Just in case, before you see something you’d rather not, this morning I’d like to talk about the ending of Mad Men.
We’ll wait a moment so those who haven’t seen it yet, along with those who don’t care, can skedaddle themselves out of here as fast as ever they can.
Mad Men’s ending made me mad.
For those unfamiliar with the series, but hanging in here because, “Hey, it’s Saturday morning and why not?” the eight seasons of Mad Men focused on a Madison Avenue advertising team, from its creation in the 50s to an acquisition by McCann-Ericsson in the early 70s. In particular, the series chronicled the doings of Don Draper, Creative Director extraordinaire.
The finale found Don, after decades of professional brilliance and personal decadence, meditating on the lawn at Esalen. And goes on to suggest, in the final scene, that Don leverages his moment of transcendence to, wait for it, write a Coke commercial.
In my early inarticulate rage, all I could think was, “That wasn’t the ending I wanted!” But, if I tried to imagine what I did want, I couldn’t.
Finally, after a few days of messy but undeniable anger, and some internal muttering, I read reviews around the Internet. I slapped my forehead. “Yes! That’s it!” I felt betrayed by the series finale because Matthew Weiner, the creator of the series, ignored all the portents so carefully and beautifully set into his narrative.
All the shots in cars on roads without end. All the sacrifices of a career. All the women discarded. Mad Men’s portents bring to mind a walk on the beach, brown beer bottle shards and cheery green seaglass. Sand on your feet.
All used, in the end, as mere scenery. Bah humbug!
I often consider the state of narrative in the 21st century. At least in our technological societies.
We people have always told stories to make sense of our past and create our future. Think of cave paintings. How will modern digital narrative (what we call television, I’m just inventing language here), evolve? Carry on the great traditions of the cave, but also Dickens and Melville, to say nothing of authors I don’t know in writing in languages I don’t read?
I am familiar with three “art series,” The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. And I care most of all about how they treated me. I’m willing to leave technique to those more schooled. Let’s talk feelings.
Mad Men abdicated its connection to the human heart. I imagine the producers cackling, “Let’s take our costume designs all the way to the bank!” Breaking Bad, in its perfectly crafted, all Ts crossed, unfaltering storyline, ticked just a little too mechanically for me. My favorite among this triumvirate remains The Sopranos. Sprawling, erratic, out of control in structure, character and plot — written such that our connection to Tony breaks in our own hearts. When we find out that Tony’s a sociopath, we realize we’ve had a crush on him all along. We look inward.
I suppose if I’m going to love and be willing to change for you Story O! Story, you need to respect my feelings. I like a trash tale as much as anyone, give me Dynasty, Scandal, Nashville o! Nashville. Connie Britton’s accent. But they pretend to be nothing else.
In the end, Mad Men didn’t make me examine much of anything but clothes.
And that’s it. This is all personal. One might argue that it’s only television, or, one might feel empathy with the woman on the floor of the cave. She weeps for the spear as everyone else cheers their new loincloths.