If you’ll take a teeny time-out from dissecting the end of Mad Men with your friends and how Don Draper seemed to go from having a smile on his face to having a Coke and a smile, the man who actually played the enigmatic ad exec for seven seasons is ready to offer his interpretation of last night’s finale.
In an interview with The New York Times on Monday, Hamm says there “probably” is a correct reading of the final scene, though he notes that it was a “a bit ambiguous.” Viewers of the acclaimed AMC drama saw Don meditating at a retreat in Big Sur, uttering a serene “om,” and issuing a small-yet-revelatory smile before Coke’s famous 1971 “I’d Like to Buy the World A Coke” commercial closed out the series. He says that he “was struck by the poetry of it,” though when series creator Matthew Weiner first shared with him the concept for the closing image, it did not come with context. “I didn’t know how his plans were, to get Don to this meditative, contemplative place,” he said. “I just knew that he had this final image in mind.”
So, what is Hamm’s analysis of the ending, which most but not all people are assuming means that Don ultimately created the iconic campaign? “When we find Don in that place, and this stranger relates this story of not being heard or seen or understood or appreciated, the resonance for Don was total in that moment,” he says. “There was a void staring at him. We see him in an incredibly vulnerable place, surrounded by strangers, and he reaches out to the only person he can at that moment, and it’s this stranger.
My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is. And who he is, is an advertising man. And so, this thing comes to him. There’s a way to see it in a completely cynical way, and say, ‘Wow, that’s awful.’ But I think that for Don, it represents some kind of understanding and comfort in this incredibly unquiet, uncomfortable life that he has led. There was a little bit of a crumb dropped earlier in the season when Ted says there are three women in every man’s life, and Don says, ‘You’ve been sitting on that for a while, huh?’ There are, not coincidentally, three person to person phone calls that Don makes in this episode, to three women who are important to him for different reasons. You see the slow degeneration of his relationships with those women over the course of those phone calls.”
Hamm did not agree with those fans who felt that the show wrapped up its characters’ arcs too cleanly and sweetly. “There’s people saying, oh, it’s so pat, and it’s rom-com-y, or whatever it is. But it’s not the end of anything. The world doesn’t blow up right after the Coke commercial ends. No one is suggesting that Stan and Peggy live happily ever after, or that Joan’s business is a rousing success, or that Roger and Marie come back from Paris together. None of it is done. Matt had said at one point, “I just want my characters to be a little more happy than they were in the beginning,” and I think that’s pretty much true. But these aren’t the last moments of any of these characters’ lives, including Betty. She doesn’t have much time left, but damn if she’s not going to spend it the way she wants to spend it.”
Hamm also shared his thoughts on the way that Peggy’s and Joan’s stories ended, which can be read in the full interview at The New York Times. Of course, Mad Men fans are still eager to hear from the creator himself, and Weiner is slated to talk about the show on Wednesday when he participates in a discussion with novelist A.M Homes at the New York Public Library.