Dissecting the Mad Men Season Finale

Was The End To Mad Men All That It Could Have Been?

Mad Men
Mad Men Season Finale. Getty Images

It was being touted by AMC as “the end of an era.” Obviously, this was more than just a play on words. Not only did the series and the sixties come to a close, but the Mad Men phenomenon did as well.

If you haven’t yet seen the season finale (and this is being written over a week after it aired, so you should have had plenty of time by now), there are SPOILERS ahead. With social media and the Internet being what it is, you most likely know all of this by now, even if you haven’t seen the final episode of season 7.

Mad Men was, as a series, a very slow burn. It took some people several episodes to get into it, and others, several seasons. However, the writing was crisp and clever, the people very human, and the era a delicious one to watch. Don’t we all wish we could walk into work three hours late, crack open a bottle of Canadian Club, and take a nap before diving into the very cool work waiting for us?

The fashions were sophisticated. The advertising was reaching its golden age. Every man and woman looked divine. It all just felt like an era that was both indulgent to watch, and at the same time horrendous to imagine now. Imagine the kind of rampant sexism and even racism that existed back then being forced upon us all.

Over seven seasons, we saw the layers of Don Draper’s life peel away. We saw the rise of Peggy Olsen, and the decline of Duck Philips. We saw Pete Campbell and Joan Holloway come to some startling realizations.

And we saw Roger Sterling punish his liver with booze, and Betty Francis smoke an awful lot of cigarettes. It was always high drama, and very little was sugar coated. From episode one, when Draper talks about love being a concept invented to sell nylons, we knew we were getting something without filters.

So, coming into the finale of the series, the bar was set high. And once it ended, the audience was split right down the middle. Many believed it was a perfect end to a masterful series, and others felt like it took the easy way out.

Let’s look at just some of the things that happened that made many people feel like Mad Men’s season finale fell short of greatness.

1 – The Don Draper Fall and Rise
Throughout the series, Draper was a hard man to like. And yet, we all did. He cheated, he lied, he made people feel very small. But somehow, we all wanted him to succeed. He was the bad boy with a twinkle in his eye. You hate to love him, but you just can’t help yourself. Then, it all came crumbling down. After everything Don had endured, his shell disintegrated when he heard the story of Leonard and the refrigerator. Really, that’s all it took? Suddenly, Don is chanting in the lotus position, smiling without a care in the world. How could this happen? After all, we saw, was this the time to leave us with a pale imitation of the Don Draper we grew to love and hate equally?

2 – The Coke Ad
There are several reasons why this got many people fuming. First, it was a giant ad for Coca-Cola to finish off the series.

Yes, it is an iconic ad. But do we want to remember Mad Men for an ad about fizzy sugar water? Second, we aren’t sure if Don Draper created this because he was a new man, or because he was faking it all and exploiting his new life experiences. The latter would be a phenomenal way to remember Draper; he sits it all out but, in the midst of it all, knows he has found the perfect Coke ad. However, his breakdown in the therapy session implies that he really had changed. Therefore, this sugary ad (in many ways) was the new Don. Do we like the caring, sharing, holding hands version of Don? No, we don’t.

3 – Almost Everyone Got a Happy Ending
With the exception of Betty dying from lung cancer, and smoking what was left of her life away, the major players all got a very nice departure. Peggy found true love with Stan (no big surprise there, but the way it happened was such an afterthought).

Pete Campbell got back with Trudi after landing the job of a lifetime at Lear Jet. Joan founded her own production company, and finally became more than just the pretty face she feared she was. It was one sweet (almost saccharin) moment after the other. For other shows, maybe this would have been OK. But for Mad Men, it was a massive departure. People don’t get what they want in Mad Men. They get screwed over for money. They get screwed, literally. They get lied to, and stabbed in the back. Where did this sickly-sweet redemption come from?

4- There Was No Big Shock
One of the best endings to any movie, ever, was the head in the box at the end of Se7en; and, the subsequent assassination of John Doe by David Mills. That was powerful and shocking. It stayed with you. It gave you what you wanted (the death of the killer) whilst making you realize you didn’t want it at all. It tore you apart. There was no such conflict at the end of Mad Men. There was no agonizing. It was all wrapped in a pretty bow, and everyone (again, with the exception of Betty) got what they wanted. There was no twist. There was actually very little catharsis. Just like the ending of Dexter, almost none of the main characters paid for their sins. The realities of hard-nosed business in the sixties disappeared, and the world became light and carefree. How nice.

All in all, Mad Men was a fantastic series that really did dive into the realities of advertising in a memorable way. Plenty of bodies were buried along the way, figuratively and literally. But the season finale, for some, proved to be just too much happy and sappy, and not of the harsh realities of life in the world of Mad Men.