*WARNING: This post contains key information on the series finale of Mad Men. Do not read unless you want to ruin the rest of your life and know what happens in the finale without watching it.*
One is hard-pressed to find someone in North America that is not somewhat familiar with the hit series on AMC. In my not-so-humble opinion, AMC is the premier network for television series, beating out the second best with HBO. I mean, AMC has created worldwide phenomenons such as ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Breaking Bad’ and lastly ‘Mad Men’. Heck, even my own father watches this series. It was that good.
Rarely do I blog, and I think the last time was roughly a year ago. To educate my readers on the process behind a blog post, I just simply sit down on my laptop and write. I don’t reread what I’ve written, as this is one of the few areas where I allow myself to open up via the security of an online presence.
Yesterday I completed the series finale of Mad Men, and it was everything that I wanted it to be. It tugged at my emotions and moved me. Especially when I was able to see where Don Draper ended up.
I remember the first time I met Don Draper. I had just went through a rather tough breakup with a girl, the first real girlfriend that I had as an adult. At that time I was working night shift at Methodist Hospital, and I struggled to switch between being awake on days and nights and many days would just not sleep at all. During those days I would watch complete series and just binge on programming.
That’s right. I binged on television series before it was even popular. I’m a trendsetter.
I watched every Harry Potter movie in one day. Watched every episode of ‘Friends’ in less than a week. Four seasons of ‘Breaking Bad’ in 2 days. And then I moved on to ‘Mad Men’, which brings me back to the first time I met Don Draper…
Now Don Draper is not necessarily an All-American hero. He frequently sought the love of women that were not necessarily his wife. Drinking whisky and vodka at 8am in the workplace was a normal thing for him (which can I ask why/how that went away? Let’s bring it back and see how much fun it is working in our places of employment!) And Don lied. Constantly. His entire life was a lie. And that’s what drew me to him.
I think all of us can relate to Don Draper in one way or another. I know I can. I may not be routinely drunk before 8am or find love in my secretary’s arms (one of the reasons is that I don’t have one), nor do I necessarily make sexist remarks towards women, although I will throw in a zinger every now and then, for comedy sake. Don was an unbelievable salesman, a mechanic, a con-artist, but the greatest gift of Don Draper was that he was a wall builder.
No one really knew Don. And that’s the way Don wanted to keep it. I think the creator of ‘Mad Men’ said it best in his sole interview after the finale. Matthew Weiner was quoted just a few days ago that ‘Don loves strangers. He likes winning strangers over’. That may all be true but I really think that Don loved strangers because he could keep up his facade of who he really was, so that he wouldn’t want to open up about his personal struggles.
The closing scene of the series finale shows Don joining a circle of individuals who are in a therapy group session, and a middle-aged man walks up to the open chair in order to discuss all of the struggles that he is experiencing in life. This man is a little pale, balding, and from the outward appearance, really has nothing going for him. The complete opposite of Don Draper. The man then begins to open up about how he feels that no one really notices him. His children never look up when he sits down at the dinner table. His wife never initiates sexual contact and his coworkers don’t even acknowledge his presence in the workplace. As a result of all of this, he then questions his entire existence.
Don sits there. Emotionless.
Now the Don I came to know and love would have scoffed at this guy and certainly would never have attempted to console him. But this time, it was different. Don gets up and embraces this stranger. The man returns the embrace. And they both begin to cry. Not some little tears but they both began to weep. Uncontrollably. They both found comfort and peace in knowing that someone cared for them. That someone cared for them not for what they were able to contribute, or what they looked like, or who they knew, or what kind of money that they had…
I won’t lie. That scene hit me hard. A thought then came across my mind ‘Which Don Draper am I?’
I often correlated myself with Don Draper in the respect that my life was often a secret. I didn’t like to talk about my feelings. I didn’t necessarily trust people. I rarely wanted someone to know what I was thinking. Like Don, I wanted to interact with strangers. And the people I knew were often treated as strangers. As a result of my actions, all I ever had in life was failed relationships and shallow friendships, the recipe for a very unfulfilled life.
This lesson was learned the hard way. Being vulnerable is not a fun thing as it allows for the opportunity for people to hurt you. However it was this one moment that made me question whether all of the walls around my personal life are worth it. What do I gain in the long run by not allowing anyone to really know who I am? Sure there are a select few people that I let in, but the majority of people just think that I’m a highly intelligent smart aleck (which those are both true).
I would argue that in the one moment when Don embraced this stranger, that he had more of a positive influence in that one instant than he had in his entire life. Through all of his influence with advertisements, the cigarettes, the sex, the tag-lines, everything. In this one moment of becoming vulnerable and showing someone he cared, that was worth more than everything else.
After that Don went back to McCann Erickson and created the Coke commercial that closes out the season finale. It was full of individuals of all races, ethnicity, age and gender, singing about how they would like to change the world with a Coke. It reminded me of Coke’s Super Bowl add a few years ago, where they sang ‘American the Beautiful’ in a foreign language. That commercial was a fantastic display of how united we could and should be as a human race, unconcerned with one’s ethnicity, gender, sexuality or race. Don had figured it out. It was about meeting people where their needs were.
I want to challenge myself and anyone else who struggles with the same concept of vulnerability. Find connection. Offer acceptance. Let people know that they matter.