Mad Men Season 7 Premiere Review: Time Zones

The final season begins with a premiere that witnesses Don Draper not entirely in his comfort zone as the 1960s draw to a close.

Mad Men has officially returned for the series’ seventh and final season. Taking cues from a fellow AMC powerhouse’s final bows, Mad Men’s last lap will be split in two parts, with the final seven episodes airing next year. Series creator Matthew Weiner insists the split isn’t intrusive on his story and that the two parts have standalone arcs, but in today’s Netflix culture with new viewers constantly catching up, it’s surely a move by the network to increase those ratings. I’m not too entirely upset over the split, I don’t mind savoring my last moments with Sterling Cooper & Partners. Some television is meant for binging, but Mad Men is like a fine wine. The bottle is almost gone.

Speaking of empty bottles, last season we left Don Draper in a pile of them. His marriage, professional life, and his relationship with his children were all left in shambles. The swinging sixties left everyone on the downswing last year. Pete Campbell ruined his life in the suburbs eerily evoking memories of what Don went through, Peggy was rejected by Ted, and Sterling waded through the muck of an existential crisis. Hell, Ken Cosgrove lost an eye. It was by far the darkest season, but in the finale, it seemed as if dawn was coming. When we catch up with everyone in this premiere, it’s evident that the night still has legs. I mean, Nixon is being sworn in, for Christ’s sake.

We reconnect with Don in a California airport and see him traveling down a moving walkway. He may not be as young as Dustin Hoffman is in the scene from The Graduate that they’re paying tribute to here, but he’s just as lost. Out in the parking lot is his waiting wife, and the minute that Don breathes in the California air that used to rejuvenate him, a clock begins ticking. They only have 72 hours, something Megan doesn’t let Don forget, but who knows how long their marriage actually has? They almost even skip out on sex, and foreplay is tense and passionless. “I don’t know why I feel nervous,” she blurts out, clarifying that it’s not just about the sex, but everything.

On a plane back to New York, Don sits next to a lovely woman, and the two begin talking instantly, because women, geez, even Megan’s agent, can’t resist his Carey Grant cool. The woman is played by Neve Campbell, in a well welcomed return to TV, and she begins telling Don of her departed husband, a 50 year-old man who got sick after working too hard in the city. Sounds like a possible future for Don, and her presence and look is like the ghost of affairs past, being quite reminiscent of Linda Cardellini’s Sylvia Rosen. Don is unflinchingly honest when talking about his own marriage, lamenting, “I really thought I could do it this time,” and wondering aloud if he had “broken the vessel.” The dark haired beauty invites Don back to her place, but he declines. He says he has to get back to work, and boy does he mean it.

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It’s been two months since Don has been back in the SC&P offices, but his presence isn’t completely unfelt. He’s been feeding Freddy Rumsen brilliant work that he’s been bringing in to SC&P as a freelancer, and the office needs those famous Draper monologues. Lou Avery, a square man with bad jokes, has been filling in for Don, and he, along with the rest of the staff has been settling for less, with the exception of Peggy. When last season ended, we left Peggy sitting in Don’s office, but a new man occupies that chair, and Peggy is still taking orders instead of giving them. She wants greatness in her work, probably because it’s one thing she can control. She can’t make Ted Chaough love her, or even acknowledge their past. The men in her life continually use and abuse her, even the boy who lives upstairs in her duplex bosses her around. At the end of a particularly challenging day, she collapses in tears. “I’m tired of fighting for everything to be better,” she tells Stan, but I’m afraid she’s at the bottom of an uphill battle.

In the episode’s final shot, Don sits outside with his patented thousand-yard stare fixated on his broken balcony door. It’s cold out there, but he just can’t seem to get it shut. He’s got a gap that he can’t close, which is letting in an icy chill. That door should be fixed, so Don can enjoy his lavish apartment and domestic life, but something tells me that gap is only going to widen.

The Best of the Rest

– Didn’t Pete Campbell just seem spritely in California? Sure, he misses New York and hates L.A., from the pollution down to the bagels, but he’s got a quiet little office, clients bearing fruit literally and figuratively, and a hot little real estate agent looking for a nicer place. He digs the “vibrations,” he says, in that voice that makes him sound like the hippest yuppie ever. How odd that Pete Campbell seems to be the happiest character after all of the turmoil during Season 6.

– Wish I could say the same about Ken Cosgrove. The happy go lucky guy who aspired to be a fiction writer is gone, and in his place is an unpleasant man with an eye patch, who yells at underlings and generally seems to be drowning in his work. He asks Joan to help him with the Butler Shoes account, which Joan is delighted to do. It seems as if she’s trying extra hard to legitimazie her place in the business, after being accused last season by Harry Crane for sleeping her way up the ranks. She clashes with Butler’s new marketing director, who wants to take things in house, but with the help of a business professor, Joan schools Butler’s boy and avoids the business blow.

– Megan and Don’s initial meeting, from the costumes to the car, is très fab.

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– Ted comes to New York but is very distant and focused on his work. No tan on Ted.

– Roger seems to be living quite the bohemian lifestyle, sharing his bed with a whole cast of characters, but still unable to share his life with anyone in a meaningful way. He has lunch with his daughter who tells him that she forgives all his past transgressions, saying that she’s embracing love over anger in a new age way that Roger wouldn’t understand. Her Dad is more hip than she gives him credit for.

– Ken catches Joan sneaking around in his office when he finds her earring. He tosses it back to her, but due to the eye patch and lack of depth perception, misses wildly. Classic.

– Last season, everyone freaked out when Megan wore a T-shirt that Sharon Tate, victim of the Manson Murders, was famously photographed in. Now Megan lives in California, isolated in the hills. Don says he wishes she lived in a more populated area. Oh my God, Megan is going to get murdered by the Manson family! Well, probably not, BUT STILL!

– Holy side boob, Batman. Really left nothing to the imagination.

– Megan’s agent tells Megan she has to fix her teeth. Ouch.

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– Don is sucked into a late night commercial that talks about finding peace, serenity, and a utopia, all the sorts of things Don was trying to tackle in his ads last season. He wanted that place to be California, but as he lays with his wife, still restless, it seems like the search is still on.

– Even though Don is away, Dawn is still working as Lou Avery’s secretary. Good for her.

– Cutler and Pete’s former secretary Clara are knocking boots.

– No appearance from the Francis clan this week, but I can’t wait to catch up with Ms. Sally Draper, and I’d never thought I’d say that when I started this show.

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4 out of 5