Archetypes: Television: Review: ‘Mad Men’ Series Finale (2015): Priest, Penance, Confessor, Confessee



The core of “Mad Men” has always been religious: Advertising man Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) original sin, akin to Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience, involved his stealing the identity of another man. Neptunian themes of deceit and fuzzy identity merged with other ways to “Neptune out” – through drugs, alcohol, sex, as well as creative vision. Over seven seasons, Don became the complete Neptunian, addictive package.

(This post contains spoilers.)

In a previous post, I suggested the series’ finale would reveal a natural progression of the Neptune theme. Don’s overall behavior through the years, essentially a yearning to flee to one’s personal Utopia and leave the practical world behind, was also a deep desire to connect with the Divine. Some priestly destiny seemed likely.

As it turned out, in “Person to Person,” Don became both the shepherd and the sheep, the confessor and the confessee.

The last leg of his journey, in California, takes Don, through his “niece” Stephanie, to a touchy-feely retreat where he’s not shy about conveying his cynicism about faith and bluntly telling her to put her issues behind her. After Stephanie leaves the compound – in his car, which leaves him stranded at this rural outpost – Don has a crisis of his own.

In a moment of desperation, he phones Peggy, who takes on the mantle of a priest telling the prodigal son, ‘You can come home,” reminding him of the Coca-Cola account that waits for him. Don’s response is to confess, like a penitent. “I messed everything up,” he says. “I’m not the man you think I am.” He then elaborates: “I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s identity and made nothing of it.”

Revealing all to Peggy, in a makeshift act of penance, creates some internal reconciliation within Don, who plays it forward. With nowhere to go but to another group session, he hears a fellow participant confess his feelings of being invisible and unloved in the world, prompting an emotional Don – now able to act as confessor – to hear and embrace him.

The following morning, the retreat’s facilitator contrasts lives already led with the ones we now get to lead: “New ideas, a new you.” Just prior to meditation, the bell sounds. Then Don, in unison with the other attendees, chants the sacred syllable “Om,” which sounds remarkably like the word “home.” Don smiles; what he “sees” from a place beyond the veil is, for once, not a drug- or booze-induced haze.

The Coca-Cola commercial we hear – the premise is Don has played a part in creating it – makes his deprived, brothel-infused childhood wound redemptive. The opening words, “I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love,” suggests Don is a man reborn. Through his confessional moments, Don has had his epiphany and elevates interpersonal Venusian love to a higher Neptunian agape, which is selfless and unconditional, a transformation that only sharpens his creative prowess.

Don’s not the only one who confesses. Peggy and Stan admit their love for each other, and Joan owns her entrepreneurial savvy.

Matthew Weiner also conveys the immediacy of such gifts of enlightenment through breathlessness, which evokes πνεῦμα, the ancient Greek word for both “breath” and “spirit.” Before he calls Peggy, Don can’t respire. Neither can Peggy, who pants out of sheer disbelief and joy when Stan confesses he’s in love with her; all she can do is point to her heart. In contrast, Betty Draper, who’s dying and insists Don stay away, represents a downward spiral that’s non-accepting of human intervention.

“Person to Person” strongly hints that Don Draper, who tells Peggy that he will see her soon, has not delivered his final piece of creative copy. But “Mad Men”’s finale goes one better. It’s not about delivering. It’s about deliverance.

Archetypes: Priest. Confessor. Confessee. Visionary.

Astrological Archetype: (♆) Neptune

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