The series finale of Mad Men ended a clever, darkly funny, and rather cynical final note as Jon Hamm’s ad man used his California “enlightenment” to come up with one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time. Don’s long journey certainly had its fair share of tears and, seemingly, self-realization, but in the end, Don Draper’s lightbulb moment wasn’t about love or redemption. Don Draper, like AMC’s other legendary, complicated antihero Walter White, was good at his job and was willing to sacrifice everything and everyone for that. For better or worse (mostly worse for the people in his life), Don did things on his own terms.
Of course, Mad Men stopped being about Don Draper long before the series finale. At least to hardcore fans, anyway. Don became second fiddle to the likes of the show’s true stars: Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Joan (Christina Hendricks), and Sally (Kiernan Shipka).
Yes, the men of Mad Men got their respective happy endings (Roger made things right with Joan, and wound up happy with a woman his own age; Pete got his family back and a hero’s welcome in Kansas; Harry got a cookie) but it was, and always has been, about the women. The women of Mad Men who had to fight their way to the top in a sexist industry in a sexist era, all while enduring difficult relationships, both personally and professionally.
Tragically, the women in Don Draper’s family suffered the worst fates. His ex-wife Betty (January Jones) was losing a battle against lung cancer and their daughter Sally had to step in and become the woman of the household. It was truly heartbreaking to watch Sally have to be the grown-up, but it was nothing new either. Young Sally Draper was arguably the most grown-up person on the entire show. She’s a better parent than Betty and Don ever were, and even if she didn’t get a satisfying final scene, it’s hard to imagine someone that wise and resilient won’t bounce back.
Thankfully, the other women of Mad Men got all the good things they long deserved: success and happiness on their own terms. No settling. Not for our Peggy and Joan, two of the most dynamic, powerful, important female characters to ever grace our television sets.
The smart and eternally-strong Joan decided to start her own production company, despite her boyfriend’s protestations that she simply settle down and be with him. He walked out the door, but it opened a new one for Joan. We see the small beginnings of her own business venture, Harris Holloway, but there’s no doubt she’ll become a powerhouse in her industry. Yes, Joan deserved true love, but her true loves, in the end, were her son and her work, and she was so incredible at both of those. Besides, she’ll finally get to call her own shots in her career, and that’s the greatest fate of all for her.
And then there was Peggy. The beloved, complex, and wonderful Peggy Olson, whose arc was the real story of Mad Men. The show’s creator, mercifully, gave fans exactly what they wanted for her: to end up with Stan (Jay R. Ferguson). Peggy has been unlucky in love to say the least, and in the series finale not only did she finally get to let go of her ghost of Don Draper, but she opened herself up to Stan, a man who truly, profoundly loved her and wanted to make her happy. It was a stand up and cheer moment if there ever was one when Stan made his declaration of love to Peggy and she returned it. While it would have been great to see Peggy work with Joan and make Harris Olson, it was hard not to be overjoyed at the fate of Steggy over at McCann-Erickson. (Thanks for that one, Matthew Weiner, truly.)
There was no way everyone was going to get the happy, tidy ending they all wanted or deserved (be it the fans or the characters), but Mad Men stayed true to itself right until the very last frame.
Now let’s go have a Coke.