Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the final episode of Mad Men and you think you might want to at some point, then please DO NOT read this post.
The series finale of Mad Man aired a year ago in May 2015. Yet in the world of Netflix and series binge watching, it’s never too prudent to post a “spoiler alert” advisory. I wasn’t able to watch the final season until a month ago. For a year I tried very hard to close my eyes and ears to anything to do with the show. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I was able to watch season seven on Netflix!
I had moments of trepidation as I sat down with my bowl of popcorn and icy cold Coca-Cola and hit the play button on my Apple TV remote. What would become of the characters? Would Don survive? Who were the heroes and victims? Would I be disappointed, angry, or delighted with the outcome?
After I watched the credits roll signifying the end of a brilliant TV drama, I honestly did not know how I felt. I was happy with how most of the characters continued on with their lives. It was the way they left off with Don’s life that left me wondering what happened next. This would not do! I began to google people’s reactions to the writers’ decisions to leave Don sitting in the lotus position, meditating on a California mountaintop. We never found out if he returned to New York to create the World’s most famous Coca-Cola Ad or whether he started a new life as his old self, Dick Whitman. I didn’t glean a whole lot of additional insight.
For a few weeks, the show would wander back into my thoughts. I’d vacillate between endings. Yes, he did return to New York! No, no, no, he found enlightenment and stayed in California. Back and forth, back and forth I went, wondering.
Then tonight, I was cleaning my bathroom sink and I came upon a new answer that gives me a sense of peace and closure. I’m good with this one.
So, this is Don’s story:
He is born as Dick Whitman and struggles a difficult childhood during the Great Depression.
He goes off to war and returns home as Don Draper, an identity he stole from the Lieutenant whom he accidentally killed.
He moves to New York where he builds a successful life selling stories on Madison Avenue. He has a model perfect nuclear family and a large suburban home. Yet he is haunted by his old life and is unfulfilled by his new life. Alcohol, affairs, and money do not soothe his soul.
The life he has built crumbles piece by piece. His belongings have been stolen. His home is sold. His divorce is final.
One day he achieves his biggest career goal and walks out the door.
He leaves New York to take an “On the Road” inspired drive. I’m sure it is no coincidence Don Draper has always reminded me of Jack Kerouac (dark, handsome, hedonistic, haunted, lost, and grieving).
As he travels, he sheds off the layers of Don Draper: He gives away his car; He finds out his ex-wife is dying and his kids will get custody with her brother; He confesses his stolen identity to veterans. He returns to California where he had initially embraced his life as Don Draper only to find himself at a retreat with the niece of the real Don Draper. She gives him a final and harsh reality check by reminding him that he is Dick Whitman, not Don Draper. The last wisp of his Don Draper ego vanishes as he acknowledges his greatest transgressions. He attends a therapy session where he recognizes himself in a broken man who feels invisible. He embraces him.
The egoless man, formerly known as Don and previously as Dick meditates and finally achieves the serenity and harmony he has yearned for his entire life.
The show ends with the famous “I’d Like to Buy The World A Coke” Ad and we’re left to wonder whether Don Draper returns to New York to create the commercial or whether he stays on that mountaintop smiling indefinitely. Or something like that.
I chose to believe he does return to New York with the words of the meditation guru chanting in his head “A new day, new ideas, and a new you”. He pitches the greatest ad of the 20th century as a man who is no longer a caged Dick Whitman hidden in the Don Draper identity. A name is just a name and he has nothing to hide or prove. Ghosts no longer haunt him.
Having attained his freedom, his need to hustle is gone. He doesn’t have to sell us on Coca-cola. He wants to buy it for us instead. So, put your feet up, relax, and enjoy a Coke. Courtesy of Don.