A lot of critics have been questioning this final season of Mad Men, as is their job. Seems like there’s been a rising tide of criticism that these last 6 episodes have not been up to the quality of the rest of the series.
One common complaint is that it seems like there’s no urgency to the story. Most people are wondering just what it is this final season and this show in general is all about.
For me this season it’s become fairly clear what Mad Men has been all about this whole time:
Mad Men is about the way Don Draper, and our culture as a whole, seeks meaning in meaningless things.
Don Draper has been trying to find his identity in all the things of the world ever since he became Don Draper, abandoning his birthname and his troubled past to try and be something greater in life.
Over the past 7 seasons we’ve admired him because he wants his job to have a greater purpose than just hocking chocolate and soda pop. But really that’s all advertising is. It doesn’t really have a deeper purpose behind it.
The way series creator Matthew Weiner has used the advertising world to showcase this over the past 7 seasons has been brilliant. Time and time again these masterful marketers sell cigarettes and fast food by manipulating their audience into finding deeper meaning in these everyday products. (It’s not just a story of how foolish earlier generations were to believe what they did; it’s also about how so little has changed in the past 60 years.)
So to escape the hollowness of his business Don turns to women. Unfortunately there is no escape there.
His relationships fail time after time because he tries to find his identity in these relationships. When he can’t, his mind wanders to the next woman who catches his eye, hoping maybe this one will be the one.
If you watch closely you’ll notice that Don has found himself without a home at the end of nearly every episode this season. He’s been rejected by Diana, booted out of his apartment by a realtor and removed from the comforts of the SCP offices. He’s continually being rejected by the things he thinks will give him meaning.
Finally, at the end of the penultimate episode, Don finds himself without a car and without any possessions (besides a Sears shopping bag of clothes) all alone at a bus stop. Stripped of everything he once found value in it seems like he might actually be on the verge of making a change in his life.
Anyone who’s ever looked to find their self-worth in the eyes of another can relate to Don Draper’s existential crisis – including me.
This has been a flaw in my life ever since I had my first grade school crush. I thought growing up that once I found the right girl, once I got married, I would feel complete. Everything would fall into place. All my worries and cares would go out the window – for marriage was all I ever wanted or needed.
Well, I’ve been married for 6 months now. I can unequivocally say this not true.
I do not feel more complete as a human being now that I am married. And I think this is a good thing.
To be clear: I love my wife dearly. I feel God has put us together for a reason. I feel He is blessing us through this relationship. I pray every day that we are able to live in wedded bliss for the next 75 years and that God would use our relationship to impact the lives of others.
I do not feel like my wife and I complete each other. I do not feel like we make each other whole. I do not feel like we give the other purpose.
I believe one’s purpose and value and meaning in life can only come from God.
When you look for another person in life to complete you – to give your life meaning – you are going on a fruitless search. God did not create one person in life that was made for another person. He never intended for us to need another person to feel complete.
I believe wanting another person in life to complete you – to give your life meaning – is not what makes a relationship successful. I believe it is instead a fatal flaw.
My wife and I are a great benefit to each other. I have seen and felt this first hand. But we do not fulfill the other’s purpose in life. And I believe we love each other better when we remember this.
This was not an easy lesson to learn. It’s one I have to relearn constantly. Every day I must pray for God to strip away my connection to everything the world is advertising to give me meaning. Products, places, praises – even people. None of these will save me or restore me or complete me.
As Don Draper finds himself at the final corner of his journey, I hope he can choose the right path. I hope he can stop his life from slipping away from him and not become the man we see falling through the opening credits of Mad Men.
We want our heroes, even the make-believe ones, to make things right in the end. If Don Draper wants to ever escape the hollow cycle he’s found himself in, he must understand this lesson about meaning.
The meaning of Mad Men speaks to something deep inside everyone of us, and that is the desire for a meaningful life. The desire to be more than just a cog in the corporate machine. The desire to transcend the world tries to sell to us and to find something better.
If we are to find meaning in life, we must stop looking for meaning in anything in this life besides the Maker Of Life.
For more thoughts on infamous Series Finales of the past few years, check out Pop God’s posts on the ends of these beloved shows: