clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Mad Men Finale and What We Can All Learn About the Concept of "Legacy"

New, 16 comments

We'll talk about "Mad Men"... and Syracuse today.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

On Sunday night, the prestige drama of our time, "Mad Men," concluded its final episode. Earlier, on Sunday afternoon, Syracuse lacrosse lost to Johns Hopkins in pretty awful fashion. These two things may not seem related at first, but in reality... they (and the fate of Syracuse athletics this year) are more tied than you think.

First, the "Mad Men" finale. For those who haven't seen it yet, SPOILERS AHEAD! LOOK AWAY!!!

The entire finale -- and in reality, the entire second half of the final season -- was all about legacy. It's a concept that plagued Don more and more with each episode, and finally came to a head when he arrived in California. He had none. As he preached to Peggy, his life was defined by his failures: to his previous wives, his kids, the man whose name he took as his own and in turn, ran into the mud. In your 40s/50s, that's a tough pill to swallow, and that went double for Don Draper as he faced that reality (his legacy) head on. To respond, he cried. He made himself vulnerable, and then he was reborn without the shackles of his previous demons. Whether Don Draper or Dick Whitman, he now had a chance to rewrite that broken legacy the way he felt it should end.

But when you're real, tangible people (like us) that's rarely an option. You're rarely conscious of your legacy while forming it, and once you can see it, it's too late to change the outcome. Which is why this is a piece of fiction in which ALL of the characters were able to re-write the ending, even if less dramatically Don did.

For Betty Draper, her legacy was flawed and full of perceived weaknesses, yes. But she took her literal death sentence as a way to change at least part of it -- the one with her daughter Sally, whom she was finally able to cultivate an understanding with by the episode's conclusion. Sally's legacy will be seen as the "adult" in that family, for better or for worse (even if we saw more for her in this series), a shift that did not take hold until her final conversation with her father. For Roger, he found his proper partner at long last, and the same could be said for Peggy Olson, who ended up revealing a new part of herself we knew all along. There's more to life than work, something Peggy was aware of but never acted on until those final minutes. Pete rewrote his ending as a father and a husband away from his biggest enemy, New York. And Joan, who has always reached for more than what she's given, begins to rewrite her story as a successful producer.

These legacies, as major or minor as they may seem, were altered. Many, on a dime and conscious of what they were avoiding. In real life -- and especially in sports -- it's a longer road than that... which is how we get to the Syracuse part of our program.

On Sunday, Syracuse lost before the Final Four for the fifth time in six years. John Desko's legacy, long thought to be assured with five titles, is still safe. But the gradual turn begins the longer he goes without another title. Any legacy change will be a slow one.

In one of the Orange athletic program's worst combined football/basketball seasons in decades, legacies also begin to turn, but still don't shift anywhere. Jim Boeheim was stripped of wins (for now) and he and the program took their lumps as a result of NCAA sanctions. But his legacy isn't changing, nor is the legacy of the program he built over a long career. SU football coach Scott Shafer, even with the minimal sample size of a 10-15 record and a bowl win, still has yet to write his own story and legacy -- and won't for years, or until he's no longer the head man for the Orange.

SU great and current women's lacrosse coach Gary Gait is in the midst of forming his own legacy too, and if he wins a championship this month, he'll solidify himself as a winner that's transformed a program. But that legacy change wouldn't be immediate either. Should he win it all on his fourth straight trip to the Final Four, it'll be the result of a long, uphill slog. Should he lose, the legacy also stays exactly where it is. No better, no worse... even if corners of the internet start to murmur about what "should" be.

***

So as dire as things might seem for Syracuse sports right now, let's remember that legacies take a long time to shape and remake. One bad season (or several) isn't going to tear down what's been built. Just like one great season (or several) isn't going to put a gold star on something that was negative beforehand.

And just in case you need an additional bit of positive thinking... here you go: