The final season of ‘Mad Men’ began on April 13 with the same slowly churning dread — but also with more changes than ever, as the glumness of Madison Avenue was contrasted by the new eternal sunshine of California. However, not everyone is warming up to the new era of advertising.
Mad Men‘s last gasp — a 14-episode seventh season that will be splintered into two — has hit the ground running in its season premiere, wasting no time on where we left off, focusing instead on where Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and company are headed. For a show that so often makes statements about the unwavering of human nature, the world of Sterling Cooper & Partners is more changed than it ever has been.
‘Mad Men’ Changes: West Coast Sunshine, East Coast Blues
Like Don and Megan (Jessica Pare), Mad Men is now bi-coastal. SC&P’s West Coast division has taken off under the direction of Ted (Kevin Rahm) and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), though only one of them has actually embraced the California lifestyle. That would be Mr. Campbell, who was given a new lease on life thanks to his divorce and the death of his mother at the end of last season. Pete looks like he stripped off his tailored suit and threw on a pair of madras shorts the second he hit the tarmac in Los Angeles — and it’s a delight. His altered wardrobe reflects his surprisingly altered mood — he’s warmer, happier, and I can’t believe I’m going to actually say this, but he actually seems satisfied (besides his disgust for LA bagels). Really the only thing that hasn’t changed for Pete is the progress of his receding hairline.
The same can’t be said for Ted though, who really only moved west to get away from his Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) obsession. “He’s sour,” Pete tells Don, “Maybe he doesn’t like the sun.” It’s no shock then that the only time we see Ted, he’s back in the New York office.
Speaking of, things have changed there as well, mostly because of Don’s absence. Gone from that corner office is the dashing, perfectly dressed creative genius with mystique — taking his place is Lou Avery (Allan Havey), a guy who refers to meetings as “routine checkups,” considers cutting fire wood to be a good weekend, and makes lame, outdated references to Gladys & The Pips. Everyone seems less stressed, but the work seems to be suffering because Lou isn’t quite the demanding perfectionist Don is (understatement of the year).
No One Has It Harder Than Peggy Olsen
And the only who seems to care is Peggy. “I just want to give you my best,” she tells Lou after forcing a more daring pitch for a watch ad (“It’s not a time piece, it’s a conversation piece.”) onto him. “I don’t know, Peggy, I guess I’m immune to your charms,” he sourly spits back at her. Peggy and Don always had a contentious relationship (my mind is specifically drifting back to the time he threw hundred dollar bills in her face) but it was passionate, the chemistry was undeniable, and the results were paramount. She’s the female advertising anomaly she is because of Don’s pestering, and now that she’s bouncing ideas off this cold fish, all of the career progress she’s made feels worthless.
This professional standstill, combined with her futile love life (the thrill between her and Ted is most definitely gone) and her less than glamorous second job as a landlord, is just too much to handle, and by the end of the episode it’s heartbreakingly clear that she’s not taking well to all the change. With nothing left to do and no one to go to, Peggy breaks down and cries in her empty, dark apartment before the credits roll.
Don Draper’s Not A Changed Man, But He’s Trying
The only one who doesn’t really seem to be changing much is Don. His marriage is still a mess, maybe even more so, since he and Megan don’t even have the sexual chemistry they used to. Megan’s a total hot rod getting out of her car to greet Don at the airport (maybe the best shot scene of the premiere), but the steaminess dissipates the second she gets Don alone, and he just ends up sleeping on the couch.
It’s shocking how clearly outlined their marriage is. A flirty passenger (played quite sneakily by Neve Campbell) on Don’s red eye back to NYC tells him about her husband who “died of thirst,” and the parallels to Don and Megan are scary. “I thought he was really getting better, then a doctor told me he’d be dead in a year,” she says, hopefully making Don realize that Megan isn’t the “cure” he once assumed she was, just as this woman was never going to be able to save her husband.
Even though this outlook for Don seems dreadful — “She knows I’m a terrible husband. I really thought I could do it this time,” he sadly tells his partner in flight — he’s at least trying to get better, and when the woman finally propositions him, he actually denies her.
Don’s also adapting to being cast out of SC&P, which brings us to the opening scene of the episode. Freddie Rumsen (Joel Murray), a disgraced former employee, sits in front of Peggy and delivers that stunning watch pitch — “It’s not a time piece, it’s a conversation piece” — which is familiarly earth-shattering. Familiar because the words turn out not to be Freddie’s, but Don’s. The two shunned creatives have teamed up, and Don is feeding Freddie the goods so that he can feed them to SC&P as a freelancer. In this light, it’s not so surprising that Peggy fell in love with that pitch.
But this isn’t exactly a sustainable business model, as Freddie points out, so eventually Don is going to have to unveil himself to Peggy and SC&P or leave his precious ad agency altogether. (One long shot to keep in mind: Don and Peggy branching out and starting their own agency.)
Don Draper has never been one to change, but the world clearly is, so he’s going to have to catch up.
— Andrew Gruttadaro