Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 14, “Person to Person”

A lot of viewers and critics – myself included – have speculated about what the Mad Men finale would look like. How could we not? For a series focused so squarely on character rather than plot, the possibilities for the finale seemed nearly endless. Would it focus exclusively on Don wandering through America, letting the previous final appearances of the other characters serve as their respective series finales? Would Don return to New York upon learning of Betty’s terminal cancer, and encounter the other characters once again? Would Don commit suicide, or drop the Don Draper identity entirely? While some of these possibilities – especially a return to New York and suicide – seem distinctly likely at various points throughout the finale, ultimately the series ends with something more satisfying by touching on each of the major characters, providing both a firm coda for their arcs, as well as an idea of what their lives will be like heading into the 1970s and beyond. And then there’s a Coke commercial tacked on to the end for good measure!

Of all the character resolutions, I found Joan’s to be the most earned, and the most symmetrical. Joan ends Mad Men as the head of her own business, fully living up to the kind of person we’ve all known she could be ever since the early seasons of the series, when she proved to be better than Harry at his job. Back then, watching Joan demonstrate her capabilities was bittersweet, because we knew she would never be properly acknowledged, valued, or compensated by the sexist corporate culture in which she worked. As we saw this season, even being a partner at her own agency didn’t spare her from having to deal with men who consistently underestimated and devalued her. Now, however, she’s completely divested herself of any need to appease men, or any sexist corporate infrastructure, relying instead on her own considerable resources and talents.

So little need does she have for men that she even lets Richard go when he forces her to choose between her budding business and their romance. It’s in this decision that we can see the symmetry of her character arc, as it is the ultimate reversal from where she started in the series: her plan in 1960 was to marry well and retire, letting her husband take care of her. Her plan in 1970 is to start a business and to let a man who is otherwise perfect for her (or the 1960 version of her) pass by the wayside when he can’t respect her desire to follow her own professional ambitions. Rather than structure her life around the career of a man, she rejects a man for not structuring his life around her career. It’s a fantastic place at which to conclude her story, one much more satisfying than where we last saw her at the end of “Lost Horizon,” where she took half of her money and ran from McCann. So not only do we get to see Joan shine professionally, but we also get to see her reverse her worldview from when she began the series. Seeing her perfectly in her element, busy at work in her dining room-turned-office, flanked by her babysitter-turned-secretary, surrounded by various production-related accoutrements, and smiling as she answers the phone “Holloway Harris” is the perfect way for her to end the series (and it’s fitting that Joan ends up using both of her own names for her business in order to give it a nice ring. She truly doesn’t need anyone else to become successful).

Joan’s new business also allows for another development long in the making: now that Joan’s career ambitions are no longer shackled to a sexist corporate culture, she and Peggy finally show signs of the kind of friendship I’ve always wanted them to have. Joan is now in a place where she can better understand and respect the drive Peggy has shown throughout the series, and that Joan only started to understand when she became a partner in season 5, so it makes sense that they could finally be friends. Their scene together was also very interesting because it presented something of a reversal from their usual approaches to professional life. In the early seasons of the show, Joan had great difficulty understanding what Peggy wanted out of her career; she couldn’t fathom Peggy’s switch from secretary to copywriter because it was incompatible with Joan’s ideas about what a woman should want out of life. Now, however, it’s Joan who has the wilder professional ambitions, not Peggy: Joan wants to start her own production company and set Peggy off on a new career, whereas Peggy would prefer to stay the course of the career she’s already embarked upon. Thus we can see why Joan is somewhat taken aback when Peggy tells Joan she needs to take some time consider Joan’s offer; after all, Peggy has switched careers before and moved up in the world. Joan assumes she’d be happy to do so again, especially if it would mean Peggy could escape McCann.

Ultimately, though, Peggy decides to stay at McCann, and the episode offers some compelling reasons for why. For one, she appears to be kicking as much butt there as her tentacle porn-toting saunter into the office seemed to promise in “Lost Horizon.” When she and Stan are taken off the Chevalier business with no explanation, rather than succumb to the numbing impersonal rhythms of McCann, she’s perfectly willing to cause a ruckus and fight to get it back, even when faced with the naked hostility of someone who seems to be Peggy’s superior (or at least an office manager with as much clout as Joan used to have). Like with Joan’s developments in this finale, this is a full reversal of the fragile behavior Peggy frequently displayed in the early years of the series, where she would take whatever abuse Don or others directed at her with slumped shoulders, a quivering chin, and eyes brimming with tears. Her time spent taking abuse from Don -- someone whose opinion she highly valued -- has paid off, because now she is completely immune to much more transparent hostility from people for whom she has little care or need.

However, unlike with Joan, this change in Peggy’s character is not a major, recent breakthrough, or an achievement she had not been able to fully realize until the finale. Instead, it’s simply another minor instance of a change that has been long in development. Her resolve has been an increasingly prominent attribute ever since she first stood up to Don when he appeared in her doorway at the end of season 3 and made him beg her to work for him at SCDP. Her resolve in this McCann meeting simply reconfirms the determination we’ve seen her demonstrate in more meaningful situations previously, like when she yells at Don over not receiving credit for her work in season 4’s “The Suitcase,” or when she stands up to Don when he tries to blame her for Megan leaving the agency in season 5’s “Lady Lazarus,” or even when she yells at Don for inadvertently making fun of her dreams just a few episodes ago.

Peggy does have one new development: she decides that her love for Stan is more than that of a platonic friendship when she reciprocates his declaration of love to her. I found this resolution somewhat surprising because the series had seemingly moved away from any romantic feelings Stan and Peggy might have once felt for one another. Or perhaps more accurately, it seemed to have moved on from any romantic feelings Stan used to have for Peggy. Stan has had a thing for Peggy ever since she called his bluff on his sexism and forced both of them to work in the nude way back in Stan’s first appearance in season 4. However, Peggy never really seemed to reciprocate his interest, instead going from one failed love affair to another, most prominently Abe and Ted. Moreover, once it became clear that Peggy wasn’t interested in Stan, he seemed to lose interest as well, and the two became like siblings, especially after Peggy gently rejected Stan’s amphetamine-induced declaration of his feelings for her in season 6’s “The Crash.” One might argue that she actually harbored some feelings for him, as later in the season (“Favors”) she tried to entice Stan to come over to her apartment to help her kill a rat by offering him sex, but her offer seemed more out of desperation than affection, and Stan turned it down.

However, I’m okay with the way this story played out, even if it means that Mathis’s poor brother-in-law Stevie will be left out in the cold. For one, the seeds for Stan and Peggy’s realization of their feelings for each other were nicely set up over the course of this half-season: Peggy takes notice, for instance, when Stan offhandedly tells her that his relationship with Elaine the nurse has ended, and the two had their most serious and emotionally raw scene together to date when Peggy tells Stan about the child she gave up for adoption. Moreover, I like the way their feelings for each other seemed to surprise even them. Stan has this air of resignation to his declaration, as if it’s the only possible explanation for the maddening frustration he feels whenever he shares a room with Peggy. And Peggy seems to talk herself into it, realizing that the comfort she feels around him is a product of love as well. And then Stan, ever the jester, gets in one last bit of humor, literally running to Peggy’s office in order to hear her declaration of love in person.

Ultimately, I found it satisfying because they each decide that being with their best friend is what they both want. Stan’s long been my favorite secondary character on Mad Men, so I’m happy he ends up with Peggy, and if anyone deserves a happy romantic ending to the series, it’s Peggy, who’s been stuck with nothing but a long succession of stinkers or poor matches (there's a strong argument that Joan had it worse, but at least she had Roger, who was disappointing, but not completely wrong for her like all of Peggy’s lovers). Moreover, considering how devoted she is to her job, it’s likely she would never have been happy unless she ended up with someone at work anyway. And lastly, their romance allows for a nice final image of Peggy: hard at work at night, as usual, Stan appears behind her to massage her shoulders, and she sits back, seemingly satisfied with the piece of copy she’s written. It’s a fitting final image for her, as it conveys the resolution both of her professional and romantic arcs simultaneously, and indicates that perhaps Stan will be able to help her find balance between her work and everything else in her life (as he says to her midway through the episode, "There’s more to life than work." This is something Peggy has always struggled with). They’re a good fit, and it’s a nice note to end on.

Roger doesn't get much to do in this finale, but he probably had the least distance to go to reach a happy ending (pun intended), since he spent most of his time on the series in a more or less bemused state. Roger learns firsthand about Marie’s volatility, but I suspect he wouldn’t want it any other way. They seem happy together, enough so that they’re getting married. When we last see them, Roger has learned enough French not only to order a meal, but even enough to make one of his trademark witticisms, referring to Marie as his mother. If nothing else, at least Don's marriage to Megan facilitated Roger's happiness.

Before the curtain closes on the series, we also get one final Roger and Joan scene, which is nice because it shows how Roger, too, has changed since the start of the series. Joan assumes the worst about Roger’s intentions every time he opens his mouth: he must want to give Kevin half his money in order to mark his territory; he must be marrying some young secretary from McCann. Each time, though, he proves her wrong: he’s being altruistic rather than territorial with Kevin, and he’s finally found an appropriate romantic match.

Indeed, happiness and contentment comes relatively easily to most of the characters, with one major exception: Don struggles to find himself until nearly the very end of the finale. Late in the episode, an exasperated Peggy asks Don what he’s been doing since disappearing, and Don replies that he has no idea, once again demonstrating a lack of self-awareness. It seems pretty clear that he’s been trying to escape the person he’s become as Don Draper, just as he once tried to escape from being Dick Whitman. After all, the episode begins with Don literally driving as fast as he possibly can, test-driving a hot rod in the desert, as if traveling faster and further west will help him outrun his past.

Granted, he’s keeping in regular contact with his children, so he’s not trying to escape from everything he’s built, and last week he let the veterans absolve him of some of his guilt over killing the real Don Draper (at least briefly, before they beat him with a phone book for an unrelated offense). However, his final phone conversations with Betty and Sally reinvigorate his guilty conscience, this time over his absenteeism. When Don learns of Betty’s illness, he’s shocked into wanting back into the family he has more or less abandoned. He insists first to Sally and then to Betty that he’ll return to New York immediately to take care of the kids, despite both Sally and Betty’s wishes for him to stay away for the sake of the boys, who remain ignorant of Betty’s illness. However, Betty points out to him (as kindly as possible) that he can’t even adhere to his regular visitation schedule with them, rightly implying that he's simply not equipped to raise his children. Moreover, returning now would upset the kids by forcing Betty to tell them about her illness, and would also upset her final wishes for things to remain as normal as possible right up until the end. Don’s absenteeism has become the norm for their family; he’s destroyed whatever semblance of a home he might have found with them, and it’s too late for Don to fix it in a moment of crisis. Betty makes him realize it, and it devastates him, sending him into another tailspin.

Ultimately, Betty’s insistence that Don stay away for the boys' sake is largely for naught, because later we discover that Bobby already knows Betty is dying. Considering how lethargic she’s become, he probably would have figured out that something is wrong even if he hadn’t overheard Betty and Henry arguing about it. It’s tempting to construe Betty’s continued insistence on maintaining a pretense of normalcy as yet one more example of her poor parenting, but she does not seem to know that Bobby has figured it out. Moreover, her ignorance allows Sally to demonstrate her maturity by being kind toward her mother: she steps in to comfort Bobby when he tries making dinner, and later, the last image we see of Betty and Sally is of Sally taking over Betty’s household chores.

Perhaps Betty’s impending death is ultimately a good thing for Sally, not because Sally will finally be rid of the villainous caricature Betty became in seasons 4 and 5, but because it draws out of Sally a previously unrealized compassion. Sally lets Betty think she’s being successful in her attempt to protect her youngest children from the news of her death, and in helping her fulfill her last wishes, she shows a kindness toward her mother that she might have thought herself incapable of just a few episodes earlier. The last image we see of Sally and Betty is of Sally enacting this kindness, doing the dishes as Betty smokes. It’s a sweet way for their relationship to reverse the course it's been on since season 4.

When we next see Don, he’s in the midst of another epic bender (i.e., his usual reaction to bad news), one that lasts him from Utah all the way to southern California, where he finds his way to Stephanie’s doorstep. Learning of Betty’s illness has seemed to shock him back from his wanderlust; rather than trying to escape, he now seems to be trying to recapture any sense of home he might have once felt. Anna Draper once provided that feeling for him, so he hopes that Stephanie will do the same for him now.* Stephanie is ultimately less sympathetic to Don, but also more proactive; she immediately knows he’s in a bad place, and insists he come to “Psychotechnics,” a new age spiritual retreat with her.

* I like how Stephanie is immediately suspicious that her parents orchestrated Don’s visit. It’s a nice reminder that Stephanie is not the same person as Anna, and that she does not have as strong a connection to Don as Anna once did. It nicely sets up her abandonment of him later in the episode.

Of course, Don is at first resistant to all of the hippie-dippy activities offered at the retreat, and they don’t seem to do Stephanie much good either. When she storms out of a group therapy session feeling overwhelmed by the guilt of giving up her baby, Don tries to give Stephanie the same sort of pitch he once gave to Peggy about moving on and ignoring your past.

Stephanie rejects it, however, telling Don that it doesn’t work like that. As indicated by Don’s behavior throughout this episode (and really, the entire run of the series), Stephanie seems to be right. Don's entire arc could be considered a cautionary tale about the foolishness of trying to discard your past and move on as if nothing ever happened. This is a lesson Peggy has learned long ago. In "The Suitcase" she told Don she still thinks about her baby from time to time (like around playgrounds). And as we saw earlier this season, she tries not to let the guilt of giving him up overwhelm her, and instead hopes that he's happy. Preventing the past from overwhelming you is not something that Don is very well-versed in, however. For him, it's either full on negation of his past, or suffering the depths of depression. When Stephanie abandons Don at the retreat, the full weight of Don’s past (and his present) bears down on him. Stuck there until another car arrives, unable drink his way into a stupor, and surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar place far from any home he’s known, he’s forced to deal with all of his insecurities and the mess he's made of his life, and he spirals into self-loathing despair.

In his moment of need, he calls Peggy, the last remaining connection he has to anything that he considers good about himself. The most obvious reason for his call is the one he gives her: he wants to say goodbye to her before committing suicide. But he also wants to confess his sins to her, and he rattles off a laundry list of his most nefarious deeds. Perhaps another reason for the call is that he wants to hear her say what Betty and Sally both refused to tell him: you can come home again. And indeed, this is precisely what she tells him, trying to lure him back with the prospect of working on Coca-Cola, much like a mother trying to coax a child out of a temper tantrum by promising them a reward. Peggy is afraid for Don’s life and tells him he shouldn’t be alone right now, but Don is so caught up in his depression and self-loathing that it’s nearly impossible for him to feel anything but alone. When he tells Peggy he “can’t get out of here,” he’s talking about more than California.

It’s a wonderful exchange. For one, it very clearly recalls the scene in “The Suitcase” where Don learns of Anna Draper’s death. That was the precise midpoint of the series (it was the seventh episode of the fourth season), and the first time Don had shown Peggy any vulnerability, crying to her about losing the only person who really knew him. Their dynamic here at the series' conclusion is similar, except rather than mourning Anna’s death, Don is instead mourning the shambles he’s made of his life. Moreover, this phone conversation is also the culmination of their emotional closeness with one another: he reveals to her all of his most closely guarded secrets, things he’s willingly shared only with his wives and lovers. Indeed, in telling Peggy about scandalizing Sally, he’s even telling her more than he tells his lovers, even if Peggy lacks the proper contexts to fully understand his confessions.

Additionally, much like its predecessor in “The Suitcase,” this scene is also something of a reversal from where the characters began the series. Now Don is the emotionally vulnerable one, Peggy stable and resolute. Likewise, now it is Don who needs something from Peggy, and not the other way around, as it has been so often in the past. And here, as in “The Suitcase,” we also see Peggy behaving much more magnanimously than Don ever did when their positions were reversed. She tries to tell him what she thinks he needs to hear, and shows genuine concern for him. I had hoped the finale would provide us with one more Don-Peggy exchange, and while it’s not the kind of scene I was expecting, it stands as a lovely testament not only to the power of the great writing and acting that have created these characters, but also to the way Mad Men has always been able to make its present resonate with it's past.

When he hangs up on Peggy, he sits down by the phone, seemingly overcome with the weight of what he’s about to do. I don’t think he calls Peggy having already decided to commit suicide, but that he realizes while he’s talking with her that killing himself is a way to end his misery. Thus he is unable to move and has difficulty breathing after hanging up the phone; he's overwhelmed by the thought that his next actions could easily lead to his own death. Luckily for him, he’s in just the right place to have such a crisis. When one of the councilors coaxes him into a therapy session, he has a breakthrough.

It’s an interesting scene, as it’s clearly designed to play with our expectations. We think Don will take the chair and start talking about his life and his problems; the woman who brings him to the meeting even looks at him expectantly. This is the moment I had been anticipating for the entire back half of the season, where Don gives one final, patented Don Draper pitch (of sorts). However, it doesn’t come to pass. Don is far too lost in his own thoughts and self-loathing to even register that there’s an opportunity for him to connect with others who might be having similar problems. Moreover, even if he were to take the chair and begin to talk, there’s nothing he could say that would relieve him of his malaise. Don thinks he’s alone in the world, that there’s no hope for fixing the problems in his life, and that no one is truly capable of knowing him, because if he lets them, they’ll turn away in disgust. Thus telling others how he feels won’t do anything for him. What he needs is for someone else to demonstrate that he’s not alone in the world, and that other people also share his problems.

And that’s precisely what he ends up getting when another person, Leonard, takes the chair. Leonard talks about feeling isolated and alone, even when surrounded by coworkers and family, and Don can relate to it because he thinks no one really sees him for who he is (by his own design). Don’s gift for making others see in him what he wants them to see is both a blessing and a curse; he can manipulate others with ease, but in doing so, he is also prevented from feeling like others truly know him, and is terrified that if they do, they’ll be just as repulsed as he is by himself. Thus Don is struck by Leonard’s dream about having a flash of happy recognition directed his way, only for it to actually be directed at someone else. This is how Don feels all the time. Even when someone responds positively to Don, he has trouble trusting that they are really responding to him, rather than to the mirage he’s put in front of them. Don is powerfully affected by finding someone else who feels the same way, and it’s enough to convince him that he’s not alone in the world, and that it’s possible for someone to really see him, and for that to be okay.

UPDATE: For a very interesting alternative take on this scene, check out Tom and Lorenzo's analysis of the costuming this episode. They think Don doesn't see himself in Leonard, but that he has empathy for Leonard, and realizes that it's folly to try to put your troubles behind you in the way he has often tried (and failed) to do. They also make an excellent point about why he connected with Peggy so strongly: aside form seeing himself in her, she's one of the few people who took his advice to heart after her pregnancy. Unlike other women he's known, she accepted his attempt to rescue her, and moved on with her life.

After having his epiphany, Don walks toward the coastal bluffs and comes to a stop, perfectly silhouetted by the setting sun (an image I liked so much that I made it the header for this post). It’s a new silhouette to replace the iconic one that graces the series’ title credits. That old silhouette was the quintessential image of Don Draper as master of the universe. It was the persona he projected to the world. This new silhouette is Don stripped of his airs. He’s no longer disguising himself, and can finally engage with the world without the distance created by his persona, or the guilt carried by Dick Whitman. As the retreat councilor says, “The new day brings new hope. The lives we’ve led, and the lives we’ve yet to lead. New day. New ideas. A new you.” As indicated by the smile on Don’s face in the last shot of the series, "a new you" is no longer a burden for Don, but a relief. It’s a fitting way to end Don Draper’s story.

Of course, the series isn’t quite over yet! Before the end credits roll, we’re shown a 1971 Coke commercial featuring the song, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.” What to make of this ending? There are probably a lot of different ways to interpret it. It could simply be a representation of Don’s newfound inner peace and harmony: Don has now decided to be “the real thing,” just like the chorus sings about Coke in the commercial. Another possibility: this is an ad campaign Don comes up with after returning to the advertising world. Or perhaps this Coke ad is the way in which Don now conceives of himself, and the idea he uses to find his peace. Or perhaps it could be all of these things, as they are not mutually exclusive. Regardless, this commercial is kind of the perfect way to end the show. Don’s best pitches have always taken his personal experiences and feelings and spun them into fantasies that fit the product he’s selling, placing the product at the center of those feelings. This Coke commercial is simply another expression of that ability, not from Don’s mouth, but from an actual advertisement that captures what Don is now feeling.

Other thoughts:

- Overall, I thought this finale was very good, and I’ve come to like it more as I’ve deliberated it and written about it. However, I’m not sure if I’d rank it among the best episodes of the series, or even the best season finales. Right now, I think I’d rank season finales in this order: 3, 6, 5, 7A, 7B, 4, 1, 2.

- Perhaps I’d have ranked the series finale higher if Don had returned to New York. It’s a bold move to physically isolate the main character from all of the other major characters in a series finale. And while Don does have phone conversations with the three women who still mean the most to him (Sally, Betty, Peggy), it might have been even more emotionally resonant if he had actually been in their presence. On the other hand, being physically removed from everyone else allows him to hit rock bottom, and provides him room for his epiphany, so perhaps it’s for the best. I’ll stick to analyzing shows rather than writing them.

- Don begins the episode indulging in the mechanical handiness we saw him demonstrate last week, tooling around the desert with a pair of gear heads and their entourage. It’s like he's living something straight out of Two-Lane Blacktop. He also wears jeans for perhaps the first time in the entire series. He even wears a denim jacket! No better indication that he’s not feeling himself than this sudden wardrobe change. Also, I dig the plaid shirt he’s wearing during his phone call to Peggy.

- It’s a shame that Richard turned out to be too selfish for Joan. Where is she going to get her cocaine now? I liked Christina Hendricks’s performance in the scene where she and Richard get high – the manic look in her eye when she asks Richard if he wants to get married is nicely delivered.

- One of the few characters we didn’t see in this finale was Ted. However, I’m okay with it. For a man who wanted to become a cog in the giant McCann machine, it’s perfectly fitting for his last appearance in “Lost Horizon” to be of him blending into the surroundings. He’s so thoroughly immersed himself in McCann that he literally disappears from the series after the merger. I am slightly curious about how he and Peggy might have interacted when he returned from Los Angeles, but the place for such a scene would have been much earlier in this last run of episodes, rather than the finale. Perhaps they’re just really, really good at avoiding each other.

- Megan was also missing from the finale, but I’m okay with that as well. Her last appearance in this half season was more than enough, considering how irrelevant she’d become in Don’s life.

- I like that Joan gets in one final dig at Greg. Go Joan!

- It’s a relatively light Pete episode, which makes sense, considering he got his happy ending last week. Still, the episode does make room for one final scene between him and Peggy, which is nice, considering they were an important pairing in seasons 1 and 2. Like the other series-long symmetrical reversals Joan and Peggy demonstrate in this finale, the warm affection Pete and Peggy have for each other when he leaves for Learjet is also a strong reversal of their relationship from the start of the series. He’s come a long way from the selfish boy who once told her he didn’t like seeing her dancing happily amongst their coworkers, and she’s come a long way from being the kind of person who would let such cruelty affect her. And of course, this is a change that the series has smoothly built toward over the course of its length, conveyed to us over various scenes throughout the years: a stolen glance between them when she leaves for CGC; Pete, Peggy, and Ted having a good time drinking with each other while on the road; Pete, Peggy, and Don eating at Burger Chef, and the scene they shared a few weeks ago, when Pete tells Peggy about their impending absorption by McCann. Their farewell is also nice because Pete tells Peggy the kind of thing he would want someone to say to him (“Someday people are going to brag that they worked with you”), but he’s not bitter that Peggy doesn’t think to say it to him herself. He has truly matured to the point where he’s earned the happy ending he got last week. The last we see of him, he's getting out of the backseat of a fancy car with his family, and boarding his private Learjet. He’s finally being treated like a king, which is exactly what he’s always wanted (and also the way he told a prostitute how he wanted to be treated back in season 5).

- Apparently, Don did not formally sever ties with McCann, judging by Roger’s attempts to reassure Meredith, and by Peggy’s initial anger when Don finally calls her near the end of the episode.

- Meredith has a triumphant return to comedy in the finale, misreading Roger’s sarcasm and actually translating one of his speeches into Pig Latin.

- Even in the process of having one of his greatest personal crises, Don still manages to fall into bed with a gorgeous woman. Granted, she was trying to steal his money, and she happily accepts Don’s offer to pay her for their sex when he catches her. Still, some patterns of behavior simply don’t change.

- One of the biggest laugh lines of the episode was Don’s initial reaction to Sally telling him Betty is dying: “Look, your mother’s a hypochondriac. Don’t go off the deep end.”

- Nice editing: Don hangs up the phone after talking to Betty and raises his glass to take a swig of his drink, and then the episode cuts to Ken lowering a glass from his mouth, having just taken a swig himself. Later, there are similarly paralleled actions when Don lies down in Stephanie’s house, and then Roger lies back in bed with Marie. Don remains connected to his friends back east, even if it only through editing and paralleled actions.

- Gene speaks! And has two lines! It’s never too late for firsts.

- Something else I liked about Don and Betty’s phone conversation: after Don implicitly agrees to respect Betty’s wishes, he calls her “Birdie” one final time, and she replies, “I know.” I read this as a tacit acknowledgement of how much he regrets the way things turned out between them. It’s a nice, final moment for them to share.

- Another note about Don and Sally’s phone conversation: it illustrates both that Don still hasn’t learned much from all of his impulsive behavior, and that Sally is now just as mature as Don, if not more so. As Sally points out to him, she’s thought about what’s best for the boys more than he has, and when he tries to appeal to authority (“grownups make these decisions”) he can’t see that she’s being far more mature than he is, not only in terms of their respective reactions to Betty’s illness, but in general. She’s in high school, while he’s in the Utah desert, indulging in rather adolescent fantasies. It’s a somewhat somber final interaction for them in the series, but it’s an appropriate one, as it signals how Sally has (somewhat prematurely) arrived at adulthood.

- A nice final note for Ken: now that he’s freed from the stresses of working for an ad agency, he’s back to being his old self again, casually cracking jokes with Joan about being worried over how weird his kid is turning out to be. Walking out of a meeting with Pete and Roger would have been a nice final beat for Ken to play, but I think it’s more fitting to see him back to being his casual, charming self. After all, he’s Ken Cosgrove!

- Harry also gets in one final appearance, although it is mercifully brief. Pete essentially shuts him up by sticking cookies in his mouth.

- Don's embrace of "Psychotechnics" is a breakthrough on another level as well; after having spent the entire series on the "wrong" side of the counter-cultural divide in both big and small ways, he finally embraces something from the other side. It's refreshing to see, even if it's a bit hippie-dippy.

- Another note on all of the dinners and lunches being held by Joan, Ken, and Peggy: I like that suddenly the business world of Mad Men consists of former Sterling Cooper employees all merrily giving each other lucrative contracts.

- I liked the moment where the old woman pushed Don during one of the retreat exercises. Doubtlessly, Don made many viewers feel like doing the same thing to him over the years. It’s as though her shove is the storyworld manifestation of years of viewers’ exasperation with Don’s behavior.

- Peggy has prominently displayed Bert’s tentacle porn on her office wall, and since the episode is set around Halloween, she’s covered it with cat and skeleton decorations.

- The scene where Richard and Joan break up was quite nice. I liked that the telephone rang throughout their conversation, serving as a fitting illustration of exactly what Richard was talking about when he said Joan’s new business would occupy all of her time and attention.

- When one of the retreat councilors approaches Don by the telephone, Don responds with one final “What?” Add it to the compilation video Don Draper Says What. In fact, “What?” is the last thing Don says in the entire series.

- Finally, thanks to Jonathan Kuntz, earlier during the day that the finale premiered, I attended a TV Academy event bidding “farewell” to Mad Men, where all of the show’s stars as well as its creative personnel took the stage and reminisced about the show (a poor photo I took at the event is on the right). One of the highlights: when the host asked the cast which character they’d most like to see in a spin-off, January Jones casually raised her hand and pointed to herself. Also, Jon Hamm spoke for everyone and said they would like to see a show where Sally kicks ass through the 70s and 80s: she rides a motorcycle, kills a man, joins a band, etc.

- Well, that's it for Mad Men. It's been my favorite show to write about, and is the reason I started this blog in the first place. It's one of the few shows on TV that I often felt compelled to write about after watching an episode, and I hope that came across in these posts. It is richer and more rewarding than just about any other show out there, and engaging with it on such a thorough basis has firmly ensconced it at the top of my own personal pantheon of great television series.

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