Mad Men…. “A thing like that” – A brilliant end to a brilliant series

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I realize that I am a couple of weeks behind all of the hoopla surrounding the Mad Men finale. I was out of the country on vacation the night of the finale episode. Please don’t think that I waited until I came home a week later to watch it though…. Oh NO! I made sure that I packed DC’s Kindle for this and only this reason. I did have to wait until the day after before it came up on Amazon Prime but as soon as we got back to the room on Monday night, I was watching.

I really can’t remember how I first came across Mad Men. I don’t know if previews for a show about Madison Avenue Ad(vertising) men in the 1960’s, would have appealed to me. I may have just stumbled upon it. Fortunately that stumble came right at the beginning of the series.

When we think about just how times have changed, we tend to think about the advances in technology, I do anyway. As a child of the 60’s  there were so many other things this show touched upon that I had completely forgotten about. The most obvious differences of course being the way women were treated, but there were so many other differences, smaller in contrast to the treatment of women that made the show a walk down memory lane at times and at other times a shocking sprint though the “I can’t believe we are all still alive” jungle.

A scene I always use to describe all of these differences to people who weren’t there is the scene when Sally, playing with one of the neighbors, walks out of the bedroom with the plastic dry-cleaning bag over her head and covering her entire body. Her mother, annoyed says something to the effect of “I better not find all of that dry cleaning laying on the floor in my closet.” It did not occur to anyone that a child could suffocate wearing a plastic bag. Until that actually happened and I assume it must have happened to someone to warrant warnings on plastic bags – no one thought a thing about it.

No car seats, no seat belts, women smoking and drinking while pregnant and drinking butter milk as a treatment for ulcers were all par for the course. It was always the little things like the plastic bag or “It’s not like there is some magical machine that makes identical copies of things” and Don, to a child at his daughter’s birthday party, “Come on, I think there are some peanut butter sandwiches and a BB gun outside” that the creators/writers chose to include that really made the show for me.

My stepfather was never what anyone would call a drinker, but on special occasions or when we were out at some sort of social event, he would always order a “High Ball”. An “Old Fashioned” was another drink that always seemed to be ordered by one person or another. I had no idea what these were at the time and to be honest I still do not know what makes a “High Ball” or an “Old Fashioned”, but I immediately recognized the names when I heard them on Mad Men. I’m sure they are still around and maybe some people still do order them, but it’s not something you hear everyday.  Alka Seltzer seemed to be the cure-all during this time period and was present in quite a few episodes. Other than my Mother, who still swears by it as a cure for just about anything, I don’t know if anyone else even knows that it still exists.

Cigarettes…… Do we remember when cigarettes could be and were advertised everywhere? Smoking was allowed in restaurants, movie theaters, bars, airplanes, in one’s office and really just about anywhere.

After watching the Finale, I wanted to write something when we returned home, so I decided to go back to the first few episodes just to refresh my memory. I watched the first few and just continued on and re-watched the entire series. I was glad that I did. Somewhere around season 4 or 5 the first time around, I had really had enough of the Don and Rodger characters. There were scenes that were absolutely cringe-worthy.  I have been a fan of John Slattery from back in the Homefront days, but there is a fine line between the handsome, charming latherio and creepy, drunk, sloppy dirty old man. Both characters took a giant leap over that line. I was much more interested in the other characters. Watching it over again did not change my feelings about either of them, unfortunately.

Pete, is another story. After watching a second time, I really noticed just how just funny his character was. There were so many times that I just laughed out loud. What a job Vincent Kartheiser did with this character. What a departure from the characters I had seen him play in the past, namely Connor in the Angel Series. He became one of my favorite characters. Yes, at the beginning he was pretty much a horrible guy. Later I realized that this attitude of his was due to his parents and his upbringing. He always felt as if he was being over looked and passed over. The way he handled this was not always admirable, but further along into the series we do see noticeable positive changes in his character (I thought so anyway).

The series covered the entire decade – it included episodes about JFK’s election, his assassination, the assignations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy right on through to the moon landing and Nixon.

I was only 3 years old when JFK was assassinated. I do remember people sitting in our kitchen while I was in the living room watching the funeral. I am not sure that I knew who he was but I did know he must have been someone very important because the people in the kitchen were so sad. I distinctly  remember looking out of our front window waiting to see the funeral procession go by – because when you are a kid, everything you see on TV is right outside your window, right? The world was just that small in my mind. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, I remember more clearly and was old enough to understand what had happened. These episodes were handled beautifully, the reactions good and bad, were real.

It was always interesting watching the advertising, the pitches to clients and the products being pitched or products that just happened to be  mentioned in an episode, many of which are still around today. The products and product pitches were like an intentional “wink” to us, the audience who knew full well the very popular campaigns that were coming down the pike in real life for these products in just a few years time. Who could forget Alka Seltzer’s “Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizz”,  Life Cereal’s “Mikey” or Heinz “Anticipation”? I always hoped that these characters would actually come up with one of them or a variation of one of them, but they never did……  (or did they?)

Moving into the last and final season, I was still over the Don character and I was hoping at the end of the first half that we were finished with Meghan. I have to this day never watched the “‘Zou Bisou Bisou” performance by Meghan at Don’s birthday party. I skip through it every time. (Cringe-worthy, I just know it). I have a friend that insists that I need to see it…….. I disagree.  But, Rodger did seem redeem himself, in my eyes anyway. I was thrilled with the parade of characters from previous seasons in the final half of the last season. I was disappointed that there was not an update – even just a mention of the Sal Romano and Ginsberg characters, but the unexpected appearances Rachel Katz and Glen Bishop almost made up for those omissions.

The resolution of all the character’s story-lines in the finale was quite satisfying. I particularly loved Peggy’s. That was most certainly an “Awwww” moment and I’m glad they gave that to her character. At one point I did have to pause the episode,  due to, I believe, watching far too many Joss Whedon productions. I was convinced that something terrible was about to happen in the next few seconds. I truly believed that Pete was going to leave Trudy’s house and become involved in some sort of a fatal accident. Fortunately, that did not happen (and that is the closest thing to a spoiler I will write in this post).

The final 5 minutes was television at it’s best! The episode ended and I thought “What?!!! This can not be the way they ended this series! This is a mistake! Are you kidding me?!” and for one minute I was cursing the day I ever started watching this show. It only took a minute afterwards for it to hit me and when it did, I thought it was the most brilliant thing I had ever seen. There could not have been a better end to this series.  We knew what was next for Don. The writers did not feel the need to spell it out for us, they put it out there, sat back and let it sink in and then waited to see how long it would take for us to get it!

I will say it again, Brilliant!

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