Matthew Weiner has mentioned several times over the course of this final season of Mad Men that his main characters (Joan, Peggy, Pete, Betty, Roger, and Don) would get their own goodbyes, and that their endings would be the natural progression of their characters. In other words, they would feel right. Betty Francis Draper got what appears to be her ending this week. Though it was heartbreaking, it’s hard to argue that it didn’t feel right for the character. Given how much the characters on Mad Men smoke, someone had to get lung cancer at some point, and it’d make sense that it was Betty, who we almost never saw without a cigarette, and who even smoked while she was pregnant with her third child.
It makes sense, too, in light of the fact that Don Draper made his career on the back of tobacco and Lucky Strike, of whom Don wrote when he decided Sterling Cooper should quit advertising tobacco:
For over twenty-five years we devoted ourselves to peddling a product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can’t stop themselves from buying it. A product that never improves, that causes people illness, that makes people unhappy.
It’s a fitting but an unexpectedly sad ending for Betty Draper. Not always the most beloved character on Mad Men, she finally came into her own this final season. She was content in her marriage. She had carved out a new path for herself. She’d even become a less selfish mother.
It makes sense, however, that she wouldn’t battle her inevitable death. Betty Francis has always had high regard for appearances. In fact, she divorced Don not because he was a philandering alcoholic, but because she found out who he really was (Dick Whitman) — the high-society man she thought she’d married. It’s why she ended up with a well-regarded man like Henry Francis, why she forced Sally to eat food she was being served at Thanksgiving dinner the first time she met Henry’s mother, even if it resulted in Sally throwing up at the table.
Betty Draper has always been characterized by good manners, etiquette, and appearances, and that’s the way she has chosen to die: With dignity and composure. She wouldn’t think of letting it interfere with Sally’s school. She doesn’t want to trouble her sons. It even makes total sense in that regard that the letter she’d leave Sally to open upon her death was as much about goodbye and I love you as it was about what she should wear at her own funeral, how her hair should be styled, and where she should be buried. It’s all about keeping up appearances until the very end for Betty Francis, and though you could see that as a sign of vanity or shallowness, it’s hard not to respect how much she clung to her principles. In the words of The Dude, “At least it’s an ethos.”
Meanwhile, while Weiner has always said that his characters would get the “right” ending, he didn’t say they’d get the “just” ending, and as much as I love Pete Campbell, he got the ending he was meant to get, even if it wasn’t the one he deserved. I love the romanticism of him getting back up with Trudy and seemingly maturing, landing the job in Wichita, and living happily ever after, but Pete is and always has been a weasel. He probably will continue to be a weasel.
Duck Phillips said that Pete Campbell was having a string of good luck, but that good luck has followed him around for most of his life. That “luck” has a name: It’s called “white male privilege.” He’s from Dartmouth. He comes from money. It was never going to end any other way than successful for Pete Campbell. Coming from Pete’s background, that’s just inertia moving him upwards. At least he seemed to learn his lesson about cheating, telling his brother that it only feels good for a short time, but that it doesn’t last. Pete’s ending is the complete opposite of Joan’s ending: She got pushed out because she’s a woman. Pete got pushed up because he’s a man. It’s 1970. It would never be any other way.
There was some fun irony to the fact that Pete’s going to work for Lear Jets, however. After all, his father died in a plane crash, and I’m sure Weiner was teasing us a little with the relocation to Wichita, home of the Wichita State University football team, many of whom died in a plane crash in 1970. Note, too, that the credits song was a Buddy Holly song, who died in a plane crash, and if you want to stretch the connections, Don McLean wrote “American Pie” about the plane crash Buddy Holly died in, and Pete is found eating Trudy’s pie in this episode.
Finally, Don is moving ever-closer to his happy ending in Shangri La. Los Angeles or Hawaii?
Or, hell, maybe he goes to Rome?
He may not ever announce his intention to become Dick Whitman again, and he may continue to use Don Draper as his name, but for all intents and purposes, he’s Dick Whitman. He’s shed the suit. He’s done with McCann and advertising. He gave up the apartment. He even got rid of the car. He’s in Alva, Okla. In a metaphorical sense, the ending I predicted for Don Draper is already coming to fruition.
Don Draper is dead, in the sense that the man traveling across the country is no longer that person. He’s a different man. A handy man. A guy who talks about his war stories, a man who gets drunk and reveals that he killed his commanding officer in Korea. He’s a free man. That’s what that opening scene was about: The dream of the cop pulling him over. The past has caught up with him. “You knew we’d catch up with you eventually,” the officer told him. But Don is embracing it. He’s happy to be free of Don Draper and all the obligations that it entails. He’s going to let the hustler kid have a shot at being a Don Draper. He’s passing the baton.
We may see Joan, Pete, Roger, and even Betty again briefly, but I think their stories are done for the most part. There’s one hour of Mad Men left, and I think next week’s episode will be all about Don and Peggy.