I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.
I had originally intended to do a review of Mad Max: Fury Road this week, but the response to the series finale of Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men Sunday night changed my course. My quick review of Mad Max is this: it isn’t the best movie you’ll ever see, but it’s not the worst. The girlfriend liked it more than I did (probably due to Tom Hardy), so your mileage may vary, but it’s worth a watch.
The series finale of Mad Men wasn’t quite as hyped up as its AMC predecessor Breaking Bad, and it wasn’t quite as fulfilling as the Justified finale, but I greatly enjoyed it. It was a fitting end to a (mostly) great show that was always just a tad bit overrated. Where I land on Mad Men as a whole is that it, much like the characters portrayed on the show, lost its way around the middle of the series but managed to rebound by the end. Instead of doing an overview of the finale I want to touch on the part that seems to be getting to people, in good ways and bad; the fate, or lack thereof, of Don Draper.
Don Draper, as played outstandingly by Jon Hamm, has always been a fiction. For those who never watched the show, Don Draper was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army who was accidentally killed in the Korean War by Private Dick Whitman. Whitman, realizing that Draper was burned beyond recognition, took on the identity of Draper and was discharged from the Army with a Purple Heart. The new Donald Draper eventually forms a friendship with the wife of the real Don Draper, and outside of a couple of inquiries here and there, is able to move on with his new life.
The last season of Mad Men has seemingly been the intersection of the two halves of Draper/Whitman. After his second marriage fails and his career takes an unexpected turn, Draper goes on a mission to find himself. In the final episode this leads him back to California, and back to the real Don Draper’s niece, Stephanie. She takes him to a hippie commune, and eventually leaves with his car. At the commune Don has a severe anxiety attack before attending a class where a man breaks down talking about how he feels no connection to his family. This mirrors Don’s own physical and mental detachment from his own family (his first ex-wife Betty is dying of cancer, and Don’s own kids know they would be better off with someone other than him), and Don goes over and embraces the stranger as they both cry.
The final scene in the episode shows Don meditating with a group at the commune with a beautiful view of the ocean. The camera closes in on Don’s face as he smiles, seemingly content with the world. At this point a bell dings and the show closes with the 1971 “Buy the World a Coke” commercial.
The ending is a bit ambiguous, but not really. The inference certainly seems to be that Don Draper would go on to take his experience at the commune, and craft an incredibly popular ad campaign out of it. McCann, the company that Draper now works for, has dangled Coke in front of him previously in the season and there have been Coke references scattered throughout the last few episodes. The bigger question it raises is has Don Draper really changed?
I would say that Don Draper hasn’t changed, but Dick Whitman has. Don Draper was never at the commune, nor was Don Draper searching for direction. Dick Whitman, the boy who never felt like anyone cared or loved him, had always been the one searching for meaning in life. The Don Draper that Whitman created could change anytime he wanted to; Dick Whitman however, wants and needs the same things everyone else does – love, acceptance, and understanding. Isn’t that the reason he liked California so much? That was the only place where people (the real Don Draper’s family) knew who he really was. He could be himself without fear of reprisals or being found out.
The most telling parts of the episode are in three phone conversations Draper has. The first is with his daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka), the second is with Betty (January Jones), and the third is with his closest co-worker Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss). In the first two he is reminded of his many failings (as a father and husband being the most glaring), and in the third he is warning Peggy to not become him. In these conversations it really appears that Dick Whitman can finally see the error of his ways, and that you can never truly run away from your past no matter how many Don Draper’s you create. Your actions are still yours no matter what your name is.
The end of the episode raises doubts that Don/Dick has changed, but I choose to look at it positively. Chances are that he’s not going to become a great father or husband overnight, but the experiences he’s had point to a brighter future. I like to believe that Don eventually went back to New York and patched things up with his kids, even if his having custody of them is not the best idea. I like to believe that he went back to advertising and did create the Coke campaign, but that it was coming from a newly broadened horizon; even if advertising is all about facade, who says that the sentiments can’t be heartfelt? And I like to believe that he eventually found happiness and that he would look back at the 1960’s with fondness and trepidation, and a resolve to not fall back into the same traps again.
Until next time…