Matthew Weiner is not going to reveal the ending of Mad Men before it airs, obviously. He won’t even officially say if the second half of the final season is set in the 1970s (though, it appears from various clues that it is). But he’s talked about the ending to Mad Men in a general sense over the last few years, and if you start to piece his quotes together about the ending from various sources, it all seems to add up to this: Don’t get your hopes up. It’s probably not a crowd-pleasing finale, but it’s also not going to be a surprise twist that’s going to anger fans, either, like the How I Met Your Mother finale.
If you parse his quotes on the finale close enough, you may be able to get a gist of what he’s going for. In fact, we know that Matthew Weiner has had the Mad Men finale in mind for several years, and I think the most he’s ever really said about it was on a podcast with Jeff Garlin three years ago. Via Screenrant:
“I do know how the whole show ends. It came to me in the middle of last season. I always felt like it would be the experience of human life. And human life has a destination. It doesn’t mean Don’s gonna die. What I’m looking for, and how I hope to end the show, is like … It’s 2011. Don Draper would be 84 right now. I want to leave the show in a place where you have an idea of what it meant and how it’s related to you. It’s a very tall order, but I always talk about Abbey Road. What’s the song at the end of Abbey Road? It’s called ‘The End.’ There is a culmination of an experience of people working at their highest level. And all I want to do is not wear out the welcome. I was 35 when I wrote the Mad Men pilot, 42 when I got to make it, and I’ll be 50 when it goes off the air. So that’s what you’re gonna get. Do I know everything that’s gonna happen? No, I don’t. But I just want it to be entertaining, and I want people to remember it fondly and not think it ended in a fart.”
What does that really mean? At the end of Mad Men, we’ll have a fairly good idea of what it all meant and where it lead them in their lives. In other words, how the cumulation of all those experiences since 1960 have affected Don Draper.
But don’t expect a mystery to be solved. In fact, he’s ended the series before — or at least he thought he had — so if you want to know how the series ends, look at the season finales of the past and expect something along those lines.
“Mad Men is not Lost or even Breaking Bad. There will be a whole story told, but there is no mystery to be solved. All I can tell you is that we made it one episode at a time. And, of the seven years, there are at least three of those seasons where the season finale I thought was possibly the series finale. So I’ve ended it before.”
It’s not going to be an ending that will please everyone. Then again, very few series finales do. If you’re looking for one way for it to end in particular, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
From Rolling Stone:
“The road has been paved for a mixed review, no matter what. I do what I’ve always done on the show and rely on the people around me. The actors, the writers, and my wife all liked it, so that’s all I can go on at this point. I hate to say this — obviously ending the entire series is significantly more pressure — but it’s been that way every year,” Weiner told the Wall Street Journal. “I never knew if the show was coming back for most of the series, so we treated every episode 13 like it was the end. It’s very bittersweet and high-pressure.”
Jon Hamm, one of the few cast members who knows how it ends, seemed to confirm that it’s not going to please everyone (from Reuters):
“There needs to be one person who really likes the ending, and that’s the guy that writes it…Matt was given the ability to end it the way he wanted to. I hope people like it. I don’t want to be part of something that people hate, but I don’t think anything is 100 percent either way.”
Don’t expect a The Sopranos-like ending that’s going to piss a lot of people off, either. Weiner via Adweek:
“I’m trying to delight them and confound them, and not frustrate and irritate them. I don’t want them to walk away angry,” Weiner said of Mad Men viewers. But at the same time, “I don’t want to pander to them. … Sometimes, people have to be protected from what they want to see happen. You can’t just give them everything they want.”
One potential thing to worry about, however, is this answer at a Q&A from two years ago on the Mad Men finale. From Hypable:
“He says he’s told his wife and a few writers about the ending of the entire series. He says that he’s been told it’s a disaster, but he’s going with it [anyway]”
The last time Weiner really thought that Mad Men might be ending was Season 4, before the long contract negotiations that both ended up delaying Season 5 and nearly resulted in the series’ cancellation. The way that Season 4 ended, with Don Draper rejecting Faye (the woman that really knew him for who he was, and knew about Dick Whitman and accepted him) in favor of Megan, probably tells you what Weiner has in mind, which is to say that people don’t change that much. Don’t be surprised to see Mad Men end with Don repeating the same cycle again, choosing another Betty/Megan over another Anna Draper or Faye, repeating the cycle anew.
For Don Draper, that’s an ending that makes sense, but that is neither confounding nor particularly pleasing. Just like Matthew Weiner envisioned.