The long-running AMC series Mad Men came to an end Sunday night with its leading character, Don Draper, having a spiritual awakening while in the midst of a midlife meltdown. It was an unexpected, though not altogether surprising, twist for the chronic adulterer, alcoholic, and creative genius who’d finally hit rock bottom.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, Don’s flaws, I’ve always liked him. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. I couldn’t help but admire his indifference, though at times it made me cringe.
Living for one’s own pleasure, however, comes at a cost. In this final episode, Don finally realizes the price that he and his loved ones have paid for his hedonism. With his second marriage over, his business and creative autonomy gone, and his first wife facing an early death, Don sets out on a desperate journey to California that will ultimately lead to salvation or complete demise.
When a friend, concerned for his well-being, insists that Don accompany her to a spiritual retreat center, at long last he finds what he’d been searching for through casual sex and at the bottom of liquor bottles. It is a deep connection with the universe, one that introduces him to the self-love and self- acceptance which has eluded him thus far. In the series’ final scene, viewers are presented with a peaceful Don sitting in half-lotus pose, chanting Om with a group of spiritual seekers on a cliff by the sea.
This scene, combined with the classic Coca Cola commercial that follows, gives one hope that Don has returned to New York and his job at the ad agency spiritually changed. It is a satisfying end to a series that presented human beings as they are – broken, selfish, complex, and flawed – and reminds us that it is never too late to make amends or to become the person we’ve always longed to be.
Farewell, Don Draper. You are and always will be the quintessential middle-aged madman.