Having watched the show since the beginning, I was fascinated to see it end. I read the commentary about how the show wrapped up, whether the characters changed, whether Don's time at Esalen was the inspiration for the Coke ad, and more.
I like that the show ended with some ambiguity, so that viewers can decide for themselves what they think the future holds for their favorite characters. In reading the commentary, I kept being struck by this thought: Does our personal worldview inform how we interpret something that's ambiguous?
I have an optimistic outlook, sometimes to a fault. I choose to view the world overall as a happy, positive place. When I read comments from people who said that absolutely, Don Draper went back to New York and developed the Coke ad, I was struck by how very differently I viewed it.
For me, Don's sad journey throughout the series was of a man completely lost, faking it for years, spinning tales at work and at home. His final bottoming out came after he had given up all the trappings of his former make-believe life. We find him, Dick Whitman again, at the end of the road in Big Sur, literally and spiritually, with all his belongings in a paper bag, making collect calls.
He is abandoned by his ride, realizes that no one misses him, and finally ends up in that group circle. The standout performance of the episode was by Evan Arnold, who played Leonard in the nondescript blue sweater. In a touching and understated monologue, Leonard talks about how no one sees him, no one misses him. Leonard breaks down, sobbing. Having experienced many a group therapy circle myself, the moment felt real to me.
At that moment, Leonard has verbalized everything that Don has felt. Don crosses the room to hug him, two men consoling one another.
We see Don in the final scene, part of a yoga class overlooking the Pacific, finally at peace, chanting Om. As an optimist, I want to believe that Don had a true breakthrough, that he didn't just catch the next ride back to New York and co-opt his experience in Big Sur for a Coke commercial. I want to believe that he stayed Dick Whitman, and found another path.
I want to believe that Joan was crazy-successful despite the challenges and sexism of the '70s. That Peggy and Stan wrote the Coke ad: "People are going to brag that they worked with you." That weaselly Pete is good to Trudy and they are happy in Wichita.
That might not have been Matthew Weiner's vision or intention, but it doesn't matter, does it? If the show had simply ended on Om, with no Coke commercial, would that have felt different?
What do you think?
Stephanie Weaver, MPH, is a writer, wellness advocate, and food blogger offering migraine-friendly recipes every week. She's currently working on a migraine diet book and class. Join her mailing list to keep abreast of her project. Follow her on Twitter for daily migraine tips. Become a fan on Facebook to ask questions.