Mad Men TV Club: Farewell, Mad Men
Since the return of Rachel Menken in Season 7, JWA's Judith Rosenbaum and Tara Metal have been having a blast writing about Mad Men on the blog. After Sunday's series finale (sob!) they had one last chat about Don's legacy, Peggy's love life, and Joan's feminism.
Judith: I can't believe it's really over!
Tara: I know, I think I'm working through a few stages of grief at once.
Judith: I've been humming "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" for two days now.
Well, let's start with perhaps the most satisfying plot line: Peggy and Stan! I'm a little embarrassed to admit how loudly I was cheering at that scene.
Tara: I love their love. But I did kind of have an issue with the focus being on Peggy's love life in her final moments.
Judith: Yeah, I didn't want that, either. But at least it wasn't love instead of career. She got both! At least for the moment. And she got love from someone who loves her mind.
Tara: And appreciates how important her job is to her. Actually, maybe Stan is the feminist hero here. He is the supportive nurturer to Peggy's hard-edged careerist.
Judith: Even though I know it's against the rules to marry your office husband. When I think about it, Stan may actually be the character who has changed the most over the course of this show!
Judith: Agreed! He's definitely more in touch with his feelings than Peggy is. I'm usually wary of scenes where a woman receives a speech professing love and then suddenly decides she must be in love with the guy, too, but here it felt sort of right—I mean, of course Peggy would be too dense to realize she loved Stan! Also, remember what a boorish frat boy he was at the beginning? And how Peggy earned his respect by calling his bluff during the Vicks campaign? He may be the character who has changed the most.
Tara: And her lovey ending provided a counterbalance to Joan's story, which veered away from love and toward work.
Judith: I was ok with Joan's story. I wasn't such a fan of Richard, and I was sad to think that she was giving up her career. I loved that she could come to the realization that she needed her work, and though she still wanted love, it needed to work with the rest of her life.
Tara: I HATED Richard. He was so discouraging of Joan's work, which is really important to who she is.
Judith: Well, he appreciated that it was important to her, but wasn't supportive of her continuing. And it was AWESOME to see her get to work for herself finally! She's going to be an amazing producer!
Tara: She’ll be a great producer. And maybe will do a lot of cocaine?
Judith: I had a moment of fear in the cocaine scene that Joan was going to become a coke head and lose it all. Please god no.
What did you think of Pete's finale?
Tara: I was very satisfied with how things ended for Pete and Trudy. He got the life he always thought he deserved, but he got it after FINALLY making it past being a whiny, entitled little man-child. I'm sure Pete will always retain some of what makes him unlikeable, but he really seems to have grown up. Plus, he and Trudy are great together, and he seems to be taking a more responsible role in his daughter's life, which is encouraging.
Judith: I agree. As I've said before, he and Trudy deserve each other. But he's also grown. He realized, finally, that he doesn’t need to be Don—he can be successful in his own way. I also liked his final scene with Peggy. It was realistic in that there was still no mention of the baby, but there was real honest tenderness from him, and generosity, too. Plus, the cactus. Perfect.
Tara: AND, he recognized her talent. I liked that he didn't just say, "you're a great person," he said "in 1980 you'll run the place." Pete always had hang-ups about Peggy being his equal at work, so that genuine recognition was a big deal to me.
Judith: I felt less resolved about Sally's wrap up. I liked seeing her warmth and kindness toward her brothers—that felt like a good sign that she will grow up to be better than her parents. But I was sad to see her stuck at the sink, instead of going to Madrid.
Tara: I feel good about Sally. I think her treatment of Don on the phone was very telling—she did right by him by telling him about Betty, but also protected Betty, Henry, and her brothers by insisting that he not try to be the hero and save them all.
Judith: And she proves she can love, despite not getting much of it from Betty, and that she can show up, despite not having a model of that from Don.
Judith: The phone scene between Don and Betty nearly killed me. But I was kind of disappointed that he didn't come back. Even if "normal" is him shirking his parental duties, this would have been a good time to break his neglectful father routine and show up!
Tara: I know. I totally cried. I was happy that Betty was getting to live out the last months of her life on her terms—something that she had certainly not been granted for most of her adult life—but really sad that they didn't have a reunion. To me, it was the writers saying that Don didn't deserve that kind of closure. I think this iteration of Don just seemed more resigned. He didn't fight very hard with Betty, he just seemed exhausted and ready to give in.
Judith: Right. Which is why I think the idea that he finds transformation is bogus. In the end, his big insight is that he's an ad man. He finds his identity, but it's the identity of someone who sells the idea of happiness, not (pun intended, obviously) the "real thing."
He's a genius, but his real change is in recognizing that the youth culture (which he's so dismissive of in the earlier seasons) can actually be commodified and commercialized. So we get harmony/peace/love/turtledoves through soda!
Tara: It's a very cynical ending, in a way. But at the same time, being an ad man IS what Don is best at, and maybe there is some peace in coming to terms with the fact that his career is who he is.
Judith: But will this resolve his questions about the worth of advertising and creating something of value?
And what about his breakthrough with the refrigerator guy in the therapy session? It seemed like Don was finally able to admit that he, too, was seeking love, something he's often fought against (remember his speech in the first episode, when he tells Rachel Menken that love isn't real, it's something ad men have created to sell nylons?). But then he goes right back to love as found in commercials. It's not even about the love of a work family, because the SC&P team is broken up.
Tara: Yes and no. We know that the Coke became one of the most famous and successful ads of all time. So in that way, yeah, maybe Don finally made his masterpiece and cemented his legacy. But, can we really imagine Don being satisfied? I don't think we're supposed to see his epiphany as equivalent to his lasting happiness.
Judith: True. And of course, there's also a reminder to the audience of the deep anti-nostalgia message of the show (even has it launched a thousand nostalgia industries).
Tara: I think that was especially relevant to the working women/feminism theme.
Judith: Definitely! Mad Men did a great job of showing a younger generation just how bad the sexism of the pre-second-wave feminist era was, and also made it clear that there have been no quick and easy solutions and the work of feminism goes on.
Tara: It also did a great job of saying "sure, this looks incredibly glamorous, but it was hell!"
Judith: Hey, we forgot about Roger! Which is kind of fitting, since he's become basically obsolete.
Tara: Yes, true. Although I was THRILLED to see him find fiery banter and age-appropriate love with Marie.
Judith: I loved him trying to speak French, willing to be a little foolish in front of her.
Tara: Men, making progress! ;)
How to cite this page
Metal, Tara, and Judith Rosenbaum. "Mad Men TV Club: Farewell, Mad Men." 19 May 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 20, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/farewell-mad-men>.