A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
People don’t change. That, at the very least, is what Matthew Weiner has said for so long and remains committed to to this day. To a certain extent, that is true, as glib and cynical as that may seem. Certainly some tenants of people change. Sometimes they can grasp onto that little part of themselves they always wanted to be amongst their defining characteristics and bring it to the forefront. But do people suddenly become something they’re not at whatever opportunities and or individuals present themselves? No, they do not. When presented with a fulcrum that endorses the possibility of change, it takes deep self-reflection and understanding to truly grasp that possibility and that alone is an incredibly difficult process. Even when someone has decisively placed themselves upon that path, there’s nothing necessitating that whatever they became wasn’t always a part of them to begin with, no matter to how small of a degree. That’s the ultimate place each character of Mad Men finds themselves at the end of a decade-long journey. Person to Person, so named for each of the characters’ interactions, is an episode that can itself be encapsulated within that thematic cusp. There was the ending we wanted, the characters wanted, and what Weiner had in store for them. There was an uncharacteristic amount of closure for an episode of Mad Men, but it was an episode that true to fashion gave its characters the endings they deserved considering the circumstances they were in.
Ted Chaough had mentioned to Don at the beginning of this half season, one of those random lines Weiner throws in that tends to have far more significance than what anyone could have anticipated. Don indeeds does make three phone calls this hour, each of equivalent significance to the three women who were the most important in the odyssey of his life: Sally, Betty, and Peggy (see: below). Each phone call brings down a different facet of his life, before he finds himself with Stephanie at a group therapy session. His phone call to Sally reveals Betty’s illness and a Sally who has become the grown woman her mother had wanted her to be in the letter she had left her. A dumbstruck Don calls Betty immediately afterwards and she tells him the truth that he knew but had avoided for so long, pushing it deep into his psyche until it no longer could be acknowledged as a verifiable truth. A tearful Betty emphasizes that the best thing for their children by far would be a sense of normalcy and Don not being at home is part of that normal.
Yet it wouldn’t be Don if he didn’t try at least one more time to save someone else in his seemingly eternal quest to salvage something of his own being, this individual once again being Stephanie. Their group therapy session ends better for Don certainly than Stephanie, the latter of whom is ostracized for giving her child away, a chilling callback to Peggy’s feminist manifesto of not too long ago. It’s another quandary that Don can neither solve with his presence or his wallet. A man named Leonard speaks at the session about his own experiences with loneliness, ostracized from those he had loved without any understanding of why that is the case. “It’s like no one cares that I’m gone,” he says before breaking into tears. Don joins him in an embrace, shedding tears of his own volition. Having abandoned his identity for the sake of crafting a new existence from the smoldering foundations of the past, Don was fastidiously cocksure that this new home would be just as steadfast as his attitude. As he listens to Leonard describe his own punishing isolation, the already crumbling walls collapse thunderingly as if in exhaustive defeat. Don at last recognized that he was just as alone, his absence being the most profound edifice he had ever constructed.
From master to protégée, I was sure that the iconic shot of Peggy walking triumphantly down the walls of McCann with the great octopus painting in hand would be her last, but Weiner defied my expectations with giving her moments of poignancy that provided far more closure to her than I had expected. Don’s phone call to Peggy was a terrifying one as she slowly began to believe just as the audience did that this was a suicidal phone call. I didn’t think Mad Men would go that route, but I had given up on trying to predict this show a long time ago. The relationship between the master and the apprentice has been one of the hallmarks of the series and certainly the most rewarding one. She tries every approach, from concerned friend imploring him to come home to stern mother to a simple enticement: “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” Stan assuages her with the reality of Don being a survivor and their relationship gets a verification that until now had only seemingly existed in Mad Men fan fiction. “There’s more to life than work,” he presses and Peggy does exactly that in just the right Peggy fashion. Is their romantic moment too conventional for this show? Perhaps it is, but Peggy finding that right balance within the office after so long somehow just feels absolutely right. We know she’s destined for great things; there is no reason she shouldn’t be happy on the way to achieving them.
Joan’s odyssey has arguably been the most tragic aside from Betty’s. Despite being the most capable individual in the series besides Peggy, she’s constantly been overshadowed by her gender. Her romantic relationships oddly enough attained the most equality with Roger, a relationship that was by general standards immoral. Every other man has been threatened in some fashion by her sharp wits and independence, as if they were singularly afraid that she would overpower them. Hobart had seemed different so when he presents Joan with the choice of being with him or her career, it’s almost exceedingly disappointing if it is completely in line with who he is. Joan picks up the phone, realizing before in her meeting with Kent that she had exactly what it took to start her own production company (brilliantly foreshadowed when she helped Harry Crane with his scripts). She offers a partnership to Peggy, but Peggy is on the path that she created for herself, a path she can’t sacrifice for the sake of having her name on a door. Joan’s place was never in advertising oddly enough but that’s where Peggy thrives. She politely refuses Joan, who takes it in stride. Welcome to the world, Holloway Harris Productions, Ltd. You always do need two names to make it real.
Everyone gets their quite little farewell as the curtains finally fall, beginning with Pete. Pete begins the episode by noting to Peggy that “Someday, people are going to brag that they worked with you.” It’s an astounding evolution for Pete, whom I wanted to strangle with my bare hands at several points on the show. He may or may not complete what he sets out to do, but that final image of Pete, Trudy, and Tammy boarding the plane suggests that he has all the horizon at his disposal. Roger, whose death I was certain could potentially forge a circle in the final hour, made it out alive, mustache and all. He’s engaged to marry Marie Calvet, shocking Joan and the rest of the world with an age-appropriate wife, whom he introduces at a restaurant as his mother in amazingly fluent French. Never change, Roger, never change.
The final image arrives back at Don, meditating upon the beautiful California coast, a quiet “Om” serenading into the misty air. He smiles broadly and the scene cuts to the famed Coca-Cola “Hilltop” commercial of 1971. Weiner leaves it open to interpretation, but I believe that Don found his peace and went back to McCann to ironically, the home that Peggy promised him would be there and together they would create that famed Coke moment still remembered to this day. It’s darkly amusing that Don would find peace in meditation, only to find a way to sell that very peace by creating an ad with what I’d like to imagine is Peggy’s tagline: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”. It’s an ending that is profoundly satisfying, exceedingly cynical, and perfectly true to the story and its characters. As Don notes somberly to Peggy, I realized I never said good-bye to you. Good-bye, Mad Men, and thank you for the memories. There will never be anything like you again.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Is he dead?”
+“There are a lot of better places than here.” You go, Meredith.
+Peggy taking control over Lorraine
+Joan trying cocaine is one of my favorite things ever
+“I’ve thought about this more than you have. Now, please, take me seriously.”
+“Don’t let your pride interfere with my wishes.”
+The exchange of “Birdie” and “honey” between Don and Betty reduced me to absolute tears. I was a wreck in that sequence and my notes were splattered all over with teardrops
+“But I’m pretty sure you’re the one who’s in trouble.”
+“Are you trying to kill me?”; “I’m trying to make you happy.”
+Joan on Greg: “No, he’s just a terrible person.”
+“I guess somebody finally got their timing right.”
+“It’s the tip of the iceberg.”; “I never know if it’s good or bad.”
+“It gets easier as you move forward.”
+“Stop looking over your shoulder.”
+“Spoken like a failure.”
+“I don’t want to be back where I was.”
+Charlie Manson reference
+“People just come and go. Nobody says good-bye.”
+“He is a survivor.”
Title: Person to Person
Written By: Matthew Weiner
Directed By: Matthew Weiner
Image Courtesy: Fast Co Create