense was pretty high. Like many viewers, I’d been watching religiously since year three, backing up to see the first two seasons I’d missed. Keeping things in a reasonable perspective, we nevertheless would have felt pretty bad if the story of Don and Peggy, Pete, Betty Joan and Roger did not end in a memorable way. I think Matthew Weiner has pulled it off, magnificently.
The first half of Season Seven, broadcast in 2014, saw spirits at low ebb. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) had pretty much worn out our patience, hitting rock bottom hard and often. Having blown his second marriage and disgraced himself in most every way possible, he began this year clawing his way back up to a position of dignity. Already compromised by mergers, the agency had nearly been hijacked by a new management team, when its grand old founder suddenly died in the last episode of Seven A, aptly titled Waterloo. After coasting through his job for such a long time, Roger Sterling (John Slattery) proved his mettle by pulling off a coup to keep the company intact — but by selling it to a mega-agency. That bigger company will surely interfere with the way they do business, yet everyone got on board because the individual payouts were impressive. Even with her limited participation, junior partner Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) is delighted. The schemer Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin) is suddenly cooperative: “It’s a lot of money!” All that, plus Waterloo bowed out with a coup de theatre — a sentimental musical finish for Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) that will join the ranks of Great Moments in Television.
To its credit, the seven episodes of Season Seven, Part 2 do more than simply tie a bow on what’s gone before. Each of the major characters takes on new possibilities and makes important choices in their life. A separated family gets back together, while another is struck by health problems. Joan’s new ‘dream relationship’ is with a man who wants a traditional woman she’s not willing to become. The up-tick in sexism she encounters in the new mega-agency is just one difficulty faced by members of Roger and Don’s group. Don’s daughter, the former ‘Little’ Sally (Kiernan Shipka) makes a transition into a mature consciousness that’s touching to witness. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) has reached a level of working independence; she finds that the man she’s looking for may be closer than she knew.
About halfway through the season Don reaches his limit during a particularly insulting meeting, where a speaker is trying to motivate an ad crew with lame platitudes. Don just leaves the room. He checks out without a forwarding note and heads off down the road — to find himself, perhaps. We suddenly fear that he might fulfill the dream image in the opening montage, the long-fall skyscraper suicide we’ve been watching for ninety-odd episodes. Don mostly stays sober. His rebellious, Kerouac-like behaviors include giving his Cadillac away to a rascal he meets on the road.
Matthew Weiner’s finish is beautifully judged. Loose ends are tied up, always in a satisfying way. All the players either take on new challenges with positive energy, or face up to bad news in a way makes us respect them more. Weiner brings back characters from way early in the series. One of them is Rachel Menken from season one (Maggie Siff), as a figurative ghost. Events like that give balance to the series as a genuine saga. Even Roger Sterling’s final amorous decision seems a good one, emotionally speaking. The only losers would seem to be all those women Don left behind. Or will most of them cherish their time with him? Don is the ultimate amorous taker, but what does he give back?
I think most of us watched the final May 17 episode expecting a big letdown. That happened with an older doctor series that notably ended with ‘everything turning out to be a dream.’ Some viewers are still resentful at how The Sopranos exited the stage, and I forget if Lost had what could be called a real ending. Twin Peaks’ depressing second season didn’t even try to make sense. It allowed its narrative to disintegrate, becoming as repetitive and absurd as mindless shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. I suppose the David Lynch faithful still love it.
As for Mad Men’s “trick” ending, I think it’s nearly perfect. This final kicker on a bluff at Big Sur is: 1) a defining Don Draper moment, 2) central to the theme of advertising asserting its place in the culture, and 3) wonderfully ambivalent without leaving us on a note of frustration. The show ends in a landmark TV commercial, one we all remember. On one level the gag is almost as mechanical as the end of the vintage ad-man classic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, in which Cary Grant’s maid hands him the career-changing slogan, “If you ain’t eating Wham!, you ain’t eating ham!” But it’s up to us to decide if Don is to be congratulated. Ten years earlier, he defined the American (consumer) family with his Kodak ad. Has he now found a cynical way to co-opt the entire Peace & Love movement? Or has he tapped into the ultimate melding of culture and commerce, for the betterment of everyone?
It’s brilliant. All the way through Mad Men we’ve been wondering if it was difficult or easy for the show to use the names of real companies and products. For its final blast it looks as if Don has scored the Magilla cultural coup that will put him back on top again. Who was alive and breathing when those Coke commercials came out, and doesn’t remember them? The jingle is a cross between two upbeat anthems, the trippy “The Age of Aquarius” and the ultra-complacent “It’s a Small World After All.” Wonderful.
Season Seven Part 2 is a great finish. Immediately afterwards, I jumped back to the first episode from Season 1, just to see how the characters had changed, or grown. What a great experience, ninety hours well spent. I’m glad I happened to catch an episode in Season three, while stuck in a motel in Utah. All I told my spouse is, “It’s supposed to be 1958, and a set of water glasses I saw on a coffee table transported me instantly back to that year. We ought to look at another episode and see if we like it.”
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray of Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2 is the eighth and final package of discs in the series, presented in beautiful color, with audio much clearer than what my cable provider delivered. If that’s not good enough, the clear subtitles will help cut through the frequently thick dialogues.
Each disc set of Mad Men has offered some behind the scenes docus and a look at some cultural aspect of the show’s ’60s context. This final package has several interesting extended featurettes. A piece on women in the workplace contrasts clips from Mad Men with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. There’s also a peek at the Laurel Canyon cultural scene, and a detailed advertising historical timeline with all the major mergers and breakthroughs charted. And as before, chosen episodes feature audio commentaries with the key actors and the all-present, all knowing Matthew Weiner.
I’m happy that they split Season 7 across two years, as a longer Mad Men allowed the story to evolve to a finish rather than rush the process. Let’s hope the show ends up being a boost for the actors we’ve grown to know and admire.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2
Supplements: “Unmarried Professional Woman,” “Generation Boom,” “Earth Day,” “Laurel Canyon,” “Advertising Timeline,” plus audio commentaries
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English
Packaging: 2 Blu-ray discs and HD codes in keep case
Reviewed: October 16, 2015
Text © Copyright 2015 Glenn Erickson