What a season finale it was. ‘Shut the Door. Have a Seat’ was a “tight balance of emotionally pungent drama and company coup d’etat,” the LA Times wrote. And indeed, Mad Men came through in the end. And all the mad men and women came through: Sterling, Cooper, Pryce, Pete, Peggy, Joan, and, more than anyone else of course, Don Draper.
He took Conrad Hiltons’s advice to heart and instead of “crying and relying on other people’s moves” he became the master of his fortune and finally did something meaningful. You could see the glow in his eyes, the pride, and the deep satisfaction of someone who has found (or accepted) his calling. “So you like being in advertising after all?” Sterling asked (a rhetorical question). Facing a divorce from his wife and separation from his kids, Draper, for the first time, gained the stature of a man who has a moral compass. With faith both in himself and in others, the boss turned into a leader.
The final scene with the new agency crew gathered in the makeshift hotel room office poignantly displayed that Draper’s evolution mirrored the dramatic changes a whole society was undergoing at the time: Gender equality, democratization of ideas, flat(ter) hierarchies, and employee empowerment, and an angst, underlying all this progress, triggered by JFK’s assassination. “People used to buy things. Then something terrible happened. And people changed. They want different things now. No one really knows how everything’s changed. But you do,” Draper says in his pitch to Peggy, as he’s trying to convince her to join the new venture rising out of the ashes of the firm formerly known as Sterling Cooper. Although set against the backdrop of the early sixties, the Mad Men finale could be read as commentary on the current cultural climate. Times are as transformative as they were back then. The sentiment is equally nervous, and after 9/11 and the Great Recession people are looking for new meaning in a post-materialistic and, sorry Don, post-advertising world.
And yet, Mad Men’s finale represented both swan song and rebirth of an industry. It may be very American to consider every crisis an opportunity, and in this sense, the end of Mad Men season three was a genuinely American happy ending, or better, an ending with the happiest possible departure – the beginning of a whole new story. Peggy, the empathizer and Pete, the innovator, both had tears in their eyes when they were asked to join the new firm, because, at last, they were given the recognition they deserved, and the opportunity to “build something.” Happiness lies in its pursuit, as we all know, and the Mad Men finale reminded us of a great national pastime: If we throw all our talent and passion together, we can build something great. It can be an advertising firm, a movement, or an entire nation.