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In Praise of Narrative Ambiguity (or, Why You’ll Never “Solve” the ‘Mad Men’ Finale)

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A strange thing happened on the Internet this morning: pretty much every news outlet, reputable and otherwise, that has any interest in Mad Men (so all of them, basically) reported that Matthew Weiner had explained the ending to the show’s last episode at a talk with novelist A.M. Homes last night. As an example of the perils of churnalism, it was pretty impressive, because if you watch the video of the event, Weiner does no such thing. Instead, he explains that the end of the show is as ambiguous as it appears: “People are like, ‘Which is it?’ and I’m like, ‘Well, why does it have to be one or the other?’”
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In ‘Mad Men’s’ Finale, Joan and Peggy Switched Places and Became Complete

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Peggy and Joan’s first encounter in the Mad Men pilot appears to set them up as opposites. In her conservative skirt-and-sweater combo, Peggy is an energetic do-gooder who wants merely to succeed. In her slinky green number, Joan has men on the brain. A secretary’s job, she instructs Peggy, is to anticipate men’s needs, to be “in between a mother and a waitress,” with two other possibilities thrown in: mistress and suburban wife. To Joan, the latter is the dream, the prize at the end of the struggle. Of course, Peggy takes Joan’s advice and runs it right into the wall, including a failed attempt to be Don’s “girlfriend” when she touches his hand and a very poor decision to accept Pete’s drunken advances.
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‘Mad Men’ Series Finale Recap: “Person to Person”

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“Is he dead?” Meredith asks Roger, who’s very gently trying to let her go, early in Mad Men‘s series finale. Then: “I hope he’s in a better place.” Roger quickly becomes exasperated. “Stop saying that,” he tells her. “He’s not dead.” On one level, this is clearly Matthew Weiner poking fun at everyone who thought Don was fated to go out the office window or march into the sea or jump out of a damn airplane in the show’s final scenes. But it’s one of Mad Men‘s charms — and quirks, as well as perhaps a bit of a cliché — that its truest words are often spoken by children and fools. “There’s a lot better places than here,” Meredith replies. And wouldn’t you know it: Don Draper ends up in one of …Read More

The Worst Thing the ‘Mad Men’ Finale Could Do Is Shock Us

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For as long as Mad Men has been the topic of obsessive culture-wide scrutiny — which is to say, since its second season at the very latest — viewers and critics have been speculating on how it will end. Will Don Draper go out the window, reenacting the show’s Saul Bass-like title sequence? Will he die some other way? Does he, as the Internet’s enthusiastic conspiracy hobbyists suggest, have late-stage syphilis or (sigh) turn out to be DB Cooper? I love Mad Men enough to pick it apart each week, but I have to confess that I’m not too worried about any of these outcomes. Of course, I’m curious about how Matthew Weiner will leave Don and Joan and Roger and particularly Peggy (Pete’s and poor Betty’s stories seem to have wrapped up in the penultimate episode). But I can’t see anything happening that will change the meaning of the show that much.
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Feminist Writers on the ‘Mad Men’ Moments That Made Them Cheer and Broke Their Hearts

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Whether or not it was a “feminist show,” Mad Men broke ground by zooming in on the experiences of women, specifically experiences related to misogyny. From office hostility to restrictive roles in suburbia to power dynamics on dates and in marriages, the show left no stone of sexism unturned. As a result, recaps, essays, and water-cooler discussions about the show became an entryway to talking about all kind of gender-related issues. For a large group of writers — one that included but wasn’t limited to TV critics — Mad Men helped fuel discussions on sex, rape culture, harassment, internalized sexism, race, class, reproductive rights, sex work and more. So, as the show draws to a close, we asked some of our favorite feminist writers to name a moment or plot arc from that resonated with …Read More

How ‘Mad Men’ Used Music to Recontextualize ’60s Pop Culture

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For a TV show to be as instantly canonized as Mad Men has been throughout its seven-season run, nearly every aspect of it needs to serve a distinct purpose, to be thoughtful. For that TV show to be historical in nature, the details need to be meticulous. And for that TV show to be about the 1960s, one of the most controversial and turbulent decades in American cultural history, it needs to walk a very specific tightrope — one that carefully navigates the generational divide that defined the late ‘60s. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, one of the most influential players in the music-on-TV revolution of the early ‘00s, have achieved all of this — and with plenty of irreverence, humor, and hidden meaning to boot.
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How ‘Mad Men’ Appropriated the Ethos — and an Icon — of ’70s Cinema

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Amidst all of the con-man shenanigans and cancer drama of this week’s Mad Men, there was one tiny, throwaway detail that gave this viewer a surge of delight. As Don lounges in his motel room while awaiting the leisurely repair of his car, chatting with his young doppelganger Andy, he casually sets down the paperback he’s been enjoying and, hey, wouldn’t you know it, it’s The Godfather. The show’s always taken great pains to put the books of the moment in the hands of their characters, and make no mistake, a paperback of Puzo’s bestseller is a snug fit for the mid-1970 timeframe. But from our vantage point, The Godfather is more than a motel paperback — it’s one of the great movies of the 1970s, and its appearance in Don’s hand plays like a subtle acknowledgment of the debt Mad Men has always held to the cinema of the era.
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‘Mad Men’ Owed Betty Draper a Better Ending

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If last week’s Mad Men swan song for Joan was a combination of triumph and tragedy, the show’s crushing farewell to Betty Draper Francis this week seemed like it was supposed to strike the same tone. Betty may be going out, but she’s doing so on her own terms, dictating how pretty she wants to look in her casket and refusing the kind of treatment that she believes may prolong her life for a few month but won’t improve its quality. Her mournful yet determined climb up the stairs at the college where she’s taking classes was the symbolic capstone to this theme, a testament to her indomitable will, the very quality she brings up with pride in her less than warm, but oddly satisfying, chat with Sally.
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‘Mad Men’ Season 7 Episode 13 Recap: “The Milk and Honey Route”

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If New York City is the center of the universe and Los Angeles is its sunnier fun-house mirror, then what, in the world of Mad Men, is everything in between? Aside from isolated trips to woo clients in cities like Detroit, we haven’t seen much of the middle of the country in the show’s seven seasons. But in this week’s “The Milk and Honey Route” — named for sociologist Nels Anderson’s Depression-era “Handbook for Hobos” — both the action and the symbolism of Mad Men shifted quite suddenly to the Midwest.
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