Minor Spoilers ahead!
‘Mad Men’ has officialy ended. No more Don Draper or Peggy Olsen. No more classic one-liners from Roger, Joan, Betty, Megan, Pete, Ken. No Lucky Strikes, old-fashioneds or Cadillacs – often wielded simultaneously and no more of creator Matthew Weiner and company’s spectacularly crafted episodes, where dialogue, gesture, expression, camerawork, art direction, lighting, music and costume all blend in support of a common dramatic goal. TV’s Second Golden Age, which began with the launching of “The Sopranos” in 1999, is similar to the New Hollywood period of filmmaking in the 1960s and 1970s, when maverick directors tried to create movies that blended story with bigger ideas.
For many, the height of New Hollywood was “The Godfather,” and “Mad Men” shares with that film an overarching theme about the corruption of the American dream. But where “The Godfather” saw a dream corrupted by greed and self-interest, “Mad Men” sees it ruined by fear and self-doubt. Throughout the series, “Mad Men” tells the story of people leading secret lives, rigidly conforming to social expectations on the outside while inwardly raging against the emptiness within.
“Mad Men” is set in the advertising business during its Golden Age, the 1960s. Ad men of the era called themselves “Mad Men” because the business was centered on Madison Avenue in New York. Each of the other characters has a different facade to prop up, but they all share the struggle of matching the ideal self to the real one. They drink too much, carry on affairs, live ostentatiously – essentially do what they can to paper over their truths.
In the first episode, Don tells a client that the key to advertising is in quieting our inner inadequacy;
“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness,” Draper says. “And you know what happiness is? It’s the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”
The ideas explored in “Mad Men” are fascinating, but they wouldn’t make for much of a television show if they weren’t so perfectly packaged in an entertaining way. The acting is routinely excellent, the dialogue sparkling. The attention to period detail is astonishing, and the art direction alone makes the show worth watching even with the sound off.
Don Draper was a very important character to me. Telling lies about yourself, whether it be about where you came from or who you’re sexually attracted to, it can tear you apart inside and in turn, you will harm others as you stridently refuse to move forward and instead plant yourself like a dam, hoping to stop the flow of a river. When Don finally broke down in a meeting with Hershey’s, I felt every emotion that was boiling to the surface. When he took his children to the whorehouse he grew up in, I also felt the same release that Don felt. Freedom.
Don Draper, much like Tony Soprano, will go down as one of the greatest characters in television history because so many people have connected to him. If I look to literature, I can find the examples that helped me embrace my true self. But it’s odd that for a character I connect with as much as I did with Don on Monday, no one I could immediately connect with has been depicted yet. Don represents the idea of being so ashamed of who you were that you create a new life for yourself.
It is a masterful show that was written about a time that I always loved and admired. It allowed me to see a lot of how the world was like and what was being marketed at the time as the cutting edge merchandise through commercials that created classics. This is a classic show with a backdrop that brings up a lot of nostalgia and was done masterfully. It appears they took the path of wrapping up how all our characters lives are going to land and the direction they are heading after the roller coaster ride they took us through on the show to me is a happy ending. I wanted to see Don Draper land with his feet on the ground, sober, and content to be who he is, and I got it. I could not be more happy with this ending.
I will miss ‘Mad Men’ very much. It’s a beautifully written, thought-provoking show and my favourite show on television ever. Future mondays will always feel empty without it. But having all the Blu-ray’s, I think soon enough I will start multiple rewatches of the entire series and enjoy this incredible masterpiece in character study, that has changed me as a person and as a writer/director of film. Thank you Matthew Weiner for helping me understand myself in ways I never thought was possible.
So with a heavy heart, I’m finally going to say… Goodbye ‘Mad Men’.