'Mad Men' recap 7x14: 'Person to Person'

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MAY 28, 2015

In the weeks leading up to “Mad Men’s” May 17 finale, speculation ran wild. Would Don face death by skyscraper? Would he turn out to be aircraft hijacker D.B. Cooper? Would the series jump ahead to the mid-1970s? Would Peggy be running the world? While none of these theories proved correct, one critic’s soda-themed prediction did indeed come true. Read on to learn how Coca-Cola and a whole lot of closure figure into a final episode that won’t soon be forgotten.

As a series, “Mad Men” doesn’t just probe the dark side of human nature — it basically posits that the dark side is the only side that exists. That’s why, upon first viewing, the series finale might seem entirely too tidy, if not downright redemptive. Plotwise, story arcs are finished up with an almost cheerful momentum. This time, the laundry list is as follows: Roger and Marie (the mother of Don’s second ex-wife, Megan) are getting married; Pete and Trudy arrive in Wichita, Kansas, with all the assuredness of soon-to-be Kansas royalty; Peggy and Stan profess their love for each other; Joan loses her beau, Richard, and a potential partnership with Peggy, but starts her own production company anyway; and Don has a meditation-included breakthrough at a New Age retreat in California.

Tidy as these developments might seem, there are no explicit — or even implied — guarantees that Peggy and Stan will live happily ever after, that Joan’s new business endeavor will succeed or that Don has found enlightenment. In fact, as Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz points out, the show seems to suggest the exact opposite: that people can change — but only as much as they choose to and never as much as we’d like them to.

Considered through this lens of human behavior, the endings we’re given in “Person to Person” aren’t definitive by any means. Instead, the audience has been given a glimpse of the next chapter in these characters’ lives. Though they’ll never play out onscreen, there is no doubt that the theoretical future lives of Peggy, Joan, Don and company will closely resemble the lives we’ve already seen develop over the past seven seasons, complete with triumphs, complications and the sort of bad behavior that isn’t broken easily.

Take Don, for example. After abandoning the advertising world for a cross-country road trip in episode 12 and learning of Betty’s cancer diagnosis early on in the finale, he staggers, drunk and desperate, into Stephanie Horton’s home in California. It makes sense that Stephanie — niece of the real Don’s now-deceased widow, Anna Draper — would appear in this episode. Stephanie isn’t really a relative of Don’s, but she is the last remaining link he has to the world of the real Don — a living reminder of the grave lie that allowed him to begin his new life in the first place. Stephanie invites Don to join her at a retreat up the California coast, and the pair is thrust into a series of self-improvement workshops that seem part group therapy and part theater-improvisation games.

Stephanie leaves the retreat early with their car, stranding Don. Then, in a sequence of events that involves a tortured phone call to Peggy, yet more group therapy and a rather drawn-out but compelling refrigerator metaphor, we’re finally primed for an ending sequence so fitting that all other predictions, no matter how probable they once seemed, pale in comparison. Don sits, cliffside and cross-legged in an ascetic white button-down. This is Don Draper, man of mystery and all things self-destructive, meditating. Don Draper — world-class drinker, smoker and womanizer — letting out a earnest “om.” Don Draper, smiling ever so slightly as the camera lingers on his face.

Then we cut to a woman singing. “I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love,” she warbles. What exactly is going on? Coca-Cola’s famous 1971 “Hilltop” advertisement, that’s what! A group of young people, gathered on a green hilltop, beam as they sing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” Here, the unsaid implication is sung loud and clear: Don meditates on a hilltop, and — maybe at that exact moment, or maybe sometime after — the inspiration for the iconic ad comes to him. He returns to New York, he gives one hell of a pitch, and he makes an amazing advertisement.

So, did Don find himself? Begin again? Reconcile his existential gloom? Unlikely. Did he at least have a moment of unparalleled inspiration? Yes. And for Don Draper, perennial Mad Man, a jolt of advertising inspiration is as good as divine intervention. Somehow, that’s reassurance enough for us, too.

Honorable mentions:

  • How morbidly brilliant is it that Don’s supposed moment of spiritual enlightenment turns out to be fodder for a massively successful advertisement? Throughout the series, we’ve seen how advertisers began to draw inspiration from 1960s counterculture to position their ads as hip. But even a feel-good, universalist Coca-Cola ad can’t fully escape from its origins and intentions, which are purely profit driven and not altruistic in the slightest.
  • The real “Hilltop” ad was, in fact, conceived by McCann-Erickson creative director Bill Backer. Did you catch how the retreat hostess’s fabric-woven braids were mirrored in the ad? “Mad Men” was meticulous to the very end — that’s for certain.
  • Naysayers should also take note of the fact that Coca-Cola has been featured prominently throughout the season. First, Jim Hobart tries to warm the SC&P partners up to the prospect of a merger with the promise of several big accounts, including the coveted soda. Then, Don repairs a Coca-Cola machine during his stay in Oklahoma. Finally, in a devastating phone call near the episode’s end, Peggy tries to reason with a seriously distressed Don. “You can work on Coke!” she chirps — a massive hint if there ever were one.
  • How bittersweet was that tableau of Sally washing dishes as Betty, far more ill than we last saw her, reads and smokes (some things really never change) at the kitchen table? Sally is even wearing the same yellow rubber gloves we saw Betty sport in countless early episodes.
  • Speaking of things that never really change: It was inevitable that Joan would get tired of a beach-bumming life of retirement, even if it came with a boyfriend and a side of cocaine. It’s no surprise that she jumped headfirst into running a production company, though it came as a bit of a shock that she reached out to Peggy to join her as a partner. The two were never exactly allies in the office — in fact, the show often made a point of demonstrating how they encountered and navigated workplace sexism in polar ways. Nevertheless, the offer and Peggy’s reaction to it (that nervous Bloody Mary guzzle is pure Peggy) are heartwarming, if not the slightest bit trite.
  • And speaking of heartwarming: A Peggy/Stan romance has been hinted at for the past few seasons, but it seemed unlikely that the writers would ever take heed of the fandom’s wishes. But deliver they did. The pair has really come a long way from season four’s naked hotel-room taunts, haven’t they?

Contact Sarah Elizabeth Adler at 


MAY 28, 2015

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