* Disclaimer: If you haven't watched the series finale of Mad Men and plan to do so, watch it before reading this post. If you've never seen Mad Men and don't want to see it, read this post anyway. If you watch & appreciate Mad Men as much as I do, definitely read this post and share your own reflections in the "comments" section.*
On Sunday mornings, I preach the Word.
On Sunday evenings, the Word keeps finding me on unexpected TV stations.
Long before I ventured to Downton Abbey or opted to Call the Midwife, I meandered through an advertising agency in Manhattan. Some call Mad Men the greatest TV drama of all time. A web search for its main character, Don Draper, leads to endless commentaries on his flaws, his brilliance, his lies, his redemption, his falls.
As I prepared to watch the series finale on Sunday evening and reflected on all the episodes I'd watched over the years, one sentence was on repeat in my head:
What a mess.
I'm not talking about the technicalities or artistry of the show. The writing is brilliant, the direction is sharp, and the acting is often perfect.
Mad Men's messiness lies in the story of flawed people with complex lives making daily decisions in a greedy environment. Manipulation, jealousy, and deception often lead to success. Loyalty to an organization and kindness to coworkers can set people back rather than move them forward.
The result is a mess. A big, unfair mess.
In the opening scenes of the finale, Don Draper appears in all his literal messiness. In a dusty town far from New York City, he needs a shower and shave as desperately as he needs sobriety. He calls his teenage daughter and vents, barely listening to her own heartaches. He finds out that his ex-wife, Betty, is dying of cancer. He calls her. His voice cracks. He cries.
This is not the first time we've seen the stoic ad man cry, but this is the series finale. Every tear is more serious in a finale. When we know that an end is near, we pay closer attention. The episode moves back and forth between the characters in Manhattan and Don's journey to a hippie retreat center in California. Even though Don cleans up externally, he is still a mess internally. He sweats with regret for his lies, guilt for his poor decisions, conviction for his unfaithfulness, and his self-centeredness. Yet he's so charming, handsome, smart, and can even be compassionate. We wonder what will happen to someone we love and despise in the same frame.
Mad Men is too sharp of a show to tie up its story in frilly hair ribbons. The ending left plenty of room for speculation. In one of the last scenes, there was also a chair left open for hope.
In a group session, chairs arranged in a circle, Don listens to a man named Leonard talk about his sadness. He feels isolated, alone, and invisible. He describes a deep void within himself. He begins to cry. Don rises. He walks to Leonard and embraces him. No matter how much wealth and power Don has accumulated, he is empty. No matter how many women he's wooed or ads he's sold, his soul is bankrupt. As Don holds the sobbing Leonard, he is not only hugging or comforting another person.
Don is finally holding, owning, and accepting his own messiness.
We don't know how drastically Don changes or if his epiphanies at the retreat center last. What we do have is a long, powerful hug of hope.
The writer of Hebrews describes hope as "a safe and secure anchor for our whole being" when we trust in Jesus Christ (6:19). Sometimes that anchor reveals itself in a Leonard--the unexpected stranger God brings across our path. In the messy waters of his past and present, Don holds safely and securely to someone courageous enough to speak what Don can't say himself. Leonard doesn't clean up Don's mess. The mistakes don't go away overnight. Consequences of his actions might resurface after the credits roll. The mess remains. All we know is that for a moment, Don Draper found hope.
When we feel as if life is a wreckage beyond repair, God places people and circumstances in our path to serve as signs of hope. With Don Draper we have a choice to embrace or to reject that anchor.
How has Christ manifested his hope to you?
Whom has God used to steer you from self centeredness?
Are you brave enough to embrace your own messiness --and discover you're not alone?
all good things to each of you,