Monday, 25 May 2015

People just come and go: The end of Mad Men

People just come and go and no one says goodbye.
Don Draper, Season Seven, Episode Fourteen.

Spoiler alert, obviously.

It's all over now. I don't know what I expected to happen in the last episode of Mad Men, but it certainly wasn't Don sat cross-legged at the top of a cliff, meditating. Nor was it an actual advert.

I wasn't thrilled with the Benetton-esque, corny advert for the most famous drinks company in the world, a company that has a poor ethical record (sorry Matthew Weiner, but the groundbreaking inclusion in the 1970s of an Asian woman with a pottu doesn't change my feelings about that). The company has allegedly left people wanting clean water, polluted the area around manufacturing plants, and even the Southbank can't escape its all-branding eye: the London Eye is now red in its debt.

Then I remembered something awful: when we were about to leave primary school, my friend Claudine and I would walk around the playground during break time, singing the 1987 advert. Several girls complained to our teacher about how annoying we were, warbling that stupid song all of the time, and Miss Higgins told them, "They're just feeling sad about leaving, so they're singing to show how sad they are." I didn't realise that at the time, but I guess that's what we were doing. So maybe world-famous-drinks-company adverts are about endings as much as togetherness? Appropriately enough, the Mad Men finale aired a week after my last day of lectures at uni, when we said goodbye to some tutors and students who wouldn't be returning in September.

I looked up the 1987 advert and saw that it was re-released in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it was filmed in the beautiful St George's Hall in Liverpool, using 1000 children.

Happiness is...a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you are doing is ok. You are ok.
Don Draper, Season One, Episode One.

A few years ago, I wrote about Mad Men and hoped that Joan would reclaim her maiden name and get the chance to do the creative work she was clearly capable of doing. Starting up her own company with both of her surnames, after leaving her boyfriend and the horribly sexist McCann-Erickson, was even better. What a change from the woman who showed new secretary Peggy Olsen around the office ten years earlier, saying, "With any luck, you'll end up living in the country and you won't have to work at all." I was so pleased for Peggy, too - even though I cheered at the Harris-Olsen proposal, I kind of understood how she wanted to carry on working on her own terms (well, sort of) and at her own pace. I also think that she didn't want to leave Don behind again. But as Stan said to her before they (OMG!) got together, "You have to let him go."

I didn't bawl my eyes out, although I suspect I will when I'm ready to watch it again. But I did get a lump in my throat when Sally cooked dinner for her brother Bobby after he miserably tried to fend for himself, and a knot in my stomach when Don said his goodbye-for-nows to Peggy and Betty.

I didn't quite have the stomach for a Harris-Olsen Bloody Mary the next morning, but this jam on toast was a breakfast substitute for an Old-fashioned.

You're born alone and you die alone, and this world just dumps a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget.
Don Draper, Season One, Episode One.

Like other people who didn't want to believe Mad Men had ended and were stuck in denial (only anger, bargaining and depression to go until we reach acceptance), the following night I went right back to the beginning and started watching the first season. I forgot how much younger the men looked, how even Ken Cosgrove was as sexist as the others at the start ("You've got to let them know what kind of guy you are - then they'll know what kind of girl to be"), how adorable Sally was as a child, and how wide-eyed and sweet Betty was at the beginning. And if you don't believe me, watch this scene with Betty talking Sally through first kisses. Like Lori in The Walking Dead, Betty wasn't exactly a fan favourite, but I really liked her. RIP Mrs Robinson.

We're all so lucky to be here.
Betty Draper, Season One, Episode Two.

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