All this week, the Vulture TV Awards honor the best television from the past year.
The nominees are:
Jane the Virgin
Key & Peele
And the Best Writing goes to …
The greatest feat in contemporary American television is sticking the landing. We know shows that are capable of excellence can still falter in the home stretch, or that the penultimate episode sometimes outshines the finale in terms of impact and action. Some choke before they even get to the endgame.
Things looked a little dodgy there for a second with Mad Men. The waitress Diana? The return of Glen? Betty’s cancer? Danger! Danger! Don’t get distracted from the mission! And then, mercifully, the show wrapped things up as dreamily as things had began, with just as much confusion about the human condition. “You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it, people aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize they’re trying and you don’t even know what it is.” So says Leonard, the guy in Don’s New Age seminar. It’s quintessential Mad Men: that deeply ordinary way to articulate a profound, even shameful fear that haunts so many of us. It’s that style of dialogue that first endeared Mad Men to its fans, and as much as the show’s poetic pitches and snappy comebacks stick in one’s mind, it’s these lines of pedestrian agony that actually define the show. Do I even know what love is?
Of course you do. It’s a Coke! That’s love, that’s real. It’s the Coca-Cola ad the show had been teasing us with since season one, and a perfect — if slightly wry — conclusion for our tortured hero.
Mad Men was never written as a particularly plot-driven show, which sometimes lent it an odd, static factor. So much happens, and yet so much stays the same. This whole final arc of episodes echoed exactly that, weaving in aspects of early seasons (even the brief return of Rachel Menken) and bringing those stories to a natural end. It takes a skillful group of writers to pull it all off seamlessly. Don resolved some of his wanderlust from “The Hobo Code.” Peggy and Pete had a meaningful good-bye, and Peggy got to tell part of her story to Stan — who responded with decency and compassion. Sally learned about adult shortcomings way too young, which unfortunately winds up serving her well when she assumes additional adult responsibilities leading up to Betty’s death. These aren’t pat happy endings per se, and neither is Coca-Cola love. But it’s what we’ve got.