Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s release of MAD MEN: The Final Season, Part 1 now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. Click here to order.
“We find ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit.”
– Richard Nixon, during his inauguration speech, as Don Draper watches on (Episode 1, “Time Zones”)
“Mad Men” has always made its time period reflect the status of its characters (or vice versa), choosing to focus on the real life events of the time to better paint a picture of the ’50s, ’60s, and, soon, the ’70s. Richard Nixon wasn’t a domineering presence over The Finale Season: Part 1 — the moon landing was certainly a more present marker of time — but his words to Don via his inauguration speech were certainly timely and pointed.
Don has been searching for the meaning of life since before we even met him, and, while he’s built himself a financial rock to live on, he’s never been more miserable. In the Final Season Part 1 opener, we find out Don is so desperate to be heard he’s giving ideas away to Freddy Rumsen. He’s polishing a fine pair of shoes as he watches the ceremony, but he has no where to wear them. He is quite rich, but equally ragged.
His quest to correct that in the upcoming final episodes will undoubtedly force him to confront at least the idea of reversing his fortunes. Will he have to give up his financial status to better his personal well-being?
“You want to come back? Come back. I miss you.”
– Roger Sterling, finally reuniting with Don, his only true soulmate (Episode 3, “Field Trip”)
The first two episodes of The Final Season: Part 1 were torturous for fans of Don and Roger’s enlivening business banter and defective personal pander. Don was trapped in purgatory, waiting to hear whether or not he was fired, until his surprise trip to Roger’s Manhattan apartment resulted in the
mother father of all confrontations. Though the two had it out briefly, they quickly found their common ground after Roger made the first move with the above line.
Obviously, the decision paid big dividends by Episode 7. Roger is more powerful than ever and Don has the job security he couldn’t find at the beginning of the season (and the end of Season 6). Will it last? That’s going to come down to Don and his erratic behavior — or, more specifically, whether or not he’s tamed the beast within — but you better believe he’s best off professionally when he’s paired with Roger. Here’s hoping their rebuilt bond never breaks.
“I’m tired of everyone telling me to shut up. I’m not stupid. I speak Italian.”
– Betty Francis, refusing to accept traditional gender roles (Episode 5, “The Runaways”)
Betty is one of the more fascinating characters to keep track of — and that’s exactly what you have to do with the ex-Mrs. Draper. Since their split, the fate of the fan favorite was fairly up in the air. Her screen time had to be lessoned, if not eliminated altogether, and that’s exactly what happened. Episodes go by where we don’t hear or see Betty at all, but her arc is no less crucial than any other non-Don (or Peggy) on the show.
To see her new marriage start to fall apart in The Final Season: Part 1 only adds to the depth of Betty. She’s no longer content being a Mrs. Francis. She’s envious of Megan on many levels, but Don’s new love was able to obtain the independence Betty nostalgically reflects on from time to time, unable to reattain. With the brusquely humorous outburst listed above, it’s clear Betty wants more independence, even if she’s not ready for it. How that premature desire plays out in The Final Season: Part 2 will be fun to watch, at the very least.
“It’s my nipple. It’s the valve.”
– Michael Ginsberg, explaining a rash decision to Peggy (Episode 5, “The Runaways”)
Easily the most memorable scene from “Mad Men” The Final Season: Part 1 was when Ginsberg gave Peggy the most inappropriate work gift in history. After being driven mad by pressure at work and pressure at home, the threat of losing his job to a computer became too much for our favorite off-color office worker. Claiming he needed to find an “outlet” for the “waves of data” coming from the new computers, Ginsberg lopped off his nipple and gift-wrapped it for the only woman he thought could understand.
Reminiscent of the lawnmower scene from Season 3, Ginsberg’s self-surgery reminded audiences just how mad-cap “Mad Men” can get. No one could have predicted what would happen then, and certainly no one saw the nipple removal coming this year. Matthew Weiner remains unpredictable in the small details as well as the large. What could be in store for The Final Season: Part 2? We can’t tell you, and don’t believe anyone who says they can.
“What do you have to worry about?”
“That I never did anything. That I don’t have anyone.”
“Indiana’s dry on Sunday. I had to buy these off the night clerk.”
– Peggy Olsen, to Don Draper as they prepare to watch the moon landing. (Episode 7, “Waterloo”)
Tracking Peggy and Don’s relationship from Episode 1 to Episode 7 was perhaps the most satisfying arc of the season. The two started as mortal enemies, with Peggy justifiably disparaging her former boss for putting her through the wringer without a just reward (and, more so, for his lack of appreciation and respect towards her work). Don was still behaving like a baby in the process of growing up, throwing typewriters against the wall and struggling to control his drinking.
Then, in the episode before the midseason finale, the two had a remarkable heart-to-heart. Peggy and Don have certainly had it out before, but something changed in the aforementioned exchange, and we got to see the results in “Waterloo.” The two had become so close Peggy was willing to buy Don a beer — a few weeks back, she would’ve been looking to rat him out for sneaking a cold one. Throw in a touch of funny, and we could be in for an exciting pairing in 2015. Don and Peggy are always better together. Now, we’ll finally get to see them at their unfiltered best.
“She’s never worn lipstick to the pool.”
If seeing Don and Peggy grow closer was the most satisfying character development this year, watching as Sally became the new Betty was the most troubling. Kiernan Shipka’s character has been put through the wringer over the last two years, first seeing her father cheating on her mother — literally watching the copulation take place — and then discovering he’d lost his job. The lies stack up quickly against Don, but Sally isn’t too fond of her mother either, stating in Episode 2, “A Day’s Work,” she’d stay in school until 1975 if it meant “getting Betty in the ground.”
Sally is growing up. She’s reaching the point of being a fully formed person, someone no longer able to be molded by the actions and desires of her parents. Whether that means it’s too late for her or not is still up in the air, but when she kisses a boy she doesn’t even like before striking a classic Betty Draper pose (hand on hip, cigarette clutched between her fingers), you know it’s not an easy road ahead of her.
The children are our future, so they say, and Sally is most certainly the most complex kid in “Mad Men.” Her fateful future may well determine her father’s happiness (or vice versa). Hopefully, it’s not too late for Don to straighten the ship, especially if he hopes to save his own soul.
Indiewire has partnered with Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s release of MAD MEN: The Final Season, Part 1 now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. The Final Season: Part 1 is the beginning of the end for television’s most celebrated show; four-time Primetime Emmy winner for Outstanding Drama Series and winner of three consecutive Golden Globes. Set in the captivating world of 1960s New York, Mad Men continues to follow iconic ad man Don Draper (Golden Globe winner Jon Hamm), his colleagues and his family. Click here to order.