With Mad Men‘s final season cleaved in two for what we can only assume are unsatisfying business reasons, there’s a slight trepidation to this release. For a show that’s big on theme, structure and back reference, presenting only half a package threatens to provide an incomplete experience. It’s to the credit of the show’s creators that, when you actually come to watch the episodes, it still feels like a season’s worth of material despite the shorter, seven-episode run.
Season 6 left Don in arguably his most dire straits yet. At the conclusion of the finale, he’d effectively lost his fight with the bottle, seriously damaged his relationship with his wife and family, and been ousted from his hard-won position at SCDP. The fall and rise of Don Draper might be well-trodden ground, but each fall precedes a more arduous rise and season seven shows us the most difficult thus far.
Indeed, it’s debatable whether it’s a rise at all. Don spends much of the series hanging onto the failing elements of his life by his fingertips, and the uncertainty makes for a tense series – not least because it’s punctuated by psychological breakdowns, intra-company powerplay on a previously unseen scale, and the dissolution of multiple long-held relationships. As you’d expect, it’s the mid-season finale (and the set’s concluding episode) Waterloo which acts as the season’s cathartic high point, but the journey there is as solid as the show’s ever been.
If you’re the sort of fan who enjoys unpicking Mad Men, the commentaries on several episodes will undoubtedly be the most exciting Blu-Ray extra, offering valuable slivers of authorial voice that it’s hard to come by on a series this dense. The discs are further padded with documentary extras which are often engaging in their own right, but feel largely out of step with the contents of the season itself.
For example, the lengthy “Gay Rights” and “Gay Power” features contain first-hand accounts from 1960s queer rights activists which are engaging, powerful and harrowing – but when Season 7 of Mad Men ended a month prior to the infamous Stonewall raid, it feels like this material would be better suited to the next DVD collection. It’s hard to imagine that passing unmentioned in next year’s episodes, and that would’ve made a far better jumping off point for these stories than Bob Benson’s occasional appearances in this season do.
Similarly comprehensive-but-misplaced is the two part “Trial of the Chicago Eight”, which covers the anti-war demonstrations at the 1969 democratic convention in Chicago. The war in Vietnam has been a continuing background presence in Mad Men, but again, the events this mini-documentary refers to take place well after the season’s finale. A moon landing featurette would’ve made considerably more sense – it’s well-trodden ground, but at least it happened within the time frame of the series.
The one historical extra which does make a little more sense is “Technology: 1969”, which – in keeping with the arrival of computerisation to the SCDP offices – looks back on the rise of computing and the Internet in the Sixties. It’s an interactive timeline, meaning that it’s neither as in-depth nor as personally charged as the other, more political featurettes, but is still worth looking at, if only once.
As for self-referential and behind-the-scenes material on the show, there’s nothing beyond a relatively superficial look at Robert Morse’s last day on the set of Mad Men. Archive footage of Morse in his earliest work forms the most enjoyable part of this feature and more input from the man himself would’ve been a boon, but as a tribute and thank you to a veteran actor whose range and choices helped shape the show, it works well enough.
Unfortunately it’s not an especially strong collection of extras and a far cry from the packed discs of some previous season’s releases. Luckily the show has made a virtue of standing alone, packed with details and references that mean you can watch it again and again looking for things you missed, and it the arrival of proto-1970s aesthetics means this increasingly colourful and patterned season looks bolder than ever on Blu-Ray. Despite a shorter run, the episodes themselves are as good as ever, and even an under-baked set of extras can’t stop this DVD set from justifying its price.
Extras: 2 stars
Mad Men Season 7 Part 1 was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday the 3rd of November.
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