The “Mad Men” Finale, and Why Peggy and Stan Are Not Going to Have a Storybook Ending

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I’ve been reading reviews and analyses of the “Mad Men” series finale, “Person to Person.” And there is an important thing about the Peggy-and-Stan romance that ABSOLUTELY NOBODY IS GETTING RIGHT.

Yes, I am right and they are wrong. This is not opinion, this is OBJECTIVE FACT, and I will stand by it until my dying breath, or until someone in the comments persuades me that I’m wrong.

Okay. Everyone keeps talking about how the Peggy-and-Stan romance in the finale is a happy ending, all tied up neatly in a bow. The only debate I’ve seen is over whether this plot resolution is narratively acceptable and well-written, or whether it’s drippy and contrived fan service. Emily Nussbaum at The New Yorker described it as “satisfying but also borderline cornball” and said it “felt like the final scene of every romantic comedy that has ever been filmed”; Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone called it “sodden shtick” and said “Poor Stan and Peggy — they deserved a moment that didn’t feel like a cynical series-finale gimmick”; Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter described it as “Peggy’s touching and comic realization that Stan loves her and she also loves him”; Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture called it “one of the most shameless and satisfying examples of fan service I can recall.”


Why is nobody questioning this relationship?

I have serious doubts about whether Peggy is really in love with Stan. And I have serious doubts about whether their relationship is a good idea, even if she is in love with him. In fact, during their entire phone conversation when they declare their love, I wasn’t thinking, “Awwwww, how sweet, they finally got together, they’re obviously right for each other, lovey lovey love love.” I was thinking, “Ummmmmmm… hang on. This smells like trouble.”

Here are some things that jumped out at me about that phone call. (Transcript of phone call at the end of this post.) Think about how hesitant Peggy is at first. How she says, “I think I’m in love with you” — emphasis on “I think” — before she finally says, “I love you.” How she then says, “I really do”: not I really am in love with you, but I really do think I’m in love with you, like she’s talking herself into it. Think about how she describes her feelings for Stan — saying, “you make everything okay. You always do.” That definitely sounds like friendship-love, but it’s not so obviously romantic love. Could be — but it’s hardly a slam-dunk.

And in particular, think about how she says to Stan, “I must be [in love]. Because you’re always right.”

I think I’m in love. Really. I must be in love. Because you’re in love with me, and you’re always right.

It seems to me that Peggy is making the exact same mistake with Stan that she made with Abe. She’s letting his romantic love for her bowl her over — and she’s letting his love for her convince her that she feels the same.

And now, think, carefully, about the things Stan says right before he declares his love. He says “I get the person I want to talk to” only when they talk on the phone. He says he misses her when they’re not together — but “every time I’m face to face with you, I want to strangle you.” He says, “When I’m standing in front of you, I bring out something terrible.” It’s not clear whether he means that he brings out something terrible in her, or in himself — but either way, ew.

Will somebody please explain how any of that is romantic? Will somebody please explain how that’s anything other than desperately sad and bug-fuck creepy?

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I’ve seen some reviewers say that the Peggy-and-Stan romance means Peggy is finally going to have it all, both love and work, in harmony and balance. (Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture: “The most beautiful thing about this pairing is that Peggy, unlike Joan, won’t have to choose work over love. Peggy loves her work, her boyfriend is turned on by her creativity, and they share an office. Our last image of Peggy finds her banging away on her Selectric while her artist lover rubs her shoulders. Writer heaven.”) Please tell me one time in that show when that worked out. Please tell me one “Mad Men” romance where trying to balance love and work didn’t result in resentment, insecurity, jealousy, envy, possessiveness, abuse, heartbreak. Please tell me one “Mad Men” romance where love and work didn’t collide like… ummm… I’m trying to think of chemicals that collide in a nasty explosion or a big sticky festering mess, and for some reason all I’m coming up with is baking soda and vinegar in fourth-grade science-fair volcanoes. That’ll do, I guess. Please tell me one “Mad Men” romance where love and work didn’t collide like baking soda and vinegar in a fourth-grade science fair volcano. Megan and Don, most obviously and iconically. Peggy and Duck. Peggy and Mark. Peggy and Abe. Peggy and Ted. Joan and Roger. Joan and Greg. Joan and Richard. Dawn, and her self-stated inability to find men to date while she’s working at SCDP. I mean, were there any career women on that show who got to have a successful career and a successful romance? Of course, I’m having a hard time thinking of any happy romances on that show — it’s not like the housewives are doing so great, either — but that’s kind of my point. Romantic love does not turn out well in the Madverse. Why would this one time be the exception?

Now, a case could be made that Peggy and Stan are different. Peggy and Stan are friends, and have been for some time. Romances that come out of friendships are different. And Peggy and Stan have worked together as equals — in fact, she’s been above his pay grade for much of their friendship, she was even his boss for a while — and they’ve stayed friends. In the toxic stew of opposite-gender sexual politics of 1970, having your romance rooted in friendship and an equal collegial work relationship could make a big difference.

But in a way, their longtime friendship makes it more heartbreaking. For all the reasons I said, I don’t think this is going to work. And that is going to suck. This isn’t like Peggy and Mark, where who cares about that clueless, mealy little drip; or like Peggy and Abe, where fuck him, for all his lefty politics he still totally controlled the relationship and held her values in contempt. When the Peggy and Stan romance ends, it is going to suck. It is going to be the end of a beautiful friendship. Maybe they’ll stay friends after their breakup, but I don’t know. And as much as I want Peggy to have both love and career, I want them to have that friendship more.

(Somewhat tangential note, but this seems like the place to say it: In this episode, did anyone else notice that in Peggy’s office, The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (the erotic Japanese woodcut of the woman with the octopus) has been temporarily adorned with Halloween cats?)

Phone call transcript:

P: I’m sorry I said those shitty things to you. I don’t believe them.
S: Look, you’re going to do great no matter what you do.
P: I think you were right. I mean, I’m going to stay.
S: Good, because I didn’t want you to leave.
P: Then why didn’t you just say that?
S: Because every time I’m face to face with you I want to strangle you. And then I miss you when I go away. And I miss you, and I call you on the phone, and I get the person I want to talk to.
P: That’s not true.
S: Yeah, well, I don’t know what it is, but when I’m standing in front of you, I bring out something terrible. (laughs) Think about how you came into my life, and how you drove me crazy, and now I don’t even know what to do with myself because all I want to do is be with you.
P: What? What did you just say?
S: I want to be with you. I’m in love with you.
P: What?
S: I love you, Peggy.
P: Oh my G– That’s what I thought you said. I — I — I don’t know what to say. I feel like I can’t breathe, almost. I mean, I don’t even think about you. I mean I do, all the time, because you’re there, and you’re here (gestures to heart), and you make everything okay. You always do. No matter what. I mean, I must be. Because you’re always right. I can’t believe this. I think I’m in love with you too. I really do. (laughing) Stan? Are you there? (jiggles with phone) Stan?
S: (appears at door, out of breath, has obviously been running): What were you saying?
P: I love you.

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The “Mad Men” Finale, and Why Peggy and Stan Are Not Going to Have a Storybook Ending
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5 thoughts on “The “Mad Men” Finale, and Why Peggy and Stan Are Not Going to Have a Storybook Ending

  1. 2

    According to your description, Greta, it does end just like every romantic comedy ever: Getting the happy ending always depends on knowing that you should fade to black while the couple is still high off new relationship energy and before they start having trouble.

  2. 3

    Agreed! Seems very clear Peggy talks herself into this. If it felt like schlock to some reviewers maybe they should have thought about it a little deeper…

  3. 4

    The thing that makes this relationship different is that it’s the finale and they don’t need the conflict anymore. The characters can ride off into the sunset and that’s it. We can’t assume that they lived happily ever after but I think they’ve got that balance for now. Whether it works in the long-term is something we never get to know. The same is true for all the other characters. Don has clearly got back on track career-wise but will he continue to live as he always has done or did he resolve things enough to gain some kind of emotional stability? We will never know.

    Likewise, Pete and Trudie are happy for now but did Pete learn his lesson or will he stray again when he’s bored and finds that Wichita isn’t as wholesome as he thinks (I suspect the latter).

  4. 5

    Yes, you are right and they are SO wrong! Peggy is not really in love with Stan, but in love with the idea of being in love. And it baffles me how people seem to overlook this. Are they so desperate for “happily ever after” that they are blinded to the obvious? I would (almost) liken this reaction to anyone who ignored the ramifications of the ice pick under the bed at the end of “Basic Instinct” — and who may have instead called that a satisfyingly romantic ending because we are left with the two seemingly agreeing to marry one another as they roll around naked in each other’s arms. AAARGH!

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