I’ve watched AMC’s Mad Men from its beginning since I’ve worked on the fringes of the Advertising Industry. I minored in Advertising in college and planned to enter the field. What I did do was enter the Animation Industry and as an employee of an animation production company I worked on many national TV commercials. I’ve helped animated such characters as the Jolly Green Giant, Charlie the Starkist Tuna, the Keebler Elves, The Quick Bunny, the Carl’s Jr. Starboy and a dozen others so watching how advertising is portrayed on TV has always interested me. It’s the reason I watched “Thirty Something” and “Bewitched” so Mad Men has been a favorite for years.
Some recent other shows I watched that I felt really dropped the ball with their series finales were Dexter (he fakes his death) and Sons Of Anarchy (he gets hit by a truck, really?). When this last season of Mad Men began (the second half of the last season) I groaned as once again Don Draper takes the show off the tracks into left field somewhere for no apparent reason. He’s done this a couple times in the past where he’s gone to California to visit the real Don Draper’s widow or has sex with a teenage girl as her parents smile. Weird little non sequiturs that seem to lead nowhere and are rarely mentioned again but now I understand the series as a whole it makes a whole lot more sense.
If you view the entire series run of Mad Men as the story of how the iconic 1971 Coca Cola commercial “Hilltop” came to be created, then everything becomes clearer. After all, how did that famous spot showing a group of young people all sitting on a hilltop singing, “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” come from a 44 year old Madison Avenue advertising exec who would have grown up in the pre-hippie / Love Child era? What kind of a journey might a white, middle aged, high power executive type from the 1950s have had to go through to end up with such a Zen inspired spot? If that was the intent of Mad Men from the beginning then Don’s idiosycracies were an important part of the story and his excursions into the heart of America such as his hanging out with Craig Breedlove (?) trying to build his rocket car, Spirit Of America to break the land speed record are not just Don trying to get away from the hustle and bustle of New York City to clear his head, nor a fact finding tour of Middle America to see what makes the common man tick these days but rather it’s Don realizing that to change people’s lives (by selling them things) he himself needs to live life. It’s his getting out and away from time to time that fuels his imagination and puts him in touch with his audience, to become one with them. Certainly without his finding his inner bliss through meditation he never could have dreamt up that Coke commercial just as without going through his divorce would we have come up with the Kodak Carousel concept.
As has already been pointed out, the receptionist at the Big sur retreat where he was forced to surrender himself to the program after his “niece” abandoned him there, was dressed the same as one of the hilltop singers shown in the actual 1971 commercial that ended the series suggesting, strongly, that Don Draper did return to New York and created the Coke spot. But was Mad Men about the creation of that commercial from its inception? The actual creator of the spot worked for the same ad agency Don ended up with but that could have been written into the show for the last season but what about the alliteration of both their names; Don Draper and the actual creator, Bill Backer? Bill Backer was 44 when he created the Coke spot and Don was about 35 when the show began so he too, was in his mid-forties at the end. Personally, I’d like to think it was planned from the beginning but either way it turned out to be perhaps my favorite TV series finale of all time.