Spoiler Alert: I think MAYBE it’s safe to talk about the Mad Men series finalé. If you were going to watch, you would have by now. New York magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz summed it all up beautifully… better than I could…
Mad Men closed with its hero, adman Don Draper (Jon Hamm), sitting lotus-style on a hilltop in 1970, experiencing bliss, or something like it. Don had proclaimed ten years earlier that love was a lie invented by guys like him to sell nylons and that we’re all born alone and die alone, and now here he was in California, shorn of his job, his home, his marriage, his apartment, his car, and even his suit, meditating on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. Our final glimpse of Don was a close-up of his face as he smiled somewhat mysteriously, whereupon series creator Matthew Weiner, who wrote and directed the finale, cut to Coca-Cola’s 1971 musical ad, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”
That grin plus the Coke commercial added up to the perfect ending for a drama that was consistently hard-edged yet essentially compassionate, and more perceptive about the realities of human behavior than almost any show in TV history. It hinted at renewal and deep change even as the rest of the episode carefully assured us that Don was still Don: that he wasn’t about to execute an about-face and become a selfless and tender mate, a sensitive and responsible co-worker, a doting dad to his soon-to-be-motherless kids, or anything else that smacked of audience pandering. Earlier in the episode, Don had considered going back to New York and fighting Betty for custody of his children, then decided not to — perhaps because, as Betty reminded him in an agonizing phone conversation, he’d never shown much interest in them over the years. Only in simpleminded entertainments do liars transform themselves into completely honest men, commitment-phobes into ideal mates, and bad parents into great ones. The implication of that cut from Don’s smile to the ad was that Don would go on to create that famous Coke ad (an impression confirmed by Weiner a few days later in a conversation at the New York Public Library; he’d warned us that, unlike the Sopranos ending, nobody would have to argue about what happened on a plot level). The cut was funny because this was the same Don who’d confidently told his then-boss Roger Sterling in 1960 that ‘if I leave this place one day, it won’t be for more advertising.’
For the rest of his brilliant recap, go here.
FYI, the real-life person behind the Coke ad WAS a creative director at McCann Ericksonnamed Bill Backer, who was inspired by seeing some formerly irate air travelers communing over Cokes. Backer connected with Billy Davis, a music director for the Coke account, and they and a few other songwriters refined a jingle around the chorus:
“I’d like to buy the world a Coke.”
The visuals didn’t come quite so easily. A shoot in Britain, and another in Rome were aborted because of bad weather. On a then HUGE budget of $250,000, a second shoot in Rome was a success, featuring a lip-syncing chorus of 500! Then came a pop song that capitalized on the popularity of the commercial. And so, if I may, I’d like to buy the world a Coke… enjoy. It’s the real thing.