For this, our final Mad Style entry, we’re about to get high-falutin’ on your asses. But come on, you would expect no less from us, right? Give us one last chance to utilize all that crap Tom learned in film school.
The central question surrounding the ending of the story of Don Draper is what happened to him after his moment of enlightenment on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Did he go on to write the most famous and arguably most influential advertisement of all time? And if he did, what does that mean, both for him and for the world he inhabits? Or did someone else write that ad and its inclusion at the end of the story indicates that the monolithic entity known as the advertising industry will always and forever package people’s fears, hopes and experiences into catchy moments to sell products; like some sort of eternal zeitgeist engine? The answers come down to whether you think Mad Men is a Freudian reality or a Jungian one.
Oh, yeah. We said it. PRETENTIOUS FILM SCHOOL SPEAK AHEAD. Brace yourself.
All we mean by that is, when you look at what we’re going to show you, you have to decide if the universe itself was repeating messages and symbols over and over again (Jungian) or whether Don was doing what creative people do: picking up bits and pieces of inspiration along the way until you have enough of them stored up in your subconscious to spur a “Eureka” moment (Freudian).
Put simply: Is Coca-Cola the God of this world? Or is Don?
We twitter-blurted that this scene indicated “the most epic mid-life crisis in the history of the penis” and while that’s true, there’s a bit more going on under the surface here. How did this carless hobo with no credentials and all of his possessions in a Sears bag wind up test-racing hot rods on the Salt Flats, working with men half his age?
The answer is a simple but extremely important one: Because he’s a hobo who looks like a movie star. This is not an insignificant detail. Earlier in the season, Mathis told Don not to kid himself about whether or not he had any character. “You’re just good-looking,” he spat, noting that men who look like Don never have to apologize for anything. And a couple of episodes back, Sally angrily confronted her father (in their last face-to-face scene) about the fact that he’s so good-looking and she’s tired of watching people throw themselves at him because of it. Later in this episode – in one of the most important scenes in the entire series – Don meets a nebbishy everyman named Leonard, whose quiet sorrow and loneliness shocks him out of his seat and into a moment of much-needed emotional release. Someone like Leonard would never have the opportunity to do something like run away from his job and family and race cars in the desert until he figures out his next move. When the Leonards of the world (and the world is 99% Leonard) have problems or crises of the soul, they have to have them while still living their day-to-day lives, because the world doesn’t allow most of its inhabitants the kind of privileges Don routinely enjoys. “The timbre of my voice is as important as the content. I don’t know whether I’ll be forceful or submissive, but I must be there in the flesh,” he once said to Ken in a drug-addled moment of self-recognition.
The point is, a lot of things Don can do and Don gets away with come down to the fact that Don is uncommonly good-looking and has generated a faux charisma that causes people to do things like, well… hand over their hot rod to a total stranger. Granted, it also helps considerably that Don has money, since he appears to be bankrolling this operation at the moment. But even if Leonard had money, do you think these two dudes would be handing over the keys to their car to him?
Now notice what Don’s wearing. We figure any regular reader of Mad Style immediately recognized that Don was wearing jeans for the first time. We thought it was a huge deal when he was shown wearing a blue dress shirt earlier in the season, but a Don Draper in head-to-toe denim is truly a world-shattering moment. Obviously, it’s not only an appropriate look for what he’s doing at the moment, but it’s more or less a necessity. You don’t race cars in the desert wearing a suit, after all. But on another level, it’s pointing to the decade to come. The seventies was a time – THE time, in fact – when old mores about presentation were completely and irrevocably abandoned, leaving behind such now-archaic ideas as men always wearing hats and suits and women always wearing dresses and foundation garments. A new informality was ushered in with the new decade and it never went away.
Which isn’t to say Don’s going hippie or anything. Even without the Brylcreem, he’s serving up some Mannix/Steve McGarrett realness, which is entirely appropriate for his age and personality. It’s not slicked back, but it’s still very molded and styled, in a manner only a conventional middle-aged man of the period would wear it.
There’s little to note about the rest of the costumes in this scene, which serve to illustrate differences in age and social class, as most of the costumes tend to do on Mad Men. Note the Army fatigues, which remind us (and Don, no doubt) of how the real Don Draper died. Note also the red and white of the cap. The Coca-Cola colors have been haunting Don for some time, starting when Jim Hobart hissed the product’s name at him to tempt him into accepting the inevitable.
But – and here’s where we get Jungian on your asses – the Coca-Cola colors have been haunting everyone:
Goodbye, Meredith. You left this world as you entered it: child-like and optimistic to a fault. Check out her cinnamon hose, which were SUPER-trendy for this time. Also note the turtleneck, which was something of a costuming motif this episode. Of course, it’s the final week of October 1970 in North America, so turtlenecks would be somewhat standard style, but stay with us on this.
Roger always had the best offices.
Share a Coke with PEGGY. Note the mock turtleneck on her and the real one on him. In the long shot, your eye goes straight to her.
Everyone else in that room is dressed in more or less standard business wear in muted colors. Peggy stands out because of the brilliant red of her outfit and Stan stands out because he’s dressed like he’s on H.R. Pufnstuf. (Seriously, what the hell, Stan.)
The point being not only that they’re the main characters in the scene, but that as a team, they’re more creative and ambitious than the other people. They’re set apart. Note how well Peggy handled Lorraine in this scene. You don’t sit at Don Draper’s side for ten years and not pick up a few tricks on how to handle difficult co-workers.
There was an oddly aggressive use of Halloween decorations (most of which were vintage Beistle and damn near iconic to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers) in the set dressing this episode. The show’s always used holiday decorations to denote the time of year (obviously), but there was something slightly noticeable about the way the shots were framed to highlight them, over and over again, in scene after scene. It made for a clever and slightly witty way to imbue every scene with bad omens and reminders of death, which most of the audience was expecting on some level going into the finale. All those skeletons, ghosts and black cats worked on the subconscious to heighten the tension. Additionally, autumnal images like falling leaves tend to signify the end of something.
Share some coke with JOAN.
Talk about a preview of the decade to come. If there’s such a thing as a cute coke-sniffing scene, then this one was it. “I feel like I just got some very good news” is a funny and appropriate way to describe a coke rush. In a way, it makes us glad to not see these characters in the decade to come, because like the pot-smoking, speed-taking and acid-dropping that went on in the previous decade, we’d be seeing at least some of these people trying out the harder stuff that came into vogue during the Me Decade. The fact that it’s Joan happily snorting – one of the few characters on the show who did no drug-taking during the previous decade – tells you something about just how lax attitudes about drug-taking are starting to become.
It took us a minute to realize what the costuming was saying here. Joan’s got a semi-typical floral on a black background (which says “this man has or will disappoint me” in Joan-speak) while Richard has a floral on a blue blackground. They’re night and day; two people whose outlooks are totally different from each other, even if they don’t know it yet. Two people representing different times of the day who will soon realize that they’re also in different stages of life.
We wouldn’t attempt to divine much deeper meaning out of any of these costumes. This is a very standard (but entertaining) “Let’s all stand around looking pretty great because this is our last scene together” finale scene. That dress Peggy’s got on is adorable – and another in a long line of looks this season that indicate how sophisticated she’s become in her thirties. There were plenty of times during her career – long stretches, in fact – where her appearance really didn’t seem to matter much to her or the best she could manage when she put any thought into it was something dowdy and aging. This follows a style trajectory a lot of people travel in their lives. In your twenties, you can afford to go around looking like crap because you’re young and haven’t figured out what works for you, but by your thirties, a lot of people realize the value of presentation right around the time they start making more money in their careers.
It’s fitting that for his final scene in the office, he’s wearing his trademark “Pete Campbell blue” suit. It’s also fitting that Harry looks like an executive douchebag. We’ve talked a bit before about the seventies male executive look; an interesting combination of anxious masculinity (a lot of shoulder-broadening lapels, collars and silhouettes), which was probably a response to the rising power of women in the work force, as well as a dandyism born out of the swinging ’60s and the counterculture movement (flared pants, vests, bright colors) because young and young-ish executive men didn’t want to be seen as squares or out of touch.
Like his ability to predict Kennedy’s electoral win because he was a rockstar and his ability to see that African-Americans were a viable and extremely important market, typically forward-thinking Pete dropped an absolute truth bomb on Peggy. It’ll take ten years, but eventually, society’s going to catch up to where Peggy is and recognize her for the insane talent she possesses.
The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife has turned into a full-on orgy, complete with cats and skeletons joining in on the fun. Peggy may be boxed into a cubicle of an office and forced to deal with petty office politics to hold on to her accounts, but she clearly is having some fun and not giving any fucks about what people think of her here. She’s putting in her 3 to 4 years in a global agency, exactly like she was advised to, but she clearly has no long-term plans at McCann past that.
Plaid speaking to plaid one last time. Sally will more clearly take on her mother’s role later in the story and while we doubt that she will ever allow her father to wander away from her, we tend to think she’s going to be Betty’s daughter going forward, far more than she has been. There was such a sense of resignation in her when it came to dealing with Don. This idea of “You go race your cars. I have real shit to deal with here and you can’t handle it.” Because sure, she’s in a Don-like plaid, but she’s also in a very Betty blue and white. She loves him and accepts him, but she’s all too aware of Don’s limitations as a man and as a father.
But there’s no one on the planet more aware of those limitations than Betty. Interestingly enough, there’s no connection to Sally in the costuming here, although we’d have assumed there would be. Janie Bryant has a long love of putting the women of the cast in frilly pink sleepwear, including Betty, who’s had countless pink bathrobes and nightgowns over the years, and significantly, was wearing one the first time we saw her and Don together.
The fainting couch is in the background.
Share a Coke with JOAN.
As Ken said, she looks spectacular. Note all the gold once again, which became a Joan standard after Joan became rich.
We kept checking this scene for connections in the costuming until we realized, there really aren’t any because these two people have different goals. Still, there was something really cute about the whole scene, from their easy rapport, to Joan’s glasses, to Kevin – who really is an adorable kid – watching Sesame Street, to their bright and focus-pulling outfits. Peggy’s very business-like and Joan’s wearing a style she’d never wear in the office, which makes us assume that this is her stay-at-home-mom look.
Check Joan’s “Golden State” tablecloth, which she must have gotten on the trip to California where she met Richard.
Denim Dick and Anna 2.0. The point to Stephanie is that she’s not Anna at all, but Don wants to try and regain something of what he had with his old friend. Granted, Stephanie’s not dressed like Anna but her house is clearly meant to evoke hers, from the plants on the front porch to the pale blue of the living room and the bungalow style of the house.
Share a Coke with GENE. And some processed cheese slices while you’re at it.
This scene is almost too sad to watch. Sally isn’t dressed like her mother, but she is dressed in an unusually mature outfit for her. And that hands-on-hip pose is pure Betty. But like last week’s kitchen scene with Don’s kids, the costumes here are echoing things happening with Don at the moment. Sally’s poncho and sweater, along with Gene’s overalls and red turtleneck, echo certain looks worn by people at the Esalen retreat. Bobby’s look mimics the flannel and jeans Don wears later.
Another floral on a black background. Yes, this man has disappointed her in a lot of ways, but that’s just history at this point. They have an ease and rapport with each other, but as their costumes indicate, no real connection anymore. Also, Joan’s in a jumpsuit, which is another signal of changing times and the decade to come. Could you ever have imagined you’d see her in one?
The point to all of the costuming at the retreat was fairly simple – at least in the beginning: Don doesn’t fit in here.
Everyone else is feeling free to be you and me while Don is wandering around dressed like a suburban Dad between beers while mowing the lawn. We tend to shorthand the look of the other attendees as “hippie,” although that doesn’t quite scan given the range of ages here. Quite a few of these people are decades too old to be affiliated with the counter culture movement. But it’s 1970 and this is Big Sur, so the counter culture IS the local culture, pretty much. It’s not to say that everyone there dresses this way, but it’s definitely a place that encourages people to. Still, there are plenty of instances of more conventional clothing at the retreat, including the preponderance of more turtlenecks. Given the styles and looks, it’s easy to surmise that the attendees are almost all middle to upper-middle class white people. That’s not an unimportant fact. This isn’t a commune, after all. You had to pay to spend time there. You had to be able to afford the time and money to go to a place like Esalen.
Could it be any clearer that they’re not connecting? There’s nothing in either look that calls back to the other look. They’re too distinct and different to be partners. And to underline this point, Joan is wearing the pink dress she was wearing when they had that nasty little fight on the elevator after that humiliating meeting at McCann. Peggy’s contrasting polka dots similarly call back to that scene and what she was wearing.
Share a Coke with NEW AGE SUPERGIRL.
Again, a combination of counterculture and middle class styles, with Don always being the most conventionally dressed person in the room. Note the beige sweaters, turtleneck and overalls that call back to what the Draper kids were wearing. Note that the attention-seeking dude (the one who later appears naked and even later wears one of the more important costumes) is wearing the most attention-seeking look – the striped shirt.
Take your damn cowboy boots and hit the road, pal. You clearly don’t belong in a West Village apartment or in this lioness’s life. Joan rarely wears animal prints, but it felt more than appropriate here, as she fiercely protected herself from yet another man trying to reduce her to something less than she wanted to be.
Share a Coke with UNHELPFUL HIPPIE GIRL.
We would be remiss if we didn’t point out how quickly the internet collectively figured out this girl’s connection to the Coca-Cola ad. We’ll explore that point in a bit (it goes way beyond her color scheme), but we wanted to give her her own moment because – and we’re not lying here – we teared up a bit when that connection became clear. After all these years of documenting and examining the costumes on this show, we were somehow touched that this girl is wearing the most important one of all – and everyone got the significance almost immediately, because everyone who obsesses over this show knows how important the costumes are and how much Janie Bryant manages to tell a story or enhance the story being told. It is entirely fitting – and somehow deeply gratifying to us – that the central question of the story of Mad Men comes down to this one costume.
Don’s breakdown – this time; because he’s had about a half-dozen in the last ten years – was partially spurred on by his fascination with Diana, who notably wore two different uniforms when we first met her, one in pale blue and one in brown. That color combo has haunted Don and hung over this season, repeating again and again. When he couldn’t rescue Diana, he turned to Stephanie, another mother who abandoned her child, and transferred all his energy to her. When she bolted from his weirdly obsessive attention and bad advice (“Oh, Dick. I don’t think you’re right about that.”) he turned to another woman who gave her child up:
This put their relationship in a little more context for us. We always wondered why Don showed up on the Psych Ward and willed Peggy out of that bed. What was it about her that he would forge such a deep connection with her? The simple fact is that Don has a history of trying to rescue women in deep pain. We always assumed he saw something of himself in Peggy – which, to be fair, he did – but we think he’s always tried to rescue women (usually mothers) in trouble because he spent his life waiting for his mother to walk through the door and she never did. Peggy stands out – and became so important to him – because she’s one of the few who didn’t hate him for his rescue and the only one who picked up and moved on, gaining his deep respect.
Don has never looked more modern than he does right here. This costume could be put on a man his age in 2015 and not look odd. That’s also not insignificant, since he’s about to have a breakthrough moment that will propel him out of his past and into the present and future.
Like all of Peggy’s costumes this episode, this one has touches of Coke-red.
Again, note how conventional their co-workers look in comparison to Peggy and Stan. We saw some pretty groovy-looking people walking the hallways of McCann in earlier episodes, but for these scenes, the costuming tends to shine a spotlight on the main characters by making your eye go straight to them.
You could look at the vast differences in their costumes and say that these two aren’t connecting, but that’s clearly not true. They’ve spent the last five years connecting over those exact differences and learning to love each other for them. What’s really notable is the flipped gender expectations of having the guy in a romance scene being the one wearing the floral while the girl is in a more rigid and business-like geometric. In other words, his shirt looks like a dress and her dress looks like a tie.
There was some vague connecting in the costuming here (the browns and blues), as well as a more conventional women-in-floral/man-in-plaid setup that reminds us of Peggy and Stan. The next Mrs. Donald Draper, ladies and gentlemen.
Mind you, we can guarantee she won’t be the last Mrs. Draper, but when a pretty lady comes along and offers Don some rope when he’s at the bottom of a well, he tends to fall in love with her – especially if she’s absolutely nothing like the last pretty lady he fell in love with.
And he’s still got that damn engagement ring in his pocket.
Share a Coke with ANNOYING NEW AGE BEARD DUDE.
Leonard is not only connecting with Don on a blue level, he’s far surpassed Don as the most conventionally dressed man there. This scene will be debated forever, but to us, the point wasn’t that Don saw himself in the man. It’s the exact opposite, in fact. Don recognized that someone else was in pain. That EVERYONE else is in some form of pain – and that they can’t just be told to get up and move past it. Remember how he would tell Betty to get a hold of herself after her mother died or after the Kennedy assassination? Remember how he told Peggy to stop celebrating her birthday because she’s an adult? He has always had an inability to truly connect with people because he’s always been so chronically self-absorbed. This moment represents him learning and feeling empathy for the first time. It’s the most important thing that ever happened to Don, but it’s important because IT’S NOT ABOUT DON.
They are going to fucking RULE Wichita. AMC, we will pay cash money for a Campbells of Wichita spinoff. Tammy Campbell is going to be SUCH a deliciously spoiled brat.
We literally clapped and yelled out “JANIE!!!!!!” when we saw Trudy, because clearly, Miss Bryant was going to make sure Mrs. Campbell was sent off looking ridiculously spectacular. This is actually of a piece with the entire story, because happiness is tied into wealth, whether Matthew Weiner intended it or not. All of the main characters are ending up much wealthier in 1970 than they were in 1960 and many of them are coming off better and happier for it. To be fair, the other point being made is the importance of connecting with others and forming families, as evidence by Pete (totally working that seventies executive look we talked about) carrying his daughter, an image repeated with another of SC&P’s former partners:
Joan is, in her own way, having it all. She’s formed a very strong and supportive family unit (it was notable that she seemed shocked that Richard thought she hated her mother) that allows her to also aggressively pursue a career where she calls all the shots (LITERALLY). It’s not a coincidence that she hired her babysitter as a secretary and that her final scene depicts her mother taking care of her son. Yes, “Holloway Harris” is a company name that refers entirely to her, but it’s also the name of her family. Perfect work-life balance and not a man in sight. Feminism, Joan-style. You’re soaking in it.
And she’s in pants, of course.
They’re both wearing wedding rings, so the deed is done, it would seem. We admit, we don’t get this ending at all, really. Yes, Roger enjoyed Paris in his youth, but there’s nothing in the previous ten years of story that reasonably seems to lead to this moment. Still, it was cute to see, even if it didn’t make much character sense. We suppose they wanted to go out on a happy note with Roger and him cavorting with a 20-year-old would have been unseemly. We get that he’s feeling the end of the road ahead of him. We said as much when he played the organ in the wreckage of his old company; a funeral dirge for his life as a productive and powerful man. In that sense, it makes some sense that he would turn to Marie to spend his final years. She’s mature, but apparently a hellcat in bed. Everything Roger Sterling needs.
There’s simply no happy way to go out on this family at this point. We respect Matthew Weiner for not pulling back on the grimness, in fact. Betty’s in a slightly uncharacteristic gray plaid, while Sally’s in a Betty-like bright pink. One woman dying, while the other, full of life, takes over her duties for her.
We’ve avoided trying to write fanfic for each of the characters, but because Sally’s end is so horribly grim, we just want to say that she’s young and she’ll go back to Miss Porter’s and take that Madrid trip and eventually get past her mother’s death by the time she’s ready to graduate college, which she will because Betty will all but demand she do so on her deathbed. This is the darkest day in Sally’s life, but we have every reason to believe she’ll make it. We have to believe that.
EDITED TO ADD: Costume Designer Janie Bryant contacted us to let us know Betty’s dress is WAY more significant than we realized. It’s the same dress she wore in this scene which was designed to deliberately call back to this scene. In both instances, the mother becomes the child.
Share a Coke (and some spit) with STAN.
She’s as businesslike as ever. In fact, what better image could we close out on than Peggy writing AND kissing the love of her life at the same time? Some people were upset that Peggy’s story closed on romance, but we think that’s giving it short shrift. Don’t forget that cocky walk down the McCann hallway with tentacle porn under her arm. Peggy’s on a meteoric rise in her career right now (as Pete noted), but without a flash forward, this is as far as we get to go with her on that front. But just as Peggy has pursued career greatness for the past decade, she has just as aggressively pursued love on her own terms. Next to Don, no one else had as many relationships as she did over the past ten years. Of course the man she loves would work by her side. It’s what she’s been looking for all along. Why else would she punish herself by pursuing Pete, Duck and Ted? She’s been seeking it hard, and she found a man who is not only in awe of her talent and supportive of her plans, but who completely understands and accepts the sacrifices she’s had to make to get there.
This is as feminist an ending as Joan’s; a total achievement of perfect work-life balance on her own terms.
Or is it?
First, let’s note – as so many did – that Don is back in the white dress shirt he wore when he walked out of McCann and his old life. That more than anything would indicate that his mindset is slowly traveling back to his old life, just as the smile at the end indicates a feeling of becoming inspired.
But did Don create the Coke ad formally known as “Hilltop?” After all, there were plenty of costuming calls to Coca-Cola imagery throughout the episode, in scenes that Don had nothing to do with. Some people have indicated a theory that Peggy wrote the ad, but first, there’s no way she’d be working on an account that large when she’s fighting to keep a small account like Chevalier. Second, there’s nothing in the filming or the story to indicate such a thing. She’s typing at the end, sure, but she spent half the series typing.
So was the universe calling out for this ad to be made, by constantly dressing everyone in red? Or is it more likely that Don, like all creative people, picks up bits and pieces of life, redresses them, and comes up with something inspiringly beautiful, but decidedly different:
Now obviously, no one here is a direct analogue to the singers in the ad except for the girl in the braids. And while it’s a bit offensive to compare two women based solely on the fact that they’re both Asian, that’s kind of the point. That’s how inspiration works, especially from Don’s perspective. He sees one non-white person – the ONLY one in the entire retreat – and recasts that as this uplifting, multicultural experience it never really was. He took a week of depressed middle class white people and turned it into a minute of hopeful, ethnically diverse teenagers. He went from selling cancer to the American public to selling obesity to the American public and he did it using a message of brotherhood and tolerance that he himself would never experience because of his upper middle class trappings. This is what we mean when we say the ending is a cynical one. We don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing. Mad Men has always been a particular combination of capitalist-fueled cynicism and family-based hope. For Don to have an emotional breakthrough and use that to sell soda pop to the masses is a perfectly Don thing to do. And like Stan and Roger said, he does this sort of thing. He has breakdowns, runs away, and comes back renewed. No, he doesn’t really change, but he gets a little better each time. That’s always been the point of Mad Men. People don’t necessarily make sweeping changes to themselves, but they can learn who they are and work within those parameters to improve themselves.
There was a time when Don sneered at the concept of love. He called it something guys like him invented to use nylons. He used to redline any use of the word love in ad copy. “Jesus, ‘love’ again?” he asked earlier in the season, regarding the Tinker Bell cookie campaign. And yet he winds up writing “I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love,” one of the treacliest and most sentimental ad jingles of all time. That’s growth. That may even be massive growth on Don’s part – although we sincerely doubt that. He ended the story as slicked-back as he started it, after all.
And just think: Don returns to New York an advertising hero and legend, having written the greatest ad of all time. He’s barely begun to hit the heights of his career and he’ll be within driving distance of his children, wherever they wind up. This is as good as it gets for Don.
This is a happy ending.
We refuse to get maudlin at this moment, so we’ll just say a huge “THANK YOU” to Janie Bryant, not only for providing us all the amazing fodder for the “Mad Style” feature by being such a ridiculously talented Costume Designer, but also for being so supportive of our work here and providing little bits of information or confirmation over the years that helped us tremendously in writing it. People always ask why we don’t apply these skills to other shows, but very few Costume Designers are working on Janie’s level.
We will, however, be going down this road again soon. We love talking about costuming too much to stop now. Keep your eyes peeled for future costume examinations like “Mad Style” and thank you for supporting this work all these years, guys. We’d love to buy each of you a Coke and keep it company.
UPDATE: You can listen to us go on even MORE about this episode with the Huffington Post’s TV critic, Mo Ryan, on our Pop Style Opinionfest podcast.
If you’d like to hear our interview with Mad Men’s Costume Designer Janie Bryant, you can go here (4/3/15 podcast).
You can also hear Tom discussing the previous episode on the Ryan & Ryan podcast, with Mo Ryan and Ryan McGee, here.
For more discussion on your favorite shows, check out our TV & Film forum.
[Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC- Stills: Blood, sweat, and tears of tomandlorenzo.com]