Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Men: The End of an Era and the Ultimate Cool

I've been saying lately that we're in the third golden age of television, epitomized by House of Cards streaming all at once on Netflix.  Mad Men was one of the stalwarts of the second golden age - the revolution of cable over network and the first golden age of television in the 1950s.  Mad Men debuted just a month after the conclusion of The Sopranos, which initiated the second golden age.  And tonight Mad Men concluded in its turn, as well.  It was advertised as the end of an era, and it was - the end of cable television as the undisputed creative edge of television drama.

As for the stories themselves in this final episode, there was a lot that was good in them, even satisfying in some cases.  The best of this was Peggy finding happiness and true love at last with Stan.   Pete's ending is happy, too, and so is Roger's.

Joan's is bitter sweet,   In order to pursue her creative, professional self, she has to give up the man she loves.   The lesson there is that in the society of the early 1970s, at least, it was difficult for a woman, in contrast to a man, to have both.  Mad Men has been brilliant in showing the struggles of professional women in that era.  Presumably our world has improved at least a little in that regard since then.

And Don?  His ending is the most frustrating - for the audience as well as him.  He perhaps has finally shed the illusion that he built around himself, but what's left?  I always thought that Don Draper was the most real part of Dick Whitman, and now Don has neither.

Or maybe not.   Who did the Coke commercial we see at the very end?   Peggy and Stan would be the logical people, since we saw Peggy talking to Don on the phone about his doing it, which means it was certainly on her mind.   But could Don have gone back to New York and done it himself?   Or, was Peggy, Don's greatest student, finally putting into best practice what she learned from the master?  Or, in perhaps the happiest ending that went unseen, maybe the three worked on it together.

My wife correctly points out that Don has a motive to go back to New York - to be with his kids - and the Coke commercial could easily have been inspired by that Esalen or whatever hippy therapy group that was.  This would constitute an epic conquering and co-option of the flower-power counter-culture by the brazen commercialism of advertising via the reconstituted Don.  On the other hand, Don sitting there with that beatific smile on his face is a very long distance from Manhattan.

Matthew Weiner, like David Chase before him, is a master of ambiguity. Instead of the sudden cut to black in The Sopranos, we get the Coke commercial - which, in terms of the most important things in life, is itself a blackness or a celebration of nothingness, just a stupid soft drink with caffein.  It's the real unreal thing, the ultimate McLuhanesque medium cool, a canvass that invites us to fill in the story.

But isn't that what Mad Men has always been most about, a celebration of illusions writ large, perpetrated by professionals and self-generated by consumers, in advertising and true life stories alike?  I don't know for sure, but I sure enjoyed the ride.

-> 20-minute interview with Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) in 2007 at Light On Light Through

See also Mad Men 7.1: Vignettes and Playboy ... Mad Men 7.2:  Flowers and the Hung-Up Phone ... Mad Men 7.3: "Lunch with Rod Serling" ... Mad Men 7.4: Computer! ... Mad Men 7.5: Retrofit Paranoia ... Mad Men 7.6: The Dance ...  Mad Men Mid-Season 7 Finale: Telescope vs. Television ... Mad Men 7.8: Don, Rachel, and the Waitress ... Mad Men 7.9: Fast Ride ... Mad Men 7.10: "Fast Girl" ... Mad Men 7.11: The End of Sterling, Cooper, Draper. ... Mad Men 7.12: Poor Betty

And see also Mad Men 6.1-2: The Lighter and the Twist ... Mad Men 6.3: Good Company ... Mad Men 6.4: McLuhan, Heinz, and Don's Imagination ... Mad Men 6.5: MLK ... Mad Men 6.6: Good News Comes in a Chevy ...  Mad Men 6.7: Merger and Margarine ... Mad Men 6.8: Dr. Feelgood and Grandma Ida ... Mad Men 6.9: Don and Betty ... Mad Men 6.10: Medium Cool ... Mad Men 6.11: Hand in the Cookie Jar and Guy de Maupassant ... Mad Men 6.12: Rosemary's Baby, Dick Cheney, and Sunkist ... Mad Men Season 6 Finale: Beyond California

And see also Why "You Only Live Twice" for Mad Men Season 5 Finale ... Mad Men Season Five Finale

And see also Mad Men Season 5 Debut: It's Don's Party  ... Mad Men 5.3: Heinz Is On My Side ... Mad Men 5.4: Volunteer, Dream, Trust ... Mad Men 5.5: Ben Hargrove ... Mad Men 5.6: LSD Orange ... Mad Men 5.7: People of High Degree ... Mad Men 5.8: Mad Man and Gilmore Girl ...Mad Men 5.9: Don's Creativity  ... Mad Men 5.10: "The Negron Complex" ... Mad Men 5.11: Prostitution and Power ... Mad Men 5.12: Exit Lane

And from Season 4: Mad Men 4.1: Chicken Kiev, Lethal Interview, Ham Fight ... 4.2: "Good Time, Bad Time?" "Yes." ... 4.3: Both Coasts ... 4.4: "The following program contains brief nudity ..." 4.5: Fake Out and Neurosis ... 4.6: Emmys, Clio, Blackout, Flashback  ... 4.7: 'No Credits on Commercials' ... 4.8: A Tale of Two Women ... 4.9: "Business of Sadists and Masochists" ...4.10: Grim Tidings ... 4.11: "Look at that Punim" ... 4.12: No Smoking!  ... Mad Men Season 4 Finale: Don and -

And from Season 3Mad Men Back for 3 and 3.2: Carvel, Penn Station, and Diet Soda and 3.3: Gibbon, Blackface, and Eliot and 3.4: Caned Seats and a Multiple Choice about Sal's Patio Furniture and 3.5: Admiral TV, MLK, and a Baby Boy and 3.6: A Saving John Deere and 3.7: Brutal Edges ... August Flights in 3.8 ... Unlucky Strikes and To the Moon Don in 3.9 ... 3.10: The Faintest Ink, The Strongest Television ... Don's Day of Reckoning in Mad Men 3.11 ... Mad Men 3.12: The End of the World in Mad Men ... Mad Men Season 3 Finale: The End of the World

And from Season TwoMad Men Returns with a Xerox and a Call Girl ... 2.2: The Advertising Devil and the Deep Blue Sea ... 2.3 Double-Barreled Power ... 2.4: Betty and Don's Son ... 2.5: Best Montage Since Hitchcock ... 2.6: Jackie, Marilyn, and Liberty Valance ... 2.7: Double Dons... 2.8: Did Don Get What He Deserved? ... 2.9: Don and Roger ... 2.10: Between Ray Bradbury and Telstar ... 2.11: Welcome to the Hotel California ... 2.12 The Day the Earth Stood Still on Mad Men ... 2.13 Saving the Best for Last on Mad Men

And from Season OneMad Men Debuts on AMC: Cigarette Companies and Nixon ... Mad Men 2: Smoke and Television ... Mad Men 3: Hot 1960 Kiss ... Mad Men 4 and 5: Double Mad Men ...Mad Men 6: The Medium is the Message! ... Mad Men 7: Revenge of the Mollusk ... Mad Men 8: Weed, Twist, Hobo ... Mad Man 9: Betty Grace Kelly ... Mad men 10: Life, Death, and Politics ...Mad Men 11: Heat! ... Mad Men 12: Admirable Don ... Mad 13: Double-Endings, Lascaux, and Holes

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