SONIA BRAND-FISHER: The impeccably shot, brilliantly acted, beautifully written Season Five finale of “Mad Men” gave me a sense of extreme melancholy, not only because there will now be a period of mourning and nail-biting until the penultimate season debuts… but this episode felt…well… kind of anti-climactic. The previous two episodes have exploded “Mad Men” fans from Tumblr to Twitter into a frenzy of emotions, commentary, and speculation. This episode did not give me this visceral jolt (no pun intended) of exclamation about the characters, their circumstances, and their trials. It was lovely to look at, interesting to behold, but after a season that has been a gold mine of luminous material and story lines, this finale seemed more like a filler episode than something to whet our appetite.
The ghostly Adam reappearing after his suicide in Season One was a haunting and fascinating addition to this episode that I really wish was more of a central element to the finale than it was. The most devoted of “Mad Men” fans undoubtedly leapt off their couches and emphatically pointed at the television when Don Draper’s dead half brother slid into an elevator in time to catch Don’s eye. We are reminded at that moment that, “Holy crap… Lane isn’t the only man whom Don’s haphazard compassion has driven to hang himself.” Adam commit suicide when Don, gently, told him that he could not be a part of his life. Lane commit suicide when Don, tenderly, tells him that he has no choice but to resign after he embezzled the company’s funds. What is in the back of Don’s mind in these weeks following Lane’s death is the man who, looked at Don, who has everything that a man could dream of, and could see no conceivable reason to live in a world that could create men like Don and men who try and fumble.
One of the reasons that I found this episode, more or less, a little disappointing was the fact that everyone at the end of the episode seems to get what they want, but with half of the amount of happiness that they were expecting to gain from it. This absolutely must be intentional on Weiner’s part, to make us feel as dissatisfied as the characters do, to see that even when everything works out in your favor things still are immensely lacking in terms of one’s personal happiness. Happiness, like life, is transient and fleeting. Don says to us a few episodes back that once you actually get happiness, you always want more. This episode, I think, would be lovely as a mid-season or not-quite-end-of-the-season episode because the moments that were chosen to exhibit these themes appeared flimsy and random. A thimble-sized glimpse of Peggy (looking fabulous) at her new job at CGC, Roger and Marie’s half-hearted rendez-vous, Megan looking in a mirror one moment and drunk the next reiterating what was already much more powerfully said in “Far Away Places” mid-season, and whatever the hell was going on with Pete and Beth pre and post shock therapy didn’t feel like scenes that were finale-worthy. The scene between Don and Rebecca Pryce was intense and fascinating, but I wanted so much more, like thirty more seconds of dialogue to really make us feel her anger at Don for corrupting her now deceased husband. The hodgepodge of story lines left a lot to be desired, and not enough time to meditate on what was being said about these lives that we have followed for a whole season.
The ending montage was a work of art, definitely. Beginning with Don mesmerized watching Megan on screen in a little “Notting Hill” moment, followed by Joan in lipstick red leading the men up to the new level that Sterling Cooper Draper Campbell Harris/Holloway is expanding to, with Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” to follow in a panorama of Megan as commercial star, Peggy as discombobulated but determined career woman, Roger as naked, Pete in his own world, and Don, back at the bar from Season One, ordering his usual Old Fashioned, once again, alone. A crescendo of images and sound that build to silence seems an appropriate ending for the best season of “Mad Men” to date.