Let's Get Ready To Stumble: The Final Season of Mad Men

Apr 03, 2015 by Alex Castle

So many questions: What year will it be? Will Don figure out how to love himself enough to love someone else? Will Pete come back from California? Will Peggy find a life outside the office? Will Betty’s marriage to Henry last? Will Henry become Mayor of New York? Will Sally get kicked out of boarding school? Will Bobby get recast again?

If you are as excited about the final season premiere of Mad Men as we are, you’ve been gobbling up the many, many previews and remembrances and thinkpieces that have been flooding the Internet for the last couple of weeks.

Here are a few of our favorites…

Vulture’s Margaret Lyons explores the show’s unstated distinction between loving and really knowing someone:

Pete and Peggy’s relationship drives at this same idea: love, schmove, the real question is do you know me. In season two, Pete puts everything out there. “I thought, who would care if I was gone?” Pete tells Peggy. “I mean, Trudy would care, but she doesn’t know me. But you do. And I know you. And I think you’re perfect.” Oooh, boy. “I love you,” he says. Peggy’s response isn’t to say, “I don’t love you,” even though she probably doesn’t. Her response is to explain that Pete doesn’t know her. “I had your baby. And I gave it away,” she tells him. He’s incredulous. And then, in one of the best Pete lines of the series, he asks, “Why would you tell me that?” Pete preferred his ignorant not-knowing of Peggy; that’s the kind of “love” Pete likes, the kind that’s on his terms only and is largely fake. When someone really knows you, that’s when things get scary.

That’s also why Anna Draper’s image looms so large for Don. That’s not a romantic love, and it’s not as straightforward as a platonic love, either. “Someone very important to me died,” a tearful Don tells Peggy in “The Suitcase.” “Who?” she asks. Don doesn’t describe Anna as his dear friend, or as an old friend, or as someone from back home, or in any of the other ways he could gloss over things. He says, “The only person in the world who really knew me.” And then Peggy delivers what might be the most sincere expression of devotion in the entire series: “That’s not true.” Is that what Megan said when Don told her about Anna? Probably not.

Andy Greenwald downplays the need for the season to arrive at any kind of closure over at Grantland:

The most obvious remaining question for these final seven episodes is what will become of Don. But this is no different from the big questions that blink like warning lights atop our own lives: How will we live? When will we die? Can we ever find a way to be happy on our own terms? It’s a very contemporary notion, this idea that prestige TV series all have one core story to tell. It’s the sort of framework that makes sense for expertly constructed diving bells like Breaking Bad or the new breed of limited series like True Detective and Fargo, but not something as intentionally digressive as Mad Men. TV storytelling is rarely a perfect, arcing javelin toss. It’s more like a spilled cocktail, soaking everything, in all directions all at once. I promise you that wherever we end up six weeks from now wasn’t the planned destination when we embarked. And that’s a good thing. Circumstances change often and easily, even if people don’t. As Peggy and Don both know, the last idea is often the best. When you’ve been at it long enough and the sun is almost up and the bottle is nearly empty, all that you’re left with is the truth.

If Don Draper enters these final episodes as a man out of time, his show finds itself in similar straits. In an era buzzed on resolution and binge-watching, Mad Men may be the last high-profile drama granted the freedom to drift along into a dreamy, idiosyncratic conclusion.

In a long, in-depth interview with Alan Sepinwall on HitFix, series creator Matthew Weiner discusses the show’s handling of historical events:

I do think that with the 1968 thing, part of it is that is a philosophy that was pretty consistent in the show, which is that most events are used for thematic resonance in the story. Some events you cannot escape. They are going to affect your life. Everyone actually will be talking about them. We’re not talking about the fact that our country’s been at war longer than ever right now, you know. If you go back and look at The New York Times, you’re gonna see something in there every day about what’s going on in Iraq, and we don’t talk about it that much. But in 1968, the rapid succession of catastrophic events of things looking hopeful and then looking terrible – you just see it resonate for a good two years after that and it’s still resonating now.

That’s what the cliché of the “turbulence” is about at the Democratic convention. That was the capper. How important the war was. I don’t know if the audience is even interested in it. I just don’t want to get it wrong, but it is literally impossible to find a conversation about anything from late 1967 until like 1971 that does not see it in terms of the war, at the divisions the war’s created, and the government’s role in the war and “you young people.”

The A.V. Club’s Emily L. Stephens contemplates the recurring images of cowboys and astronauts in relation to the show’s overarching themes:

These superficially discordant visions of cowboy and astronaut are fundamentally similar: exploring a frontier, expanding the mapped world, and returning home to tell the tale. Astronauts orbit and return to Earth. Cowboys ride the range and bring the livestock home. These connotations of repetition and return undermine the frontier’s twin promises of opportunity and escape.

That contrast is at the heart of Mad Men, which asks whether people are capable of change—and whether they want to be. Amid the show’s flamboyant parade of changing styles and social mores and its characters’ shifting families and career trajectories, it’s easy to ignore how often they lapse into repeating old patterns and recreating the relationships they learned in childhood, no one more than Don Draper.

Emily Yoshida at The Verge feels that Mad Men is not so much about the destination:

Mad Men is a show about the trip; it’s barely even about sub-destinations within the trip. Like life, at any given point in any given season we’re seeing the builds and decays of so many arcs and relationships at once that the overall impression is that of a straight line. The ads for its final half season hail it as “the end of an era,” but if we’ve learned anything from its seven-plus-year run, it’s that something so discrete as an “era” doesn’t really exist. The ‘60s will run into the '70s, and only in hindsight will we decide that there was a clear line of demarcation.
Nowhere is that more clearly demonstrated than through Jon Hamm’s perennially falling Don Draper. In the opening of Sunday’s midseason premiere “Severance” we find him in such a déjà vu-inducing place (shocking spoiler alert: bourbon, cigarettes, woman in furs, intermittent existential crises) that even a pro-trip viewer such as myself felt a fleeting tinge of regret at having poured so much time into this show. It’s only when we revisit more dynamic characters like Peggy and Joan that we are reassured that we haven’t just gone in a time warp back to 1960.
And that’s the point Matthew Weiner is making, I suppose: everyone else at SCD&P has gone through dramatic changes in circumstance (especially Roger Sterling’s upper lip) except for handsome enigma Don Draper. Don is trapped in stasis because of his lack of connection to his colleagues and family; as everyone gets swept up by one of the most earth-shattering decades in modern history, he’s left in the dust.

And The Orange Couch has a succinct video recap of where things left off, and where we might be headed:

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