'Mad Men' Series Finale Recap: Don's End Is Exactly the One We Should've Seen Coming

mad men cast season 7There was no escaping the conspiracy theories that abounded in the days, months, even past seasons of Mad Men. So, of course, going into tonight's series finale, "Person to Person," tongues wagged about the possibilities of Don becoming D.B. Cooper, jumping off the top of a skyscraper to fall to his death a la the opening credits, or ... perhaps experiencing a rebirth of some sort.

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WARNING: Spoilers ahead! Do not read further if you have yet to see the finale.

And what we got is what made the most sense and anyone familiar with Matthew Weiner's storytelling style would have guessed was in store. It was option C the whole time, baby. 

After finally making it out to California, and of course eventually back to Anna Draper's niece, Stephanie, who brings him with her to a communal hippie retreat somewhere "up the coast" from L.A. He's begrudgingly along for the ride, reeling from the news Sally has shared about Betty's bleak lung cancer diagnosis and the fact that both Sally and Betty want the boys to go live with their aunt and uncle instead of Don. 

When Stephanie takes off, leaving him there without a way to get out of Dodge, he places a "person to person" call to Peggy -- the interaction we knew they'd have to have before the credits rolled on the show. She admonishes him for taking off and swiftly switches gears to emphatically telling him to "come home." Because McCann would welcome him back with open arms, and after all, doesn't he want to work on Coke? More on that in a bit ...

don staring down coke machine

Meanwhile, show runner Matthew Weiner really did more for us than so many fans expected by tying up the main characters' storylines with as neat a bow as he could probably bear.

Even though he pulled the same kind of shenanigan after finding out about Kevin, it turned out that like a temper tantrum-throwing toddler Joan's new boyfriend, Richard, only wanted a life with her if her life would revolve around ... him. When a reunion lunch with Ken Cosgrove turned into an opportunity to get involved in production, and Joanie could see an incredible new career path ahead of her, she chose entrepreneurship and professional success over her man. Sure, it's totally BS that she had to choose at all. But the world of Mad Men is more realistic than idealistic more often than not.

That's not to say that love and success could never coexist in this world. Because look at Peggy and Stan! We've been rooting for them to wake up and figure out that they're in love for YEARS -- and they finally did exactly that -- over the phone, despite being down the hall from one another. Perfect. Aside from getting a glimpse of a shelf full of Clios some distant date down the road (though it was alluded to, when Pete and Peggy said their goodbyes), watching Peggy enjoy continued success at McCann (not with Joan at her new biz, although that proposition was AMAZING!) and land in a loving partnership with her best friend is more than we really could have asked for. And sheesh, to think, many would've been cool with her final scene being the cool stroll into the office toting Cooper's "octupussy" painting!

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Even Pete got his happy ending -- no, not by seeing him get eaten by a bear, ha! -- but watching the once smarmeister walk onto a Lear jet with Trudy and Tammy. And Roger too -- marrying Marie Calvet, played as superbly as ever by Julia Ormond, and offering big money in his will to his baby boy with Joanie. So, he turns out to be a silver fox and a stand-up guy!

More melancholy, of course, was watching Sally step up to the plate as not just big sister to Bobby and Gene but a caretaker now for her dying mother. In their final scene, watching Sally washing dishes while Betty smokes away, you know the kid's gonna be alright.

It's tragic. But as many had predicted, it seemed improbable that both Betty and Don would die. Yes, there was a moment there -- right after hanging up with Peggy -- that you could see the end potentially taking a very dark turn, we went in very much the opposite direction.

Our anti-hero got a spiritual wake-up call in the form of group therapy. When one of the retreat-goers confessed that he felt invisible and no one cared if he existed or not, a lightbulb must have gone off for Don. No use feeling sorry for yourself when not only do you get to exist but people do care very much that YOU -- Dick, Don, whatever the hell your name is! -- exist. After all of his ups and downs, soaring highs and unbelievably dark lows, he didn't tumble to his death from a skyscraper. Nope, he sat under the sun, next to the Pacific ocean, and said, "Om." And then, his breakthrough inspired the famous ad, "Hilltop," aka "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke."

Weiner has never tied the show directly into historical events or actual ad campaigns, but this seems to have been the exception. (Need evidence? There were enough allusions to it leading up to the finale!) We can safely assume Don laid his identity crisis and all the strings attached to it to rest and found peace at that retreat. We can easily conclude that he went back to NYC to be with his family and dive back into advertising with a fresh perspective. Because after everything, it comes back to what everyone to whom Don mattered said about him: He could always pick up, take off, and come home. He was a survivor. And a damn good, natural-born ad man.

What was your reaction to tonight's finale? Did it end as you had hoped?

 

Image via AMC

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