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'Mad Men' Finale: Don Draper Exhales

Jon Hamm as Don Draper hits the road in "Mad Men."

As the clock ticked down on Mad Men's final season, Jon Hamm's iconic character Don Draper was having an existential crisis. During a company meeting, he suddenly bolts and takes off from New York to Wisconsin in his Cadillac.

As he drives along in Episode 12 ("Lost Horizon"), Don's visited by the recently departed Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), who asks where he's going. "You like to play the stranger," Bert says.

"Remember On the Road?" Don asks, then observes forlornly, "I'm ridin' the rails."

"Whither goest thou America, in thy shiny car in the night," Bert recites, then disappears, leaving Don to wonder just how much he's losing it.

Don's looking for Diane, the waitress he met several episodes ago, who he believes resides in Racine. She's not there when he tries to find her.

In the last scene, Don picks up a hitchhiker. 

In Episode 13 ("The Warm and Honey Route"), Don's car breaks down in a small town with nothing to do for several days. He's invited to a VFW meeting, which turns into a drunken get-together with a bunch of strangers, who later accuse him of stealing money they're raising for a vet in need and give him a beating. Turns out the male maid did it. Rather than punish him, Don gives him a ride to the bus stop and then impulsively hands over the car keys to the grifter, leaving Don on the bus stop bench in the middle of nowhere. Is this the end of the road for Don Draper?

Draper has an epiphany at a retreat in Big Sur.

In the final episode ("Person top Person"), we first see Don racing a car in the Utah salt flats. He continues West to California, where he visits Stephanie, the niece of Anna Draper. (Remember, Don - nee Dick Whitman - stole the Draper identity while he was in the Army.) Recognizing his despair, she takes him along to a Esalen retreat in Big Sur. Playing the usual fish-out-of-water around hippies, Don's not interested in the touchy-feely encounter sessions. But after Stephanie splits, he has a breakdown. Rather than totally bottom out, Don goes to another group meeting and finally participates, hugging another troubled soul. With the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop, Don joins a yoga session and lets out a big Om. He cracks a sublte smile as a brainstorm hits him like a wave. Next scene we see the famous "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" Coke commercial, merging crass commercialsim and flower power. We're led to believe that Don had an epiphany while meditating. After all, much had been made about the opportunity to work on the Coca Cola account at McCann-Erickson. Hardly a hippie, Don experiences a tranformation during his darkest hour. 

And thus ended one of the greatest shows in television history after seven powerful years.

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.