Mad Men 7×14 ‘Person to Person’: Something new

Mad Men 7x14

A silhouetted man stares at his office, a life that he’s created for himself, but an empty one.  He sets down his briefcase, watches that life fall apart, slowly sliding to the ground.  He jumps (or falls) off of the building, soaring in free fall, flanked by advertisements on buildings, delusions, promises of ways to take away the pain.  It appears to be the death of a man, save for one final image that everyone forgets when they see the opening credits.  It ends with that same man, sitting, staring off into the unknown.

We’re not looking at death.  We’re looking at rebirth.

Mad Men has always been interpreted to be a show about death.  And it is, in a way.  People change and parts of them die off, only to be replaced by new parts.  We experience small deaths every day, just as we experiences small births every day.  We’re slowly evolving into new people based off of our new experiences.  While The Sopranos focused intently on how people can change, but choose the easy way out every time, Mad Men emphasizes that same focus with a twist.  People elect not to change over and over again, but they have to, as time inexorably moves on, people inevitably move on, and we’re forced to adapt to the changes that happen around us.  It’s the major setting changes between The Sopranos and Mad Men that make them such dramatically different shows.  The Sopranos is about people whose delusion justifies them committing horrible acts.  Mad Men is about people are going to change, no matter what.

Mad Men 7x14-1

Source: AMC

“Person to Person” is full of change, of new chapters, but it doesn’t place a wholly optimistic spin on it.  Chapters end, just like everything else.  Rebirth means that life moves in cycles, where the excitement of renewal gives way to the dissatisfaction of wanting something more, which gives way to the search for renewal again.  The cycle is depressing to consider, but the notion of renewal is an optimistic one.  Every character is given a shining exit from the show.  Joan, Roger, Peggy, Stan, Don, Betty, Sally, everybody is given a chance at something new, and even though we know that all of them will eventually find their way back to dissatisfaction, at least they’re given a chance at forging something new in the meantime.

Mad Men 7x14-5

Source: AMC

Roger’s work life still culminates in him being a largely useless executive, but he realizes that his life doesn’t have to end there.  The end of Sterling Cooper is the start of new endeavors for him.  He finds himself engaged to Megan’s mother, the first woman he’s been with in a long time who is closer in age to him.  What’s happening with Roger is that he’s coming to terms with his own mortality.  His heart condition seemed an omen for him this final season, but really all it did was force him to understand that someday he was going to die, and that it’s okay.  When he leaves a large portion of his money for his and Joan’s son, he’s not marking his territory.  He’s using this newfound understanding of his mortality to make some real plans, to effect some real change that matters.  Even if he doesn’t matter to McCann, he matters to Megan’s mother, to Joan, to his son.  And that’s what really matters in life: the people around you that you care for and that care for you.

Mad Men 7x14-6

Source: AMC

Joan’s ending takes her actions in “Lost Horizon” and pushes them in another direction.  Instead of giving up and moving away with Richard, she receives an offer from Ken to produce some industrial films for Dow.  She takes him up on the offer and wants Peggy to write the scripts for him, and not just that, but also to start up a business with her, Harris-Olson.  Joan has the opportunity to work and she takes it, even though Richard doesn’t want her to.  It’s not necessarily that Richard needs a subordinate, but that he needs somebody who is willing to play all the time like he does.  Even when Joan meets somebody who treats her as an equal, she would rather work instead of be with him.  It’s not because he’s not good enough, but because he isn’t accepting of her whole identity.  Joan wants somebody who is willing to accept her as a working woman as well.  And it’s not as though she’s completely heartbroken that Richard leaves her.  When we see her at the end, she’s firing on all cylinders, running her own office.  In leaving McCann, she’s starting something new on her own.  And even though that might leave her dissatisfied someday, she’s happy to be starting something new right now.

Mad Men 7x14-7

Source: AMC

Peggy, when considering Joan’s job offer, ultimately doesn’t take it.  “Person to Person” has her exploring what she really wants in life, and while it doesn’t give us a definitive answer, it gives us some ideas.  Working with Joan might get her autonomy, but she loves the fight that McCann gives her.  When taken off of an account, she fights the higher-ups to get it back and wins.  Joan’s offer would be easy.  Peggy doesn’t want it to be easy.  McCann gives her the fight she needs.  But, in what was probably the biggest development of the episode, she ends up romantically involved with Stan, who professes his love for her and receives the same in return.  Stan fits with Peggy not because he’s as ambitious as her, but because he’s her foil.  He realizes that there is more to work than life, and he works to keep her grounded as she works and fights incessantly.  Pete, when he leaves, tells her that she’ll be in Don’s position by 1980, and while that’s probably true, she can’t lose sight of what life is outside of work.  And her being with Stan works to help her do that.

Mad Men 7x14-4

Source: AMC

But the center of this episode is Don.  This entire season, he’s been losing things, losing people.  He lost his wife, Megan.  He lost his apartment and his furniture.  He lost his company when McCann decided to close down the office.  He lost his autonomy when he became one of a great many account executives.  When he left New York, he lost his job, his co-workers, his friends.  He lost money along the way.  He lost his car.  And in “Person to Person”, he lost his family, Betty, Sally, Bobby, Gene.  He lost Stephanie, the only person he could even think to call family.  And he lost his way off of the commune when Stephanie stole his car.  This season has been positioning Don as the silhouetted man in the opening credits, watching everything in his life disappear, watching his delusion crumble as he found out who he really was, watching himself in freefall as he slowly died.  But he didn’t die.  He became the man at the end of the credits as well, reborn, ready to live another day as a new person.

Mad Men 7x14-3

Source: AMC

Don easily had the most heartbreaking moments in the episode.  He tries to find connection with his old life, but it never seems to work.  When he talks to Sally about Betty’s condition, he tries to tell her that he wants custody of the children, but doesn’t understand what Sally knows.  Sally knows that Don is no good for the kids, that he doesn’t really want custody.  Don wants purpose in his life, but his family isn’t the purpose he needs.  When Don talks to Betty, he doesn’t put up a fight with her because he realizes what she is saying is true.  His family isn’t the life he wants.  As Don continues on the road, he finds people that take advantage of him.  Everybody wants a little of his money; nobody really cares about who he is or where he comes from.  Even Stephanie, who is the closest thing he has to family, just takes his car and leaves.  Don wants human connection, but even when it is offered to him, like his conversation with Peggy, he rejects it.  He doesn’t feel as if he deserves it, but even when he answers Peggy’s question (“What did you ever do that was so bad?”), it’s clear he’s being hard on himself.

Mad Men 7x14-2

Source: AMC

But it’s Leonard at the commune’s seminar that puts it all together for Don.  When Leonard describes his life, how nobody sees him, how he feels that nobody loves him, Don realizes that his story isn’t so special.  There are people all over the world who feel exactly as he does, who don’t feel as if they deserve love, who have missed connection all their life and are searching for somebody to make them feel whole.  So when he embraces Leonard, he understands exactly what he’s been searching for.  He’s been looking for a way to connect with other people, and he finally figures out how.  So when he sits on the hilltop, meditating, his smile isn’t just inner peace.  It’s his first real idea as a new man, as Don Draper and Dick Whitman.  The ending implies that Don heads back to McCann and forms the famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad.  But it’s not as cut and dry as Don just going back to the “soulless” world of advertising.  He’s found a way to use his talents to connect people, to show the world that people are more similar than they seem.  He’s using his newfound knowledge of himself to make an advertisement that both sells Coca Cola and brings people together.

It’s the perfect way to end the series.  Everybody is embarking on their new adventures, trying to become new people in order to do something different in their lives.  And while many of them will be successful, they’ll inevitably become frustrated with life, with the way their life has turned out.  And they’ll search again, looking for the thing that will make them whole, the thing that will change them into different, better people.  They’ll look for the thing that will change their trajectory and place them somewhere new and wonderful.  And they’ll find it, someday, and be born anew.  And the cycle will repeat again and again and again.

And that’s okay.  Because life always has us searching for something more.  And we all deserve something more.

I also would like to thank anybody that has been reading my write-ups on Mad Men, as it has really been a blast to deconstruct this brilliant and awe-inspiring series.  I hope that my writing has given you all something new to think about, as well as new perspectives on this amazing series.  I’ll see you all over at Hannibal, Halt and Catch Fire, and True Detective’s write-ups this summer.  Thanks again!

So what did you think of Mad Men’s series finale?  Did you enjoy the quiet finish to the series?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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