Mad Men Series Finale – ‘Person to Person’ Plot Summary:
We find Don (Jon Hamm) in the desert of Utah as a test driver. He gets a phone call from Sally (Kiernan Shipka) informing him that Betty (January Jones) is dying of cancer and her wish is that Don not be involved as the direct parent to their two sons. Devastated at this news Don heads to L.A. to see Stephanie Horton (Caity Lotz). Stephanie brings him to a California retreat to help him clear his mind. Joan (Christina Hendricks) is living in the lap of luxury with Richard (Bruce Greenwood), but a business proposition from Kenny (Aaron Staton) draws her back into the game…and might cost her her relationship. Roger (John Slattery) continues his relationship with Marie (Julia Ormond), do we hear wedding bells in their future? Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is propositioned by Joan to become business partners, but an admission by Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) might change her mind.
Cameos: Tons of cameos this episode. Bruce Greenwood continued his run as Joan’s lover. Julia Ormond appears in two scenes as Marie. Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow star Caity Lotz returned as Stephanie Horton. Alison Brie has a brief appearance as Trudy. Spencer Treat Clark (aka the little boy from Gladiator) pops up in the beginning as a friend of Don’s. Brett Gelman of Eagleheart and The Other Guys fame shows up as a weird, nudist at the retreat. Helen Slater also appears as one of the head people at the retreat.
Normally we’d break down the episode by performances, favorite scenes and what not, but with the importance of the episode, please indulge us on our thoughts on the episode.
Right before the series finale of Mad Men began, there were a few things I was hoping to see in the episode…
- At least one more knee-slapping quip from Roger.
- One final glimpse of Joan.
- Something positive for Peggy.
- Some modicum of resolution for both Don and the entire series.
In this writer’s opinion, all four of these happened, and all of them happened with the best writing, acting, and direction the series has ever seen. Yes, this could be complete in the moment hyperbole, this could be us writing this review in the afterglow of the series finale — but damn they really nailed the ending.
Let’s start with the easiest stuff first.
Roger was given the most Roger ending one could possibly think off. Weeks ago, my theory was that the series finale would revolve around his funeral. With all his talk of legacy, death, finality, etc. it seemed like all signs pointed to the demise of Roger Sterling. However, we were spared seeing our favorite silver fox’s passing. No, instead we see him in bed with, and then married to his match — the wild, untamable Marie. Yes, it seemed like only yesterday when we were utterly floored when we ‘saw’ Roger receiving oral pleasure from Marie. (Yeah, that scene will never my memory bank – for better or worse.) These two ending up together makes perfect sense — they’re equals, they’ve never been married to someone on their level. Everyone’s been playing catch-up with them while they whirl through life. Yet, together they make so much sense, despite how seemingly dysfunctional they seem. Seeing Roger and Marie together breaking each other’s chops as they sit in a Parisian restaurant in the lap of luxury, it was the perfect bow to put on the story of Mad Men’s Falstaff.
Sadly, the Betty storyline brought us only tears. The phone conversation Don has with Betty is quite possibly one of the most heartbreaking phone calls in series history (that is until later in the episode), and definitely the most emotionally devastating scenes between Hamm and Jones. Betty’s dialogue was absolutely perfect and Jones nailed every single syllable with such conviction and sorrow, it was hard to keep a dry eye. The brief scenes with Sally and Don, Sally and her brothers and then the quiet coda with Sally and Betty were powerful — nowhere near as powerful as last week, but still, powerful nonetheless.
Then there’s Joan. In full disclosure, this writer was hoping for one final glimpse of Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris. Quite simply, she’s one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, hands down. As this episode proves, even a made under Hendricks is still a breathtaking beauty. However, I was knocked out by another heavyweight performance from Hendricks, not her looks. Joan’s scenes ran the gamut from completely silly (her coke-induced scene with Richard was the lightest part of the episode) to painful (Richard leaving her was a hard to swallow) to triumphant (who didn’t want to pump their first in joy when at the phrase, ‘Harris-Holloway?’). When Joan left McCann a few weeks prior, I thought that was a strong send-off for Joan. I was utterly wrong. This was the ending for Joan. This really drove home the mantra of the Joan character — she does not take no for answer. She is a self-made woman who is going to fight the male-dominated hierarchy of corporate America, and she will make her own mark on the world.
Speaking of strong women, we got the happy ending for Peggy that we hoped was coming, but never thought would actually happen. Who thought Peggy and Stan would actually get together. This is Mad Men, no one gets the happy ending, right? Color me wrong.
The conversation between Peggy and Stan was one of the sweetest moments in the series. It was a true, unadulterated, untouched by cynicism or snark, moment of true joy. Ferguson and Moss have worked beautifully together all these years, and to see them finally come together was wonderful. Bravo to the writers of the series who have been slowly laying the groundwork of this relationship, who subtly placed the idea of these two getting together in our heads. Moss was perfect in her reaction to Stan’s admission of love — flustered, confused, out of breath — perfect. It was great to see a character so marred and scarred throughout her life get a happy ending that wasn’t forced, and made everyone, including the audience, feel really good.
And then there’s Don.
Holy crap, there’s Don.
If Jon Hamm does not win an Emmy for this episode alone, this entire Emmy system is complete bullshit. The man has been nominated every year since 2008 and has not won once. Seriously, not once. Yes, there are some seasons that were ‘meh’ at best, and there have been other actors who’ve delivered career performances (we’re looking at you, Cranston), but holy mother of pearl, Hamm deserves one for this episode…and this season to boot.
Hamm has turned in his best work in Mad Men’s half-season, and tonight was his crown jewel. The man hit you in your soul tonight. Seeing him break down, literally lose control of all his emotions just fells you. Literally just breaks your entire being in two.
The phone call with Peggy (which I’m literally re-watching as I type this) is one of the hardest scenes I’ve had to watch on television. Watching him physically break down is like seeing your father cry for the first time. Here is this mountain of a man, this alpha male, this character that embodies coolness, this handsome son of a bitch, this iconic television character — falling apart. He physically collapses before our eyes. Sure, we’ve seen Don shed some tears, be emotional, feel loss. But this scene – my God. His collapse is so intense you feel it in your core.
Then there’s his rebound. He finally realizes that he has never learned to love himself, whether as Dick Whitman or Don Draper. He realizes that since he’s never loved himself, he can’t accept the love being presented to him. He can’t see everyone loves him, and is giving him what he wants in their own way. He couldn’t see it, because he couldn’t accept and by someone else saying it (in this case a man named Leonard), it hits him like a thunderclap. And then he violently weeps. The catharsis, the feeling, the truth that he’s always been looking for has finally been found. And it’s what we’ve been looking. We’ve been on this journey with Don, to find a point. To find resolution. To understand this man. We finally do. It’s hard to watch, but catharsis isn’t painless, and it isn’t without tears.
The ending is something people will either love or hate — and question. The scene ends with Don meditating while the yogi talking about new days, new moments, new thoughts and new directions. Then we dissolve into the famous ‘I Want to Buy the World a Coke’ television ad. Now, some will postulate this is a dream sequence, or that this didn’t happen at all and it’s just some weird ending. However, I want to believe this commercial was Don’s idea because it plays on so many things. First, it’s an ad that Don has created that doesn’t play on negativity — fear, loss, pain, anxiety, want, desire — all things that ran rampant in his life. Now, this is ad is coming from a place of positivity, of happiness, of love. He wants to buy the world a Coke. This is also a bit of a callback to earlier in Season 7 when Don was giving Peggy her review. She says she wants to work on a major campaign and develop a catchphrase/slogan that people will remember. Don laughs at this. How can someone do something meaningful or long-lasting in the world of advertising he scoffs. Well, according to this episode, Don did just that.
‘Person to Person’ was everything I wanted from the Mad Men finale. It was funny, heartfelt, heartbreaking, devastating and uplifting. More importantly, there was resolution. Sure, there was a bit of ambiguity in the ending, but it still felt like an ending. There was closure here. This didn’t feel forced like previous season finales. Everything here felt genuine, honest, and authentic. This series about life ended with life going on — for some it’s perfect, for some it’s tragic and for some it’s hopeful — just like real life.
This was one hell of a ride Mad Men.
Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be six years old in 2015 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He can be read every Monday for the Happy Mondays Interview Series as well as his weekly reviews on Law & Order: SVU, Mad Men and Hannibal. His goal, once again, is to write 500 stories this year (a goal he accomplished in 2014). He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom