Don on the Mountain

 Posted by on May 19, 2015 at 12:04 pm  Matthew Weiner, Season 7
May 192015

OmIn the vast universe of Mad Men prediction pools, where historically folks go to sink, it seems a lot of people guessed at the Coke spot. But no one knew how Matt would get us there.

As my sister mentioned in her review of Person to Person, I knew, from the moment Stephanie said “retreat”, that this was going to have a profound effect on Don.

In 1972 (I think) my dad left the computer company he’d started, moved to Ashfield, Massachusetts, opened a health-food store (which was A. an unfamiliar concept to most, and B. a front for his drug dealing), and essentially joined the counterculture. Meantime we were living in suburban New Jersey with my mom and stepfather, where mom went back to school to get her degree in–wait for it–psychology. Mom went on to become an LCSW–Licensed Clinical Social Worker–and she practices to this day.

In western Massachusetts, we spent a lot of time at an Ashram–it was like a hippie community center. It was wonderful. We sat around in big circles with guitars LITERALLY SINGING KUMBAYA. And we chanted. We om’d.

All grown up now, I’ve been through all of it and more. I’ve been in therapy (mom taught me the value of its structure and boundaries), and I’ve been on shamanic journeys (dad gave me the freedom to test those boundaries). I’ve explored psychologically, spiritually, been up and down the 12 steps, been out in the woods and in the seminar rooms. The thing that made the biggest difference for me is The Landmark Forum–but every other thing got me to where I am now.

The sessions at Esalen were tough to take seriously. By today’s standards, whether you’ve done transformational work or not, everything came across as comically oversimplified and even insulting. I was about to punch the next person who asked how it felt, and I’m into it. The whole thing played like a joke.

But it was no joke.

Young Dick Whitman may have felt like the invisible Leonard, but Don Draper is well-liked–he shows up and everyone is charmed. It’s only when you really get to know him; when you see him drunk for the thousandth time, or he’s comfortable enough with you to shit on your dreams with a few choice words, that you start not to like him–and there is his self-fulfilling prophecy, that deep down he is unlovable.

When the woman shoved him in the silent exercise, it fucked him up. She was not charmed. And in a rare move, he did not turn the blame on her. We didn’t see it, but Don actually listened to that point of view. It was hard to argue with.

“What do you feel” may seem like an unsophisticated premise, but if you’ve never been in any sort of introspective dialogue, it ain’t a bad place to start. And Don has not. Not a dialogue. Any work he’s done, he’s done alone. He journaled; he did not attend an AA meeting.

As Don sobered up, he could absorb what was happening around him. His inability to open up in a place that was all about opening up was not lost on him. His defensive stance of arrogance was losing ground–right to the moment he was unable to stand at all.

Here’s what Don didn’t do–he didn’t ask Peggy to get him out of there. She could have arranged for a car. Peggy bails Don out–that’s not new. Don chose to stay.

Don on the ground experiences his terror, his emptiness, his utter impotence, and it’s in conflict with what he heard from Peggy–that he’s loved, that he’s missed, that he matters. But this is transformation. When you’re empty, you can fill–with anything. And so he walked into that room and he was able to feel love; able to give it and receive it and need it.

There’s a lot of crap out there about how Don did not find peace, happiness, transformation–only the next great ad. No. That’s not Matthew Weiner’s punchline.

“OM is the most often chanted sound among all the sacred sounds on earth. This sound is considered as the sound of the existence.
It is believed that the whole universe, in its fundamental form, is made up of vibrating, pulsating energy. Om is considered as the humming sound of this cosmic energy.”
Meditation is Easy

When I chant “om” or “aum”–it’s really the three sounds a.u.m.–I imagine that my voice is joining with all the others that are om’ing in that moment–in perfect harmony.

Don found peace, happiness, transformation; forgiveness of others, of himself–and then two things happened. He wanted to share it with the world, because that’s just what happens, AND he saw the ad, because that’s what happens to Don.

The secret to great advertising, to great messaging and marketing, is you give people what they don’t quite know they want. Their want is latent, it’s below the surface–it’s what they want next, what they are about to want. Great marketing elevates the audience through its want.

That’s the real thing, what the world wants today.

That ad got, and still gets, criticized for turning the hippie movement into commerce. But as I see it, that ad brought the counterculture to the mainstream culture, because that was ready to happen. And I’m perfectly okay with the notion that Don Draper figured that out as a result of his enlightenment.

And FYI, McCann Erickson was in fact the agency responsible for that commercial.

What will happen to Don? Who knows–a lot depends on the drinking. And the liver damage may well be done. But what happened on that mountain happened. He is whole. He is capable of love and being loved. He will default to old habits because he’s a human being, but it won’t ever be what it was.

Sally will proudly attend the Clio ceremony with Don.

Three days before the finale. In perfect harmony.

Three days before the finale. In perfect harmony.


  48 Responses to “Don on the Mountain”

  1. “In perfect harmony”. I see what you did there. Twice

    • Yeah, I questioned the twiceness, but it was right twice.

    • But seriously. I rarely crave a coke. Had just left the salon after a marathon session to get that color right. I walk into a CVS and go for the bottles because a can on a train is no bueno. And there were three names. C’MON.

  2. XOXO!

  3. I love this so much.i have no background in any of this so this makes watching even better. I was so happy when that song started playing too.. My 19yo son was sitting there and I got to explain to him the significance of that commercial. It was so great.. BTW he wrote a paper about the way Mad Men is shot at his very conservative university and got an A on it..

  4. Wow!!!

    “….Don on the ground experiences his terror, his emptiness, his utter impotence, and it’s in conflict with what he heard from Peggy–that he’s loved, that he’s missed, that he matters. But this is transformation. When you’re empty, you can fill–with anything. And so he walked into that room and he was able to feel love; able to give it and receive it and need it….”

    And, in this interview with the actor who played Leonard, who describes what it was like to be in this scene — there was no rehearsal — just feelings… and some very good hugging.

  5. Thanks for writing this. I had trouble at first viewing at reconciling the Coke ad with Don’s enlightenment. But though it might be said that the ad was a sign of cynicism on the part of McCann Erickson, the important thing is that to Don it isn’t.

    I never thought of Mad Men as anti-business, anti-capitalist, or anti-advertising. How could it be? We spent seven seasons in this world with these people, and if the show hated them and what they did how could we have stood it? No one has called Joan cynical for starting her own business, or Peggy and Stan cynical for staying at McCann. The ghost of Bert Cooper (that Ayn Rand-reading ur-capitalist) may have sung “The Best Things in Life are Free,” but that doesn’t mean the only things in life are free.

    The Don Draper we followed for 7 seasons had countless weaknesses and shortcomings, but no one ever said that his job was one of them (except maybe Midge’s Beat pals, and the ghost of Archie Whitman. “You grow bullshit.”). Don was ashamed of so much in his life, but not his job, and the skill with which he performed it. In the second season opener, he proudly defends it :

    “Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. And they take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoeshine. You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.”

    If his experience on the mountain changed him, made him a better man, why shouldn’t he let it show in his work, his art?

    • I agree with Melville. The show isn’t “anti-business, anti-capitalist, or anti-advertising. How could it be?”. I thank Basketeers, and Roberta, of course, for explaining how, if Don created the Coke ad, it was done with enlightenment and positive emotion — not cynicism. (My take was cynical, so appreciate the postiveness!)

      I read a faux Harvard Business School Case Study of what should Jim Hobart do with Don Draper. (Assuming Don ever contacted McCann again…Should Jim Hobart try to get him back? Buy him out?) Enjoy!

      • Well, I must say I am impressed with myself. Never worked in a traditional business, never had a course in business let alone anything even related to a MBA, and I suggested the same solution as the Harvard MBA program… slightly less professional terms: Don Draper, OO7.5, licensed to create, not expected to follow rules!

    • It’s really blowing my mind that this site is interpreting the ending this way, but I guess that’s what so great about a complex ending. To me, he used to sell the thing that killed Betty, then he used his insight to figure out how to sell what made her fat. It’s no accident that Joan does coke in the beginning of the episode. Weiner has so often said that people in the sixties got close to self-analysis but then went on to the Reagan era. Don showed the way. That’s not putting down the insight people can get in these places, but Don is a victim of child rape and son of a prostitute who always considered love a transaction and presented Hershey’s as the currency of affection. Coke is the new currency he deals in, and what he’s sharing with the world is nothing like what he experienced. “Buy a coke” is his message to the world, after empathizing with a man who described himself as a product in the fridge that doesn’t always get picked. Suddenly selling seemed meaningful to Don again, and he helped the nation turn away from the scary thing they saw in the mirror. Anyway, since both things and many others, including him not making the ad, can be “true”, it shows what a complex and meaningful ending the show got. It’s a more interesting debate than whether or not a character died. Or – shock horror – has he “died and gone to advertising heaven”? 🙂

    • It was definitely not anti-capitalist. Any Rand and Atlass Shrugged were mentioned in a positive way more than once. I think Rand was even a friend or at least personal acquaintance of Cooper.

      • I don’t see that as positive evidence for the show being pro capitalism though. Cooper didn’t believe in civil rights either.

        • I think the issue Weiner is proposing is not anti-business or anti-capitalist, but rather “creative” vs. “business.” I think, at least my interpretation of it, is that while they may be at odds with one another, they need each other to keep the world rolling along.

  6. I seem to recall in an interview I read once that Matt Weiner knew how it was very likely going to end at least a few years ago. I suspect it was coming across the Coke commercial and he said “that’s it.” I’m anxious to see in a post-ending interview if he’ll elaborate more on this.

    As for predictions, which I didn’t see posted here yet. I sent a spoof of the typical synopsis of a coming episode–I wasn’t predicting, I was just doing a spoof, coming up with the typical plotlines that tell the viewer really nothing what’s coming up but is always stated in the TV guide, on our DVR’s or program guides (Betty gets a visitor, etc.). Mine was simply “Don walks into a room. Peggy gets a phone call. Pete has lunch.” Not only did all three come true (Well, how could the first one not? 😛 ), but boy was the second one significant (and the third one sort of as Pete had a farewell lunch). When Don called Peggy and she got the third person to person call, I laughed, hard. 🙂

  7. Thanks for your reflections on Don-at-retreat (rather than in-retreat).

    For every one of those scenes I muttered “I can’t believe Weiner is wasting the last half of Don’s scenes like this”. Yet, without any experience with such things, I didn’t think of the protrayal as a joke. When Don got shoved, I saw that Weiner was keeping it real (and flashed on his and Betty’s shoves in their bedroom).

    I was not quite twelve when Don gave in and smiled – and a little older when that fabulous ad came out. As a music kid, that ad completely disarmed whatever cynical barriers I might have had. Mad Magazine reprints assured that if I was cynical about anything – it was the beats (at first), then the hippies, along, of course, with most of the crap that Don and his bretheren put out.

    FWIW, even now Coke gets the attention of my 18-yr-old son and his friends – but it’s the Mexican cokes (with table sugar) that they really like.

    • It’s the Real thing.

    • I love Mexi-Coke! I have some in the refrigerator right now.

      • So-called Mexican Cokes are (I think) the old stuff – before high-fructose-whatever became prevalent in everything.

        They cost a buck/eack in cases at Costco – in what we used to call returnable bottles – no one takes them up here.

        I saved a case of empties – will put some nice homebrew pale ale in them.

  8. I’ve read a lot of plausible theories (this one included) about why the ending means Don created the Coke ad, but the one thing I can’t reconcile with any of them is that Don HATES McCann. It is one of his defining characteristics. During the entire course of the show he fought tooth-and-nail against being assimilated by the Borg, and this season, when he didn’t have a choice and tried to play along, he saw exactly what his future was going to be there he walked out. I just can’t see him gaining enlightenment and then walking back into McCann saying, “I’m ready to work.”

    • I’ve been wondering about this question, as well, and I’m glad that you posed it.

      Here are a few of the possible answers I’ve been able to come up with, in no particular order:

      * Don has found peace during his retreat which might permit him to be better equipped to cope with things like HATING McCann, especially if he now has a renewed creative genius.

      * Presumably, the interpersonal breakthrough at the retreat leads to Don’s great idea for the Coke campaign and the insight that the answer to the question, “Who is Don Draper?” is that he is an ad man. What other agency in NYC, other than McCann-Erickson, would actually welcome Don back given his public record of bad on the job behavior (e.g., he’s a drunk, he disappears, he wrote “the letter”)? In other words, with such a great idea for a Coke ad, Don has no other choice than to go back to McCann. Also, Peggy pretty much tells Don that McCann will take him back.

      * Why does Don go back to McCann? Two words — “Coca Cola” No other agency has this account and Don has wanted it for years, perhaps bad enough to even tolerate Jim Hobart.

      * Maybe Don goes back because he now has better insight into the value of personal relationships, and especially how important Peggy is to him. Given the opportunity to work on the Coke account AND to reconnect with Peggy as a co-worker could be another motivation for him to return to McCann.

      I think the key issue is that it is only because of his personal enlightenment experience at the retreat that Don is actually ABLE to return to McCann. However, this doesn’t mean that he stays there longer than he has to, or that he now LOVES it or Jim Hobart!

      • Don has always hated McCann. Some of that is valid, but some of that is Don–unresolved Don who doesn’t want to be trapped. Don who didn’t have a contract–and then he did.
        McCann is not the devil. Hobart might be the devil, but McCann isn’t. It’s just big, and there are some bad things that come with that, but there are also some great things, like the opportunity to do memorable creative for huge brands.
        Don didn’t hit the road because McCann was so awful–he hit the road because nothing in his life wasn’t awful–because he mostly had no life, and the road looked better.
        Resolved Don presumably doesn’t have to be afraid of McCann anymore. Don got a little perspective.

        • Don also hit the road to resume The Great Diana Expedition. A few episodes ago, I concluded that her main purpose for being added to the plot, at this late date, was as a device to get Don on the road. She may have had another meaning or significance, but I think the main one was to get Don moving. His dislike of McCann was certainly part of it, but the mysterious and elusive Diana provided a big push too.

          I’m still pondering the notion of Hobart being The Devil. Here’s what I found in The Book of Tarot, for the Morgan Greer deck …

          Devil (Upright) – Taking things for their surface value. Superficial, materialistic personality. Greed, lust and perversion. Living in darkness. Evil influence. Lost soul. Slave to temptation and ignorance. Nothing of value will be gained.

          Devil (Reversed) – Rejection of materialistic values. The greedy personality realizes itself. A turn to Higher Forces for help. Rescue from a potentially damaging situation.


          A while back, I wondered whether the hobo we met in The Hobo Code, might have grown up to become Hobart. It’s interesting how the reversed meaning of the card, is an accurate look at the hobo. The upright meaning seems to describe Hobart to a “T”! We’ll never know whether my Hobo/Hobart theory is true, but it’s interesting to play with, especially in light of The Devil card!

          • What does the Book say about process? It would seem to make more sense for Anna to get Don to shuffle the cards – not only touch the deck.

        • I don’t know if you guys have read it but over at Vulture there’s an article written by an expert in… I can’t flipping well remember what he’s an expert in, and right now i can’t find the article, but it’s obviously business related. Anyway, this guy’s piece looks at Don Draper as a case study and whether or not Jim Hobart should take him back. The conclusion – and this is even before Hilltop is pitched – is that he definitely should, but if he’s going to effectively harness Don’s singular talents he’ll probably have to find a way to give him more freedom.

          Short story: Don’s situation will be very different when he gets back to McCann.

      • Don went back to McCann on his terms. The brilliance and impact of the Coke ad allowed Don to basically come and go as he pleases. And Hobart gets all the credit for buying Don so that McCann can benefit from the resulting ad. Win-Win. Son has his freedom, Hobart and McCann get credit.

      • Don goes back because, “he does that.” McCann knows he does that because as Hobart’s white whale, he knows as Don operates. (“Is he on a bender dear?”). Perhaps when he comes back with this fabulous idea he becomes McCann royalty and no longer one roast beef box lunch out of a hundred. (Sorry about the puns; couldn’t help it). Seriously, Coke was advertising and marketing heaven. When I was in college at UGA in the 1970s, all the advertising and marketing majors wanted to live in Atlanta and work at Coke – or the McCann Atlanta office. I was lucky enough to live in Atlanta and work for a marketing research company that had an Atlanta office just to serve Coke. It was all very exciting to be 23 years old and working on projects for Coke, even the very junior level stuff assigned to green kids. Then came New Coke…

        And we loved that ad when it came out while we were in high school. We were the high school kids with the POW /MIA bracelets that sang cum by ya(at least at summer camp, where we also would forgo our bras). We’d just come off a decade that was terrifying for a child – race riots and Vietnam Nam war footage on the 6:00 news every night; public figures murdered. Drugs were terrifying, then one by one people Starting using them. The ad just summed up what we wanted for the world. We didn’t thing that drinking more Coke would get you there. But we had not seen anything like that ad before and it made us happy.

  9. I agree with you, Roberta. Listen to the music over the final credits after the Coke ad fades … it has some of that sweet, soft hopefulness and opening and hint of redemption of the To Kill a Mockingbird or East of Eden scores.

    Thank you Roberta and Deborah. Thank you Mr. Weiner and everyone you chose to work with you. Glorious work.

  10. I, personally, suggested that might be Weiner’s “punchline”, due to his stated negative view of Don, but I hoped it wasn’t the intended meaning and found the possibility depressing and a letdown.

  11. I keep thinking about what Don said to his protege Peggy in S2 E1 (“For Those Who Think Young”!), when they were talking about the Mohawk ad:

    Don: “Just because it has sentiment doesn’t make it sentimental….You are the product, you feeling something. That’s what sells.”

    And Peggy finally coming up with the line, “What did you bring me, Daddy?”

    The problem with Don’s work in recent years is that he hasn’t felt much of anything in a long time. Pretty much all he seems to feel are addictions – sex, alcohol, romance, power games. Which are ways to avoid feeling things, not real feelings.

    Don has sporadically been capable in recent years of being a decent creative director, helping other people to create great ads. But in terms of creating great advertising himself – he hasn’t done that in a long time. Even in Season 5, coming up with that Sno-Cone ad was a real struggle. And he’s created very little of real note since, at least that we’ve seen. Because, I think, he has been incapable of feeling anything. Or at least not let himself feel.

    But on this trip, and at this retreat, he did feel things. And that was hard for him. I think they were real feelings though. And the kind of feelings that – until you let yourself feel them – will continue to haunt you and make you incapable of doing anything at all.

    Taking feelings that you’ve had in life and making those feelings into art – say, a cable TV show – is considered noble. If Don had taken those feelings and used them as a basis of a novel, no one would be saying that was cynical. Quite the contrary.

    Advertising in general is commercial, which I think in itself is neither good nor bad. Some products are bad for people, and maybe we could argue that an effective cigarette ad or an effective Coca-Cola ad is more morally wrong than an ineffective one. Though if you think that way, you really can’t be in the ad business.

    I feel like here, Don finally let himself feel something that a lot of other people (not just him and Leonard) were feeling at that time. The feeling of being alone and unloved, the need for connection and meaning. And then he found a way to get it across to people in 60 seconds, in a way that would make them feel better about things.

    Which goes all the way back to the first episode of the series: “What is happiness? It’s a billboard that screams from the side of the road that whatever you’re doing is okay. You are okay.”

    (You are okay: Which is what Roger said to Don too, in their last meeting that we saw.)

    So Don felt something that a lot of people felt. And then he found a way to make them feel okay about it. And to give them that okay feeling over and over and over again, as commercials back then did.

    Of course, the bad part was that Coca-Cola got associated with those okay feelings, and as a result people felt better about drinking Coke. Which admittedly was not a great thing. (Though I think it was less bad back in 1971, before the Roundup-contaminated high fructose corn syrup replaced the sugar.)

    But that’s what good advertising (of the Draper-Olsen school anyway) does. It takes “you, feeling something” and uses it in the service of a product (usually in this show, a product that has something morally wrong with it). If people object to that, then probably they should be objecting to it throughout the whole show, such as in the Burger Chef pitch. Not just this one ad, as if it’s any different.

    If you can’t tell, I loved this finale. Bravo, Matt Weiner.

  12. You nailed it, Roberta! I missed that Don “saw” the Coke ad. Duh!!!

  13. You guys are all so badass. What a joy.

    • I’m coming to this thread a little late but – Roberta your interpretation is brilliant. Brilliant.

      I was a teenager in MA the 60’s and a young adult in NYC in the 70s+. Every detail you mention about the culture at that time, your own personal experiences in it, and how that is reflected in the Don-at-Esalen scenes, is spot on. Spot On.

      I participated in some of it, and not in other things, but the ‘vibe’ (ain’t that word a dead give away?) at that time, was exactly as you’ve told us – it most certainly had that deep affect Don.


      • Brava to you!
        I remember my mom coming up there–I don’t remember why. Maybe she just wanted to check on things. But drove up from New Jersey, maybe spent a night (probably at a hotel?) and drove us home–and we picked up a hippie hitchhiker along the way. Drove him most of the way with us. Didn’t think twice about it. Can you imagine that today?

  14. My initial reaction after seeing the 1971 Hilltop Coke Ad again, was that it represented the last gasp of the 1960s, but after some reflection (and with 20/20 hindsight) I’ve concluded that it’s the tepid, somewhat nasty back wash, from the bottom of the green-tinted iconic bottle.

  15. I could see Don drawing a line down a piece of paper and doing the PROs and CONs


    20+ Creative Directors
    Miller Tub (maybe that’s a PRO)
    Ferg doing Don/Nixon impression
    (and maybe Don says, I’ll work if he stop’s doing that)
    Claustrophobic Gray halls


    Peggy said “come back”
    Big Office/Decent View


    Two Million Bucks

    drop your name into ours

    Stealing from Mad Magazine’s “Scene’s You’d Like to See” – wouldn’t you love to see Don’s return:

    Don: I’m ready to work.
    Hobart: You LEAVE, no notice, for three months, and we’re supposed to welcome you with open arms?
    Don: I DO that. Last time was 1962. I’ll never do it again (smiling). Meanwhile, don’t you want me to take it up a notch
    (more arguing, finally)
    Hobart: Uncle

    • drop your name into ours (kidding)

    • For Don’s sake, I hope Meredith was rehired to be his secretary, but for Meredith’s sake I hope she landed on her feet and has a better job.

      God help Don Draper’s next secretary(or more like secretaries) at McCann-Erickson!

      • HE only broke “his rules” once – no, twice! He married one of them and the other went to work for Helen Gurley Brown (surely a much better job).

        Meredith WANTED to break his rules – took a shot when (she thought) Don was most vulnerable.

  16. I remember the Coke ad as I would have been four years old when it was on TV. But more than that, I remember there being a non-Coke version of the song called “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing.” I think I have always assumed that the “folk” song came first and that Coca Cola co-opted it for their commercial. But now I know the opposite is the case. The commercial was so popular that they took out the reference to Coke, added some verses, and released it as a single which did well on the Billboard charts in the US and UK and sold millions of copies.

    • Just wanted to add, I didn’t think it was cynical that Don’s breakthrough resulted in his being inspired to write this ad. I found myself smiling at the idea.

    • I was six, and I also thought it went the other way, and then at some point discovered it was the opposite. More brilliance.

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