The television counts down to blast-off, the audience sits riveted, clasping their drinks, their children, and their strange outdated perspectives as the world turns to watch mankind meet the moon. The mid-season finale of Mad Men’s seventh series brings death, puberty, old friends, separation, progression, and most importantly madness, as Weiner turns to his own count down.
An ominous pitch rehearsal is stuffed with cutting jokes and sharp wit around all our well-worn characters. Yet, the honeyed relationship of last week’s Sinatra dancing partners, Peggy and Don, who again are subject to a marvelous tableau of their own, remain serious. It is therefore unsurprising when we eventually reach the step for womankind; Peggy’s ‘unique perspective’ in presenting the real Burger Chef pitch, and eventually in gaining them as a customer. Her own success, however, comes at a price. Don Draper’s descent into madness is accentuated through a repeat of near eviction from the company, as well as from his marriage. Megan’s ‘you don’t owe me anything’ may be initially masked by her glass of white wine, but the message is clear, and in the end it is still Don who watchest he world take its next step alone.
Perhaps more important than Don’s personal journey is the contrast Weiner makes with the journeys of those around him. At home Sally is now a bright and beautiful young woman, running off to lifeguarding, kissing boys, and more importantly taking on opinions (even if they are only from the first muscled man she meets). Betty, the woman who once embodied Friedan’s worst nightmare, is playing hostess, bitching and burying Don as ‘an awful ex-boyfriend’. Even Roger Stirling has an ex-wife and a grandchild asleep across him to hold onto as the changes of the world flash across the coloured screens that now adorn every American home. After a turbulent exploration of the after effects of Roger’s life on his daughter earlier on in the season, his capacity for such near-idealised familial environments and then capacity to broker a deal to make the company money shows him ascendant once more (perhaps for the final time?). One journey that came to a very sudden, dramatic and almost anti-climactic finish was that of Michael Ginsberg who, after responding badly to the computerised presence in the office, famously attempted to pro-create with Peggy before presenting her with his sawn-off nipple in a box. For such a promising, captivating character, the ending seemed slightly too sudden. But this is Mad Men, we don’t know what we should expect.
The real twist, of course, comes through the musical number, performed by none other than the recently deceased Bert Cooper, whose symbolic passing synced with the progress of technology. As Don walks away from yet another near miss at a lost career, saved by Roger’s silver tongue, we catch a glimpse of Don’s imagination. He stops to see the ex-partner break into song, surrounded by dancing secretaries and bathed in the glow of the past. As Peggy’s pitch, the distraction of the televisions throughout, and the emphasis of Don as alone reminded us, family is the most important thing after all, making Cooper’s vaguely – psychedelic final appearance even more poignant, as he is correct in singing ’The Best Things in Life are Free’. Watching Don’s drained, sweated face as the season closes in such a perfect way is the only thing keeping avid Mad Men viewers going for another whole year before the show draws itself to a close
PHOTO/ Deidre Boyer