We've come a long way, baby.
After 85 episodes, we're down to just seven. The end is nigh.
I'm not sure anyone is particularly sad about this, even the most devoted fans. It's best to go out strong and, hell, even creator Matthew Weiner has said "the storytelling machinery has worn out."
So do what Don and Roger do when confronted with the end of something. Pour yourself a drink and relax. Enjoy. After all, who knows when, if ever, we'll see another sharply-conceived, finely-crafted piece of culture dedicated to our fine business.
1. Me Me Me Me Me Me Me
The first half of season 7 left off in July 1969, meaning that unless the next seven episodes take place in Roger Sterling's mind during a 36-hour peyote binge, we're cruising into the 70s. You know what that means. Political unrest. Watergate. Inflation. Gas shortages. And, of course, rampant selfishness. Tom Wolfe didn't call it the Me Decade for nothing, summing up the culmination of the post-WWII American boom, thusly:
... once the dreary little bastards started getting money in the 1940' s, they did an astonishing thing— they took their money and ran! They did something only aristocrats (and intellectuals and artists) were supposed to do— they discovered and started doting on Me! They've created the greatest age of individualism in American history!
You may now be asking yourself, "Welp, if that was the 70s, then what was that 85-hour-long orgy of self-entitlement, self-indulgement, self-satisfaction, self-involvement that I've just borne witness to"? Good question!
Possibly -- hopefully -- the answer involves us getting to see Don and Roger at an est meeting.
2. Death Watch
"Mad Men" has tossed off intimations of mortality the way "Alf" tossed off cat-eating jokes. That sort of deathiness is kind of what you'd expect from a show that's pretty much the working through of one humdinger of a midlife crisis. It follows that there's a feeling that someone has to go, even though a few other cast members have already bitten the dust. First and gruesomely Lane Pryce, then, sonorously, Bert Cooper.
But Weiner & Co. have established the whole in-the-midst-of-life-we-are-in-death thing such that I think they can get away with not killing off Don or, for that matter, Pete Campbell, oft rumored to be the falling man of the title sequence.
3. See Sally Overcome Psychic Trauma
Much more interesting than the potential death of Don Draper is potential life of Sally Draper. She has grown up from adorable prop -- see plastic-bag-over-the-head and Bloody Mary-making scenes -- to a fully realized character. For my money, her coming into her own began with her existential examination of the Land O'Lakes butter box and continued with her deft handling of boys, Betty and every other challenge that's come along.
Her development is not to be taken for granted from such an adult-focused show and it's a testament to the writing and acting that so much meaning has been created in so little screen time. Watching her survive the wreckage of her parent's marriage and her father's bottoming out and sort-of rebound has been one of the show's true pleasures. Failing to show us how Sally has turned out could be one of its disappointments.
4. Free Peggy
Can't she just have her own shop already? Maybe team up with Joan?
5. Into the Sausage Factory
From the beginning, a truism of the Mad Men universe is that Sterling Cooper and its incarnations are a relative oasis of freedom and creativity compared to the beancounting-driven large agencies. You know, evil places like McCann-Erickson, which snapped up a controlling interest in Sterling Cooper & Partners in the final episode of the first half. In the deal, SC&P keeps its name and clients, while McCann eliminates a competitor. Think of of it as freedom of the nothing-left-to-lose variety. Don needed the deal to keep his job. To get the deal done, he had to convince a despondent and fed-up Ted Chaough to join. The bait: the promise of a creative role unfettered by the tedium of running the business. So now two creative dudes who don't take direction well are cogs in fast-growing agency bent on global domination. Let the chafing begin.
6. Ennui for the Nouveau Riche
Just as earlier seasons depicted the everyday sexism and racism that was going on despite bigger narratives like the sexual revolution and the civil rights movement, the final episodes will depict the plight of some wealthy folks in a nation cruising into recession. The McCann acquisition means that Pete and Joan got rich and Don, Roger, Jim Cutler and Chaough got even richer at at time when a lot of Americans were getting poorer. But what will they do with the new coin? I'm curious to see how Joan in particular answers this question.
7. Advertising in the 1970s
After the smoke cleared from the creative revolution of the 60s, what did Madison Avenue look like? Well, TV had become a central ad medium. Positioning, coined in a 1969 article by Jack Trout, took root as "an organized system for finding a window in the mind .... based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances." As an excellent Ad Age Encyclopedia article on the decade points out, there was lots of competitive advertising, like 7UP's "The Uncola" or Coke's "It's the Real Thing."
The agency consolidation trend continued. At the same time, clients got happy feet, with as many as a quarter of accounts moving from one agency to another by Ad Age's count. Perhaps in response, agencies decided it was time to diversify their business models. As the Ad Age Encyclopedia entry notes, "Doyle Dane Bernbach, for example, went into the sailboat business."
A side business for SC&P?
Oh, the possibilities.
AMC, 10 pm, Sunday night.