Pretty much since we were given the first inkling of a hint that Mad Men couldn’t last forever and would eventually end, fans have been speculating about how it would all go down. There were plenty of wild theories and most of them turned out to be wrong… one truly feminist hope for the show proved (almost) right, however.
[Warning: Obviously, this article contains spoilers from the series finale of Mad Men. Proceed at your own risk.]
Deep breath. OK… here goes.
There were so many amazing moments we took away from the show. From seeing Sally return home to care for the mother she’s spent a decade sassing to Roger finally settling down *gasp* Megan’s mom, the finale was perfect. As much as we all speculated that Don (Jon Hamm) would leap from the window, we were insanely glad that didn’t come true.
The bonus ending that seemed to possibly hint that Don returned to New York (most likely a better man) and went on to build the most talked about Coke campaign of all time was far better than being right about his theorized death. And, let’s face it, as much as we hate Pete Campbell, we were even cooing at him boarding the private plane with Trudy and his daughter. However, true winners of the Mad Men age were Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan.
Fans have been holding out hope that Peggy and Joan (Christina Hendricks) would wander off to California to start their own female-led ad agency, and we didn’t get that. For a split second, we thought we might witness Joan and Peggy team up to run a production company, and that would have been awesome. Instead, we saw them amicably stay split, and it was just as equally feminist. Bear with us.
Harris-Olson Productions would have diminished their individual personalities. As women, we have a tendency to either repel each other or band together for the common good. While the former is often portrayed in catty fights (the ladies on Mad Men have certainly had those), the latter is a truly remarkable and praiseworthy characteristic of women. However, our tendency to hook arms with our BFFs doesn’t always highlight our individual strength and personality.
Think about the men of Mad Men. Don was the ultimate self-made man. Sure, he used someone else’s name. But he climbed up out of nothing all on his own, using only his sheer desire to rise above his past. The rest of the men, while some came from money or powerful families, all took great strides to remain competitive and independent. They were friends, but they rarely relied on each other. They rarely banded together in the name of solidarity. Sure, that’s mostly out of stubbornness and an inability to truly work as a team. But their progress is still one that would have been admired by other men.
Together, Peggy and Joan would become one entity. They’d be starting over, maybe not from the bottom, but not at the top, and their story would always require mentioning the other person. It’s not as powerful as the “self-made” angle. The men they would spend the next few decades working with would have one more thing to hold against them. Furthermore, like Pickett’s fence strategy during the Civil War, when you line up together, you’re taken out together. What we saw Peggy and Joan do was divide and, hopefully eventually, conquer.
So, we left our favorite girls in a much better, more open-minded positions than what we had hoped for them. Peggy forwent partnering with Joan because her true love (Stan Rizzo!) and passion (advertising) were at the agency. She truly believed that if she stuck out the hardships, like she’d already done for the past decade, she’d eventually find herself at the top of her game. And, bonus, she’d be with her best friend-turned-lover, Rizzo. (PS- Thank you, thank you, thank you! Matthew Weiner, I take back all the nasty things I’ve said about you.)
Meanwhile, faced with the choice of becoming someone’s pretty coke-snorting house(non)wife or continuing her push for more success and a better life on her own, Joan let her dude walk out the door and started the production company on her own.
Now, instead of having two women in power in one field (either production or advertising), we have women in power in both fields. Of course, their work overlaps enough that both women can still hire each other. In a distant sort of way, this means they can still help each other climb the ladder and shatter the ceiling. But their stories will look much different now. They’ll have the self-made stories that men admire, which will only help them advance further. It’s a much bigger move for feminism and, honestly, stays truer to their characters than anything we had hoped for them.
Say what you want about Weiner (and we certainly have), he at least gave us the happy ending we needed. For that, we’re eternally grateful.