With only three episodes left, Mad Men feels like it has all the time in the word to reach a satisfying conclusion. If that’s what the creators are aiming for. This a show that hasn’t been afraid to throw a curveball, whether it’s been Roger’s shrinking cigarette or Burt’s musical goodbye. Something deliberate is going on here, as the story continues on as if the end isn’t coming. Have we already hit the climatic notes for the series? I felt after the mid-season finale last year that the show had set out for all it had to do. Don had come back from the grave and won his job back, and along the way made up with Peggy. Joan had become a millionaire. Roger was now the president of the company. Where could these characters go? If this final stretch has proven anything, it’s nowhere.
The is best exemplified when a saleswoman, after struggling to sell the place, tells him it reeks of sadness. Don quips that a lot of great things happened there. The woman smiles back as if to cut to his heart. Nothing good has happened there.
For all that Don’s gone through, two divorces, poverty, an identity crisis, he still seems to be back at square one. Just a sad sack who’s only got his looks left. This last point is crystallized by Mathis, who after offending a client, made a crass joke that Don told him. The plan backfired, and Mathis stormed back into Don’s office, where he imparted to Don that all of his success was because of his looks. Fair point.
The theme of going nowhere is also expressed when Roger gives Don the assignment to write a speech about the future of the company. No science fiction he adds. Don is seen struggling to come up with any ideas, and attempts to coax ideas out of Peggy. She tells him she wants to land a big deal, to be the first woman creative director, and to make something that lasts. Don brushes off this last dream, and looks at Peggy questioningly, as if her dreams are just fluff. He did the same thing when Ted told him he wants to land a pharmaceutical company.
Even Joan finds herself running on the hamster wheel, as she finds herself back in a relationship with an older male. The new guy, whose name is Richard, is played by veteran actor Bruce Greenwood. He oozes suaveness and has the wealth to back it up. As the two flirt, they both lie about their lives. Richard pretends to be an interviewee for the firm, whereas Joan hides the fact that she has a kid. The false representation doesn’t hold up, and soon Joan is confessing to Richard about her life. Richard tells Joan he’s done with kids, which upsets Joan enough to walk out on him. She may be a millionaire, but she’s still a single mom.
There are many who have been irritated by these episodes, most upset by how new characters are being introduced while little time is being spent on the main characters we’ve spent so much time with. There may be some justification for these annoyances, but I’ve long since learned to put my trust in Matt Weiner. As the show winds down, life goes on, and not even the characters from Mad Men can escape it. The question is can they, or rather will they, change? Don’s become a new man as he learns to accept his identity as Dick Whitman, but he’s still the guy locked out of his apartment, starring off into the distance, alone and sad. To recall from a song in an earlier episode, “Is that all there is?”