Well, that was…unexpected.
In Mad Men's penultimate episode last Sunday, creator Matthew Weiner had opened the door to that rarest of events: a series finale in which anything seemed possible—well, unless you seriously believed those silly Don Draper-as-D.B. Cooper theories (and if you did, you really didn't know the show—or Weiner—very well). And Sunday's actual finale delivered on that promise—for better and for worse. (Warning: there are finale spoilers aplenty ahead.)
In Sunday's finale, Weiner reintroduced some characters who had been long forgotten (Stephanie Horton, niece of the late Anna Draper), as well as others we'd worried we had already seen the last of (Joan was back, thank goodness!) and—sigh!—several new ones we could have done without (pretty much everyone in that commune).
And while Don Draper's final scenes were a bit of a letdown, the rest of Mad Men's finale was spectacular, thanks largely to five epic scenes that more than made up for much of the hippie nonsense that befell Don—and the audience.
Don and Betty's farewell: After Don's daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka, a revelation to the very end) spills the beans that her mom, and Don's ex-wife, is dying of lung cancer, a shaken Don calls Betty for one final scene, which was easily January Jones' finest moment on the series (high praise indeed, given her stellar work in last week's episode, in which Betty was diagnosed). "Please don't let your pride interfere with my wishes," she tells him, remarkably composed (you've come a long way, Betty!). "I'm not going to waste the rest of my time arguing about this." Then Don called her "Birdie," his nickname for her, one final, devastating time. This could very well be the last time these two ever talk, and it was unforgettable.
Roger and Joan's reunion: Early in the show's run, many fans hoped that Roger Sterling and Joan Holloway would end up together, especially after she gave birth to his son. But it wasn't meant to be, and we were denied their marvelous chemistry for seasons at a time. But they got together again in the finale, as Roger revealed he would be leaving their son a small fortune in his will, and it was like no time had passed. Roger admitted he was going to marry Marie Calvet, mother of Don's second ex-wife, Megan ("She's old enough to be her mother. In fact, she is her mother!") and joked about his son with Joan ("Rich bastard. He is, I guess!"), while Joan got in a great quip about her ex-husband, who once raped her ("No, he's just a terrible person!"). It provided some much-needed closure on a relationship that the show had long abandoned.
Joan pitches Peggy: Joan and Peggy Olson have been frenemies since day one, but for a portion of this finale, it seemed like they were going to team up and create the best production company ever, Harris-Olson. "Harris-Olson, we won't answer to anyone!" said Joan. It was another sensational moment for Joan's Christina Hendricks in this episode. And while Peggy didn't ultimately take the job, that scene was still perfection.
Don says goodbye to Peggy: The Don/Peggy relationship/mentorship was always at the heart of Mad Men, going back to the pilot, which took place on her first day as his secretary. From the commune, a desperate Don phones Peggy, with whom he hasn't spoken since going AWOL at McCann Erickson, and confides in her, as he can to no one else on the series: "I messed everything up. I'm not the man you think I am….I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man's name and made nothing of it." And for the capper: "I only called because I never said goodbye to you." It's the most emotionally honest they've been with one another since Season 4's "The Suitcase," still the series' best episode. And it was the farewell that these two characters needed to have.
Peggy and Stan's happy ending: No one saw this coming! Immediately after hanging up with Don, Peggy calls her co-worker Stan Rizzo, to apologize for their earlier argument and reveal that she's going to spurn Joan's offer and stay at McCann Erickson. Then, he abruptly reveals that "all I want to do is be with you … I'm in love with you," and she slowly realizes that she feels the same way. It's a completely-out-of-nowhere romantic comedy ending that could have easily fallen flat, if not for Elisabeth Moss, who sells the hell out of the moment. Peggy deserves happiness more than any other character on the show, so in the end, it works.
But Peggy wasn't the only one who had a happy ending: Pete Campbell seems to love his new life in Wichita, Kansas, reconciled with wife Trudy. Joan is confidently launching that production company (called Holloway Harris, after her two last names) solo out of her own home. Roger seems content with Marie. And while Betty's ending won't be a happy one, it has at least brought her closer with daughter Sally in her final months.
And all that time at the commune pays off for Don, who seems have to found enlightenment in the show's final moments—though it turns out that what makes him crack a smile was the inspiration to create the most famous ad of the 1970s: Coke's "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony)," which was created by McCann Erickson, Don's firm, in 1971.
Did the finale hit the euphoric heights of "The Suitcase"—the series' best episode—or Don's exquisite Kodak Carousel pitch during the Season 1 finale "The Wheel"? No, but it didn't have to. The show has always been about the journey, not the destination. Since it premiered in July 2007, Mad Men changed television, as well as the future of advertising. To the end, this was Matthew Weiner's show, and he took us on one final, glorious—if somewhat confusing—trip.
Weiner says that Sunday night was the last time we'll ever see these characters—he has been adamant there will be no Mad Men spinoffs, prequels or reunions. But I, for one, plan on revisiting this series often in the coming years, and once again celebrating every minute that led up to the finale.
Farewell, Mad Men. And thank you for ending your run just as you began it: enthralling us, challenging us and leaving us with remarkable TV moments we'll never forget.