So, no time jumps. And only one cameo by a minor character from a past season, and it wasn't even someone from the firm. And perhaps the most surprising thing about last night's finale, considering the often apocalyptic feel of past seasons of "Mad Men," was that our cast of characters was left with mostly happy endings. Maybe too happy, even.
But first, let's sort out the episode's particulars. After weeks of trying to guess whether it was going to be the last time we saw this character or that character, all the regulars we started the season with came back for a final goodbye, even Kenny. Pete and Betty's stories had their conclusions last week, so we only got codas for them here, but that didn't mean they didn't also have a part to play in the stories of other characters. The final hour really belonged to Joan, Peggy, and Don, with some quick tying up of loose ends for Roger and Sally. I couldn't be prouder of Sally for stepping up and becoming the much-needed surrogate mother figure for Bobby and Gene. I'm much less sure of Roger's long term chances with Marie, but slowing down and being with someone who isn't a pushover will be good for him.
Joan's exit from McCann was a perfectly acceptable ending for her, but I'm so glad that she didn't accept that as her ending. Instead, she put the rolodex to good use, started her own business, and let Richard walk out the door with hardly any fuss when he tried to apply the brakes on her career. She and Peggy have long been opposite sides of the same coin, but their different challenges have never been so starkly delineated. Joan had been letting her personal life get in the way of her career ambitions, and finally chose definitively to continue being a working woman doing what she loves. And no hard feelings to Roger, whose final scene with her discussing each other's significant others, shows them operating on equal footing at last.
Peggy, of course, has always put her career ambitions ahead of her personal life, but gets a chance to correct this. While I like Stan and pairing him up with Peggy isn't a bad outcome, the melodramatic way it happened was a little off-putting. I thought Pete and Trudy's reconnection last week was pushing cheesy, but it was genuinely touching at the same time. Peggy and Stan's big confession scene was exponentially more ludicrous, and I didn't buy it. Considering Peggy's awful romantic track record, I just don't see her and Stan having more than a good fling. Maybe that's all she really needs right now, but the episode really played the whole thing up like an emphatic happy ending. And that just didn't sit right with me.
Everything else with Peggy was great - asserting herself at McCann, nervously considering Joan's partnership offer, and the final phone call with Don. There were some dire predictions circulating about how she was going to fare at McCann, but clearly Peggy's going to be okay professionally. Everybody is, even Meredith. What irks me is that the immediate events Peggy is involved in during the finale feel unresolved, particularly that abrupt goodbye from Don. Considering where the Don/Peggy relationship has taken us over the years, this felt like a perfunctory acknowledgement of the relationship instead of real closure. But then, so what if we didn't get that closure?
Don's final fate is left wonderfully enigmatic. Maybe he did go back to advertising and was responsible for the Coke ad. Maybe the ad was just symbolic of Don finally moving on and connecting with the new age of the '70s instead of simply running away from the past. For all the doom and gloom of the past few seasons, Don Draper emerges from the troubled '60s at peace, with himself and with the world around him. He learns to let go of those final notions of how to be Don Draper, and to accept that he needs to help himself before he can help Betty or Stephanie or anyone else.
Initially I was skeptical about Don hitting rock bottom and ending up in the hippie retreat, but it's the closest he's ever going to get to much-needed therapy, and it eventually lead us to the wonderful visual of Don hugging and comforting his spiritual double. My prediction for the finale was that Don would literally vanish into the West, leaving only his legend behind. Ohming his way to spiritual transcendence of the physical world? Close enough. Jumping out of a building or a plane would have been sexier, but it's close enough.
Part of me still wants to reject the happy ending each "Mad Men" character found. I kept looking for things that might point toward future doom, like the cocaine and the Halloween decorations and the Manson lookalike. If the show has taught us anything, it's to be suspicious of good news. However, if I think of the ending as a momentary respite, it's easier to swallow. Betty's going to die, Peggy and Stan will fight, and Joan will still have to deal with cads ib the '70s. And Don, for all his advancement, may never find "the real thing."
But he could. He has a chance for happiness, a new aspiration for everything being better. And even if real life doesn't turn out that way, it makes for one hell of a soda commercial.