'Mad Men' ends by looking to the future

Story highlights

  • Final "Mad Men" episode leaves Don in California
  • Many characters got happy endings

Spoilers ahead. If you haven't watched the final episode of "Mad Men" yet, perhaps you should stop here.

(CNN)And on the final "Mad Men," Don Draper became one with the universe.

It wasn't necessarily the conclusion imagined by many of the show's fans, who pictured him jumping out a window (like the Draper silhouette on the opening credits) or turning into hijacker D.B. Cooper.
Instead, he sat on a California shoreline, welcoming the dawn of a new day, with "new hope ... new ideas, new you."
    If that wasn't the dramatic finish many expected, it fit with the "Mad Men" style, which was more about the slow accumulation of character-based details than major plot shockers. Indeed, what was out of character for the finale was the willingness to tie up a number of loose ends happily.
    Still, the tumult of the '60s had ended, and the '70s -- the "Me Decade," in Tom Wolfe's famed phrase -- were all about finding new paths. Each character got at least one shining moment in the spotlight as Sunday's finale aired:

    1. Roger Sterling chooses hope over experience.

    The twice-divorced Roger (John Slattery) probably never thought he'd get hitched again. After all, this is a guy who was having a lot of fun cavorting with women half his age when the current half-season began. But he obviously felt some connection with Marie Calvet, the mother of Don's ex-wife, and the two appeared to be settling into an easy chemistry in their final scene.
    Of course, Roger made sure to look out for his own interests -- in the form of leaving a chunk of his fortune to the child he had with Joan in his will. No, he didn't have another heart attack, though once again he muttered, "Are you trying to kill me?" Who knows if he'll see 1980.

    2. Joan Harris, mogul.

    The domestic life obviously isn't for Joan (Christina Hendricks). Given a chance to reach into her Rolodex (it's kind of an address book, kids) to find contacts to make a film for Ken Cosgrove's Dow, she pulls out her own name and becomes a producer. This doesn't sit well with her boyfriend, Richard, who decides he'll always come in second to Joan's work.
    Joan invites Peggy along for the ride, but Peggy prefers the advertising life ...

    3. Olson and Rizzo?

    In what may have been the most surprising of the "Mad Men" resolutions -- if only because the show usually cast a cynical eye on romance -- Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson) confessed his love to Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), and she reciprocated. This is the same Peggy Olson who turned down a whirlwind European trip from a suitor earlier in the year and has had her struggles with balancing work and love.
    But when Stan confessed, Peggy suddenly found her heart.
    "I want to be with you. I'm in love with you," he said.
    After an initial "What?", Peggy melted.
    "I think I'm in love with you, too," she said. "I really do."
    In a different TV world, the two would get their own sitcom: "Peggy Loves Stan" or "Creative Differences." And their children would always eat at Burger Chef.

    4. Sally's sadness.

    The one character truly facing a grim future was Sally (Kiernan Shipka), Don's daughter. Her mother is dying. Her brothers may be sent to live with relatives. And her father is wandering out west, a few bucks and a single J.C. Penney's bag to his name.
    In her final scene, Sally realizes that she's become the adult. Her parents and stepfather are all lost. Shipka, who has been a marvel to watch, shows both steel and compassion as she talks to her brother and offers to show him how to cook. She knows she'll be doing a lot of that sort of thing in the coming years.

    5. Don's new day.

    Fans who were betting Don (Jon Hamm) would make it back to New York before "Mad Men" ended lost their wager. Instead, the character started in Utah, racing a car at the Bonneville Salt Flats, then took off for California, where he ended up going to a consciousness seminar with his old acquaintance, Anna Draper's niece, Stephanie Horton. She calls him "Dick," his old name. It's as if he's trying his old life on again, or perhaps preparing a new one.
    Don -- or Dick -- seems lost at the seminar, unable to open up. Life back east is going on without him. And then he listens to a story from a man who feels invisible, describing a dream in which he's on a refrigerator shelf, watching others live when the door opens -- and then "the door closes again. The light goes off."
    The man bursts into tears.
    For Don, however, a light has gone on. He hugs the man. He has found connection.
    And that last scene? As Don says "om" at the dawning Pacific, the scene cuts to the famous 1971 Coca-Cola commercial in which a multicultural gathering sings "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing."
    Does this imply Don goes back to New York, joins McCann's "Coke Army" and creates one of the most legendary commercials in history? Or does it mean that life -- and business -- go on, and that the Coke ad is just another corporate sales pitch from McCann, and Don has stayed in California to become someone else again?
    "You can come home," Peggy had told Don in a phone call earlier.
    Perhaps he did.