Where Will The 'Mad Men' Finale Leave Our Favorite Characters? Their Arcs Need To Have A Logical Conclusion
After suffering through 90-odd insufferably vague "Next week on Mad Men" segments, we're now faced with drawing our own conclusions as to what the upcoming episode has in store. And it's a big one: the series finale. The final episode of Mad Men , the cherished AMC drama, will close the book on all the folks we met at the Sterling-Cooper office, in the Draper household, and down at one of many drinking holes.
We've already gotten hints of where Matthew Weiner is leaving some of his characters. We know what kind of life is in store for Joan Holloway, and we have an idea of what Pete Campbell is destined for out West. And Betty... oh, poor Betty. But questions abound. Will Roger Sterling ever fill his empty heart? Who will Sally Draper grow up to be? What is the world promising Peggy Olson?
And, of course, what the hell is going to happen to Don? We've all got our ideas and theories, which we cannot help but to rattle off over expensive cocktails at a Midtown bar with a demanding dress code. Check out our thoughts on what might befall the Mad Men crowd as of the close of the series.
Sunday's episode saw Roger haunting the remains of his newly gutted company — that which he always neglected, but thanks to a delusion of immortality rather than an ambivalence for the realm in question. It was, in fact, the allowance of such a delusion that made the company so important to Roger. Engaged in a rewarding (if only temporary) love affair and imbued with all the material luxuries for which he might ever have hoped, Roger is now only at a loss for that power he loved to harness and abuse for so long... and yes, he's still leagues away from the emotional fulfillment that has avoided him his entire life.
So how will Roger fare at McCann? He'll butt heads and ruffle feathers no doubt, but may ultimately fall in line — it's not innate contention or a devotion to doing things "a certain way" that made Roger such an unyielding opponent to the likes of Duck Phillips and Jim Cutler, but a protectiveness over his beloved kingdom. Evident from his organ solo, Roger recognizes that McCann is very much not his. He might continue to cut out early, drink through the day, and sass everyone in sight, but Roger's surveillance of the grounds surely won't carry the same strut. Thus begins the first era in Roger's life that can be marked "Post Sterling."
We meet Joan at the height of her power in the series, dominating the men who dominate the system. But the introduction of Peggy into the Sterling-Cooper world suggests to Joan that she hasn't quite achieved the highest order for which she might hope. Ever since, we've seen Joan — anchored helplessly to a dying world but striving hopelessly to belong to an ascending one — beaten down again and again, most recently by the men at McCann who deny her her rightful position as a colleague and an actual human being.
So what has she to do? Settle. Arguably Mad Men's most tragic figure, Joan simply cannot win. Trying desperately to attain the world that was promised to her by virtue of Peggy and the women's libbers she met at McCann, but tethered without solution to an era that can no longer afford her a once great reign, all she can do now is settle. Settle for a decent relationship with a decent man and a decent buyout, when that hint of glory, that taste of victory, is what she's truly after.
Betty Hofstadt Francis
Unpacking Betty's grave news from Sunday's episode is a tough assignment; understanding what to make of her execution from the mortal world — whether Matt Weiner is trying to say that the incoming world has no place for her, or perhaps that the woman's greatest victory might be in facing her greatest plight of adversity yet with a first time exhibition of strength and character — might evade us until after Mad Men comes to a close altogether. But Betty's final line in this week's episode shines some light onto her journey, both so far and yet to come: "Why was I ever doing it?" she asks Henry, rhetorically, when he questions her on the purpose behind continuing to attend psychology classes.
Betty's been on the same ride since we met her in Season 1 as a frazzled mother whose hands would occasionally freeze up unexpectedly: She just wants to be better. Her aspirations aren't as ambitious nor as specific as either Joan's or Peggy's, though they can be read in the same context. Against the whims of a world that might have seen her as an extension of Don, Betty just wants to figure out what she's supposed to be doing.
On Sunday, we meet with the other side of Pete's delusion that he "deserves better": that prowling ambition inherited from his father. So apparently close at one moment to acknowledging and dissolving what has been a lifelong flaw, Pete instead falls victim to his faceless desire, giving the boot to a good job in the city he's always loved in favor of the simple notion of what he cannot have. And so, Pete and his new/old family (Trudy and Tammy) are Wichita bound.
It makes no sense, of course. Pete and Trudy hate one another, a fact we cannot help but remember when he vows that he has always and only loved her (we've seen otherwise, Pete). His interest in his daughter has been middling at best. The only thing Pete has shown interest in is the conquest for more. When he lived outside of New York City, he missed it. While there, he loathed it. Now he finds himself enticed by the idea of having "Wichita," a construct with no place for Pete Campbells. And one in which Pete Campbell will soon realize he has no place for either. But we all kind of wanted Pete to get a lousy ending, didn't we?
The one character we're all hoping will walk away from Mad Men with some kind of bright future. To be honest, there's little we can predict about Sally at this point. She's too young and fresh and too open, both intellectually and spiritually, to possibility to staple her down to any concrete path. She's losing her mother and may, as some predict, in fact be forever without her father as well.
What Sally has at her disposal is, against all odds, the best pieces of Don and Betty. She's got her father's fortitude and brass (double the sum, in fact), but her mother's trust in the idea of something better. She clearly believes in, hopes for, looks forward to, and wants things — something that Don has forgotten how to do in an effective manner — and, unlike the Betty we've known over the seasons, is strong enough to shoot for them. If anyone's going to come out of this okay, it'll be Sally. Hell, it has to.
Bert will continue to haunt his former employees from beyond the grave as they battle existential crises on the open road.
Our hero. Peggy's power-strut down the hallways of her new company last week has been met with polarizing reaction: Paired with Joan's excommunication from McCann, some see it as Peggy marching to her doom, taking her seat in a company that'll never grant her the liberty she deserves. But we must remember that Peggy is not Joan. Peggy never belonged in Joan's world, the world of the big men who run the agencies, and, as such, is not weighted down by it in the same way. Peggy belongs wholly to the world yet to come, and has over Joan the innate ability to navigate her way thereto against all adversaries (like, for instance, her new bosses).
We've always understood Peggy's journey to be one on the rise. She has risen and grown within a realm that'd ultimately prove unready for her, but one that she wouldn't be beheld to forever. That's where she was marching, all liquored up and eyes shaded, in that fateful (and highly GIF-able) moment of wonder: to a future — perhaps not an immediate one, but one inevitable just the same — where she, finally, will belong.
Hell, I don't know. Does he go back to New York? Does he see Betty before she dies? Does he ever speak to his children again? Does he get to witness Peggy's ascension to glory? Does he go to work for her? Does he start his own ad agency? Does he find love? Does he return to California? Does he quit booze? Does he change his name? Does he become D.B. Cooper? Does he get killed by the Manson Family? Does kidnap four women and keep them hidden underground in Indiana?
Don has been on the hunt for his own conclusion for decades, hoping to trade in his question mark for a period that'd set to rest his cannibalistic dissatisfaction with himself and everything around him. He doesn't deserve to get it. Furthermore, the relevant emotional realism comes with its evasion. But we're trained to ask for endings. Even with a show like Mad Men, which has dodged every other formulaic beat in the book, are we inclined to wonder where Don will "end up." He might not "end up" anywhere. He was never settled anywhere to begin with.
Image: AMC (9)