SPOILERS FOR THE MAD MEN FINALE
In case you missed it, there was a little show called Mad Men, and it came to an end on Sunday night, with a suitably ambiguous juxtaposition of a seemingly peaceful Don Draper/Dick Whitman and an iconic ad for Coca-Cola.
The Internet is filled with thoughts on what those final moments signify. Has Don finally said goodbye to the emptiness of advertising with all its hollow feel-good messages and false promises of happiness? Or is Matthew Weiner implying that Don will simply use his Californian hippy moment as inspiration to write that very ad?
Either way, the landmark television series ended with a set of moments that are sure to both delight and infuriate fans. Peggy and Stan got together (good news for shippers of The Pegastan.) Joan blasted through the glass ceiling by starting her own business as a producer (and in a possible hint of her future as a Julia Phillips-type, she also snorted cocaine – another kind of Coke!) Betty faced Death on her terms – dying of lung cancer but still smoking – determined to leave a beautiful corpse.
Instead, the final shot of the episode was Don’s smiling face.
And it’s a smile we’ve never seen before.
We’ve seen Don drunk-smirking, and politely smiling when social situations demanded it, but we still knew that he was miserable. Every fleeting moment of contentment was followed by a return to Don’s usual state of despair.
Nothing he has done has filled that void. Creating the perfect nuclear family with Betty didn’t work. Trying to be a combination mentor/husband to Megan didn’t work. Becoming vastly wealthy through creative work didn’t work. Having numerous affairs with different sorts of women (bohemians, artists, cool-headed business types, stand-ins for his mother, bimbos) didn’t help heal his inner self.
But that little curl of Jon Hamm’s lips: it’s a genuinely contented, self-satisfied smile – the smile of someone who is at that moment truly happy.
It is the Smile of the Buddha.
Whether it lasts … who knows?
Originally published at 2paragraphs