We’re closer to the end of Mad Men then we are to the beginning. Ever since creator Matthew Weiner and AMC finally reached a compromise on the Great Showrunner Contract Negotiation of 2011, Weiner has been declaring pretty definitively that the show will run for a total of seven seasons. That’s still a lot of Mad Men – especially if the show keeps taking 18 months between seasons, we’ll be luxuriating in Don Draper’s beautiful melancholy until 2015 – but Weiner already has a sense of how he’s going to end the show. In a freewheeling conversation with Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin at L.A.’s Largo, Weiner said that he knows how the show will end. “I always felt like it would be the experience of human life. And human life has a destination. It doesn’t mean Don’s gonna die. What I’m looking for, and how I hope to end the show, is like… It’s 2011. Don Draper would be 84 right now. I want to leave the show in a place where you have an idea of what it meant and how it’s related to you.”
Sound vague? It is. At first, I thought Weiner was actually talking about doing a flashforward ending to the modern day, which sounds a little bit like the conclusion of Six Feet Under and the conclusion of Harry Potter, which leads to the mental vision of Jon Hamm in old age make-up. But the stealth narrative of Mad Men has always been the creation of the modern era – how the postwar rise of consumerism and the simultaneous pursuit of personal fulfillment directly led to a society built around self-promotion, the personal is political, Facebook, Kardashian, etc. – so maybe Weiner is just being a bit more abstract.
I’m betting that Mad Men will end at some pivotal turning point in American history which symbolically connects the show forward. Maybe it’ll be the election of Richard Nixon – that would bring the show full circle, since for much of the first season, the ad agency was brainstorming ideas for Nixon’s failed 1960 campaign. (Then again, if Mad Men takes some long-leap time jumps into the ’70s, it could end right around the time that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak invented the Apple II – and wasn’t Jobs, in hindsight, sort of a Draper-esque figure?)
The more interesting thing, I think, is that Matthew Weiner is envisioning Mad Men’s ending as a definitive ending. (Just to drive the point home, he compares his planned conclusion to the final song on Abbey Road, called simply “The End.”) It’s interesting to contrast that with the conclusion of the last Great American TV Series that Weiner worked on. Like Mad Men, Sopranos ran for seven seasons – well, five 13-episode seasons and a 21-episode sixth season that was split in two halves across two years.
But Sopranos famously rounded out its series finale with a brilliant, fascinating, aggressively ambiguous cut-to-black conclusion. Weiner seems to be describing a decidedly less ambiguous finale. I’ll be intrigued to see if he can pull it off; even the best shows usually have disappointing endings. (Indeed, the best thing about the Sopranos finale was that it openly acknowledged that TV as a medium isn’t about endings, really.) Fellow viewers, how would you want to see Mad Men end?
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