TV Review: “Mad Men” – There’s More to Life Than Work

Written by Spencer Sterritt May 19, 2015

Mad Men

After seven seasons of artfully composed ennui, how could “Mad Men” have possibly ended in a way other than pristine and ambiguous? Even when emotions are running hot, this is a show that has remarkable restraint, and doesn’t buy into theatrics. It’s fitting, then, that the final season (or half-season, thanks AMC) doesn’t do anything drastically different from what came before, and is put to bed with absolute grace.

Pressure on a TV finale hasn’t been this extreme since “The Sopranos” cut to black so many years ago. Shows like “Lost” or “Breaking Bad” had heaps of plot at their disposal when crafting their final seasons, keeping the focus of their final appearances on tying up loose ends. “Mad Men” was never one for intricate plots, instead always favouring characters over plot and as such there’s no major revelation or twist on the “Mad Men” formula in the last seven episodes.

“Listen to me. What did you ever do that was so bad?”

Fatalism and finality has always been on creator Matthew Weiner’s mind, and though no one jumps to their death in the final episodes (which are all around death free) the specter of the falling man in “Mad Men’s” intro hangs heavy over the end of the show. Don Draper  (Jon Hamm) has always been in some sort of spiral, and now he’s near the inevitable end.

Mad Men

The final season finds SCDP, the advertising firm that Don started as a way to avoid having to work for a big ad firm, once more on the brink of assimilation into McCann-Erikson, one of the largest ad agencies in the world. While this would be great news for anyone else looking to make their mark on large accounts like Coca-Cola, for Don this is a retirement home for his career. His carefully cultivated image of the underdog who always has an amazing pitch waiting in the back of his head would be lost in the big business going-ons at McCann.

“You know, I’m jealous of your ability to be sentimental about the past. I’m not able to do that. I remember things as they were.”

“Mad Men” has always been ambiguous with its themes and metaphors, and so of course the finale ends on a note loaded with meaning and interpretation. Don’s identity is more up in the air than ever as he departs to the West Coast and finally deals with the reckoning that’s been coming his way for a long time. In a phone call to his protege Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), she tells him that he shouldn’t be alone at that moment. “I’m in a crowd,” he tells her, subtly acknowledging that he’s never fit in anywhere, and even though he’s surrounded by people, he’s still alone.

Mad Men

For a show with such a terminally bad man at the center, everyone gets a happy ending in the finale, especially Peggy; however, there’s enough subtext running through each scene to suggest that these happy endings are just another ending in the long series of endings that eventually make up a lifetime of memories. “Mad Men” has always been about how people don’t change, so it would be indolent to take everyone’s happy ending at face value. And the final scene is a real corker that’s going to generate a year’s worth of think pieces about what it really means.

“Let’s take it a night at a time. I’m an optimist.”

Matthew Weiner and his team of writers have always written some of the sharpest and densest scripts on TV, but it wouldn’t matter much without some amazing shots to go with the dialogue. “Mad Men” has consistently been one of the best looking TV shows, and this last half-season really spares no expense when it comes to entertaining and thoughtfully composed shots. A sequence of Peggy arriving at her new office is one for the history books, and Hamm will never look so good staring out at the city with a concerned look on his face ever again.

Mad Men

Now that “Breaking Bad” is no longer hogging all of the spotlight, “Mad Men” can start winning the Emmy’s it readily deserves. Hamm was his brooding and fantastic self all season, and the sprawling ensemble cast turned in some of their best performances. There was no showboating or histrionics, just perfectly restrained and subtle acting.

“Do you ever feel like there’s less to actually do but more to think about?”

After seven seasons, while watching the cumulative years finally take their toll on Don and seeing this enigmatic man break down, it’s difficult to not feel the weight of “Mad Men” on your soul. It was a show unlike anything else, and the show that so many wanted to be (I’m looking at you “House of Cards”). When people talk about the Golden Age of TV I bet my bottom dollar that “Mad Men” will be the show most brought up. It’s a show that was legitimately about its characters, how life actually worked, and things instead of just ideas in service of an over-arching story. “Mad Men” took a novel idea of how to develop characters and made the latest great American novel in TV form.

My Rating: 9.5/10




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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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