In Barrelhouse Television Workshop, fiction writers look at the way we tell stories across media, the way those "fiction moves" work, and why they may or may not work in certain situations. And most importantly, they'll be making themselves feel real good about watching so much television.
Becky Barnard is Web Manager at Barrelhouse. She lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where she fights off cabin fever by reading, self-propelling various pieces of sporting equipment around the outdoors, and consuming pop culture. Also bourbon. She always is looking to make new weird Internet friends at @beckybarnard
Tabitha Blankenbiller writes essays that excavate the truth behind fashion, food, friendships, old video games, and squished lizards. Her work springs to life where personal and pop cultures intersect. Follow her @TabithaBlanken. It will be fun, promise.
Killian Czuba is Barrelhouse's art director. She makes comics and fiction and daydreams about being mad swole and/or a detective. She recently founded the interdisciplinary collective @apiary_life, and co-created and illustrated an anthology of adventure stories by rad lady writers (The Egret's Crossing). She subsists primarily on tv and twitter and gifs of baby fruit bats. For a good time, follow @killianczuba.
Erin Fitzgerald is Online Editor at Barrelhouse, and an associate editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her stories have appeared in fine publications such as Salt Hill, PANK, and the anthology Gigantic Worlds. She lives in Connecticut, and on Twitter as @gnomeloaf.
Dave Housley is one of the founding editors and all around do-stuff people at Barrelhouse. His third collection of short fiction, “If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home,” was released in January 2015 by Dzanc Books. His previous collections are “Commercial Fiction” (Outpost 19) and “Ryan Seacrest is Famous” (Impetus Press, Dzanc Books eBook Reprint Series). Sometimes he drinks boxed wine and tweets about the things on his television at @housleydave.
Steph Post is the author of the novel A Tree Born Crooked. Her short fiction and poetry has most recently been published in Haunted Waters: From the Depths, The Round-Up, The Gambler Mag, Foliate Oak and Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics. She teaches writing in St. Petersburg, Florida. Check her out at www.stephpostfiction.com and follow her on twitter at @stephpostauthor.
Caleb Michael Sarvis is a Maryland-spawned, North Florida-bred writer currently residing in Jacksonville where he teaches high school English. He is the author of the story collection Broken Record Nostalgia and the co-founder of www.benchpointsblog.com, a sports blog. His fiction has appeared in Empty Sink Publishing and his tweets have been favorited by himself. When he was seven he shit himself at a water park and that's all the explanation you'll need. You can read other such nonsense @calebmsarvis.
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MAD MEN 5/17, “PERSON TO PERSON.”
THE STORIES OF DON DRAPER, HIS FAMILY AND HIS CO-WORKERS AT STERLING COOPER & PARTNERS CONCLUDE.
Dave Housley (DH): Saw this quote from Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood today and thought it might be apt here: “Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it.”
Caleb Michael Sarvis (CS): I think that’s appropriate. If we’re going to break it up by each component I’m sure there’s some thoughtful analysis that could come out of it. “Where you come from is gone (Dick Whitman), where you thought you were going to never was there (prestige? happiness? new start?), and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it (he was always capable of leaving until he was car-less at the retreat, then he broke). There are certainly some other elements and implications to take away from this, but I’ll reserve some of those thoughts for our categorical breakdown.
Also, all the plane imagery… that line about the car, “it looks like a jet,” or whatever…. fuck you, Weiner! Not cool! I know you’re sitting at home, laughing every time those moments pop up…. well played… His geographical location… Utah, that gave me the impression that Weiner was giving us a cross-roads. Where will he go? Up towards Oregon or down towards L.A.?
* * * * *
CS: So no D.B. Cooper, although I’m not going to rule it out completely because I want to talk about it forever. I’ve slept on it, I’ve revisited the moments of this last season, and I’m satisfied with where Don ended up, assuming he does return to pitch the “Buy a World a Coke” ad. The process of getting there? I’m not quite sure I like it. More on that below.
The structural uses of Stephanie and the retreat make sense to me. She abandoned her child, calling to the surface Don’s mother-issues, and reaffirming our suspicions as to why Diana mattered so much. Stephanie leaves him without a car, and to use the O’Connor quote from above, “where you are is no good unless you can get away from it.” When Don realizes he’s stuck, he’s forced to review everything in front of him. He’s forced to be present because there’s nowhere else to go. “People just come and go and they don’t say goodbye?” He confesses to Peggy, and there are two pieces in that dialogue I think worked really well. The first “I took another man’s name and I made nothing of it.” I feel like Don was at his peak when it was Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. When it became Sterling Cooper and Partners, he began to unravel a little bit. When they were absorbed by McCann, it turned out he was just another suit at the table eating his boxed lunch, it was too much. The Draper “name” was gone. The other piece of that phone call that sticks out to me is “see you soon.” He called to say good-bye, but he doesn’t. There are implications (that Peggy seems to miss, though who could blame her, Don is a liar) in that phrase. It’s almost like a promise, and from what I could infer, Don lives up to that promise after his breakthrough.
So, the process of getting there. Don attends two therapy sessions, both of which included pretty heavy-handed metaphors. “Your child is going to be looking at the front door the rest of their life waiting for their mother to come home,” & “I can see that they’re trying, but I don’t know what it is,” the latter of which prompts Don to break down. I’m not sure I like either of these, if only because they weren’t the least bit subtle, but then again, are endings ever subtle? I’ll let someone else touch more on these.
Killian Czuba (KC): I agree. I was ready for some crazy stuff to go down, but instead there was a lot of pretty predictable symbolic stuff and a, like, fine ending, I guess.
Becky Barnard (BB): Don’s story in this episode, for good or for ill, started to feel like a high school English class on symbolism. I feel like AMC may have a supplementary worksheet hidden somewhere where you have to find 50 elements of symbolism in Don’s story to get an A. “Don is driving fast and carelessly on the salt flats, while Sally is motionless at home!” “Don’s hair style matches his state of mind!”
But that’s par for the course for Mad Men - they’ve always loved a good symbol. Or any symbol. :)
Steph Post (SP): I’m still trying to figure out the cactus symbol. Any takers on that one?
Tabitha Blankenbiller (TB): He can no longer be the thorn in her side so he brings in Cactus as a prickly surrogate?
CS: The cactus was little Pete Jr that Peggy gave up for adoption, right?
The symbolism is definitely heavy, but I agree that it’s par for the course for Mad Men. On the contrary, I feel like the Coca-Cola hints and call backs were done pretty well. From the moment we were introduced to McCann-Erickson (offering Betty a modeling gig) to the beginning of this season when Don was “assigned” to it, to the broken vending machine in Oklahoma, I think the way Weiner and company managed to make it stick out in a pool of Americana was a solid way of leading us to the end. Not as subtle as literal bread crumbs, but just last week some of us were chalking up the Coke images as part of a general theme of the show, which is still true too. (Also, Joan does coke, too.)
SP: I agree with the general consensus that the symbolism was a little thick in this episode, but I really liked the telephone symbolism. All of the important conversations- Sally to Don, Don to Betty, Don to Peggy, Peggy to Stan- took place over the phone. The theme of isolation and alienation has run throughout the show and I thought the juxtaposition here- the separation of characters by distance, but yet having some of the most important conversations of their lives through that distance- worked well. The use of the telephone also gave way to stark, powerful dialogue. It also laid out the opportunity for negative dialogue- giving power to the spaces between what is being said, so that the most important information/emotion of all is what Isn’t being said. This is something I’ve employed in my own writing, and alway admire in literature, so I was thrilled to see how much it added to these scenes.
DH: I agree that the symbolism was pretty “on the nose” in this last run of shows, especially. I mean, “Hey Don, here’s this old Coke machine we want you to fix.” Hey, what are Peggy and Roger doing in the empty old office building? It’s the kind of thing that might slip by you on a TV show because there’s so much else going on -- the performances, the cinematography, etc, and all of that is so first rate, it’s hard not to get swept up in that moment. In a fiction workshop, we all might groan and a few of these out, push for something more subtle or surprising.
Erin Fitzgerald (EF): A fiction writer would have a much bigger challenge in hiding that Coke machine. You can’t say “Don looked at it and only saw the logo and that it was outdated...and so should you, reader.” On the flip side, Mad Men -- and most television shows -- aren’t set up to handle the private thoughts of characters at all. Imagining a Mad Men with access to them...in a way, it would be like reading lots of Partially Obscured Coke Machine novel scenes.
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PEGGY AND STAN (ARE IN LOVE!)
CS: I don’t have any issues with their love. Actually, I really enjoyed the phone call confessions from within the office. It was so… Peggy & Stan. This also had some heavy-handed moments, including “there’s more to life than work, Peggy,” which was appropriate for the moment, but I wasn’t a fan of how aware I was. It’s interesting that Peggy of all people ends up “settling,” but then again, she doesn’t. Peggy and Joan partnering up might’ve been okay, but Joan obviously didn’t need Peggy, I think the choices made here are the correct ones, though I’m not completely floored by any of it. I’m just… satisfied.
KC: Peggy + Stan = my OTP
BB: I’m so happy for Peggy and Stan. They earned it. We’ve watched them go from mildly antagonistic co-workers to office spouses. Their talk an episode or two ago, when Peggy essentially told Stan that she had given up a child, totally cemented the relationship for me. These two crazy kids understand each other. While the ‘I love you’ phone call did feel a little abrupt at first, the writers did a good job of writing the dialog for the two characters. Stan is frustrated but amused, Peggy is overly analytical but enthusiastic when she gets that it’s a good idea. They’ve probably been through a thousand brainstorming sessions with that same flow.
Or maybe they just couldn’t be together until Stan’s mane grew to its intended length and he became a full-grown man-lion. I want to hug whoever has been in charge of Stan’s styling over the years - he used to look like this.
That final shot last night of Stan in the doorway, all hair and corduroys and ochres and umbers? Amazing.
CS: Simba and Nala allusion in full effect.
EF: I loved it too, even though I was instantly reminded of this:
TB: I keep going back and forth on Stan and Peggy. I was a bit disappointed that they couldn’t just stay “work friends” without the relationship turning romantic. Real-life workplaces are full of these platonic relationships that are emotionally intimate without being physical, but so rarely do we see a man and woman work close together on TV without inevitably hooking up. That being said, they are a great match and seem to genuinely understand each other. As “tidy” as their ending was, dammit, it was adorable and gave us hope that Peggy can find balance and happiness within her professional success. And if the show is going to have a fan favorite couple pairing happen, thank god it was in the last ten minutes of the series, rather than around the halfway point (Jim and Pam on The Office, Ross and Rachel on Friends), where we all rejoice and then watch them devolve into irrelevance, since in a storyline, they generally have nowhere to go except baby drama and pointless bickering circles. I love that they were allowed to ride off into the sunset, their wedding forever in the hands of fanficcers.
SP: In all honesty (and I hate to be the party pooper here….), I didn’t like Peggy and Stan ending up together. The scene on the telephone between them was fantastic- and Elisabeth Moss was at her finest both here and on the phone with Don- but I just didn’t quite buy it. In the same way that I didn’t buy the ending with Pete and Trudy. I think the romance between Peggy and Stan was just a bit rushed. All of the characters’ stories needed to be wrapped up, yes, but this felt like an easy way out. Of all the characters, Peggy deserves to be happy, but this move rang false to me.
TB: I agree with your sentiment. I can buy them eventually ending up together, but this is too rushed and tidy. I didn't buy that Peggy would untangle her feelings that fast.
But for all the Peggy office scenes, shout out to the incredible set design team that plastered her woman and octopus painting with Halloween kittehs. Perfection.
KC: Because Pete and Trudy came up here: I don’t know what to do with that. But we didn’t see their plane land, so I still hold that Pete is DB Cooper. I guess I can give Weiner a few points here for not doing the obvious tv thing (tease us Pete and Trudy getting back together, and then having Trudy die horribly in a car crash or something).
TB: I think I've spent a lot of time convincing myself that Pete and Trudy could happen because I want them to happen so badly. Any screen time with Allison Brie is my favorite screen time, and I love the humor and humility she brings out in Campbell. I know there's dissent that Pete would be happy in Wichita, but I think the ability to write his own legacy outside of someone's shadow (Don's, his father and father-in-law's), appealed to him in a way he didn't fathom until the option encroached on his life. He was finally able to leave his Samsonite baggage on the probate runway. I think it's a stretch that Trudy would subject herself to his bullshit again, but then again, there's a lot in this deal for her too. And she's not the purely altruistic type.
Also, remember how obsessed everyone was in the first few years with Pete's chip and dip gun? What do we make of no shots fired?
EF: Pete, hinting at his ultimate fate:
* * * * *
CS: I’m pleasantly surprised with Joan’s ending because I didn’t think we were going to see her again. I thought she and her new man had settled in a life together, and that though she was rich, going out because the men at McCann were sexist pigs didn’t make me feel all that great. It didn’t seem like enough of a pay off… I also felt the same way about Ken Cosgrove. Then boom! We get both of them together for one final “screw you” move in which they were the leaders. It seemed to sort of drop into their lap, but I’m okay with that, at least when it comes to those two.
The Joan moment that meant the most to me, though? Roger stopping by to discuss his will, and his intentions to leave Kevin half of his estate. Earlier this season there was a brief moment when Roger confides to Don that the Sterling name is dead because he never had a son, and I was pretty upset about that. For them to return to the subject, acknowledge his fatherhood, and his responsibility, that was a wonderful pay off for me. Now his relationship with Marie can continue into the peaceful bliss that he’d like it to be.
EF: And it will, too. When Roger orders the drink for his “mother,” she reacts in exactly the right way -- the way he’s always wanted others to react to his humor, but (at least to my recollection) no one had until that moment.
SP: I just want to say that I’m so glad that Joan’s character ended on this note. I was worried, with all the build up, that she would simply end up in Florida and find her happiness with a man. I thought her character deserved more, especially the way the writers have been developing her motivations over the last season. Joan has always had the drive and the wits to get what she wants- I’m glad that the writers determined that what she ultimately wanted was autonomy and the chance to spread her wings. As with the Peggy-Stan storyline, it was a bit contrived- the opportunity does seem a bit too convenient- but on this one I’m willing to let it slide.
BB: I also really like Joan's ending, and I'm glad that it's Holloway-Harris instead of Harris-Olson. Joan's done so much for the good of the group for so long, and I'm glad that she'll finally receive all the credit for all of her successess.
And as for other people in her storyline this week: I'm so glad Roger survived! Between his "you'll be the death of me" remark in bed with Marie, and including Kevin in his will, I thought we were going lay Sterling Cooper to rest this week. It's a much better world knowing that the silver fox will be out there cracking jokes and charming everyone for a while longer. And Ken Cosgrove's departing line was a strange, beautiful thing. Regarding his son, instead of the standard generic-father-praise, Ken goes with "He's a little weird, actually. I think there might be something wrong with him." Ken went out with a glib half-joke, and that's why I've always liked him.
* * * * *
BETTY AND THE KIDS
EF: I was genuinely surprised to see the show come back to Betty. There was such a sense of finality in last week’s episode -- and even leading up to it -- that I have to think about whether this one offered anything about Betty, beyond ruining the intended effect. Though, now I’m sitting here in workshop, I’m thinking aloud: Maybe that was the intent of it. I went back earlier and re-watched the Betty/Sally scene from last week. Betty was so determined to control as much as she could, that she wasn’t even trying to do it in the ways to which we’re accustomed. But death is bigger than anyone, so it was inevitable that Betty couldn’t call all the shots...even if she was finally at a point where she’d genuinely earned some of what she’d always sought.
I suppose this episode also offered a reminder that Bobby Draper seems to be traveling along a path similar to Sally’s. He’s observant and contemplative like she is. He’s not combative like Sally can be, but he’s not going to grow up to be the All American Boy, either. The two of them are truly products of their childhoods. (As for Gene? Gene is a adorable fluffy guinea pig.) I just now realized that we don’t exactly know what will become of the kids when Betty dies, but we do know what the likely outcome is. That felt like a signoff on The Theme of Traditional Parenting in Mad Men.
CS: I was surprised, too, but we needed that moment where Don wants to assume parenting even though we know it wouldn’t make any sense. I think Betty says it best when she tells him that their “normal” consists of his not being around. Sally could have told him that, but I don’t think it would’ve meant the same, especially when Betty paired it with “I don’t want to spend the rest of my time (life) arguing about this.” Cold and true and awesome.
DH: I loved the conversation with Don on the phone. Amazing restraint in the dialogue -- they didn’t say much and they didn’t have to.
BB: Between "Don, honey," "Birdie..." and the acknowledgement that Don being around wouldn't be normal for the kids, this scene killed me. Beautifully, quietly done.
SP: And that last shot of Betty- at the table, still smoking a cigarette. I felt that her character sometimes was overlooked and oftentimes used as a device, but in these two last two episodes the writers really gave her the treatment she deserves. I think if anyone stayed true to themselves (and I don’t mean that she’s a static character), it was Betty.
DH: I think the thing with Betty is that if you’re going to portray all this cultural change happening out there in the world, and that’s one of the things I enjoyed about Mad Men, because I’m interested in the Sixties and Seventies, you need somebody to stay at home, who serves almost as a measure of how much things have changed. That’s not all Betty did, but I think it’s one of the purposes she served on the show.
EF: For the past couple of days, I’ve been wondering why she is the only character with a death sentence at the end of the series...I think you’ve hit on why that is. She isn’t needed anymore.
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HOW DO YOU END A STORY OR NOVEL?
BB: What do you think happens to Don? Given the context clues, I think he’s the one that wrote the Coca-Cola campaign (many of the people in the commercial echo the look of people at the retreat - the girl with the braids with the red ribbons, for example.) Does Don take the kids? Does anything change? Or was this another interesting side venture for him, like playing beatnik with Midge or car mechanic out on the salt flats?
CS: I think Don sticks it out at McCann, visits his kids on the weekend and gives Peggy away at her upcoming wedding. After all, he's always liked the creative work.
SP: Do we need to know what happens to Don (and everyone else)? I’ve often had readers ask me what happens to the characters after the book is finished. Of course, as readers, and viewers, we want to know, and will devise our own storylines. But from a writer’s viewpoint- do we need to know what happens after the last page? Does this in anyway influence us when we go back for revisions?
TB: Need to know? No, I think the (mostly) open-endedness of this conclusion is what makes it largely successful. The cynics, the optimists and the conspiracy theorists can all draw what they need to believe without being told to do so. The last thing this needed was a Harry Potter-style flash forward to piss all over seven years of stellar work. I think Weiner achieved an admirable balance of ambiguity and satisfaction.
And I'm just glad that nothing contradicts my theory that Don as DB Cooper parachutes into nowhere, then digs a doomsday bunker for kidnapping Kimmy Schmidt.
KC: I like ambiguity at the end of a season/series/story, too. In some ways, this is why many cancelled shows end more interestingly than those that reach their natural close. Like with flying an airplane (I can’t help it), the landing is the most difficult part, etc. I actually think they gave us too much closure with Pete (and possibly Peggy, though, you know, I’m on board with that, so it’s cool). It’s a Freaks and Geeks ending: everyone still has their whole lives to make mistakes and find happiness (and then lose it again, naturally). That being said, I think something was missing. Give me that deep imagining, Weiner.
EF: Coca-Cola has a page about the story behind the commercial...which was actually created by Bill Backer at...McCann Erickson!
The page doesn’t say whether Bill Backer killed his CO in Korea, or is father to a fluffy guinea pig.
This show has always been so Creating Writing 101 friendly that to me, it seems right for it to end on a “write a new origin story for a piece of pop culture that has affected you” prompt. I like that it’s an overt stunt, as opposed to the hundreds of more subtle stunts I’ve cheerfully watched for seven seasons. Without those, it wouldn’t have worked.
This is probably an unpopular view, but I also like the inference that Don returns to the agency -- that he never has the full break that finally takes him away from the life he’s constructed for himself. He fails the quest that is set for him, a quest that was broken to begin with, one that we all knew was likely to have this outcome. I would have been so angry if he’d gone out the window at McCann Erickson. Not because it would have been far too obvious (though it would have), but because death isn’t a particularly interesting result of failure. Instead, we get that Don Draper sinned so that we could have...the greatest commercial of all time. We all hold some responsibility for that, and for him.
CS: I think the only reason I was displeased at all was that people had predicted it and it was at the forefront of my mind…. however, if it were not for those theorists out there, the ending wouldn’t have made sense to me because I’m not familiar with the ad at all. I don’t know if it was aired in the 90s, but I’ve never seen it prior to this episode. Mad Men has always been a show for an older generation, I think, so I’m sort of split on it. Mad Men’s creative weave through history has been one of my favorite parts about it. From Marilyn Monroe to Kennedy to Kennedy to MLK to the moon landing, those little bits of history have been some of my favorite, so to end with what I’m learning is a pretty famous ad, I’m okay. After all, it is very O’Hara to give so much weight to Coca-Cola.
DH: I actually didn’t love the Coke commercial ending. First of all, I feel totally rickrolled by Matthew Weiner because that song has been in my head for 24 fucking hours and there’s no indication that it’s going away any time soon.
Second, I really liked the ambiguity of the ending with Don meditating. I think adding the song is cute, and it says something about advertising in general. It’s pretty cynical in a playful kind of way, if that makes any sense. But I think it implies, at least, that Don took what he learned at Esalen and eventually wound his way back to McCann and produced that ad, and I really didn’t want to have even an idea about where Don was headed after that moment. I love the turn the story made where he actually starts to really have a meaningful experience at this thing that really seems pretty silly (“Never follow a hippie to a second location!” Jack Donaghy). I thought the last moment was surprising and also made all the sense in the world, which is pretty much how you want to end a story. Then to add even just the idea that maybe (probably?) that turn he makes at the very end isn’t really a turn at all, and eventually it all leads back to New York and McCann and the whole corporate trip, man? Bummer!
Then again, as I said before, I’ve been rooting for Don to become some kind of hippie literally through the entire run of the show, so I guess I just wanted to leave him there meditating with Wayne Coyne until Neal Cassady pulled the Merry Prankster bus into the parking lot and then Don’s like, “peace out, everybody. My ride is here.” I think I’m writing Mad Men fan fiction already.
CS: When it comes to ending a story or novel, we have to address the keys/components that drove the story in the first place. There’s conflict, etc, but more importantly, stories are driven by desire. “What the fuck do they want?” is a question I ask myself halfway through page three or four of every draft I write. Once I’ve figured it out, the story starts moving and when it ends, it usually ends with the character a) realizing they wanted something else, b) getting what they want in some form or another, or c) the possibility of getting what they want completely taken away from them. I guess if we’re going to workshop the ending to Mad Men, we start with, what has Don desired throughout this show…. and does he get it? (We can also consider need because when the character doesn’t get what they want, sometimes they get what they need.)
TB: I’m still working through the last scene, but I think the best ending element for this novel/massive short story collection of Mad Men was his offering of Anna’s ring to Stephanie. It was the last trick in his deck, the ace-in-the-hole he was counting on to deliver everything he wanted. Absolution, forgiveness, acceptance into the family he conned his way into so many years ago. He thought it still held power like Arya Stark’s iron coin—he could flash it and be delivered to the promised land. Instead, Stephanie scoffs in his face. “What am I supposed to do with that?” When the trick of the ring failed, he fell back on his old standby of opening up his bank account. By being rejected by that last refuge he imagined he’d secured, I believed that the character had truly let go of his demons and could evolve into a new phase in his life. And I hadn’t felt that in all the seven seasons before. No matter how many leaves Don turned, they were tainted by his ego and desire. I guess those catalogs I keep getting from Esalen are true, it really is a life-changing five days.
I don’t know if I buy the interpretation that he got back to McCann and created the Coke campaign. I read more that he inspired it, maybe after the Big Sur breakdown legend made its way to the left coast.
SP: I know that Matthew Weiner has explicitly said that he’s known the ending of the show for a while now, but I still think he had trouble wrapping up what has been a pure, American cultural phenomenon. (commenting on pure American culture phenomenons). And who wouldn’t? That same anxiety and hesitation was present in Sons of Anarchy and my beloved Justified. As opposed to a novelist, who’s been with the story and the characters for maybe a year or two, the showrunner of a long-standing show has been in that world for seven or years. That’s hard to let go of. And the pressure of audience expectations can’t be overlooked either.
Nothing in the ending surprised me, but then, I wasn’t expecting to be surprised. I think that the phone conversation between Don and Peggy was the most important scene in the episode, but I’m probably an outlier with that. I’ve always felt that the show was really their two stories, branching out in myriad ways, so when it came back to them, I felt the weight of the entire show.
DH: I was pretty surprised by the Esalen part. At first, it’s this kind of funny thing: he’s smoking watching everybody else do tai chi. Then, well, as he tells Peggy, “a lot of things happened,” and the story really turned and he’s actually having a For-real Meaningful Experience. The idea that this hippie retreat would actually work wasn’t something I would have guessed at, and I’m the one rooting for him to be a hippie, for some reason.
In stories, we always say the ending should seem surprising and then completely unavoidable. Or something like that. That’s what I thought that last image of Don delivered (for me, at least). I really didn’t think it was even a possibility that he would eventually embrace what was happening there. But then, of course Don Draper, who has been reinventing himself for decades, would totally figure out how to lean into that turn, ride that wave, get on that bus, etc. Of course the Me Decade is going to work for Don. So I loved that image of him making what is maybe the initial step in that direction.
For me, that’s what stories do: they show the movement of a character from one place to another. I thought the final image -- he’s still wearing the white button up shirt but he’s in the lotus position and meditating on this cliffside with Wayne Coyne and the Polyphonic Spree -- showed a person who had made that movement. Or some kind of movement, and that’s generally all I need to feel satisfied with an ending.
KC: I’m late getting in on this (it took me like 24 hours to process my feelings, and I’m still pretty “meh” about the whole thing): What TV shows had--and personal taste is fine here, but if you have solid craft reasons, that’s even better--honest-to-God solid endings? (If you say St. Elsewhere, you’re grounded.)
EF: I think Breaking Bad’s ending was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and it’s probably one of the most predictable ones, too. The show takes the viewer through so many conflicting feelings about Walt over its entire trajectory, and then it reconstitutes them all into one person at the end. And it uses humor, ingenuity, and the right amount of gravitas to do it.
KC: 100% agreed, Erin. Which is why the fact that Breaking Bad is coming back is the stupidest decision, ugh. (But, yes, I will still watch it.)
BB: Usually I'm not a fan of spelling out what happens next for the characters, but the Six Feet Under wrecked me. The music, the white screens that had been a staple of the show, and the ways the characters went out all worked for me. I started welling up at Keith, and I'm not someone who cries over books or movies.