Arguably one of the most influential television shows of all time, Mad Men ended its seven-year run this past Sunday with a series finale that was simultaneously emotionally satisfying... and slightly confusing for some people. The final shot featured Don Draper finding peace in a hippie commune, of all places, before cutting to the iconic 1971 Coca-Cola ad, "I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke." While the meaning of this ending seemed crystal clear to some, others were confused. Did Don Draper finally realize he'd be happy outside the advertising business? Did Peggy create the Coke commercial? Nope, the answer is much more straightforward — and creator Matthew Weiner explained the Mad Men ending for us.
"The idea that some enlightened state, and not just co-option, might've created something that is very pure" was how Weiner had wanted to end his show for years, he explained to author A.M. Homes during a public conversation at the New York Public Library on Wednesday evening. Thus, Don's achievement of nirvana gave rise to what the show runner considers "the best ad ever made." This comes on the heels of Don Draper's portrayer himself, Jon Hamm, elaborating on the Mad Men ending in a New York Times article:
The next day, [Don] wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is. And who he is, is an advertising man. And so, this thing comes to him. There’s a way to see it in a completely cynical way, and say, “Wow, that’s awful.” But I think that for Don, it represents some kind of understanding and comfort in this incredibly unquiet, uncomfortable life that he has led.
It's unusual to see a show runner and a star so explicitly explaining the ending of their show to viewers. There have been plenty of confusing series finales throughout history that fans have demanded answers to, most of which have been met by stubborn silence from the cast and crew. Fortunately, this trend seems to be changing. Also this week, The Following showrunner Alexi Hawley specifically laid out what Season 4 of the FOX drama would have looked like had the show not been cancelled. The NBC post-apocalyptic series Revolution, axed after two seasons, has come back in the form of a DC digital comic to provide fans with closure. Even Twin Peaks, which had one of the most notoriously frustrating finale in history, is coming back to Showtime to finally tell fans what the heck happened to Dale Cooper .
Now that it's de rigueur to explicitly explain the ending of your show, here are more series we demand answers from. (And this is just a very, very small sampling. There are plenty of WTF-series finales throughout television history.) Oh, and in case it's not already incredibly obvious... SPOILER ALERT!!!
This one's a gimme. ABC's popular sci-fi show remains a constant source of consternation for fans even five years after its series finale. It's not the ending itself so much that fans want explained (no, they weren't dead the whole time, just in the flash-sideways world), but all the unanswered questions. Why was Walt special? What was causing the pregnancy problems? Why didn't Sun time travel with everyone else on Flight 316? What exactly are "the rules?" Were the numbers actually significant? What happened to Annie? Who was in the damn outrigger?
Life On Mars
The finale of the British show this ABC crime drama was based on was voted the best series finale ever in the UK. So why did the show runners of the American version decide it was a good idea to fix what wasn't broken? Both iterations of Life On Mars feature a modern cop who wakes up in the 1970s after being hit by a car. The British version ends with the cop waking up from the coma, finding he's dissatisfied with his boring modern life, and jumping off a building to find his way back to the '70s. The American version ends with... the cop waking up literally on Mars. Turns out, he's an astronaut, and the whole show was his dream during suspended animation on his way to the Red Planet. I'd like to have a nice long chat with the writers about this one.
Since the entire series was focused on the efforts of time traveller Samuel Beckett (Scott Bakula) to find his way home, fans were understandably infuriated when they didn't get the happy ending they expected — or really, any ending at all — but rather a title card that simply stated: "Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home." Exsqueeze me? Rude.
Okay, so I sort of want the writers to explain the entire series to me. This 1967 British miniseries is one of the most infamously trippy TV shows of all time, but, with the finale, the writers somehow managed to one-up themselves in terms of sheer WTF-ness. A trial where the robed and masked jury dances to "Dem Bones," a clone wearing a gorilla mask under his other mask, missiles launched to the strains of Bach, a giant white ball named Rover deflating... It's enough to make your head spin.
So what's the deal with the angels? Why would everyone agree to give up every last shred of technology? What the heck was Starbuck?? But, most importantly, why did the writers of such a beloved science-fiction show decide to end their series with a decidedly un-sci-fi, mystical note? "God did it" is far from a satisfying answer. Less deus ex machina, more answers, please.
Inarguably the troll-ish series finale in history, this NBC show took the "It was all a dream" trope one step farther, revealing to viewers that the entire series had taken place inside the mind of an autistic child staring into a snowglobe. And you know what makes this ending even stranger? St. Elsewhere wasn't some mind-bending sci-fi series like most of the shows on this list — it was an honest-to-god medical soap. That would be like if Shonda Rhimes revealed in the series finale of Grey's Anatomy that the entire show (all 37 seasons of it) had taken place inside a Magic Eye puzzle some random toddler had been staring at in the waiting room of a dentist's office.
"Did the power just go out?" That was the question that millions of fans of HBO's most famous show asked themselves when their television sets suddenly cut to black, seemingly in the middle of the series finale. But no — The Sopranos was over. No closure, no explanation, nothing. Literally just a black screen. Viewers have been speculating on the meaning of that black screen for eight years now, the most popular theory holding that Tony was assassinated, and that cut to black symbolized his death. Unfortunately for those fans who had found some form of closure in this idea, it was thoroughly debunked by show runner David Chase last year. So... what, then?
Hey! You know who was a writer on The Sopranos during its final two seasons? Matthew Weiner! We should ask him about that ending while he seems to be in a sharing mood. Someone get on that, stat!
Images: AMC; ABC (2); NBC (2); ITV; Syfy; HBO