After a few days of digestion, the final episode of Mad Men resonates like a perfectly strummed chord.
For the most part, the odysseys of the characters conclude logically enough: Peggy finally in love, Joan losing love to ambition and feminist self-reliance, Roger taking responsibility for his love child with Joan after which it's business as usual as we watch him charmingly cracking a joke in French with Marie Calvet in a restaurant--an age-appropriate woman every bit as flirtatious, elegant and cynical as him, who will no doubt drive him completely crazy. As for Pete Campbell, well, he was always a pathetic creature of his social class and culture and a loser in his romantic life. His decision to take the big job with Lear Jet and move to the Midwest also makes perfect sense, but his effort to reclaim his wife and child is so ardent and sincere that it seems nothing short of a transformational spiritual awakening...
And speaking of transformations and spiritual awakenings, Don Draper finding his way to Esalen and the Human Potential Movement, where we leave him chanting Om in lotus-position on a perfect sun-dappled day in Big Sur, is a consummate choice by series creator Matthew Weiner. That Don's transit through the tumult of the Sixties would end here mirrors the experience of so many at the end of that decade who found themselves overwhelmed by the burnout of such high intensity times. Needing a dramatic shift in their lives, they found themselves searching for inner peace through meditation, sensory awareness, and the expansion of the powers and energies of mind, body, and spirit. Their ranks included artists and hippies and bohemians but what made Esalen so remarkable was how many middle class teachers, journalists, psychologists, housewives and business men like Don Draper were drawn there. And given the darkness that pervades his soul (and has always made him such a compelling character) one can hardly imagine any one more in need of inner peace than Don Draper.
Unlike the ending of the Sopranos, there is no ambiguity in where Don's journey ends. It's as if the figure of the man in perpetual free-fall from the Madison Avenue skyscrapers in the series opening graphic has finally landed, and it's easy to imagine him in Gestalt therapy, biofeedback, EST, and so many other adjuncts of the Human Potential Movement (he would have made a damn good EST instructor!). But Don chanting Om and getting in touch with the fundamental vibration is only the penultimate scene, for this is a series about advertising and the real ending is the Coke commercial--shining faces singing "I'd like teach the world to sing in perfect harmony"--one of the classic commercials of the era that completely rips off the look and vibe and very quality of light of Esalen and what it stood for.
Perhaps this is the only ambiguity of Mad Men's finale. Does the commercial infer that Don returns to advertising and makes this commercial? He certainly would have been the perfect one to do it. Or is it Weiner's unambiguous statement about how capitalism and the business of advertising will always co-opt every cultural trend to sell its products?
Perhaps both...A great end to one of the greatest series in the history of television.