The Brilliance of the Ending — Mad Men

I’m going to write more about this later. Just wanted to throw in some stray thoughts. We should have known. One of the things that Mad Men such a fun trip was the interplay with the audience like that time that some people suspected (or hoped) ┬áthat Megan would be killed by the Manson family. We kept seeing bits thrown in that seemed to support the theory, or the idea that Joan and Peggy would go into business together — and then it comes up, but they don’t. Even Betty’s cancer had foreshadowing — her scare a couple of years before, the fact that in show where everybody smoked Betty smoked more than anyone.

Apparently Matt Wiener is sort of playing cat and mouse about the ending. A few critics have suggested that Don didn’t invent the “hilltop” ad, that we were being shown two images “authentic” spiritual redemption and the crass commercial kind. Bullshit. Again, I’ll more later, but here are some ways the coca-cola commercial was built in and foreshadowed:

— the elaborate machinations to get SC&P under the wing of McCann Erickson — the real life firm that created the ad.

— Jim Hobart’s tempting Don to stay, specifically mentioning the Coca-cola account — rolling the word on his tongue and saying it as though it were the most enticing thing in the world, the true Shangrilah in Lost Horizons.

During Don’s walkabout Del asks his help “fixing” the old Coke machine because he doesn’t want the new Coke machine — a reminder not only of the campaign possibly waiting for Don if he comes “home” but also of new Coke which would be introduced in 1985 and be an enormous flop. Ha! Nobody wanted new Coke!

— In the final episode Joan and Richard out of nowhere do cocaine. Granted there were a lot of drugs around in the 1970’s, but aging developers weren’t the type to suddenly take them up. The scene while important in showing the mixed priorities of the couple, felt somehow forced. Coke (a cola) and coke (a drug) have always been connected going back to the original formula and purpose of the beverage.

— Don’s call to Peggy. She begs him to come back to McCann, again dangling the coca-cola account before him.

And then there’s history . If you check out the real story or maybe just the legend of how the ad was actually created, it shows a lot about how legendary ad men thought, how they processed experiences. The actual guy who came up with “I’d like to buy the world a coke” had had an experience on the way to London to meet with the songwriters who would help him. He’d been fogged in with other passengers and camaraderie had developed. The “creatives’ who work in advertising are writers and artists. They are storytellers even if they are in the service of capitalism. Of course Don who may have had an authentic experience of “oneness” and peace and love (which might have been fleeting and NOT life-changing) would channel that experience into an ad campaign.

Was it a perfect ending? Maybe not. Too many people were left feeling that despite Betty’s request, he would have just come back for his kids. (I don’t agree and think Betty’s telling him he wasn’t needed or wanted, wounded him deeply and then circumstances including his getting very drunk and wanting to return the ring kept him from getting back immediately.) Leonard’s dream as described was too neat, too on the nose, though Don’s reaction to it made sense. (I just wish it sounded less like an ad campaign or a reference to The Sopranos ending, which btw they referenced at least one other time (penultimate when the television in Don’s room suddenly went black.) But the theme here, as in the Sopranos is the same — some of us may die sooner than others, but change is happens slowly if at all, and also everything can and will be commodified.

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