TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. "Mad Men," the AMC series that premiered in 2007, won four Emmys as best dramatic series and helped change the landscape of modern television, ended last night after an eight-year run. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has this review aimed at "Mad Men" fans who, like himself, watched it when it aired. If you haven't seen it yet, you can listen when you're ready on our website.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: Did Matthew Weiner, the creator of "Mad Men" and both the writer and director of its final episode, end his series with a satisfying capper? You bet he did - better than I expected, given the pressure and the buildup - and to be honest, better than I could've imagined. The final moments of the final "Mad Men" were true not only to the series and its characters, they also were true to the animated credit sequence that opened every episode and to the spirit of advertising and reinvention that were at the very core of this period character study. About a month ago, when "Mad Men" had only a handful of episodes to go, I wasn't at all sure that Weiner and his writers, producers, directors and actors would be able to pull it off. But when Don Draper, played by series star Jon Hamm, and most of his cohorts were swallowed up by a larger ad agency, the shape and scope of the ending began to crystallize. Instead of being absorbed into a larger business with better positions, Don and company found themselves at worst unwanted and at best unappreciated drones in a giant hive. For Don, the cracking point came when he attended a sales meeting, the kind he used to run and dazzle everyone with because of his flowery and evocative word pictures. Only now the conference room was full of Don Drapers, most of them younger. And as one of them reveals his research pitch for a new Miller beer campaign, it's as though Don is listening to himself, and he doesn't like the feeling at all.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I'm going to describe a man to you of very specific qualities. He lives in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio; some call it the Heartland; some call it the Beer Belt. He has some college, makes a good living, but it doesn't feel like it because he works long hours. He has a lawnmower, wants a hammock; a bunch of power tools in the garage that he never uses. He loves sports because he used to play them and he loves dogs because they don't talk.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) We all know this man because there are millions of him, and he drinks beer.
BIANCULLI: Rather than sit and listen to this guy prattle on using Don's old snake charmer vocabulary, Don Draper walked out, hit the road, and embarked on a cross-country downward spiral. He was like his counterpart in the opening credits, freefalling to an apparent horrible and messy end. By last night's finale, Don had given away most of his possessions, burned bridges with almost everyone he loved and found himself stuck in a New Age retreat in California. At his lowest point, Don places a collect call to Peggy, his former protege played by Elisabeth Moss, who is hearing from him for the first time since he walked out of that Miller beer meeting.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")
ELISABETH MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) Look, I know you get sick of things and you run, but you can come home.
JON HAMM: (As Don Draper) Where?
MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) McCann will take you back in a second. Apparently it's happened before. Don't you want to work on Coke?
HAMM: (As Don Draper) I can't. I can't get out of here.
MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) Don, come home.
HAMM: (As Don Draper) I messed everything up. I'm not the man you think I am.
MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) Don, listen to me. What did you ever do that was so bad?
HAMM: (As Don Draper) I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man's name and made nothing of it.
MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) That's not true.
BIANCULLI: It was true, but that wasn't the point or the end. Next came a quick but clever montage revealing the fates of many favorite "Mad Men" characters. Except for Don's wife, Betty, shrouded with the shadow of a fatal cancer diagnosis, the other characters all seemed happy. Peggy, Roger, Joan, even Pete, all got something they wanted. And then there was Don with nothing and no one left, dejectedly dragged outside to chant om and meditate. The camera pulls in closer and closer on his face, and Don suddenly breaks into a slight smile. He's thought of something, something that will bring him back from his free fall and land him in the catbird seat just like in those "Mad Men" credits. It's significant that Don, in his deepest moment of meditation, has a revelation that isn't personal but professional and more than a little cynical. Instead of coming to terms with his own emotional shortcomings, Don Draper comes up with a way to channel all the New Age energy around him into a TV ad concept for one of his new firm's biggest clients. It's one of the most famous TV ads of the '70s, and it not only ends the career slide of Don Draper, but it ends "Mad Men" as well.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
THE HILLSIDE SINGERS: (Singing) I'd like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love. Grow apple trees and honey bees and snow white turtledoves. I'd like to teach the world to sing - sing with me - in perfect harmony. I'd like buy the world a Coke and keep it company. I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company. And it's the real thing. Coke is what the world wants today. Coca-Cola is the real thing. Coke is what the world wants today...
BIANCULLI: That's not only a classic piece of television history, it's the perfect conclusion to "Mad Men." After all this drama and all these years, a TV series about men and women in advertising ends with a full-length advertisement. That's so unexpected, yet so appropriate and so, so twisted. It's wonderful.
GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. Tomorrow, we'll hear from Elizabeth Banks. She directed the new hit comedy "Pitch Perfect 2." And we talk with Rachel Dissell a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, whose investigation into sexual assaults helped lead to a new Ohio law mandating that thousands of backlogged rape kits be tested. They include DNA evidence that has enabled the police to track down many serial rapists. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.