You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Mad Men’ Finale Wraps Latest Leg of Magical History Tour

Eventful finale caps uneven, tumultuous year

In tackling the latter half of the 1960s, it turns out, “Mad Men” bit off a little bit more than the series can comfortably chew.

Series creator Matthew Weiner always sounds a trifle exasperated, as he did in a Los Angeles Times interview, when people nitpick and endlessly analyze his Emmy-winning show. Of course, one suspects he’d be even unhappier if they didn’t care enough to bother.

SEE ALSO: ‘Mad Men’ Draws 2.7 Million for Finale, Matching Last Year

Still, one of the things that made the program so intoxicating when it premiered — back when the action took place in 1960 — was the opportunity to re-litigate fallout from that decade (which politicians continue to do to this day) through a decidedly not-rose-colored prism.

Yes, those were the good ol’ days, “Mad Men” made clear, if you were one of the white ruling Masters of the Universe; not so much if you were a woman or near-invisible minority. Or as I wrote six years ago, “before sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, there was sexual harassment, free-flowing cocktails and bluesy ballads, invariably sung by white guys.”

SEE ALSO: ‘Mad Men’s’ Kevin Rahm’s Ted Talk

By this season, however, the narrative has reached 1968, a period where political and cultural tides were so overwhelming that they risk blotting out or at least casting a shadow over the fictionalized drama. Small wonder many of those aforementioned nitpickers reacted negatively when an episode filtered Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination through the reactions of the privileged white characters — just as the Vietnam War hasn’t fit very neatly into this season’s storyline.

At its core, like all good serials, “Mad Men” is about its particular players, and there had been some splendid moments in that regard, especially in probing the flawed figure of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who became even more awash in booze and perilous sexual trysts. Yet there is a valid case to be made that not enough happened through most of this sixth season, even as the world seemingly went mad all around them. Facial hair and sideburns only go so far.

That’s a rather long prologue, frankly, for a well-deserved round of applause for Sunday night’s season finale, which Weiner co-wrote and directed. (And if you haven’t watched, SPOILERS AHEAD.)

Unexpectedly, Weiner managed to take several of the strands left dangling during the season — flashing back to Don’s seedy youth, the flirtation between Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and her married boss (Kevin Rahm), Don’s gradual distance from his young wife (Jessica Pare) and estrangement from his teenage daughter (Kiernan Shipka) — and weave most of them together. Not only did the episode set up myriad possibilities for the final run, but in terms of bracing moments, it again featured a wonderfully uncomfortable pitch meeting, in this case Don admitting he grew up in a whorehouse to shell-shocked execs from Hershey’s.

SEE ALSO: Women in Film Gala Honors ‘Mad Men’ Cast

Sometimes taken for granted, Hamm has done some of his finest work this season, conveying how Don was slowly falling apart with the finesse of those modest shakes he exhibited upon trying to give up booze cold turkey. Indeed, the fact he hasn’t personally shared in the show’s glittering Emmy run is a testament to the strength of the lead drama actor category over the last half-decade.

Most significantly, after a stretch where watching the show began to feel like a slog, the finale refocused the material squarely on its distinguishing strengths. Yes, sure, Nixon’s in the White House. Now can we get back to what’s going to happen with Don and Roger and Peggy?

Not to provide Weiner with an alibi in advance, but it’s very possible “Mad Men” is one of those shows that’s more about the journey (a word used far too often in connection with reality shows, and maybe not enough in dramas) than the destination. Viewed from that perspective, it doesn’t really matter where Don and Sally wind up — although arguably, given its Baby Boomer resonance, the series has become as much her story as his — so much as experiencing how they got there. After all, this isn’t “Breaking Bad,” where the prospect of a cosmic comeuppance is organic to the situations.

Looking ahead, it’s possible the best thing “Mad Men” could do would be to simply quit somewhere in the middle, without overreaching for a profound “Here’s what it all meant” moment. Because to the extent the ‘60s have provided the show’s narrative backbone, well, all you have to do is watch Fox News and MSNBC to realize they never really ended.

More TV

  • RENT: Top L-R to Bottom L-R:

    How Fox's Live Version of 'Rent' Honors and 'Enhances' Jonathan Larson's Vision

    In the more than 20 years since Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” first debuted on Broadway, the conversation of adaptation has often come up: Film director Chris Columbus infamously brought the story to the big screen in 2005, Michael John Warren similarly shot one of the final performances of the original theater run in 2008, and talk [...]

  • Conversations With a Killer: The Ted

    TV Review: 'Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes'

    The title “Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” Netflix’s new four-part documentary series launching Jan. 24, is slightly misleading. Not about its subject, Bundy, the infamous serial killer who finally confessed to some 30 murders before his 1989 death in the electric chair. The misnomer is “Conversations.” While we hear Bundy’s voice on [...]

  • Marvel's The Punisher

    'Punisher' Star Jon Bernthal on Season 2, Broken Bones and Frank's 'Self-Loathing'

    “The Punisher” returns for its second season today, opening on a Frank Castle in search of a more peaceful life. “He’s dipping his toes in the potential waters of peace,” series star Jon Bernthal told Variety. “He’s flirting with human interaction and human connection. I think it goes awry pretty quickly. There’s a kernel of truth that [...]

  • Emmys statue

    TV Academy to Eliminate Emmy DVD Screeners in 2020

    The Television Academy will eliminate distribution of DVD screeners for eligible shows beginning with the 2020 Emmy cycle. Designed to eliminate both monetary and physical waste, the move will have a substantive impact on the strategy of Emmy marketers. It also makes the academy the first major entertainment-industry organization to bar physical screeners. “This is [...]

  • Black-ish Actor Deon Cole Lands New

    'Black-ish' Star Deon Cole Talks Diversity in Television and Landing New Dream Role

    2019 is shaping up to be Deon Cole’s year, and to hear the actor and comedian tell it, “the stars have lined up and everything is coming together.” Fresh off the Season 2 premiere of Freeform’s “Grown-ish,” with Cole reprising his “Black-ish” role of Professor Charlie Telphy, the actor takes on a slightly different role [...]

  • Super Bowl LII - Tom Brady,

    Verizon Plans Multiple Ad Plays Leading to Super Bowl Commercial

    If Verizon gets its way, its Super Bowl advertising plans will include a 60-second commercial during the game – and a half-hour documentary that gives viewers even more of what will be discussed in the ad. The telecommunications giant is often scrutinized for the communications resources it provides its customers, but its Super Bowl campaign [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content