Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Mad Men Finale

I've been thinking about the Mad Men finale. The more I think, the more unfulfilled I am by it, because a significant subtext concerns the primacy and importance of work. First, the final scene is not about Don's enlightenment. Instead, it's about Don using a possibly life-transforming event to come up with a great pitch for work. Is he a better father or a better person? Nope. But he is a better pitchman. Life is something that you use to inform your work. Characters in this show don't work to live, they live to work.

Joan chooses work over love (or what might be love.) Roger is asked why he keeps working, and he replies "What else is there?" His new wife is the most recent in a series of wives. Has he found true happiness? Don't bet on it. She's crazy and he knows it. Pete gets his family back how? By getting a better job. Peggy might be the outlier. But not really. She does find love, but she finds love at and through work. She loves Stan partly because he's good at his job and because they have worked together for years. It's an office romance that is "consummated" at work. Their final scene is him kissing her on the forehead as she works. The interactions where we might have seen real human connection--between Don and Peggy or Don and Betty--occur over the phone.

As for poor Betty... Rather than cocoon and bring her family close, she goes back to school and keeps hustling until the end, acting as if nothing is happening. So she leaves Gene and Sally to cook and do dishes. Because, in the end, Mad Men might be saying that's what adult life is. Work.

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