A Problem With “MAD MEN” Finale

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A PROBLEM WITH THE “MAD MEN” SERIES FINALE

I had a problem with the “MAD MEN” series finale, (7.14) “Person to Person”. Ironically, it had a lot to do with the characters of Don Draper and his first ex-wife, Betty Francis. And this problem first manifested in the series’ penultimate episode, (7.13) “The Milk and Honey Route”.

Betty Francis’ sudden development an advanced case of cancer did not work for me. It seemed to come out of no where. I never understood why Weiner had saddled her with such a quickie death . . . yet, at the same time, allowed Roger Sterling to survive the end of the series. Yes . . . I am speaking of the same Roger Sterling who had suffered two massive heart attacks in the Season One episode, (1.10) “Long Weekend”. His heart problem never became a major issue again, despite his continuing drinking, whoring and occasional forays into drug use. I find that rather odd.

Then again, this is the same Matthew Weiner who had told television journalists that Betty’s main reason for divorcing Don in the Season Three finale, (3.13) “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”, had to do with class bigotry. I never understood his comment. Betty had been aware of Don’s working-class origins throughout their marriage. She made that clear in (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”. When Roger had expressed his suspicions about Don’s class origins in (1.07) “Red in the Face”, Betty seemed more interested in the idea of learning more about Don than concern over the possibility that he might be working-class. She certainly seemed satisfied by Don’s revelation to her and their kids about his past on a poor farm, during a picnic in Season Two’s (2.07) “The Gold Violin”. She seemed thrilled over the idea that she was learning more about him. So . . . Weiner’s claim that class bigotry was one of the major reasons behind Betty’s decision to get a divorce never worked for me.

Between these comments about the Draper divorce and his decision to saddle Betty with an advanced stage of cancer makes me wonder if Weiner ever liked her in the first place. Is it possible that he saw Betty as a reminder of any mother issues he might possess? Some fans have claimed that Betty’s cancer finally gave her a chance to develop as a character. This is another argument I find difficult to accept. From the moment Betty had learned about Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett in “The Gold Violin”, and kicked him out of the house in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, I believe her character had been developing. Yes, she had setbacks. After all, she was supposed to be human. Did the audience and critics really expect instant character growth from Betty? I certainly did not. And it was easy to see that she been slowly developing as a character over the years.

If we are truly supposed to believe that Don finally achieved character growth during his “Kumbaya” moment in “Person to Person”, then one could easily say that his development seemed . . . “instant”. I mean it came out of no where. The speed in which Don allegedly achieved final character development left me shaking my head in disbelief. I could have bought it if Weiner had allowed Don’s character to develop with the same pace as Betty’s – slow and over a long period of time, with the occasional setbacks. Instead, audiences were treated to a “Kumbaya” moment for Don at a California yogi retreat, followed by the famous 1971 Coca-Cola commercial.

Exactly what was Weiner trying to say with that last shot of Don? That the latter had created the commercial? Or was someone else responsible? Why leave the show on an ambiguous note for Don? Weiner could have ended Don’s personal story on a more final note . . . and still hint that he had ended one stage in his life and was about to embark upon another. Or . . . he could have killed Don off. I would have been happy with that scenario.

Do not get me wrong. I liked “MAD MEN” very much. After all, I had stuck with it for seven seasons. But there have been times over the years when I found myself wondering if this series may have been a little overrated. I certainly felt that way when I watched the series’ finale.

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