"It's like no one cares that I'm gone." - Leonard
For a show that was built on its slavish devotion to documenting, in excruciatingly precise detail, the look, feel, and energy of the 1960s, it was fitting that Mad Men ended with Don Draper doing what so many who became disillusioned with the protests, marches, and be-ins of that era did - he found serenity and peace in a far away place and in what was a then-nascent movement toward spiritual enlightenment through eastern religions.
To get there, Don Draper had to finally come clean about himself. Whereas the first "half" of this final season was about Don reclaiming his throne atop the world of advertising, the second "half" swiftly stripped away all that Don had so assiduously, if haphazardly, built up. There was little joy to be found in the rotating cast of characters coming in and out of the Draper bedroom, the extreme wealth Don accumulated literally sat in a checking account waiting to be signed over to a woman he rushed into marriage with during one of his prior attempts at reinvention, and the family he had created with his first wife was doing just fine without him, thank-you-very-much. Even the world where he asserted unquestioned dominance turned out to be a cruel joke. Having accurately predicted years ago that he wanted to avoid becoming a "cog" in the McCann wheel,  Don discovered there was literally a roomful of "Don Drapers" at his new firm, that he was no longer a unique snowflake.
So perhaps it was fitting that Stephanie, as a sort of proxy for her Aunt Anna, directed Don to their spiritual getaway. To Stephanie, Don is "Dick Whitman," not "Don Draper" the suave Madison Avenue executive, but, one assumes, someone who both cared very deeply about her aunt but was also a remote figure. However, when faced with the bad decisions she made, Don cannot sell her on the same pitch he gave Peggy in the wake of Peggy's unwanted pregnancy.  Indeed, instead of welcoming Don's observation that by moving on, she could put her past behind her, Stephanie twisted a similar knife that her mother did when Don learned of Anna's cancer diagnosis. Here, instead of diminishing Don as a "man in a room with a checkbook," Stephanie dismissed him by telling him they were not even family.
And with that, and Stephanie's disinterest in the last worldly possession Don owned - Anna's engagement ring - Don literally had nothing. His rich man's hobo jag had come to an ignoble end. The material possessions gone, his value as a creative director unneeded, his first ex-wife, with little time left, had cruelly, but not unfairly made a decision as to who should raise their children, and deep down, Don knew it was the right call, his parental absenteeism having begun long before the ink was dry on their Reno divorce. So it was left to him to make one last person-to-person call to Anna's successor as "the only person in the world who truly knows me," Peggy Olson.  And in that call was the confessional that people in recovery need to make - an honest accounting of their failings and mistakes and to have the person listening to do so without judgment.
Peggy may have thought Don's admissions were those of a man about to end his life, and as we would learn, they were, in a way. Don seemed to be washing away the last remnants of his prior life, but in the moment, Peggy had more on her plate than she knew what to do with. She immediately called Stan to tell him of Don's perilous state, but instead of setting off alarm bells, the conversation turned into a confessional of its own, of Stan's love for Peggy and her love for him. As an offhand way of giving viewers a glimpse into her and the other main characters' futures, it was a surprisingly sanguine ending. Roger not only does right by his illegitimate child, but finds in Marie the kind of loving, but volatile partner who will keep him feeling youthful and challenged. Pete and Trudy are spirited triumphantly onto a Lear Jet and into a new life in Kansas, and Joan starts a new phase of her life as a businesswoman but without a partner in her life.
While these "endings" are by definition amorphous - Pete could tire of Wichita, Roger and Marie's kinetic energy could curdle, Peggy might grow frustrated at Stan's ascot collection and the beard hair in the sink, and Joan's business could fail spectacularly - the fact that Weiner gave so many of his characters anything approaching a "happy ending" surely came as at least a small surprise after so many years of tumult and struggle. However, at least one character's ending is foretold - Betty stoically puffs away at her cigarettes even as lung cancer is killing her while Sally adopts the role of surrogate parent to her and her two younger brothers.
The show's final images are particularly open to interpretation. Having his own frustrations and fears articulated by someone else - that no one would notice he was gone and that he never knew what to do with someone else's love anyway, Don collapses in a communal laying bear of emotions. The show ends as so many other episodes did - on Don Draper. But unlike so many other prior endings, where Don was forlorn, pensive, or hurt, as the meditative ohm passes his lips, we see something for the first time - a contented smile. And were the show have "faded to black," the implicit conclusion would have been clear - Don Draper 3.0 would be a quintessentially 1970s creation - of the monied class turning inward for happiness, but the use of that iconic Coca-Cola ad to end the show was a sly wink. When he spoke with Peggy from the commune, she asked Don when he was coming back so he could work on that most recognizable brand's advertising work. So was Don in deep cover, consuming the ethos of this self-awareness movement to simply turn it on its head to sell soda pop, or was his re-invention legitimate, a new leaf turned without the baggage of his prior life? Like so many things about this enigmatic character, the answer will forever remain a mystery.
*A personal note: Thank you to those who have frequented my blog to read my weekly recaps. I hope you have enjoyed the show as much as I did.
1. Shut the Door, Have a Seat, Season 3, Episode 13.
2. The New Girl, Season 2, Episode 5.
3. The Good News, Season 4, Episode 3.
4. The Suitcase, Season 4, Episode 7.