About the ending to last night’s Mad Men

Mad-Men-Robert-Preston

Spoilers — watch out!

When that last scene started, I hated it. I thought it was stupid.

Within about fifteen seconds, I loved it. I thought it was brilliant.

Was it out of character for the show? You bet. Who cares? I loved seeing Robert Morse singing and dancing. 83 years old and he’s still got it. This was the first time for the whole run of the series I could visualize him as the same actor who starred in How To Succeed in Business 50 years ago. Bert Cooper lacked the Robert Morse gap-toothed devilish smile.

But what did the scene mean?

Bert was singing, “The moon belongs to everyone. The best things in life are free.”

We’d just seen an episode devoted to a large extent to the moon landing, along with discussion about how much the moon landing cost, and what else the money could have been spent on. The characters pointing that out were unsympathetic, so that’s not the point the show is making.

In the Mad Men universe, the moon landing is not a waste of money (not in the real world either, but that’s not what we’re talking about here). It is one of the best things in life. But it’s definitely not free.

Also not free: Don Draper had just bet his career on a high-risk transaction. And won. He made a lot of money.

And we leave him slumped against a desk, alone and desolate. Why?

Grief for Bert? Possibly. He and Bert were never close. They were enemies for this half-season. But it’s natural to feel grief for anybody who you’ve worked closely with daily for more than a decade, even if you didn’t love the guy.

Relief at winning the high-stakes bet, now that it was over? Possibly.

But it’s also true that some of the best things in life are free. Or are acquired with something other than coin. And Don is impoverished in those areas: Family, friends, and accomplishments that matter.

Great episode. I like that it didn’t leave us with anything obviously cliffhangery — no major characters in a coma, no cops pounding on anybody’s door. This episode could have been a series finale. But it does open the door to the final seven episodes next year.

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