May 242015

mad-men-episode-714-don-hamm-935-5I wasn’t looking forward to watching the final episode of my beloved Mad Men. Fortunately, “Person To Person” came through as a powerful, poignant and perfect finale. The genius of the series finale is, rather than definitively revealing where the characters have ended up, it leaves us anticipating where they are headed. Overall, the finale is about happy and hopeful anticipations, heartfelt goodbyes, going away lunches; emotionally cleansing phone calls, and new beginnings. We have a good sense of how Peggy, Stan, Joan, Pete, Roger and Don are moving forward with their lives. Sadly, the only person with a certain fate is Betty. Her impending death and instructions to Don that she did not want the children to live with him after he death will have a dramatic effect on Sally’s future.

The Women of Mad Men Finish Strong

Joan really comes into her own as a force to be reckoned with. After confronting the all-powerful Jim Hobart, Joan makes her exit from McCann-Erickson with a secure nest egg. She is living the good life with Richard, vacationing in Key West, and snorting cocaine. Richard asks Joan to leave New York and make a future with him, inviting her “take advantage of all I have.” Joan asks if they have to get married and Richard says they don’t. How good is that? As it turns out, not good enough for an independent, spirited, ambitious ad executive like Joan.

Ken has lunch with Joan mad-men-episode-714-joan-hendricks-935and enlists her help lining up a producer for a Dow Industrial film with a sizable $50K budget. Joan jumps at the opportunity and later offers Peggy $1200 to write the script. Over lunch Joan gives Peggy her check and lays out an interesting possibility. There is more work available with Dow and the film’s director, so Joan lays out her plan to start a production company with Peggy as her partner. Peggy is a bit taken back and Joan reminds her that she doesn’t have a contract at McCann, and she could be an owner and her own boss. Television and film production were just starting to boom in the ’70s and Joan’s instincts about the potential are right on target. Peggy eventually declines the offer, but Joan decides to take the big leap. That doesn’t fit into Richard’s plans, and Joan gracefully accepts his exit from her life. I loved seeing Joan in her apartment office working on her next production project with her secretary answering the phone as “Holloway-Harris.” Joan gets one more gift when Roger advises her that he wants their son Kevin to be in his will. Perfect!

Peggy is now a kick-ass, copy chief destined to be a creative director and ready to make a happy life with Stan. At a creative department meeting in the McCann conference room, the department manager, Lorraine, is assigning teams to accounts and Peggy sees that she and Stan are no longer assigned to Chevalier. In big creative departments like McCann, mid-level managers like Lorraine are often responsible for team assignments. When Peggy challenges Lorraine about it, she offers a feeble rationale. A very ballsy Peggy asks if David, the creative director, is aware of the change. Lorraine snidely says, “ I’ll let him know you’re unhappy.” Peggy doesn’t back down and demands to talk to the creative director and Lorraine gives her back the account. Way to go Peggy. Peggy even gets a nice goodbye from the kindler, gentler, richer Pete. Peggy tells Pete she’s happy for him and says, “Everyone’s going to miss you who doesn’t hate you for getting that big job. ” Pete assures that she will be a creative director and that, “Someday, people are going to brag that they worked with you.”

mad-men-episode-714-peggy-moss-935When Peggy tells Stan about Joan’s offer to be a partner in the new production company he accuses her of being obsessed with being in charge. Peggy tells him he has no ambition and offends Stan even more when she calls him a failure. When Peggy gets a desperate collect call from Don, she pleads with him to “come home” and that all will be forgiven by her and McCann. Don says he can’t, saying, “I’m not the man you think I am, and I’ve just called to say goodbye.” Peggy immediately phones Stan and expresses her concern for Don and Stan tells her to let him go. Peggy apologizes for her earlier berating comments and the love floodgates open. Stan professes his love for Peggy and confesses that he doesn’t want her to leave McCann “because all I want to do is be with you.” Peggy gets emotional and after a charmingly convoluted introspection Peggy tells Stan that she’s also in love with him. Stan rushes over to her office, embrace and passionately kiss. Later we see Peggy doing what she loves, typing award winning copy, while getting a shoulder massaged by the man she loves. Happiness!

The Men Finish with A Flourish

Our glimpse into what’s next for Pete and Roger also looks promising. Pete leaves McCann on good terms, wishes Peggy well on a positive note, exits Madison Avenue on his private Learjet looking like the perfect, prosperous ’70s mad-men-episode-714-roger-slattery-9351family. Hopefully it lasts. Roger also leaves us with a vision of how he will continue to be, well, Roger. He does the right thing with Joan to insure that their child is well cared for providing her comfort and peace of mind. Joan and Roger will move ahead as good friends and Roger will likely send some business to Holloway & Harris. Roger gets married, yet again, to a woman that he will find challenging. Marie Calvet will keep his life and lifestyle very lively and Roger will have his hands full. He is also likely to have many “family” dinners that include Meagan, which will create even more complicated relationship between Roger and Don. Fortunately for Roger, he can use his McCann-Erickson expense account and global first class travel privileges to help satisfy Marie’s desires. Seeing Roger and Marie dining at a chic café in Paris is quintessential Roger. He will keep on being “Roger.”

Don’s road trip finally takes him to the West Coast. After getting his ass kicked by fellow vets in Kansas, and giving away his car to a stranger, Don gets to enjoy himself a bit racing cars in the Utah desert. That doesn’t last very long. After Sally tells him about Betty’s cancer, Don calls Betty and tells her he’s coming home and says, “The kids need me,” Betty he insists that he not do that saying, “I want to keep things as normal as possible and you not being here mad-men-episode-714-don-hamm-935-6is part of that.” That hits Don hard and they share a deep and moving emotional moment as Don tears up. Don’s race car buddies drive him to Los Angeles where he drops in on Stephanie. Don tells her he’s retired and gives her Anna’s ring. Don asks about her son and finds out that he lives with his dad. It’s obvious they both are suffering so Stephanie invites Don to join her on a retreat at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. At the retreat, both Don and Stephanie have powerful emotional introspections in group therapy discussions. After Stephanie leaves Don appears to be on the verge of a suicidal breakdown and makes his “goodbye’ call to Peggy. A therapist convinces Don to attend one more session. After hearing a group participant, Leonard, reveal his emotional cleansing about his insignificance and no one caring that he’s gone, Don is moved. He hugs Leonard and cries with him. Don finally “gets it”. He has found his enlightenment. The next morning, Don blissfully sits in a lotus position with fellow attendees chanting an “om” mantra. Don, eyes closed, smiles contentedly. A bell chimes and the famous 1971 “Hilltop” Coke commercial plays: “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…”

What’s Next?

This brilliant ending opens the door to speculation about different enlightened paths Don could take. Here’s mine. Don will heed the words of the yogi, “The new day brings new hope. Lives we’ve led, the lives we’ve yet to lead. New day, new ideas, new you.” The prodigal son is welcomed back to McCann-Erickson and Jim Hobart finally gets to appoint Don as the creative director on Coca Cola. With his new found wisdom and enlightenment, Don taps into the mindset of the ’70s “Me” generation and makes the most of that one magic moment at Big Sur. It the inspiration for creating the commercial that helps define a generation and earns Don Draper a place in the Advertising Hall of Fame alongside Bert Cooper. Peggy is thrilled about the return of her mentor and Don plays father of the bride at her wedding. Roger gets his ‘playmate” back and the fun continues. Holloway-Harris produces “Hilltop” and puts Joan in the major leagues of production companies. Don rehires Meredith. Finally, Don deepens his bond with Sally and eases his way back into lives of his kids. He never remarries. Too perfect? Perhaps, but that’s my vision, and I’m sticking with it. Now, for a dose of reality, this is how Coke’s Hilltop commercial actually came about.

“Hilltop” — The Real Story.

The brilliance of using the “Hilltop” commercial as the final scene is that it is truly an iconic commercial that was actually created at McCann-Erickson in 1971 by an advertising Hall of Fame creative director, Bill Backer. The circumstances under which “Hilltop” was conceived are far from the idyllic, awakening moment at Big Sur. In a recent New York Times article Mr. Backer reveals that the idea for the jingle came when he and a colleague and a plane full of other passengers were grounded at Shannon airport in Ireland. This excerpt from the article captures the moment very well.

“The next day, Mr. Backer said, he observed some of the passengers — “all types, ages, sexes,” he recalled — in the airport, talking and sharing bottles of warm Coca-Cola. Their frustration seemed to have dissipated. It was then, he    said, that the now famous jingle came to him. On a napkin, he scribbled, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.”

The commercial started as a radio jingle and was then transformed into the award-winning classic. “Hilltop” was shot in Tuscany, Italy under the direction of Bill Backer and McCann art director Harvey Gabor. Coke had a continued presence throughout Mad Men starting with Betty’s modeling for their ad through to “Hilltop.” Interestingly, Coke did not pay any product placement fees. When asked about the use of “Hilltop” in a recent interview, Coke CMO, Wendy Clark, said “No money changed hands…we had no idea of the story line.”

Now, thanks to Google, Mad Men fans can see how Don Draper might have envisioned and delivered “Hilltop ” in today’s digital age. Google’s Project Re:Brief pairs the creators of iconic advertising from theMad Men days with Google’s creative teams to reimagine their work. Google selected “Hilltop” and enlisted one of the creators, McCann art director Harvey Gabor, to inspire the Google team. Their re-imagination of Hilltop is amazing. Here’s a link. You will love it.


Finally, a big thanks to Matthew Weiner and a fabulous cast for providing seven seasons of award winning entertainment. Mad Men took me on an artful journey through the early days of my advertising career that I will always remember. For this “real Mad Man”, Mad Men was magical experience.

May 172015

Tweet Last week’s Mad Men episode “The Milk and Honey Route” takes us on winding and complex emotional journey. Most of the action and interactions center on events and relationships outside the hallowed halls of McCann-Erickson, but they surely will reverberate back to Madison Avenue. This Mad Men episode brings us face to face with death, provides glimpses of rebirth of spirit and reveals a cleansing of past sins on a path to the future. Leading into the series final episode we know the apparent fates [read more]

May 082015

Tweet “Lost Horizon” is one hell of an episode. It seemed a bit disjointed at times, but it was rich with action, angst, anger and anticipation. “Lost Horizon” is a deep dive into what it’s like to have personal and professional lives upended by a Madison Avenue agency takeover. The nitty-gritty, not-so genteel, policies, politics, and prejudices of McCann-Erickson took center stage. Both Joan and Peggy were caught in the net of McCann’s boy’s club culture. Joan is a victim of “systemic” sexual harassment and [read more]

May 022015

Tweet “Time & Life” is powerful episode that breaks through the thin veneer of complacency at SC&P and brings everyone face to face with the reality they naively hoped would never materialize. SC&P, the agency, will disappear and the partners will no longer be masters of their universe. Finally, after 10 years Jim Hobart of McCann got what he wanted: the acquisition of SC&P. With this transaction McCann eliminates an industry competitor, neutralizes a threat to their General Motors account, brings top creative talent to [read more]

Apr 262015

Tweet “Forecast” opens with Don’s real estate agent, Melanie, preparing to show Don’s apartment to prospective buyers. Melanie is far from encouraging and tells Don that his apartment reeks of loneliness. She says, “It looks like a sad person lives here.” Don responds with a weak declaration that “A lot of good things happened here”.  Past episodes of “Mad Men” chronicled Don’s attempts to face up to his past and clean up his present state of affairs. From acknowledging his humble, shadowy beginnings, to coming [read more]

Apr 172015

Tweet The new business featured in this week’s episode of AMC’s Mad Men is focused more on personal lives and relationships than revenue-generating clients for Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) SC&P. The opening and closing scenes of “New Business” perfectly capture the extremes of Don’s complicated and hollow personal life. Don is at the Francis house making milkshakes for the kids as Betty and Henry arrive home and Betty announces she’s planning to earn a master’s degree in Psychology at Fairfield University. As he exits, Don [read more]

Apr 082015

Tweet The last Mad Men episode, “Waterloo,” closed out the 60s with McCann Erickson’s acquisition of SC&P, the promise of independence for the agency, and yet another new beginning. Don kept his job, Ted Chaough was back in the game, and the partners got very rich. We were left imagining how Pete and Joan would handle their new found riches and whether fiercely independent Don and flamboyantly flip Roger could cope under the control of a very big global agency. “Severance” picks up in April [read more]

May 292014

Tweet Despite the fact that a death wish and a death bookend this episode, “Waterloo” sets Mad Men on a positive trajectory for the  final episodes. This is an especially powerful and emotional episode that unites Don, Peggy and Roger in rejuvenated relationships. The July, 1969 moon landing mesmerized the world, and kept everyone on edge hoping for the astronauts’ safe return. “Waterloo” draws on the emotions of that event as the backdrop for the next stage of SC&P’s evolution. Ted pulls a bonehead “death wish” stunt with [read more]

May 222014

Tweet This week’s episode of Mad Men focuses on family, proposals and prospects with New York as the convergent center of the action. And there’s lots of it. Pete gets something he’s always wanted, reconnects with his partners and realizes that he’s “different” in New York. Jim turns the IBM 360 into a partnership for Harry over the objections of Joan and Roger while Ted continues to be a distant, largely irrelevant voice in Los Angeles. Bob Benson returns to New York as the bearer of bad [read more]

May 152014

Tweet “The Runaways” is perhaps one of the more disjointed and weird episodes of Mad Men, but it still manages to move the characters along and capture some interesting and important moments at SC&P. The new IBM 360 computer continues to be a distracting and now maddening presence at the agency. Unusual alliances of twosomes and threesomes create new tensions and opportunities. Don continues to eat humble pie on his path to redemption, bolstered by the reappearance of his niece Stephanie, an invigorating threesome compliments of Meagan, [read more]