[SPOILERS EXIST AHEAD]
Brush the dust off that hazy memory of Season 7 because the final run of the beloved AMC show Mad Men is here! The return episode starts out about as well as a show whose final season is split into two halves possibly can. The tone from the previous season remains, but the decision to split still baffles me after all this time. Nevertheless, Don and his friends are back with the most fabulous sets of interpersonal blinders on that you can imagine. As always each character is self-absorbed to the max, just watch Joan in this episode for proof.
While there is style, panache and healthy servings of promiscuity I begin to wonder if I’ll ever see Don Draper change in a meaningful way. That’s not to say he hasn’t changed at all, because after 7 seasons Don has had nearly all of his worst fears bear fruit in one way or another. His secret identity discovered, his marriage dissolved (twice), his company ripped from his grasp (only to get it back). Before us now stands a man with nothing left to fear…which can make for some dull television.
In the show’s return, Don struggles with the life that could have been when he runs into an old acquaintance. Joan struggles under her own yoke of newfound wealth, disparate sexism and lack of respect. (Misogyny still remains a titular factor in the formation of these characters development.) Meanwhile Peggy is realizing at a much younger age than Don that the life she could have had and the life she is living are very far apart. This show leans very heavily on its own history and the decisions its characters made in the past in much the same manner that real life does. It’s not as hyperbolic as a crooked word here or there putting a character in jail, but more often it’s personal regret which affects decisions being made in the present: Peggy’s reticence to revisit a lifestyle of debauchery owing to her own shame in betraying her own identity; Ken’s frustration at his current work situation owing to relationships he has developed within his new family (though it ultimately yields a positive.) Characters are forced to live and suffer silently with regret that can feel all too real to the viewer on the other end of the tube, which is part of the reason the show is so wonderful.
At the center remains Don. Now at the top after an enormous merger and the realization of all his fears, he has nothing to hide from and only personal regret to experience. The words of his ghost boss literally haunt him, “The best things in life are free.” He is beginning to experience what so many other mega wealthy have to deal with in self-inflicted emotional lacerations. Will the absence of any real threat to his livelihood drive him to do something terrible? For a man who has always juggled more than one crisis at a time what could possibly entertain him in a world where he is King? If there is one thing we know about Don Draper it’s that he is capable of making any situation worse if only he sets his mind to it. This is evidenced vividly by his inability to rationally deal with the waitress at the diner, his knack for chasing the rabbit too far is legendary at this point.
The rest of this season holds promise but will need to be a bit more gripping than this reemergence. Everything needed to make this show end with a bang is in place, the powder keg is set and the gunpowder trail is laid. We just need Matthew Weiner to drop the match.
While it doesn't contain some of the more terrific aspects that the show is known for, Mad Men is still pulling down enough drama to keep me engaged for the final run of episodes in the hope that it delivers on all of its potential.