By Jill Serjeant
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Television's "Mad Men" swigged their last drinks and made a final, brilliant, advertising pitch on Sunday in a series finale that saw many characters find happiness in unexpected places.
After eight years and multiple Emmy awards, the 1960s era show set in the New York advertising world, pulled down the shutters on a turbulent decade with an ending that was one of the best-kept secrets in television drama.
While the TV series that examined the sexism, racism and alcoholism of the Sixties was notable for its dark tone, Sunday's 75-minute finale turned unusually optimistic.
One time secretary turned ad agency executive Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) surprised herself by finding love, playboy Roger Sterling (John Slattery) found a woman that was his equal, ambitious Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) reunited with his estranged family, and voluptuous Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) finally chose business over romance.
But the biggest surprise lay in the fate of star Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the deeply troubled but genius ad man whose search for identity and contentment was the driving force of the series.
Despite years of fan speculation, Draper did not end up dead. Instead, after walking out on his ad agency and hitting rock bottom emotionally, he finally found inner peace and a beatific smile while practicing yoga at a California hippie commune.
"Don was finally able to love. I loved him finding enlightenment. It was a spectacular episode," said New Yorker Liz Klein, who has watched every episode of "Mad Men" since its first broadcast in 2007.
But there was also a tongue-in-cheek edge. "Mad Men" closed with one of the most famous commercials of all - the 1971 "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" ad for Coca-Cola - and the suggestion that Draper returned to his agency and helped create that blockbuster ad.
Judging by social media reaction after the finale was broadcast in the United States, most fans left happy. #MadMenfinale was among the top five trending topics on Twitter on Sunday night.
"Probably the most perfect ending to a series I've ever seen," tweeted Jeff Goins.
"That ending managed to be both cynical and sincere. Don is the total ad guy," said Harold Itzkowitz on Twitter.
Not everyone was happy. "So: ending shows is hard," tweeted Linda Holmes, National Public Radio's pop culture writer.
"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner has said he did not have a specific ending mapped out when he first came up with the concept of the series. The ending came to him about three or four years ago.
Known for the unusual secrecy surrounding all its plots, no-one involved in the show had given away how the series ends, although filming finished months ago.
The secrecy had led to rampant speculation and wishful thinking about scenarios ranging from Don and Peggy striking up a blissful romance to Draper throwing himself from a window in an echo of the show's iconic title sequence in which a businessman falling through the sky.
Architect Andres Lin, 25, said he was mostly satisfied with the ending. "I think it gave us a sense of hope at the end which is very fitting. I thought it was going to be pretty dark after the last episode but it was a pretty fitting finale," Lin told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Mary Milliken)