OK, here’s my take on the Mad Men finale. I’ve never been wholly enthusiastic about this show. For me, it started slow, reached a peak with Lane Pryce’s suicide in season 5, and then drifted towards its surprisingly satisfying climax. Despite several misgivings about the uneven quality of the writing, Mad Men always did enough to hold my attention without ever attaining the gravity and quality of The Sopranos, or The Wire. Nonetheless, as an obsessive student of the decade of my birth, the 1960s, I’ve always been drawn to the show’s alternative view of that tumultuous period in history. Mad Men confirmed that even during the height of the counter culture, ‘the business of America,’ as Calvin Coolidge once observed, ‘is business.’ In the fictional world created by Matthew Weiner, the hippie counterculture, and the civil rights movement did little to distract the Madison Avenue suits from their core activity, which was to accumulate vast sums of money with little regard for ethics. For me, the finale’s greatest achievement lay in its elegant demonstration of capitalism’s ability to appropriate and submit everything to the logic of the commodity.
Don’s apparent embrace of Zen in the final moments of the show suggests that his beatific smile may not have as much to do with spiritual enlightenment as with getting back his advertising mojo. Indeed, the final image of Don Draper is initially incongruous with the development of his character’s persona over the course of seven long seasons. The fiercely intelligent, alcoholic, womanizer with a traumatic past appears to have transformed into a New Age sap, but then there’s the sound of the Zen bell. Don smiles, and the most iconic commercial in the history of advertising — the Hilltop Coke Commercial — displaces his blissful visage intimating that he’s attained advertising nirvana. The Hilltop ad depicts a mélange of beautiful young people representing all hues and races linking arms, and singing ‘in perfect harmony.’ And so, perhaps Don finds an ingenious way to use the counter-cultural creed of peace and love to sell product.
Apparently, AMC screened the trailer for the new Steve Jobs biopic during the broadcast. I thought of Jobs as the credits rolled, unaware of his presence in transmission, since he, more than anyone else, found a way to unite hippie ideals with commerce. Apple computers represent the apotheosis of the unholy union of counter-culture sensibility with capitalism. So, Mad Men ended on a literal, figurative and creative high, or maybe it didn’t, for there is always the remote possibility that Don remained on that strange Californian mountaintop amongst the damaged hippies and the towering trees.