'Mad Men' series finale recap: End of an era

What a surprisingly sweet ending, down to the very last drop.

The "Mad Men" finale was far from what I was expecting, but I'd expect nothing less Matthew Weiner and company. It wasn't the most riveting episode of the season (that honor would go to the penultimate episode where Betty finds out she has cancer), but it tied up all the loose ends while giving a wink that all of Don's soul-searching could unravel at any moment.


The episode begins with Don in the salt flats testing out the latest hot rods. All that comes to a screeching halt when he talks to Sally and discovers Betty is dying from lung cancer.

He then calls Betty, but she tells him not to come home and not to take care of the boys. "I want to keep things as normal as possible," she tells him. "You not being here is a part of that." Harsh.


He predictably drinks himself into oblivion, sobers up -- relatively speaking -- and drives to California to Anna Draper's niece's house.

Don gets dragged to a hippie retreat, the last place I'd imagine him to go. But the yoga and group therapy sessions with an idyllic beach background make it the perfect place for him to find his inner peace. It's Shangri-La for screw-ups.

Stephanie, like Don, has made several mistakes. She got knocked up and discovered motherhood wasn't for her. So, she gave her child to the father's parents.

"You can put this behind you. It will get easier as you move forward," he tells Stephanie, echoing the advice he gave to Peggy years earlier when she gave her up baby.

But Peggy and Stephanie aren't the same person. Not even close. "I don't think you're right about that," she replies.

She leaves the next morning without saying goodbye, taking his car. Don's always had abandonment issues, thanks to his own dysfunctional family. His mother died during childbirth, his father died when he was young and his stepmother was abusive and worked in a whorehouse.

The only family he had left was Stephanie, so this departure was especially crushing.

"People just come and go and nobody says goodbye," he says hopelessly. On the surface he's referring to the hippie retreat's laid-back policy, but he truly means life in general.


In a last ditch effort, he calls Peggy and admits, "I took another man's name and made nothing of it."

She tells him that's not true and he can always come back to McCann-Erickson. The Coca-Cola account is waiting there for his inspirational copy.

"I only called because I realized I never said goodbye to you," he says before he hangs up and collapses on the ground.

It seems like it's the end for Don, and he'll take his life just like his Lane or brother Adam before him. That is, until a woman leading a seminar takes him to a group therapy session.

For a second, we think Don will go to the empty chair to talk, but instead, another man takes the seat. Dressed in a sweater and collared shirt, he's the only business professional there other than Don.

And just like Don, he has a job and a family, but he doesn't find happiness at the office or at home. No one notices him, and people just look through them. The man starts laughing, then the laughter turns into tears.


Suddenly, Don walks over to him, hugs him and starts crying with him. Later, Don is meditating with the ocean crashing in the background. (Don, meditating, not self-medicating. What a world!)

He recites "om" with the rest of the group, then we see a smile on his face. At last he's found it: pure bliss.

Until a hippie, good-vibes Coca-Cola commercial comes on,the famous "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" one. Genius.

The ending was a surprise -- a happy surprise, at that. Does that mean Don came out of retirement to write that commercial? That would make sense. No one else at McCann-Erickson is that in touch with their chakras to come up with with an idea like that. (In real life, McCann-Erickson created the ad in 1971.

But even if the ad was volleyed to Peggy or another copywriter, ending the series on that commercial showed that Don's life is always tied to the advertising and commercialism. It's a button he can't turn off.

Joan also can't ignore her passion to work. She plans to start a production company, and offers Peggy the deal of a lifetime. She'll be the head writer at Joan's production company, and they won't have to answer to anyone.


No more glass ceilings, no revolting sexist remarks, just two ambitious women taking care of business and blazing the trail for future female CEOs.

It's just what Peggy's wanted: a partnership at her own agency with her name on the door. Or maybe it's just what we wanted for her.

Executive Producer Scott Hornbacher said in an interview that the finale would cause “controversy.”

In the back of my head, I suspected that Peggy would be given the opportunity to start an agency of her own, and turn it down for love. I never said it out loud because I didn't want to jinx my lofty ambitions for Peggy.

But it's easy to forget that another one of Peggy's ambitions is to be in love with a man who's worthy of her. And for once, she actually found the guy.

I'll admit, I've always wanted to see her and Stan get together. I had just hoped she would have been her career over love.

But I'd rather see her with Stan and hold off starting her own agency until 1980 than to see Joan derail her career entirely to be with self-centered Richard. He makes Roger seem like a good catch. (Side note: How sweet was it that he was learning French for Marie?)


Even if the women of the '60s have made leaps and bounds in the corporate world, men haven't gotten used to the idea yet, as Pete pointed out. Both Stan and Richard don't like the idea of their women choosing the career over them.

Richard objects for purely selfish reasons. "I want to be with you, and I don't want you to be rooting you to fail so that can happen." Ugh. Joan certainly has a type.

Stan, on the other hand, points out that writing scripts isn't even Peggy's true calling -- writing copy is. "You have such a rare talent," he tells her.

Now this is what Peggy needs in a man. Someone who's honest and supports her. I might have been crushed by Peggy's decision at first, but Stan is right: "There's more to life than work." Love's not a bad thing to have.

I just wish their confession scene didn't have the rom-com vibe to it with Stan rushing to her office to kiss her. But it went along with the saccharine Coca-Cola and good vibes hippie theme well.

Joan is doing well professionally, and Peggy's doing well personally. Ying, meet yang. Joan and Peggy chose their own paths, but they're both happy. Do they have everything they want? No, not yet anyway.


But that's life, and that's what "Mad Men" has been saying all along: "Happiness is a moment before you need more happiness."


Best Roger one-liner: "Yell at me slower or in English!" to Marie Calvert.

Best Meredith one-liner: Meredith: I translated your speech into pig Latin

Roger: That was a joke!

Thank you, Matthew Weiner, for making my dreams come true and bringing these two together for "Mad Men's" send-off!

Most romantic line: "Do we have to get married?" Joan says, nearly vomiting. "Hell no!" Richard replies. Further proof that Joan shouldn't settle. Even if she acted repulsed, there's still a part of her that wants to get married. You can just tell.


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Cruelest line: "This way you'll see them as much as you do now," Betty to Don about their kids. Ouch. True, but ouch.

Instant connections: In an episode so focused on interacting with people, there were so many connections made over the phone. Don called Sally, Betty and Peggy, the three most important women in his life; Joan picked up the phone for her business opportunity, choosing her career over Richard; Joan and Peggy shared a call to reconnect and Peggy; and Stan professed their feelings to each other over the phone.

The other coke: Joan was the last person I'd expect to do cocaine. I'm glad she's no longer with Richard. He really was corrupting her.

All in the name: I like how Joan added her maiden name to her company so that it sticks with her two-name rule. "Holloway Harris" does have a nice ring to it.

Bye bye, Birdie: Watching Don and Betty hold back their tears after he painfully called her "Birdie," his pet name for her, got me teary and choked up. He couldn't see her in person to wish her farewell, but that's as sweet of a goodbye as they'll get.

All grown up: It was so heartwarming seeing Sally acting calm and collected when telling Don about Betty's prognosis. She might have her problems, but I don't doubt she'll become more mature than her father and mother combined after going through this ordeal.


Saddest farewell gift: A box of chocolates and a cactus. It's Pete, so I guess it's karmic retribution for all the times he's been an absolute twerp. But, in the end, he got what he's always wanted: a happy, nuclear family with a cushy job. "Why can't I get anything good all at once?" he said in an earlier season. Looks like he did. I find it amusing that the sleaziest and least likeable character got the happiest ending. Just more proof that "Mad Men" believes that you can't get everything you want out of life, especially out of your TV shows.