Mad Men series finale recap: A perfect ending?

Don Draper in Mad Men series finale Barb Oates

Mad Men series finale recap Season 7, Episode 14 (original air date May 17, 2015) It took just over an hour, but Matt Weiner put Mad Men to bed with a flourish, and the endings are more hopeful than we had any reason to expect when “Person to Person” begins with Don doing a speed test in a 1970 Chevelle on the Utah salt flats.

Mad Men series finaleEchoes of Don’s past reverberate through the episode — his post-Korean War job as a car salesman, his lack of scruples with women, his identity as Dick Whitman, his moral reckoning with the man whose name he took and, he fears, failed to live up to. His despair is palpable, beginning with the phone call with Sally. He regales her with a car story; she says she’s glad he’s having fun. When Don objects to her tone, Sally tells him about Betty — not to ask him to come back, but to get him onboard with her plan to have Bobby and Gene continue to live with Henry, rather than Betty’s plan to send them to live with her brother William.

Mad-Men-series-finale-Joan3When Don realizes he insists he’ll come back and they can live with him. But Sally, always the only adult in the Draper/Francis family, tells him that the boys need the stability of Henry’s home and their own beds. Don misses the obvious when he tells her grownups make these decisions. She reminds him that she’s betrayed Betty’s trust to tell him this and demands that he take her seriously.

He doesn’t, of course, immediately calling Betty, who didn’t want him to know. Coughing and essentially bedridden, Betty looks young and vulnerable without her makeup as she tells Don she doesn’t want him to come. He reassures her that he’ll take the kids and be a family with them. “You don’t even have to ask,” he says, but Betty wasn’t planning to. She asks him to honor her wishes, noting that him not being there is part of keeping things “as normal as possible” for herself and the kids. Don is crushed. She calls him honey, he calls her Birdie; they cry together, person to person and half a continent apart. Don promises to talk with her soon. Then he gets fall-down drunk, and begs a ride to Los Angeles with the racing team.

Joan and Richard enjoy Key West, but Richard can’t stand that Joan relishes her life and career in New York. He tempts her with beaches, travel and cocaine, pressuring her to abandon her ambitions. “Your life is undeveloped property, you could turn it into anything you want — it’s got a hell of a view,” he tells her in a clear effort to manipulate her to sacrifice her desires for his.

Mad-men-series-finale-kenFortunately, Joan isn’t susceptible. When Ken Cosgrove approaches her to coordinate the production of an industrial film for Dow, Joan accepts and a second act is born.

Don arrives in LA and looks up Stephanie, Anna Draper’s niece. She’s suspicious of his motives, especially when he tries to give her Anna’s ring, but offers him a couch to sleep on. She’s leaving in the morning for a “retreat” and when the dawn breaks, she tells him to come along. It’s refreshing that Stephanie, like Anna, calls him Dick — and that she suspects he’s the one who’s in trouble here.

Peggy can’t make it to Pete’s going away lunch, but wishes him the best at Learjet. Pete predicts that she’ll be a creative director by 1980. He says McCann just has to get used to the idea. “Someday people are going to brag that they worked with you,” he says. Pete is the father of the child Peggy gave up for adoption, and though this shared past has at times caused plenty of tension, it now adds a richness to his compliment. Pete flies off into the sunset – or at least west of the Mississippi – with Trudy and Tammy, to a life of limousines and Learjets in Witchita.

Roger approaches Joan for her permission to leave Kevin half of his estate in his will. Joan’s worried about his health, but Roger says he’s fine, just in a last chapter of his life. And he’s getting married. Roger doesn’t want to cause trouble with Greg Harris, but Joan says he fathered twins with a nurse and acts as if Kevin never happened. (Just as well for Kevin.) “So he knows?” Roger asks of Greg. “No,” Joan says. “He’s just a terrible person.”

When Roger tells Joan he’s marrying Marie Calvet, Megan’s mother, they laugh together and ponder the mysteries of timing, which always stymied their own relationship. Their moment is clearly over, but abiding affection remains.

Mad Men series finale Roger SterlingPerhaps because they make each other laugh whether they’re canoodling or fighting, Roger and Marie seem – gasp! – happy. Show of hands: who thought Roger would end this story by marrying someone his own age who’s at least as sexy and impossible as he is? Yeah, me neither.

Sally leaves school and arrives in the Francis kitchen, where Bobby is scraping the burned bits off of toast and Gene is peeling plastic wrap off a slice of cheese. She lies about why she’s there, and Bobby asks, “Is it going to happen now?” Sally plays dumb, but only until Gene leaves the kitchen. Bobby has heard everything Betty and Henry discussed before they stopped fighting. The kids agree on how to manage going forward, a more adult conversation than Don, Betty or Henry could manage. Air cleared, Sally offers to teach Bobby how to make grilled cheese.

Stephanie’s lantern-lit, shared-living-spaces retreat is a hobo camp if there ever was one. (Apparently, this is where the milk and honey route leads.) Sun salutation at dawn, yoga and tai chi, seminars: “Where are we?!” Don hisses. “… anxiety and tension control, divorce: a creative experience?!” Stephanie doesn’t appreciate his skepticism and advises him to be open to this, as it might make him feel better. Which seems unlikely next morning, when Don participates in his first exercise with arms tightly crossed over his chest – until his exercise partner, a stout middle-aged woman, shoves him off balance. (Oooh, see what she did there?)

Stephanie doesn’t feel any better when her consciousness-raising group gets judgy about her past, especially her choice to have her son live with his paternal grandparents. She leaves the encounter crying and Don chases her down. She accuses him of treating this like a joke, but Don tells her not to listen to them: “You weren’t raised on Jesus. You don’t know what happens to people when they believe in things.”

Don’s urgency to fix something finds resurfaces: he offers to move to LA and help her. Stephanie sees this for the craziness it is. You show up with a family heirloom, but you’re not my family, she says. “What’s the matter with you?”

“You can put this behind you,” Don says, “It will get easier as you move forward.” She doesn’t think he’s right about that.

Mad-Men-series-finale-Joan2The Dow project budget is ample, and Joan is generous with it, hiring Peggy to write the script. When they meet for lunch to hand over research, Peggy says she thought Joan would be on a beach by now. “I’ve been to the beach,” Joan says, then steams forward, offering Peggy a partnership in a production company. Joan needs a writer by the weekend – but the partnership offer is just for Peggy. “Harris Olson,” Joan smiles. “You need two names to make it sound real.” A speechless Peggy asks for time to think about it.

Peggy ponders Joan’s partnership offer with some help from Stan – and booze. He doesn’t like the idea of her going. Peggy bristles and Stan tries to clarify. “You have such a rare talent. Stop looking over your shoulder at what other people have.” But Peggy only hears criticism. She calls Stan a failure. “I hope you’re really drunk, because you’re going to need an excuse,” he says, and she’s sorry before he makes it to the door, but doesn’t say so.

Mad Men series finale the lady with braidsStephanie leaves during the night, taking Don’s car. But there’s no quick way out, since no one will pick up hitchhikers now, thanks to Charlie Manson, says the desk clerk in the white peasant top and beribboned braids. (Yes, this will matter later.) She suggests he wait and catch a ride with someone at the end of the week.

Don’s existential crisis reaches meltdown phase. “People just come and go,” he glowers at the helpless receptionist. “No one says good bye.” Then he calls Peggy, person to person. Her mom-rant breaks him down. “You can come home,” she says. “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” She’s coaxing him like a kid with a cookie, then changes tactics. “Don, come home,” she commands.

Mad-men-series-fin-peggy-doDon says he screwed everything up. “I’m not the man you think I am.” When she asks him what he ever did that was so bad, Don says he broke his all his vows, scandalized his child, took another man’s name and made nothing of it. Peggy tells him it’s not true, and he says he only called because he’d never said goodbye to her. Peggy is alarmed, and says he shouldn’t be alone right now. “I’m in a crowd,” Don says, “I just wanted to hear your voice.”

Mad-men-series-finale-don-hHe hangs up and slumps to the ground. A boho woman helps him up and takes him to her encounter group, where a man with an office job comes forward to share his story of isolation and unhappiness amid his colleagues and family. When the man breaks down, the group is transfixed but unmoved and unmoving, helpless voyeurs before the spectacle. They look as if they’re watching TV rather than a real person in real pain. Don crosses the circle, embraces the man and together they sob.

When Richard issues an ultimatum, Joan rejects his premise, noting that she would never ask him to choose between work and her. He walks out on her for taking a work call. Joan is stunned by his illogic, but she doesn’t miss a beat. The next time the phone rings in her apartment, she’s already got staff working there. Joan’s new company has legs – and two names, Holloway Harris. YUSSS!

Suck on that, Jim and Ferg!

Peggy calls Stan about Don, and apologizes to him. She says he’s right and she’s going to stay at McCann. And Stan babbles his way to a confession that he’s in love with her. “What?” Peggy barks – then talks her way through to her own realization that she loves him too. Stan rushes to her office to seal it with a kiss.

Mad-Men-series-fin-peggy2In the Francis kitchen, Sally washes dishes in the kitchen as Betty smokes at the table. The silence may not be comfortable, but they both seem okay. Cut to Peggy, typing away on deadline. Stan stands behind her, reading and rubbing her shoulder. Unified in purpose and feeling, they share a sweet kiss.

Mad-Men-series-finale-bettyDon stands at the shore of the Pacific. Will he walk into the water and drown? No. He sits to meditate with the group, crossing his legs, closing his eyes and saying Om. A new day, new ideas, a new you, the instructor intones, and the tiniest smile crosses his face. Then the iconic Coca Cola “I’d like to teach the world to sing” commercial begins – complete with a singer in peasant top and beribboned braids.

Mad-Men-series-finale-yogaHow he finds his way back doesn’t matter- in that moment, Don’s future is clear: he’s going to create one of the iconic feel-good campaigns of the 20th century. He once told Rachel Mencken that guys like him invented love to sell panty hose. And, it seems, world peace to sell soft drinks.

Weiner and Co. tied it up this remarkable series with a pair of big red bows – and a surprising amount of hope.

Images courtesy of  AMC