More like a 360 degree turn

Like others, I found myself frustrated with last night’s Mad Men finale, but not entirely sure why. The series has always been fraught with tension and the closing shot of Don chanting at the Esalen Institute felt off to me. It was too comical, too easy. Then the Hilltop Coke commercial. At the time, it was the perfect embodiment of our country’s highest aspirations. We were still naïve and hopeful about honeybees and apple trees and caramel colored sugar-water. Could Don really have gone back to create that ad? Are there really second and third acts in America? But as the day wore on, it occurred to me that maybe it was the end of the era that upset me the most. Gone were the days of mystery and restraint. In are the days of too much self-disclosure and the blurring of lines between commerce and “real life”. The finale was not really the end but rather the beginning of our modern era. We’ve further devolved now to a culture where people gladly allow themselves to be observed 24/7 under the glare of reality TV and disclose every detail of their personal life on social media.

We have lost dignity and gained cynicism. The Coke commercial that was hopeful in 1971 appears saccharine and false to our 2015 eyes. We’ve grown smarter but have we grown better? So my last post’s prediction was wrong. Don was making a U-turn, but decided to bring it full circle. Life for profit. Are we any different?

Farewell Mad Men. Bye bye Miss American Pie.  A lonely nation turns its eyes to you.

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Mad Men – End of the road or U-turn?

No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back –  Turkish proverb

I’ve been a fan of Mad Men since the early days.   It’s brilliance is how a story ostensibly about a 60s ad agency is really about life’s big issues – identity, love, work, death, life and meaning.  It is most certainly a contemporary drama, porkchop sideburns aside.

With only two episodes left, the big question mark is about Don Draper.   The last episodes having been bringing closure to the other characters — Joan finding love with her new California boyfriend, but unable to fulfill her career aspirations in what was (and remains today) a man’s world of business.  Peggy is crowned the heir of the SCD&P ad agency legacy evidenced by the bequethed Bert Cooper octopus painting and Roger’s vermouth blessing.  Pete and Trudy have enjoyed a reconciliation of sorts and Betty has evolved from an analysand to analyst.

But what of Don?  I used to think that Matt Weiner was leading us down a path to Don’s destruction.   Not brain surgery based on the opening sequence of a man falling out of NY skyscraper.  But recent episodes have shown — very subtly –how Don is a changed man, who has undergone a type of conversion that took full hold during last week’s Miller Lite meeting in the McCann Erickson conference room.  As Don looked out the window at the Empire State Building and saw the plane flying overheard, he had the epiphany that he was done with this particular life — this false life.  Not false because of his assumed identity, but false because of its empty promise of happiness.  A few seasons back, Ted was blissfully flying an airplane while Don was terrified out of his mind.  In last week’s episode, Ted has happily settled into McCann conformity, while  Don literally and metaphorically needed to fly away. It was another sign of Don’s willingness to give up control to live a life of greater meaning.  This, I believe, is the story Matt Weiner is trying to tell.

In 2007,  a book was published entitled,  “U-Turn – What If you woke up one morning and realized you were living the wrong life?”  Mad Men premiered on July 19, 2007 and it wouldn’t surprise me if Matt Weiner had read this book and used it as inspiration for how to tell Don’s story.  The book includes over 300 stories of people who completely changed their lives:  people who changed political parties, doctors who become poets, hunters who became animal rights activists and financiers who became non-profit forces for change.  It is premised on the idea that reinvention is the great American myth and that when reinvention does occur it calls the great “American dream” into question by abandoning the quest for control and success.

For what it’s worth, and that’s not much, I predict Don Draper is returning to himself — not Dick Whitman exactly, but to another evolved version, someone wiser, and truer who isn’t running from his past but who will use it for good — for positive change.  The McCann team is peddling the false version of the American Dream and Don/Dick is about to start living out the real dream for the first time.  He has been changed, transformed.  I think life awaits him, not death. Don Draper is dead — long live Don.

I’ll check back in after Sunday’s episode.

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