Thursday, May 07, 2015

A Wild Ending for Mad Men

While some sort of soothing, tieing-bows-on-things, ‘where everyone ends up 5 years or a decade hence’ ending for Mad Men is still most likely, here's my own long-shot ‘wild’ ending for the show.
Consider a frame-grab of a guy whose face we never see from the remarkable coda/final scene of Les Bonnes Femmes (1960):

Look familiar? Well, here’s MM’s creator Matt Weiner discussing LBF for a recent museum exhibit and retrospective on MM:
I first saw this in film school and shared it to help the production design of the pilot because it was shot in the streets of Paris, with little embellishment, at exactly the time we were trying to recreate. The thematic aspects were valuable as well, as the film tells the everyday story of four bored working women led astray by their romantic fantasies. My favorite sequence, a kind of postscript to the whole film, is particularly relevant to the series as it features an unknown woman looking right down the lens at the audience.
My first side-bet, then, is that Weiner is going to steal this final shot from LBF for MM's own final shot.
My second side-bet is that Weiner steals much more extensively from LBF’s ending – or more precisely its double-ending – because it’s one of the greatest endings in movie history, yet very few people know it, so it really is super-stealable! Without spoiling anything much, in LBF’s first ending something very nasty and shocking (but also inevitable in retrospect) happens to a beloved figure. Then we get a second ending: a very oblique, dream-like, ultimately fourth-wall-breaking scene with a man whose face we never see and a woman who stares straight at us who’s completely new but also unnervingly similar to - clearly the same type as - the victim in the first ending.

So, here’s my ultra-fanciful long-shot prediction for the end of MM’s finale. A super-shocking first ending for Joan or Sally or Peggy followed by an oblique coda that begins by drifting through a club alighting on a guy in Don’s couch pose whose face we never see as per my first image above, and that ends with that guy dancing with a new woman (presumably another in Don’s line/type of dark-haired, troubled beauties, but maybe waitress Diana) who stares straight at us (my second image above).

It’s unlikely that Weiner will do anything this radical. After all, just the first ‘shocking’ ending would probably cause outrage among most fans of the show (and, with Betty falling to lung cancer this week, would undoubtedly cause some online communities to cry misogynist foul). Does Weiner have the stomach for that?

And what of a very artsy second ending? People semi-rioted when Chabrol dropped this whole package on them in Paris in 1960. Would Weiner go that far out? He's not David Lynch! And yet Weiner has cited Blue Velvet as an important influence, and there have been a few horror notes sounded but not paid off in recent eps, and the whole second half season was dedicated to Mike Nichols, whose period appropriate Carnal Knowledge (1971) has a brutal ending. So a shocking and generally 'far out' ending wouldn't be completely out of the blue if it happened

My 'long-shot' ending for MM is precisely that - highly unlikely – and, looking around online, I seem to be the only one thinking along its lines. Still, Mad Men began by being cinematically true to its original film era of North By Northwest and The Apartment, so if Mad Men were to be true to the film era it’s ended up in – the era of Frenzy, Straw Dogs, Deliverance, Clockwork Orange, Cries and Whispers, Ulzana’s Raid, Get Carter and so on - it should end with a bang. Be Brave Mr Weiner!

Update May 20, 2015: Well, Weiner went for a very safe, fan-servicing ending - no time jumps or narrative surprises of any kind (not even a shift to make Peggy or Joan or Sally at least partially the final perspective of the show, no it's Don all the way). Too bad in my view. Too bad also that the ep. 'Person to Person' committed so thoroughly to its titular phone call backbone. Phone calls, like computer screens, are anti-cinematic and anti-climactic, and having an episode infested with and officially thematized by them doesn't change that.
  • Don's three calls
  • Peggy's phone-call rom-com ending (frittering away the goodwill from the previous week's 'Just stay on the phone')
  • Joan getting to (i) call Peggy, (ii) break up with her Prince while on the phone (to someone else), and (iii) be on the phone for her final shot. 
That's not good TV/Film, let alone good climactic TV/Film.

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