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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Spoiler alert: Mad Men finale ... what will become of the dapper Don?

Is it the end of the line for Don Draper when Mad Men concludes Thursday? Read on if you want to find out...

After 92 episodes Mad Men finale goes out tonight but will the slick Don Draper come clean about his shady past?
After 92 episodes Mad Men finale goes out tonight but will the slick Don Draper come clean about his shady past?

PEOPLE have been talking about Mad Men since the moment it began eight years ago. In truth, it was always more talked about than watched, its audience remaining small, loyal and niche.

And people will be talking about the finale, which goes out on Sky Atlantic on Thursday   having already aired in the US on Sunday, for years to come, in the same way the final fade-to-black of The Sopranos is still picked apart.

Mad Men was never going to go out with a bang. Matthew Weiner’s creation was never that type of TV show. It was more like a long novel, each of its 92 episodes an individual chapter. The final chapter of a novel isn’t necessarily the most important one. We don’t always require a big payoff.

At the death, Mad Men doesn’t actually involve a death, although one character, Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) ex-wife Betty (January Jones), has lung cancer and is given six months to live. She turns down Don’s plea to let him care for her and their kids.

The theory that, from the very beginning, the falling man silhouette in the opening titles foretold Don’s suicide plunge from an office block turns out to be wide of the mark. So does the suggestion that, having travelled full circle, he’d go back to the obscurity of being Dick Whitman.

The most fanciful prediction was that Don is “DB Cooper”, the unidentified man who hijacked a plane in 1971, extorted a ransom of $200,000 and parachuted to an uncertain fate. It remained fanciful.

COMMUNE

Most of Don’s final hour is spent at a remote hippie commune in California, having tagged along with his niece after emerging from an alcohol haze. When she abandons him there, with no prospect of getting out of the place for at least a couple of days, he phones Peggy (Elizabeth Moss), who begs him to come back to McCann-Erickson and take up the Coca-Cola account. He refuses.

“I messed everything up,” he tells her as the tears begin. “I’m not the man you think I am. I took another man’s identity and made . . . nothing of it.”

There are more tears when Don, helpless and collapsed in a corner like a rag doll with the stuffing torn out, allows himself to be led into a group therapy session. There, a middle-aged family man who feels lost and worthless relates a dream he had about being on the shelf of a refrigerator. Familiar faces smile at him, but nobody chooses him. The door closes and the light goes off.

The poor shmuck breaks down. Slowly, Don rises from his chair, walks over and embraces him. Then he breaks down too. It’s a scene as extraordinary as it is unexpected.

Before we learn Don’s final fate, however, there are other matters to be attended to. Peggy and Stan (Jay R Ferguson) admit their love for each other, a development that feels right. There are also happy-ish resolutions for Joan (Christina Hendricks), Roger (John Slattery) and even Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), who’s had a likeability transplant recently.

We leave Don sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, meditating. As he chants “Om”, a smile breaks across his face and the finale plays out with the iconic I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing Coke advert.

Are we to take it that Don, finally at peace with being Don, returned to New York and created that famous ad? Or is it an ironic comment on how the idealism of the hippies would soon be  and cynically sold to the mass market by the Don Drapers of the world?

It’s an elegant and enigmatic ending. Mad Men exits as it entered: at its own pace and on its own terms.

Mad Men, Sky Atlantic, 9PM, Thursday

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