Cheers Don

And so that’s that, Mad Men is done.

It’ll be no surprise to regular readers when I say I’ll miss the show. Most particularly, I’ll miss Don. The end of a series like Mad Men is like a death in the family: all you have left is memories. It hits you at some point that there’s nothing more to come.

In my case it’s an apt analogy. I tweeted something last night about how Don was a drinking companion, someone I’d shared stories with and had adventures. He was always like someone I might easily know, and knowing, might find some common ground with. As I’ve written so many times, there is so much in him, his character and personality, his story, that I could relate to. That’s why I connected so deeply to the show. It was more than just entertainment, more than just an intelligent, highly articulate depiction of a time and place – it was something I could feel personally.

In the last couple of episodes Don hit the road, as he was in the habit of doing. It’s not something I’ve done in the same way, but something which I understand instinctively (how many times did I yearn to do that last year? And, even so, an urge that is never far away). I watch episodes like this and feel the push/pull of life, the civilised normality versus the independent and freewheeling anarchy. It’s one of the great dilemmas in my life, possibly the great dilemma. Drawn to the normality my friends exhibit, with all the attendant quiet pleasures, I’m also drawn irresistibly, and consistently, to risk and adventure, to experience in all its heady glory.

I’m in between, and have spent a lifetime veering one way, and then the other. I’m sympathetic to Don, but we are different people. I’m less irresponsible than he is. I have better control over my emotions, and am less impulsive (and self-destructive) as a result – yet I find myself yearning for the same wide open spaces, which are as much intellectual as they are physical.

I look about me and in my world there is no-one like that, except perhaps Whisky (another person to whom ‘things’ happen – which is no coincidence). It’s normal for people to live the conventional life without any real consideration of the alternative – because the alternatives are so innately foreign. I’m sure there’s a great vicarious entertainment factor in watching the trials and tribulations of Don Draper, and not a little moral superiority at times. He is separate from them, and at the end of the episode they change channel to another program. For me, and for the likes of Whisky, it’s not so easily switched from. There are enough parallels in Don’s life to our own to make us pause and wonder and reflect, and often to remember. The best art opens things up, and Mad Men for me was always great art.

Now after seven series, and a decade’s worth of Don’s life, the show is done. I’ll go back to it again, will watch at some stage from start to finish, and possibly more than once, but it will never be the same again. The wonder at what was coming next and the general mystery surrounding Don’s life will be dissipated. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen, can’t unknow it – though hopefully in forgetting bits and pieces there will be little moments of pleasurable discovery, all over again.

It will be different, and there won’t be the same excitement, but that’s not to say the experience will be much less. Just different. It’s like reading a book for the second time. You read with knowledge, and absorb it differently. Perspective alters with an understanding of the full arc of the story, and moments that slipped by unnoticed before become significant in re-reading knowing what they will come to signify. It can be a very rich experience, which is why there are books in my life I read again and again.

There are TV shows and movies like that too, though the experience is not always as satisfying. I think it will be with Mad Men though. I’ll watch again at some point in the future, and on-screen Don will live again. They may be memories, but these are memories you can re-live again and again.

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